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Listen, believe – only then will children be comfortable reporting abuse

A report of child abuse is made in the United States every 10 seconds. A child is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every eight minutes – one in every four girls, and one in every six boys.

Closer to home, the reported incidences of   child abuse and neglect have increased 55 percent in Kentucky over the past four years and by more than 90 percent in Indiana over the past 10 years. And these are just the reported cases.

National studies by the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Health and Human Services and others report that only about 10 percent to 15 percent of cases is ever reported, leaving thousands of children in Kentucky and Indiana, and millions nationwide, without critical help to understand, manage and recover from the trauma inflicted upon them.

The reasons children don’t report abuse is legion. Judgment, shame, guilt, fear, helplessness, betrayal (of themselves and their abuser), fear of not being believed, self-blame and misplaced responsibility. Child victims internalize their feelings, fears, adding to the injury.

But over time, these injuries manifest in other ways – re-victimization, physical health problems such as diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease; mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, cutting; suicidal behavior; eating disorders and obesity; alcohol and drug abuse; aggression, violence and criminal behavior; and high risk sexual behavior.

These later in life manifestations come with a grave price – financial, personal, and social. According to the CDC, the total lifetime estimated financial costs associated with just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and neglect) are approximately $124 billion.

And that’s just one year.

Only when we listen and believe (or at the very least not criticize and judge) will those who have experienced abuse find the courage to tell their story. Only when cases are aggressively investigated and prosecuted and those who committed the abuse adjudged and penalized will we be able to turn back the terrifying tide of increasing abuse rates.

At Family & Children’s Place, we work to heal trauma from abuse, neglect, and violence, but we also work to prevent it – to give every child the chance at a happy, healthy, and most important, safe life. We won’t stop until no more headlines read, “Child dies from abuse,” or “Man charged after child dies from inflicted injuries.”

It’s a pursuit we all share responsibility for. It’s up to each and all of us to provide an environment where children feel safe, empowered, and judgment free to disclose their abuse. Only then can we say we genuinely protect children and childhoods.

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