Family Violence Division: Child Abuse
Montgomery County Police Department, Family Crimes Division: 240.773.5400
Montgomery County Child Welfare Services: 240.777.4417
The Family Violence Division (FVD) is responsible for the prosecution of both physical and sexual child abuse. The FVD assesses the child abuse cases we encounter in a coordinated manner with multiple other county agencies and organizations. In an effort to better serve the community and the specific families involved, communication is maintained between FVD members and the following agencies:
- Montgomery County Police Department, Family Crimes Division;
- Child Welfare Services;
- Tree House Child Assessment Center;
- County Attorney's Office;
- Montgomery County Public Schools;
- Montgomery County Family Justice Center;
- State Child Care Licensing;
- Department of Parole and Probation; and
- Various Victim assistance agencies.
In addition to FVD's work with the above-mentioned agencies, members of the medical community, including physicians from the Children's National Medical Center and Shady Grove Hospital, are frequently consulted in order to assist in evaluating the physical and mental implications of the abuse on the victim or victims in any given case.
Child Abuse Laws in Maryland
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 actualy 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:
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).
Although child abuse may not always lead to serious injury, one should assume that all child abuse experiences are harmful.
Child abuse is seldon 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. It is a crime and should be addressed through child protective services and the legal system.
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 occurrs, 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.
Child abuse 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 enrionments 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.
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. When sexual abuse has occurred, a child can develop a variety of distressing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
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
- 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
- aspects of sexual molestation in drawings, games, fantasies
- unusal agressiveness, or
- suicidal behavior
Parents can prevent or lessen the chance of sexual abuse by:
- 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.
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. 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.
- 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, iwthdrawn or clingy behavior
- fear of entering into new relationships or activites
- anxiety and fears
- school problem or failure
- feelings of sadness or other symptons of depression
- flashbacks, nightmares
- drug and alcohol abuse
- sleep problems
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Visual Signs 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).
10 Things To Do Instead of Hurting a Child:
- Take a deep breath. Take a few more. Remember, you are the adult.
- Close your eyes and imagine you are hearing what your child is about to hear, or receiving the same punishment.
- Press your lips together and count to 20.
- Put the child in a "time-out" chair for a number of minutes. The rule is one minute for each year of age.
- Put yourself in a "time-out" chair. Are you really angry at the child or is it something else.
- Call a friend to talk about it. If you need to, dial 1-800-4-A-CHILD (National Child Abuse Hotline).
- If someone can watch the children, go out for a walk.
- Take a hot bath or splash cold water on your face.
- Turn on some music. Sing along if you want.
- Pick up a pencil and write down a list of helpful words, not words that will hurt. Save the list. Use these words.
The following resources are available for the detection, prevention, and treatment of child abuse:
- The Tree House Child Assessment Center
- Child Welfare Services
- The Governor's Office for Children
- The Family Tree
The Maryland Children's Alliance is a non-profit organization created to better surve abused and neglected children by giving them a voice and by encouraging healing. The Alliance works to assist jurisdictions throughout the State in creating and maintaining Child Advocacy Centers, such as Montgomery County's Tree House Child Assessment Center.
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1-800-843-5678
National Center for Victims of Crime, 1-800-FYI-CALL or 1-800-394-2255
National Council on Child Abuse & Family Violence, 1-800-222-2000
National Organization for Victim Assistance, 1-800-TRY-NOVA or 1-800-879-6682
Office for Victims of Crime Resource Center, 1-800-627-6872, TTY 1-877-712-9279
Prevent Child Abuse America, 1-312-663-3520