Kids can be brutally honest. They share with the world (loudly) the imperfections about ourselves we work so hard to hide – “Mommy, your roots are getting black!” or “Your belly is round and big like mine.” All of it to a child is just innocently voicing an observation, not meant in malice but wanting to be part of a conversation.
So why is it when a child says, “Uncle Tom touched my privates” we make excuses about how they cannot be a credible witness to their own abuse? Why do we doubt them for a second?
Recently, Shari Karney, Esq. wrote a blog post titled, “Top Ten Ways People Groom Children For Sexual Assault And How To Protect Your Child.” If you have kids or work with children, I URGE you to read it. Child abuse is tricky – I should know, as I am a survivor of child abuse.
Organizations will tell you how to look for signs and what you should do when you suspect it, but being a child in it brings a different perspective. Last month I sat in on a NOVA webinar that talked about just this. I asked the question that I always pondered myself when considering turning my own father into the police. “Why would a child ever turn in a family member when that will most likely result in the child being removed from the home and potentially ending up in foster care or a group home? The known bad is better than an unknown worst-case scenario.” It was more of a rhetorical question because there is no quick and easy answer.
Now some will say, “I am a foster parent and a good one!” Of course, there are good ones, great ones even, but it only takes a handful of bad ones to ruin numerous kids’ lives, perpetuating a cycle of abuse. Like so many causes, there has to be a strong movement to demand improved systems that address the root causes of the issue, not a bandage over the symptoms. Open access to mental health is #1. We need support for those who actively reach out and make a concerted effort to change or improve themselves with support systems in place to work with them as opposed to humiliating or threatening them.
When someone says they’ve been abused, regardless of their age, make sure they are #HeardAndBelieved. There are people that will say that false accusations are happening all the time. The reality is they are not. In fact, according to a study done by the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence, between 4.7% and 7.6% of allegations were false.
“Children Tend to Understate Rather than Overstate the Extent of Any Abuse Experienced”
Research with children whose sexual abuse has been proven has shown that children tend to minimize and deny abuse, not exaggerate or over-report such incidents.
This is not an easy fix, but it starts with recognizing the signs, listening to children, and believing them when they share. Out of the mouth of babes is the only way they know to seek help – your help.