April is both Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Awareness month. The following article is the first article of a four-week series focusing on raising awareness about sexual assault and child abuse. 2 in 5 women and 1 in 5 men will experience a form of sexual abuse/assault in their lifetime.
Last year roughly 42,717 children in Texas experienced child abuse including sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. Locally, in 2020 Roxanne’s House, the child advocacy center serving Hays and Caldwell counties served 530 victims of child abuse.
Child abuse affects children in numerous ways: psychologically, behaviorally, and physically.
Feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear are common as well as experiencing low self-esteem.
Behaviorally, self-harm can be a common way a child or teen copes with feelings resulting from abuse and in some cases thoughts of wanting to die occur.
Trouble sleeping, bed wetting, and being frequently absent from school are just a few other possible behavioral effects.
Physically, marks, bruises, or broken bones are effects of abuse that are more easily detected.
PTSD (post traumatic syndrome disorder) symptomscan be frequent too and can include flashbacks of the trauma, avoiding people and places that remind the child of the abuse and being hypervigilant.
Roxanne’s House Children’s Counselor Heidi Reddin shares how knowing the signs of abuse can ultimately help children:
“It is important to recognize the signs because not all signs are always visible. It is common for children to suffer the abuse in silence. In knowing what to look for and reporting this, you can help a child be introduced to therapeutic resources and support and ultimately, help begin healing from their trauma.”
When uninterrupted, child abuse continues, children remain in abusive homes or situations and the effects can be more severe. A child becomes an adult who may not have had the opportunity to heal from their abuse. As adults, victims of child abuse may struggle in their interpersonal relationships, depression and anxiety symptoms continue and they too can become parents of children who are victims of abuse.
Camille Clark, Roxanne’s House Children’s Counselor shares the role adults play in ending the cycle of abuse:
“Stopping the cycle of abuse starts with parents and adults who chose to do things differently. Who work on themselves and make the effort to handle their children or the children around them differently than they were treated. Giving the next generation a positive experience and teaching them the skills they need to succeed physically and emotionally is the key. You may not see the results now, but you sure will when those children become adults and eventually parents. Then you will see a new cycle begin. A cycle of love and healing.”
Responding to An Outcry of Abuse
There is always the possibility for hope and healing which can begin when a child tells someone of their abuse for the first time. Knowing how to respond to a child’s disclosure of abuse is essential. If a child discloses abuse, remain calm and listen. A child disclosing abuse means that they feel safe and ready to tell. If the person receiving the disclosure becomes angry or questions the child, this can make them shut down. Caregivers in a child’s life play a crucial role in a child’s healing simply by listening, believing and supporting their child. A believing, supportive caregiver is a huge factor in a child’s healing journey after experiencing abuse.
Brandon Pendleton, Roxanne’s House Forensic Interviewer/Family Advocate echoes the role of adults:
“One of the most important protections against childhood trauma becoming lifelong trauma is a supportive, caring adult in that child’s life.”
Listen, Believe, Support
All children deserve to grow in a healthy, safe environment free of abuse. Remember to always report known or suspected child abuse at 1-800-252-5400 or online at www.txabusehotline.orgas reporting abuse is another key step in interrupting the cycle of child abuse.
Throughout the month of April, in addition to this article series, we will be sharing content across all our social media platforms as well as hosting online events. We encourage our allies to participate and share our message with their friends and relatives to LISTEN without judgment, BELIEVE without prejudice, and SUPPORT our neighbors that have suffered abuse. Please join us on Thursday, April 8th at 2:00 pm for livestream tour of our Transitional Housing Project on Facebook.
Ashley Rios, LCSW has been with HCWC since June 2008. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and Master of Social Work degree from Texas State University. She was a children’s counselor at Roxanne’ House and provided services to child victims of abuse which included play therapy and trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy. Now, as the Roxanne’s House Program Director she offers support to the Roxanne’s House staff as well as builds relationships with community agencies to support victims of child abuse. She is Bilingual in Spanish and English and also provides supervision to BSW and MSW interns at Roxanne’s House.