June 14, 2014

Official stresses importance of reporting suspected child abuse; how to do it

Daphne Young has a message for people who think a child might be abused but don’t report it.

Daphne Young has a message for people who think a child might be abused but don’t report it.

“When you’re silent, when you don’t act … I feel like they are colluding with the predator instead of the child,” said Young, vice president of communications and prevention education for Childhelp, which she describes as the nation’s largest and oldest organization dealing with treatment and prevention of child abuse.

“Five children die each day as a result of child abuse,” Young said.

If you don’t report, she said, “You’re really taking a chance on their life.”

It might ruin someone’s day, but that’s a relatively small price, she said.

There is a lot less false reporting than under-reporting, she said.

Young asks that anyone confused about how to report suspected abuse call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453). The hotline is staffed around the clock by professional crisis counselors, with interpreting available for virtually any language.

The hotline can walk a person through how to report and can link the caller with emergency services, including 911, Young said. “They might say, ‘hang up the phone and call 911 and do these three things.’ ”

The calls are kept anonymous, she said. “We’re not tracing their calls.”

Too often, she said, people can be reluctant to report their suspicion because they don’t want to get involved or they worry they might be wrong.

She wants people to realize “they don’t have to be detectives, they can trust their instincts.” They don’t have to know everything about a situation before they call in.

Child advocates recommend that people call 911 immediately if they sense that a child might be in immediate danger.

Another piece of advice from Young: Take seriously anything a child discloses, and remain calm so you can get basic information without leading the child on. Let a trained forensic investigator get the whole story. Don’t play investigator, or you can taint an investigation.

Remember that abuse may not be as obvious as marks or bruises. It could be as subtle as a child looking withdrawn. “Anything that seems off,” she said.

Children being abused might rely on someone outside the family to report a suspicion because so often the abuse comes from someone in the family or close to the family.

Young said statistics show that 68 percent of victims are abused by family members and that 90 percent of sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator.

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