In 1980, after being impacted by a series of articles in the New York Times on child abuse in America, rock artist Pat Benatar, co-wrote and recorded Hell is For Children. Pat later shared during an interview that she was stunned that this problem even existed. And while Pat had never heard of, or experienced the intense pain and anguish associated with, child abuse, she tried to communicate those intense feelings in her song.
Thirty-six years later, with national, documented child victimization rates higher than they have been in 5 years, many of us wonder what kind of impact we have had on child abuse and neglect. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 2010 defines child abuse and neglect (Child Maltreatment) as, at a minimum:
Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm. (United States Department of Health and Human Services).
In 2015, President Obama signed into law the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (P.L. 114–22). This new law requires each state to report the number of children, determined to the best of their ability, identified as victims of sex trafficking. All states are allowed to define a child as any person under the age of 24.
Listed below is some of the most recent data, from October 1, 2013-September 30, 2014, of substantiated cases of child maltreatment (investigations that determine that there was sufficient evidence under state law to conclude or suspect that the child was maltreated or at-risk of being maltreated). The data was collected by the Department of Health and Human Services from 50 states along with the District of Columbia and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This data shows that:
Every 60 seconds a child is abused or neglected
- There were an estimated 702,000 victims of child abuse and neglect.
A number large enough to fill 10 NFL football stadiums
- Over 25% (27.4%) of these victims were younger than 3 years of age and the victimization rate was highest for children younger than 1 year.
Every day, between 4 and 5 five child die from child abuse and neglect
- An estimated 1,580 children died as a result of abuse and neglect.
Greater than the enrollment in many public, urban high schools
- Nearly 71% (1,122) of all child fatalities were younger than 3 years of age.
- Almost 45% (44.2%) of all children who died were under 1 year of age.
- Almost 80% (79.3%) of child fatalities involved parents acting alone, together, or with other individuals.
And, as if these numbers are not staggering enough, they do not include children who would now (since 2015) be reported as sex trafficking victims. Nor do they include victims who’s abuse goes unreported.
Many of you may ask if the numbers of child abuse and neglect victims are higher simply because agencies are better at collecting/compiling data? Or, because there are now more mandated reporters (62% of the reports came from professionals).
Or, perhaps, we are simply paying better attention as we come in contact with child abuse victims or adults who were abused as children. Research suggests that victims of child maltreatment are more likely to experience cognitive (difficulty in school), behavioral (delinquency, violent crime, early sexual activity, drug and alcohol use) and psychological problems (Child Welfare Information Gateway, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control). In addition, results of these studies also show that 80% of 21 year olds who reported that they had been abused as children met the criteria for at least one psychological disorder including: anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder and conduct disorder.
Further, the financial burden of child abuse impacts every segment of society. Research suggests that the total lifetime economic cost of new child maltreatment cases in the United States in just one year is $124 Billion (Child Welfare Information Gateway, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control).
So, what are we doing to help combat child abuse and neglect? At the federal and state levels, laws are being introduced and enacted to increase awareness of different types of abuse (such as the new sex trafficking law) and of those convicted of felony child abuse. In Michigan, one mother is trying to garner support for a new statewide registry called Wyatt’s Law. The law is named after her son, Wyatt, who in 2013 at 6 months of age was put in a medically induced coma and on life support after his father’s girlfriend severely shook Wyatt causing a massive brain hemorrhage, a fractured skull, bilateral retinal hemorrhaging and broken ribs. This same woman had been convicted twice before, in 2011 and 2013 of child abuse charges. However, as there was no public record of the abuse, Wyatt’s mother is attempting to create one through a statewide registry.
Individually, there are countless ways that we can help make a difference. As Elie Wiesel said:
We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
As an undergraduate at Michigan State University, a Sociology professor named Cy Stewart challenged our class to take sides when it came to child abuse. To stand up for those who cannot do so themselves and to not allow injustice to occur without becoming involved.
Thirty five years later, I still rise to that challenge and surround myself with those who do so as well. What about all of you? Even the smallest of actions can make a difference in the life of a child. So today, perhaps you can ask yourself “what role can I play in preventing child abuse and neglect?”
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