I've posted here stories of child abuse from when I was a school admin in rural, southern Vermont in the late '80s, all disturbing, all with elements of the depraved and unexpected. Several weeks back the New York Times reminded me of those horrid incidents when it ran a piece about Safe Horizon, a social service organization that runs four child advocacy centers in New York.
Safe Horizon says there are some signs of violence or abuse that are, of course, more overt than others and that "suspected abuse is enough of a reason to contact authorities." Safe Horizons urges you not to think you need proof in order to report. I can tell you that had we, the admins at Green Mountain Uinion High, waited, there's a good shot that some kids would have died. No one, of course, suggests that you exercise a hair-trigger; I do know that it's better to report judiciously even if mistakenly, rather than to hold back.
In one instance, I found human fingers in jars on a living room hearth mantle in a home with children, two fourteen-year-old twin girls whose unusual degree of absenteeism led a county social worker, our school counselor, and me, to investigate. I brought in the police, we all testified at a hearing, and the girls were removed and then placed in a far better circumstance in northern Vermont as more in that home was uncovered. We, as well as the court, made the right series of decisions.
Safe Horizon lists ten signs; be aware of them, please.
. unexplained injuries, especially burns or bruises in the shape of objects
. changes in behavior, such as becoming more aggressive or more withdrawn
. return to earlier behaviors, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, or fear of the dark
. fear of going home
. changes in eating that may result in weight gain or loss
. changes in sleeping, including nightmares or difficulty falling asleep
. changes in school performanse or attendance
. lack of personal care/hygiene
. risk-taking behaviors such as drug-use or carrying a weapon
. inappropriate sexual behaviors or use of explicit sexual language
Needless to say, you should use good judgement as to numbers of incidents, intensity of behavior, length of behavior. My experience in schools, tells me, though, if we're to err, better to err in defense of kids.
(One day, soon, I'll repost the piece on these twins.)
United States and Europe
The estimates for the United States vary widely. A literature review of 23 studies found rates of 3% to 37% for males and 8% to 71% for females, which produced an average of 17% for boys and 28% for girls, while a statistical analysis based on 16 cross-sectional studies estimated the rate to be 7.2% for males and 14.5% for females.
The US Department of Health and Human Services reported 83,600 substantiated reports of sexually abused children in 2005. Including incidents which were not reported would make the total number even larger.
In US schools, according to the United States Department of Education, "nearly 9.6% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career." In studies of student sex abuse by male and female educators, male students were reported as targets in ranges from 23% to 44%. In U.S. school settings same-sex (female and male) sexual misconduct against students by educators "ranges from 18–28% of reported cases, depending on the study"
Significant underreporting of sexual abuse of boys by both women and men is believed to occur due to sex stereotyping, social denial, the minimization of male victimization, and the relative lack of research on sexual abuse of boys. Sexual victimization of boys by their mothers or other female relatives is especially rarely researched or reported. Sexual abuse of girls by their mothers, and other related and/or unrelated adult females is beginning to be researched and reported despite the highly taboo nature of female-female child sex abuse. In studies where students are asked about sex offenses, they report higher levels of female sex offenders than found in adult reports. This underreporting has been attributed to cultural denial of female-perpetrated child sex abuse, because "males have been socialized to believe they should be flattered or appreciative of sexual interest from a female." Journalist Cathy Young writes that under-reporting is contributed to by the difficulty of people, including jurors, in seeing a male as a "true victim".