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Crimes Against Children: Physical and Sexual Abuse Frequently Asked Questions


  1. What is child abuse? 
  2. What are the Maryland laws on child abuse?
  3. How common is child abuse?
  4. Are children in homes in which domestic violence occurs especially at risk?
  5. What is the impact of child abuse on the child?
  6. What are some of the visual signs that a child is the victim of abuse?
  7. How common is PHYSICAL child abuse?
  8. What is the impact of PHYSICAL child abuse?
  9. How common is child SEXUAL abuse?
  10. What is the impact of child SEXUAL abuse?
  11. How can a parent or guardian prevent or lessen the chance SEXUAL abuse?
  12. What steps can I take to prevent myself from hurting a child?
  13. Can my child receive services at the Family Justice Center? 

1. What is child abuse?

Child abuse is generally defined as any act or conduct that endangers or impairs a child's physical or emotional health or development.  Child abuse includes any damage done to a child that cannot be reasonably explained and is often represented by an injury or series of injuries appearing to be intentional or deliberate in nature.  Child abuse includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect (which is the failure to provide a minimum standard of care for a child's physical and emotional needs). Child abuse is a crime and should be addressed through child protective services and the legal system.

2. What are the Maryland laws on child abuse?

In Maryland, both physical and sexual child abuse can be prosecuted under the law. A child is defined as a person under the age of 18 years. In order for a person to be charged with physical child abuse the child must sustain actually physical injury, such as bruising, broken bones, etc. Absent physical injury, a perpetrator can be charged with assault and in some instances reckless endangerment. In the case of sexual child abuse, the perpetrator can be charged if he or she has engaged in a sexual act with a child or solicitation or exploitation of a child.  To read the actual law on physical and sexual child abuse, please see the following: § 3-601. Child abuse; § 3-602. Sexual abuse of a minor; § 3-603. Sexual solicitation of a minor.

3. How common is child abuse?

Child abuse is seldom a single event. Rather, it occurs with regularity, often increasing in violence. It crosses all boundaries of economics, race, ethnic heritage, and religious faith. A child abuser is usually closely related to the child, such as a parent, stepparent, or other caregiver.  The child abuser is rarely a stranger. Child    abuse happens in every community, rural and urban, throughout the Nation.

4. Are children in homes in which domestic violence occurs especially at risk?

Yes. While child abuse can occur in any family, it is often found in homes in which domestic violence occurs.  Children may be abused and threatened as a way of punishing and controlling the adult victim of domestic violence.  Sometimes, they may be injured unintentionally when acts of violence occur in their presence.  Often, episodes of domestic violence expand to include attacks on children.  However, even when children are not attached directly, they experience serious emotional damage as a result of living in a violent household.  Children who live in abusive environments believe that abusive behavior is acceptable, but it is not.  Children from violent homes also have higher risks of alcohol or drug abuse and juvenile delinquency.

5. What is the impact of child abuse on the child?

The degree of harm a child experiences as a result of child abuse depends on the nature of the abuse, the age of the child, and the child's environment.  In homes in which child abuse occurs, fear, instability, and confusion replace the love, comfort, and nurturing that children need.  Abused children live in constant fear of physical harm from a person who is supposed to care for and protect them.  They may feel guilt at loving the abuser or blame themselves for causing the violence.  Abused children may experience stress-related physical ailments and hearing and speech problems. Although child abuse may not always lead to serious injury, one should assume that all child abuse experiences are harmful.

6. What are some of the visual signs that a child is the victim of abuse?

Bruises or welts shaped like an object (belt buckle or electric cord); Bruises in unusual places (back, eyes, mouth, buttocks, genital areas, thighs, calves); Layers of different colored bruises in the same general area; "Sock" or "glove" burns on feet or hands or doughnut shaped burns on buttocks (from forcing the child into hot water).

Small round burns from cigarettes; Burns in the shape of an object (iron, fireplace tool, or heater); Rope Burns on ankles, wrists, or torso; Adult sized bite marks; Suspicious fractures (doctors and nurses are trained to recognize these). (Source: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Visual Signs a Child is the Victim of Abuse)

7. How common is PHYSICAL child abuse?

The statistics on physical child abuse are alarming.  It is estimated hundreds of thousands of children are physically abused each year by a parent or close relative. 

8. What is the impact of PHYSICAL child abuse?

Thousands actually die as a result of the abuse.  For those who survive, the emotional trauma remains long after the external bruises have healed.  Communities and the courts recognize that these emotional "hidden bruises" can be treated.  Early recognition and treatment is important to minimize the long term effect of physical abuse.  Whenever a child says he or she has been abused, it must be taken seriously and immediately evaluated. Some of the other “hidden bruises” include: a poor self image; sexual acting out; inability to trust or love others; aggressive, disruptive, and sometimes illegal behavior anger and rage; self destructive or self abusive behavior, suicidal thoughts passive, withdrawn or clingy behavior; fear of entering into new relationships or activities; anxiety and fears; school problem or failure; feelings of sadness or other symptoms of depression; flashbacks, nightmares; drug and alcohol abuse and sleep problems.

9. How common is child SEXUAL abuse?

Child sexual abuse has been reported up to 80,000 times a year, but the number of unreported instances is far greater, because many times the child is afraid to tell anyone what has happened. Child sexual abuse can take place within the family, by a parent, step-parent, sibling or other relative; or outside the home, for example, by a friend, neighbor, child care person, teacher, or stranger. 

10. What is the impact of SEXUAL abuse on a child?

When sexual abuse has occurred, a child can develop a variety of distressing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Including: Sexually abused children may develop the following:

  • low self-esteem;
  • unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature; sleep problems or nightmares;
  • depression or withdrawal from friends or family;
  • seductiveness
  • statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged, or
  • fear that there is something wrong with them in the genital area;
  • refusal to go to school; delinquency/conduct problems
  • secretiveness;
  • aspects of sexual molestation in drawings, games, fantasies;
  • unusual aggressiveness, or suicidal behavior. 

11. How can a parent or guardian prevent or lessen the chance SEXUAL abuse?

Telling children that if someone tries to touch your body and do things that make you feel funny, say NO to that person and tell me right away; Teaching children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults and to authority, for example, don't tell children to, always do everything the teacher or baby-sitter tell you to do; Encouraging professional prevention programs in the local school system.

Sexually abused children and their families need immediate professional evaluation and treatment.  Child and adolescent psychiatrists can help abused children regain a sense of self-esteem, cope with feelings of guilt about the abuse, and begin the process of overcoming the trauma.  Such treatment can help reduce the risk that the child will develop serious problems as an adult.

12. What steps can I take to prevent myself from hurting a child?

(1)Take a deep breath.  Take a few more.  Remember, you are the adult.

(2) Close your eyes and imagine you are hearing what your child is about to hear, or receiving the same punishment.

(3)Press your lips together and count to 20.

(4)Put the child in a "time-out" chair for a number of minutes.  The rule is one minute for each year of age.

(5)Put yourself in a "time-out" chair.  Are you really angry at the child or is it something else.

(6)Call a friend to talk about it.  If you need to, dial 1-800-4-A-CHILD (National Child Abuse Hotline).

(7)If someone can watch the children, go out for a walk.

(8)Take a hot bath or splash cold water on your face.

(9)Turn on some music.  Sing along if you want.

(10)Pick up a pencil and write down a list of helpful words, not words that will hurt.  Save the list.  Use these words.

13. Can my child receive services at the Family Justice Center?

 Yes.

 

 

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