Mind Matters — Put Children First
In 1873, animals had legal protection, children did not. And so, when a church worker, Mrs. Etta Wheeler visited a home and found a horribly abused child, she sought recourse. However, the justice system did nothing. She then petitioned the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for help. She declared to the ASPCA that if there were laws and organizations to protect animals, then children, as members of the animal kingdom, should be protected also. The ASPCA agreed.
Later, children had their own forum when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded. Despite societies, foundations, and laws for the protection of children, physical and sexual abuse continues.
Ironically, the very same reasons our hearts melt when we see pictures of sweet innocent faces of children or we open our wallets to donate to Operation Smile or Children’s Hospital, are the very same reasons children are mistreated. We respond to how children are helpless and subordinate: they have no power, no say about their fate. The dark side of the coin of our largesse is our ability to abuse those who are our subordinates. The issues why adults sexually or physically abuse children are complex. The abusers themselves may have been victims of abuse, and they are continuing the pattern of oppressed becoming oppressor.
However, psychological renderings of the whys don’t suffice. We must put the child first—the one who has no control of the money, has no voice, has no power.
It would have been an easy call if Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier said to themselves “The child comes first,” not the money, not the prestige, not the power.
Despite their disconnect from the world below their ivory perch, Paterno and Spanier are not alone in their forgetting “the child comes first.”
There are teachers who are sadistic bullies; there are fathers who rape their daughters; and there are mothers who are vicious and cruel to their own children. The dark side doesn’t discriminate: it looms in Amish families (yes, Amish families) as well as alcoholic families, in rich homes and poor homes; in the best schools and the worst schools.
Our denial of the dark side does us in. We get shocked when we hear yet another pedestal crash to the ground. Awareness of the problem and educating ourselves about what we can do is a start. We also need not to have the pendulum swing in the direction of fear either. To answer the problem of child abuse with sweeping laws (agreed, we do need strong legislation) that would create an atmosphere of recrimination is not the solution. If we keep in mind the mantras, “the best interests of the child” or the “child first,” in legislation, then perhaps we won’t slip into situations that use the law to manipulate and retaliate, e.g., in divorce cases, where one parent can be wrongly accused by the other parent for child abuse. This obviously is not putting the child first.
I would like to see us put the child first everywhere. And don’t confuse this with permissiveness. Putting the child first means allowing our children to feel safe to grow and develop into adults that will carry on the lessons they have learned: to be respectful of others as they were respected; to be caring of others as they were cared for.
The following items have been taken from online material of the APA (American Psychological Association), Child Sexual Abuse:
Who are the victims of child sexual abuse?
- Children of all ages, races, ethnicities, cultures, and economic backgrounds are vulnerable to sexual abuse.
- Child sexual abuse occurs in rural, urban, and suburban areas.
- It affects both girls and boys in all kinds of neighborhoods and communities, and in countries around the world.
Who are the perpetrators of child sexual abuse?
- Most children are abused by someone they know and trust.
- An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, childcare providers, neighbors.
- About 30% of perpetrators are family members, e.g., fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins.
- Just 10% of perpetrators are strangers to the child.
- In most cases, the perpetrator is male regardless of whether the victim is a boy or girl. Heterosexual and gay men are equally likely to sexually abuse children. A perception that most perpetrators are gay men is a myth and harmful stereotype.
How prevalent is child sexual abuse?
- Some CDC research has estimated that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
- Other governmental research has estimated that approximately 300,000 children are abused every year in the United States.
- However, accurate statistics on the prevalence of sexual abuse of children and adolescents are difficult to collect because it is vastly underreported and there are differing definitions of what constitutes sexual abuse.
- Boys (and later, men) tend not to report their victimization, which may affect statistics. Some men even feel societal pressure to be proud of early sexual activity regardless of whether it was unwanted.
- Boys are more likely than girls to be abused outside of the family.
- Most mental health and child protection professionals agree that child sexual abuse is not uncommon and is a serious problem in the United States.
What steps can parents/caregivers take to prevent and minimize risk for sexual abuse?
Teach your children
- Basic sexual education - a health professional can provide basic sexual education to your children if you feel uncomfortable doing so.
- That sexual advances from adults are wrong.
- To communicate openly - they should feel free to ask questions and talk about their experiences. Make it clear that they should feel free to report abuse to you or any other trusted adult. If you’re concerned about possible sexual abuse, ask questions.
- The difference between good secrets (those that are not kept secret for long) and bad secrets (those that must stay secret forever).
- The difference between “okay” and “not okay” touches.
- Accurate names for their private parts and how to take care of them (i.e., bathing, wiping after bathroom use) so they don’t have to rely on adults or older children for help.
- That adults and older children never need help with their own private parts.
- That they can make decisions about their own bodies and say “no” when they do not want to be touched or do not want to touch others (even refusing to give hugs).
What should parents/caregivers do if they suspect abuse?
- Ask for help - There are a number of organizations focused on providing assistance to families dealing with child abuse
- American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children:
- NationalCenter for Missing and Exploited Children:
24 hour hotline: (800) THE-LOST
- Child Help USA:
- Prevent Child Abuse America:
- Child Welfare Information Gateway (formerly National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information):
- Protecting Our Children from Abuse and Neglect
- Resolution Opposing Child Sexual Abuse
- Topics page on Sexual Abuse
- Understanding Child Sexual Abuse
- Understanding and Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect