The most important element in a difficult conversation is starting one. “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” (Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize 1986). Never is this truer than with our difficulty talking about child abuse. In 2019, there were 5,867 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in Bexar County. And while that number is staggering, it’s just as shocking to learn that only 1 in 10 sexually abused children ever report it, leaving 9 others to keep a terrible secret. For those 9 children, we must start the conversation.
That is why in 2014, ChildSafe created Cardboard Kids, a city-wide public awareness campaign to draw attention to the pervasiveness of child abuse and the fact that every story is different and every child unique. Cardboard Kids are more than two-foot-tall cardboard figures. They represent one of the thousands of children that are abused and neglected at the hands of adults in our community each year. They start the conversation, not only by creating a visual symbol for children to identify with but also by providing valuable tips for caregivers on how to talk to their children about child abuse and neglect.
What began with 5,800 cardboard cut-outs in 2014 has grown to over 120,000 in 2019! Every year since the program’s inception, ChildSafe has EXCEEDED our goal – both in the total number of Cardboard Kids distributed throughout the community, and in the schools, businesses, organizations, and community locations where they are displayed. With the continued support and partnerships of local businesses, clubs, organizations, and individuals, our 2020 goal is to have more businesses, individuals, and schools participate in this child abuse prevention campaign throughout Bexar County.
While Cardboard Kids will begin distribution in March, they will be decorated and placed all over San Antonio on “Reveal Day,” Thursday, April 2, 2020. Cardboard Kids social media campaigns, volunteers, and community partners, like YOU, guarantee a greater awareness of the problem of child abuse. Let us all be a champion for those who have spoken up as well as for those who need a voice.
Start Early By Establishing Body Autonomy and Privacy – Parents can build the foundation of safety from sexual abuse as early as infancy. Using the proper terms for genitals empowers children to communicate clearly about themselves and their bodies. Then as the child moves into toddlerhood and preschool ages, parents can help them understand body boundaries and consent by listening to a child’s ‘no’ or ‘stop’ and reinforcing the importance of the child respecting other people’s limits as well.
Communication/Emotional Expression Skills – When children can name their emotions, and recognize emotional responses in others, it gives them the ability to express their needs, empathize with others and to listen to the signals their body gives them, especially when something or someone feels uncomfortable.
Unhealthy Secrets – Make it clear to your children that in your home, you do not keep secrets. Educate your child about the different types of secrets and why it is important to talk to a trusted adult.
Identify Trusted Adults – As kids get older, parents should help them identify the trusted adults in their lives, like other family members, teachers and school counselors. Talk to children about telling a trusted adult if someone is hurting them or doing “not okay” touches. Since initial disclosures of abuse are often dismissed or not believed, the child should understand that they should keep telling adults until someone helps them.
Know What To Do If Something Happens – If a child reports a “not ok” touch, it’s crucial to tell them that you believe them, that they did the right thing by coming to you, that they are not in trouble and that the incident was not their fault. Responding with love, compassion and acceptance is very important.
If you suspect sexual abuse has happened please call: Texas Abuse Hotline: 1-800-252-5400
Taking steps to prevent child sexual abuse is an important part of protecting children and keeping them safe.
Know the facts about child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is more common than people think. In fact, approximately 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18. Sexual abuse can happen to both boys and girls of all ages, races, ethnicities, and family backgrounds. Children are often too scared, confused, or embarrassed to report sexual abuse right away, so it often continues without parents or caregivers knowing about it.
Know the facts about perpetrators. Many parents or caregivers already warn their children to be careful around strangers; however, sexual abuse is usually committed by someone that the child knows and trusts. Perpetrators are often family members or close friends of the child’s family. Perpetrators can also be older children or youth.
Talk to your child about their body, about boundaries, and about sexual abuse. You can find the information above.
Support your child’s participation in school-based safety and prevention programs. Many schools offer safety and prevention programs to children. You can increase the effectiveness of these programs by getting involved and talking to your child about what they have learned.
Take steps to increase safety in your child’s environment. Understand that most sexual abuse occurs when a child is alone with an adult or older child. Consider minimizing situations in which your child is one-on-one with an adult (other than a parent or caregiver) or older child. Choose group activities or activities in public places when possible. Conduct background checks, interviews, and reference checks when choosing a childcare provider. Drop in unannounced when other people are caring for your child.
Teach your child about internet safety. Teach your child about online predators who target children. Instruct them not to give out personal information or exchange photos over the internet. Teach your child that they should never take photos of their private parts. Monitor your child’s internet use and apply parental controls.
Be familiar with signs and symptoms of abuse. Knowing the signs and symptoms of abuse may help you recognize abuse if it does occur.
Know how to respond to disclosures of abuse. If a child discloses that abuse has occurred, always believe the child. Listen to them in a calm and supportive way. Responding emotionally may cause the child to think that you are upset with them, that they did something wrong, or that they should not have told you. Remaining calm is important. Let the child know that they did the right thing by telling you. Always report the abuse.
Source: Children’s Advocacy Centers™ of Texas www.cactx.org
Indicators of child abuse may include but are not limited to the signs listed below. Trust your instincts. Suspected abuse is enough of a reason to contact the authorities. You do not need proof.
Unexplained injuries. Visible signs of physical abuse may include unexplained burns or bruises in the shape of objects. You may also hear unconvincing explanations of a child’s injuries.
Changes in behavior. Abuse can lead to many changes in a child’s behavior. Abused children often appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or more aggressive.
Returning to earlier behaviors. Abused children may display behaviors shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or strangers. For some children, even loss of acquired language or memory problems may be an issue.
Fear of certain places or people. Abused children may express apprehension or anxiety about leaving school or about going places with the person who is abusing them.
Changes in eating. The stress, fear and anxiety caused by abuse can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviors, which may result in weight gain or weight loss.
Changes in sleeping. Abused children may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, and as a result may appear tired or fatigued.
Changes in school performance and attendance. Abused children may have difficulty concentrating in school or have excessive absences, sometimes due to adults trying to hide the children’s injuries from authorities.
Lack of personal care or hygiene. Abused and neglected children may appear uncared for. They may present as consistently dirty and have severe body odor, or they may lack sufficient clothing for the weather.
Risk-taking behaviors. Young people who are being abused may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon.
Inappropriate sexual behaviors. Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language.
Believe the child.
Allow the child to talk.
Show interest and concern.
Reassure and support the child’s feelings.
Take action. It could save the child’s life.
Panic or overreact.
Press the child to talk.
Promise anything you can’t control.
Confront the offender.
Blame or minimize the child’s feelings.
Overwhelm the child with questions.
Source: Children’s Advocacy Centers™ of Texas www.cactx.org
Remember, you are obligated by law to report suspected child abuse.
If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, call 911. For all other cases in Texas, call 800.252.5400.
ChildSafe’s mission is to restore dignity, hope, and trust to children traumatized by abuse and neglect.
To learn more about us visit ChildSafe-SA.org.