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Nov. 22: Stop the Violence Day...

Abuse, neglect are children's enemies

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The state's littlest crime victims will get some much-needed attention when Stop the Violence Day is recognized Nov. 22 and child advocates join forces to raise awareness of child abuse.

Child abuse is a serious problem in Mississippi and nationwide. In 2003, more than 17,000 instances of abuse and neglect were investigated, and 16 Mississippi children died from abuse or neglect. Abuse is anything that harms a child physically today or into the future. Neglect is a failure to provide what the child needs, and includes anything that places them in danger.

Carla Stanford, child and family development area agent in Pontotoc with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said abused children live in fear and are numbed to a certain extent.

“Children who go through abuse, whether physical or emotional, become conditioned to think that's a way of life for everybody,” Stanford said. “It dampens their spirit and effects their self-esteem and feelings of self worth.”

Child abuse can lead to anger management issues later in life, as well as affect academic and other performance. It can affect how children develop and maintain relationships, both personal and professional.

“There is anger in these children that often causes them to either explode and they become violent or to hold it inside. Either way is not healthy,” Stanford said.

For many years, people thought that the victims of abuse were destined to commit these same crimes as adults, but Stanford said this is not necessarily true.

“Just because someone was abused sexually, physically or emotionally, that does not mean they themselves will become an abuser,” she said.

Those who commit child abuse and neglect come from all walks of life. Patsilu Reeves, Extension family life education specialist, said situations that carry a high risk for potential abuse include marital conflict, domestic violence, single parenthood, unemployment, financial stress and social isolation.

“Single parent homes have twice the abuse rate of two-parent homes, and up to 60 percent of families struggling with domestic violence also have child maltreatment conditions,” Reeves said.

This does not mean that single parents in most cases are abusers, but research shows that children from single-parent homes may be in higher risk situations.

Several types of offenses are classified as abuse. Emotional or verbal abuse includes name-calling, belittling, threatening, cursing at the child and destroying the child's possessions. Sexual abuse begins with any type of inappropriate touching or contact and includes allowing a child to view pornography. Physical abuse is any type of contact that results in bodily harm.

Neglect covers a failure to provide basic necessities such as food, clothing, hygiene, medical care and shelter, but it also can include educational and emotional neglect.

Reeves said consequences of child abuse can be lifelong. Health can be compromised, and brain and emotional development delayed or impaired. Many victims of abuse have low self-esteem, depression, attachment-related difficulties and self-destructive behaviors.

There is no easy solution to the problem.

“There are treatment programs for adults who abuse children, shelters for abused victims, respite programs for parents and educational programs,” Reeves said. “There is also an increasing public awareness of this problem and the fact that it can happen in any neighborhood or any social circle.”

At least two pieces of legislation exist nationally to try to curb child abuse and to punish offenders. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 is reconstituted by Congress every five years. It provides minimum standards for defining physical child abuse, child neglect and sexual abuse.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 is based on an older law to address current issues and solve current problems. This states that all children have the right to live in a permanent home in an environment free of abuse and neglect.

“Children are helpless and need laws to protect them,” Sanford said. “Child advocates hope that the public will pay homage to children and observe Stop the Violence Day on Nov. 22 to honor all children and acknowledge their right to grow up happy and healthy.”

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Released: Nov. 10, 2005
Contact: Dr. Patsilu Reeves, (662) 325-3080

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