Mommy Mob: How to Tackle Child Abuse

I was six the first time I heard about a child being horribly abused. My older brother was the one spilling the beans. I can remember locking myself in the bathroom at the time, crying and covering my ears to block out the story. Probably not the most productive response, but all these years later, it’s still sometimes feels like the most natural reaction when there’s news of someone hurting a little kid.

Of all the unsettling things about 2011, few felt like a punch in the gut the way the scandals at Penn State and Syracuse University involving sexual abuse of kid did. The year also brought a series of CNN reports on a stomach-churning parenting book that advises using “a rod” to discipline children . . . and the child deaths that followed.

Thinking of out-of-control adults targeting helpless kids leaves most of us feeling pretty powerless. So, if I’m not supposed to hide or scream, what can I do?

That’s what I’ve spent the first part of the new year trying to figure out: whether there’s some way I can protect not just my daughter, but kids in general from abuse. It turns out, there’s a lot I can do to put the power back where it belongs: not with the abusers but with children and those of us who want them safe. If all of us who hate child abuse made a new year’s resolution to do a few of these things, our kids would get a much safer 2012. Here are four things I found I can do:

  • Talk to your kids. Yes, even your little kids. There are age-appropriate ways to arm children with the ideas and words that could protect them in a dangerous situation. Stop It Now has some great suggestions for how to talk to your child or teen about abuse. Letting your child know you are there to listen, whatever he or she wants to talk about, is important. Another good idea from the experts: reinforce that your child’s body is his or her own. If something you don’t think is a big deal makes your child uncomfortable—whether it’s hugs hello for Auntie or tickle wars with brother—go ahead and honor your kid’s desire to put some boundaries around his or her body. Kids should get in the practice of making that call for themselves.
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  • Help child victims. We, the community, are responsible for the little ones who need protection most. It’s not just about reporting suspected abuse, though that’s important. (The Texas Abuse hotline takes calls 24 hours a day: 800-252-5400.) You can also volunteer your time or make a donation to an organization like Texas CASA, which matches each of its volunteers to a child in the foster care system in need of mentoring and support. To learn about other local groups working to address child abuse and neglect, try I Live Here, I Give Here’s “Connect with What You Care About” online tool.
  • Pressure elected leaders to act. Imagine if there were services out there so effective that they cut in half the chance that a child will ever be abused.  It’s not a fantasy. These programs exist, and vulnerable kids need grown-ups to speak out for them. Let the people in elected office know that keeping kids safe is your priority. It takes only seconds to call the office of your representative or to jot a quick email of support. Sign up for action alerts from Texans Care for Children (where I work), and we’ll let you know when your action matters most and what you can say to have the greatest impact on decisions about child protection.

We as moms know we can’t live in fear all the time, and we don’t want to instill paranoia in our children. But we also need to be responsible. I’d love to hear fellow moms’ experiences with striking that balance. How did you broach talking about abuse with your child? What tips do you have about leveling with kids without scaring them unnecessarily?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Edmund Garman: A display for child abuse awareness

Written by: Christine Sinatra

About Christine Sinatra 53 Articles
Christine Sinatra is the communications director for Texans Care for Children and mom to a kindergartener. Her past experience includes working as a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and the Oakland Tribune company, being a Peace Corps volunteer for high school girls in Africa, and studying at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

2 Comments on Mommy Mob: How to Tackle Child Abuse

  1. As a mom, this is my biggest fear. I tell my kids that if anyone ever tells them to keep a secret from their mom or dad, that is exactly the secret they need to tell us. That they can tell me anything and I will keep it locked away it will stay a secret with me and I hold to that. I can also tell when something is bothering my kids, it may be just that another kid rubbed in that they got some toy my child didn’t, but it bothered them. As a parent, I make sure to dig in in a nice loving way until they come clean about what is bothering them and I do whatever I can to make them feel better. Getting them in the habit of telling me their problems now and earning trust will help. With the little ones we spend a few minutes at bedtime every night talking about what “good” happened in the day as well as what “bad” or that made them “sad” happened. I also attempt to arm them with protection as much as possible, they have been told that NO ONE should ever see them naked except a parent or doctor when a parent is present. I make sure even at playground or play park no matter their age that they need to always be able to see me, if they can’t see me I can’t see them. If they complain, I say “What’s mommy’s number one job?” and they recite “Keep us safe.” There is little way to protect them from a forceful attack, but I have my oldest taking a Taekwondo class that discusses kid safety and what to do in various situations to arm them as best as we can. I plan on having the other two enter once they reach school age. Also, only send your kids to camps, etc… that run full background checks on all staff members. And check on them with others to find one that is safe. It shocks me sometimes what parents will do to save money and if they ever were out at a park or pool when some of the day cares and/or camps are there they would see there is a WIDE variation in how much their kids are actually watched. Also, regularly check the state registered sexual offenders list for potential offenders in your area. Knowing they are there and where can help keep your kids and you safe.

  2. I read Protecting the Gift and felt it had some good ideas about how to keep kids safe. One of the recommendations that stuck with me was teaching your children, if they are separated from you, to find a “mom” and ask for help. There is not always someone in uniform and the idea is that people can put on uniforms and not necessarily be trusted. It’s certainly something that’s hard NOT to think about.

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