Child Abuse Prevention Month: From Awareness to Action
By Boz Tchividjian
As many of you may know, April is designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. What does this mean for us? More importantly, what does this mean for children? I have little doubt that most reading this post acknowledge the evil of this offense and would be overjoyed if no more children were ever abused or neglected. Unfortunately, taking a few minutes during one month of the year to give thought to this evil with the hope that it will end is simply not enough. I am convinced that in order to prevent child abuse, the world community (that means you and I!) is going to have to become much more aware of its prevalence and its destruction. An awareness that will hopefully become the fuel to action. An action not limited to thoughts and hopes. I plead with you to be aware:
Be aware that in 2013, over 3.5 million children were reported as abused or neglected involving over 6 million children.
Be aware that a report of child abuse in the United States is made every 10 seconds.
Be aware that in 2013, approximately one-fifth of every child abuse report was found to be “substantiated”. This means that almost 700,000 children were confirmed abused or neglected. For every 1000 children, 9 of them were victims of abuse or neglect. Keep in mind, this doesn’t include the vast majority of child abuse that never gets reported or investigated.
Be aware that child sexual abuse is 75x more common than pediatric cancer.
Be aware that there is at least one child molester per square mile in the United States.
Be aware that approximately 38% of all girls and 16% of boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. With 75 million children in the United States, this translates to almost 15 million children who will be sexually victimized over the next 18 years.
Pinwheels – courtesy of Edmund Garman via Flickr
Be aware that child abuse is all too prevalent inside faith communities…and I don’t just mean the Catholic Church. In fact, there is persuasive evidence that sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy/church staff is actually greater within Protestant communities. A few years ago, three of the major protestant church insurance carriers reported that they receive a total of approximately 260 reports of minors being sexually victimized by clergy or church staff/volunteers. In contrast, the Catholic Church has reported that there have been approximately 13,000 “credible” claims of child sexual abuse against Catholic clergy since 1950. Doing the math, this means an average of approximately 228 reports a year. I realize that these numbers are far from scientific and are open to various interpretations. However, I also realize that child sexual abuse is one of the most underreported crimes and that the numbers children being abused in both the Protestant and Catholic communities are far higher than we will ever know.
Be aware of the lifetime health effects of child abuse and neglect? The Adverse Child Experience studyhas found that that adults who suffered one or more “adverse childhood experience” are at a much higher risk of suffering from alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, depression, attempted suicide, obesity, liver disease, heart disease, and numerous other health related problems.
Be aware that the lifetime spiritual effects of child abuse and neglect are often no less devastating than the physical and emotional costs. One study of child abuse survivors found many suffered from a significant “spiritual injury” such as feelings of guilt, anger, grief, despair, doubt, fear of death, and belief that God is unfair. In a recent informal online survey published by GRACE, many abuse survivors corroborated the study results with deeply painful disclosures:
I thought I was unlovable. God only “loved” me because he had to since he said he loved the world, but he didn’t really care about me. I had a bowling God-he set up the pins just to knock them down again. God could never love me, because I could never be good enough for him to love me.
Since God didn’t like me, I lived for 50+ years convinced he’d throw me out if I bothered him too much. I’m still trying to learn how to live loved, 60 years late.
It took me years to believe that God did anything more than merely tolerate me.
Be aware that we must all make a difference in bringing an end to this nightmare. We must all begin relentlessly seeking ways to deliver hope to precious children who wake up each day fearing that they will be once again be hurt. We must all begin relentlessly seeking ways to reach out to those little ones who live in fear each night about what will happen when the lights go off. We must all begin relentlessly seeking ways to unconditionally love those survivors who continue struggling with being “unlovable”. We must all begin relentlessly seeking ways to live out the amazing love of God to those who have all but given up. We must all be relentless. Children and survivors deserve nothing less from us.
Let me encourage you to take a first step on this relentless journey by sharing this post and initiate conversations with your family, friends, and co-workers about how each of you can play a part in ending abuse and bringing safety, dignity, and hope back into the lives of so many beautiful image bearers of God. I can think of no better month to begin such a relentless journey.
Boz Tchividjian is the founder and executive director of GRACE.
This article was originally published on April 10, 2015 for the Religion News Service (RNS). Used with permission.