Child abuse experts speak out: We must do better
April was Child Abuse Awareness Month. Unfortunately, the month provided us with relentless evidence that too many children and adolescents live in dangerous and/or neglectful situations. Others are objectified and sexualized, then exploited by families, the media, or corporations.
In Texas, over 400 children and adolescents were removed from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Initial findings suggest that some of the children were sexually abused, with a large number of adolescent females having been impregnated by adult members of the FLDS community. Now removed form their parents, these young people and their own children face complicated legal and psychological journeys, the loss of family and friends, and possible long-term detrimental effects of the abuse.
It was alleged in Austria that a 73-year-old man had imprisoned his daughter in a basement for 24 years where he repeatedly raped and impregnated her. She gave birth to seven children, three of whom lived with her in the cellar, never seeing the light of day. This young woman and her children will be confronted with enormous challenges in adjusting to life outside the cellar and may well be plagued with serious psychological problems for a very long time.
Finally, 15-year-old Disney star and teen idol Miley Cyrus (also known as Hannah Montana) was photographed in sexually suggestive poses, including one with her father, for Vanity Fair Magazine. The 2007 Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualization.html) advises that the sexualization of girls is associated with eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. Sexualization potentially effects not only the individual girl being objectified, but also others girls who internalize messages that their worth is measured by their sexual appeal.
A substantial body of well-settled research explains how trauma affects victims and why it can lead to long-term negative effects. We at the Leadership Council feel that the events of Child Abuse Awareness Month highlight the ongoing urgent need to educate society including parents, children, teachers, lawyers, judges, and the psychotherapeutic community about the incidence and potentially damaging effects of the abuse, neglect, and sexualization of young people.
Protecting children requires a community effort. All of us can help educate family, friends, and colleagues about child abuse. Individuals and families also can consider donating to organizations dedicated to preventing and confronting child abuse. Finally, this is an election year. The public can educate themselves about candidates who make child protection a priority and who support legislative efforts to further the civil rights of children.