Jonathan Wolfman's Blog
MAY 2, 2012 7:15AM

When I Removed Twins from a Horrid Home-10 Signs of Abuse

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     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 :: Moving victims of violence from crisis to confidence


      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  changes in behavior, such as becoming more aggressive or more withdrawn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.)



Prevalence (wiki)

United States and Europe

Child sexual abuse occurs frequently in Western society.[140] The rate of prevalence can be difficult to determine.[141][142][143]

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,[148] while a statistical analysis based on 16 cross-sectional studies estimated the rate to be 7.2% for males and 14.5% for females.[14]

The US Department of Health and Human Services reported 83,600 substantiated reports of sexually abused children in 2005.[149][150] Including incidents which were not reported would make the total number even larger.[151]

In schools

In US schools, according to the United States Department of Education,[158] "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%.[158] 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"[159]

Underreported forms

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.[160] 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.[161] This underreporting has been attributed to cultural denial of female-perpetrated child sex abuse,[162] because "males have been socialized to believe they should be flattered or appreciative of sexual interest from a female."[104] 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".[163]

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Thanks for your continued work to fight injustice and pain.
sad, knowing it exists, like evil, yet, find myself not wanting to acknowledge that fact.... how could any one abuse a child?
Matt yes; it was.
I thank places such as Safe Horizon for making things better.
Mary I don't know what else there is to do.
RW precisely why I say, above, that we should not do "hair-trigger" reporting.
One of the worst maladies of the world, child abuse. It affects not just the present.
It's great that you were there for these kids. Do you have any idea how they are doing today?
Sheila you're so right.
Buddy never heard abt the twins again.
Thanks for the list. Everyone should be on the lookout for abused children and report any suspicions to the authorities.
Miguela reason, yes, I agree.
I'm more concerned with children who are abused and neglected that slip inbetween the cracks due to malicious claims being investigated by CPS/FPS workers whose caseloads are already teeming with malfeasance.
B. That certainly happens, too, sadly.
"suspected abuse is enough of a reason to contact authorities." Safe Horizons urges you not to think you need proof in order to report.

This is wrong on so many levels.

I agree with RW on the matter he brings up for discussion. There was a recent incident here where a 13 year old boy playing football did a dance on the field in public and the school received a report that this kid's dancing on the field was perceived by the moron reporting this dancing boy's behavior as sexual. When the parents were notified by the football coaches, the report was dismissed immediately, following much laughter coming from both ends who knew the report was fabricated upon an adult who attempted to subject the boy and his parents to an humiliating and time-wasting experience which involved the coaches and administrators queries all involved with the report.
B. Thanks very much for pointing out these pitfalls.
Balt Safe Horizon is not suggesting abuse is going on when a child decided she/he no longer likes ice cream, burgers, or peas. They are talking abt habits, such as a normal appetite suddenly or over a brief time falling away almost completely or, regular and unexpected gorging.
These nuances cannot easily be discussed in fll in a brief post and is the reason I included the Safe Horizon web site.

fingers in a jar.... :-O
Good stuff, RW. Abuse of authority by authoritive figures is another hurdle. I've witnessed judges do this in their courts. Sadly, the people who aren't indigent can't afford to hire lawyers, so they plea bargain, and in some instances criminal background checks performed by employers prevent some from working at day care centers, schools, hospitals, etc.
As I said to you in our email exchange, RW, I've no doubt that police also abuse the systen; I am sure Safe Horizon honors experiences such as yours and B.'s.
An important topic and one with which I have personal and professional experience. Child abuse is the ugliest aspect of human history. I used to joke--if one can joke about such a topic--about the book I was going to write when I retired as an educator: "Contraceptives in the Water Supply, Every Alcoholic Beverage and Drug, and Let Them Screw All They Want, But They Cannot Procreate, Until They Pass a Test". It’s still unwritten because I cannot find the right test.
and, beauty, tomorrow I'll re-tell, here, the full story of those girls.
Wow, I don't want to offend anybody, but when a person publicizes signs of child abuse, why do all these stories come out about innocent parents who were victimized? I'm sure they're true, not faulting that some zealous people get carried away, but you know, Jonathan found kids in a house with human fingers in a jar!!!! This is not ok!!!!
cc that full story, tomorrow
Sigh. This is one of the saddest realities of our world, and it kills me to read about child abuse. It's sad to think you could be standing next to an adult who was the victim of abuse, or a child who is being abused. I'd like to think I'd intervene if I ever suspected abuse. Thanks for sharing your insight and wisdom. R.
Deborah thanks; and I hope you'll read my background-piece, tomorrow.
Human young are the most vulnerable for the longest period of time than any other in the animal kingdom. It is hideous to me how much abuse takes place. Thanks for the reminders.

Excellent post and very good information.
It is the most unsettling subject there is. Children of abuse. Even worse than crooked politics! ;)
Thank you for your time, incite and understanding of such a raw subject.
Interesting. Thanks. I'd just be careful about seeing enough of those signs.