Survivors of child abuse may carry physical and emotional scars with them throughout their lives. In California, San Diego County reports more than 70,000 cases of child abuse each year, according to Home Start, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse.
If you or your child has been a victim of child abuse, help is available through many state and private agencies, and your child may be entitled to take civil action against the negligent party or perpetrator.
What are the types of child abuse?
Children are abused in many different ways, and the signs of child abuse are likewise varied. If you have or care for a child, be on the lookout for common symptoms of abuse.
Neglect: Child neglect is one of the most common forms of abuse. Neglect consists of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, such as food, hygiene, shelter or supervision. A child who is neglected may appear dirty or wear torn or ill-fitting clothes. The child may be alone often or may miss school frequently.
Emotional Abuse: Children are sensitive to the moods of the adults surrounding them. A child who is emotionally abused may be frequently yelled at or belittled. Emotional abuse also occurs when a child is a witness to abuse, such as domestic abuse between parents or mistreatment of the family pet.
A child who is suffering from emotional abuse may be anxious or withdrawn. He or she may have extreme moods, ranging from being very angry and aggressive to being very passive and submissive. The child may regress to infantile behavior below that appropriate for his or her age.
Physical Abuse: People who physically abuse children often do so in an attempt to “discipline” the child. However, discipline becomes abuse when it is excessive, inappropriate to the age of the child or unusually cruel. People who are physically abusive tend to injure the child when they are angry, rather than in a controlled attempt at discipline. The abuse may be unpredictable, and the child is often left in a state of constant fear.
Children who have been physically abused may shy away from being touched or have a generally fearful attitude. There may be visible bruises and injuries, or an abuser may conceal their injuries with clothing. Any visible injuries may have a pattern, such as prints left by a hand or a belt, and the child may have concocted excuses to explain the injuries. Similarly, a child’s abuser may state that the child is clumsy or accident-prone in order to defray suspicion.
Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse is underreported because the child may feel ashamed and guilty about what has occurred. The abuser may have threatened the child or the child’s family with harm if he or she reports the abuse. As a result, many survivors of sexual abuse never report the abuse until they are adults.
A child who has been sexually abused may be inappropriately knowledgeable about sexual behavior. Additionally, he or she may be extraordinarily shy when changing clothes, using a locker room or using the bathroom. If a child has an unexplained or excessive fear of a particular person, he or she may be attempting to avoid being alone with their abuser.
Who are common perpetrators of child abuse?
Possible perpetrators are not limited to certain groups of people, of course. But parents who suspect abuse may look at those with regular access to their children. This may include babysitters, daycare and preschool care providers, teachers, camp staff, an employer if the child works, and even neighbors or other relatives. The police may help identify the guilty party if you are unsure. A child psychologist also may be helpful in reaching the child.
What do I do if I suspect a child is being abused?
If a child is in immediate danger, call 911. If you are certain that a child has been abused, contact the San Diego Police Department directly at (619) 531-2000 or (858) 484-3154. If you are suspicious of a child’s situation and believe that it should be investigated, contact San Diego’s Child Protective Services Child Abuse Hotline at (858) 560-2191 or (800) 344-6000. Social Services will investigate your report and make sure the child is protected.
After the child is out of danger, the child or the parents of the child may be able to recover damages from the child’s abuser. The attorneys at Hiden, Rott & Oertle, LLP help victims of child abuse and their families receive justice from the person or entity that caused or facilitated the abuse. Call 619-296-5884 or visit our online contact page to speak with one of our attorneys and schedule a free initial consultation.
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