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Child Abuse

Children are severely damaged by sexual abuse. The psychological damage leads to distrust of authority figures, a sense of shame and reduced self esteem. Many children think it is somehow their fault that they were abused. An abused child learns to trade sexual favors for approval, and to appease the adults upon whom he or she is dependent. The child’s developing sense of self-worth is necessarily shallow and nourished by the fact that his or her primary worth is an object of sexual gratification of another, and/or of keeping a secret requested by an authority.

Child abuse can take many forms. Federal law provides a foundation definition of child abuse and neglect in The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which individual States must incorporate into their own definitions. Basically, child abuse and neglect can be separated into four categories:  physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.

If a child is being hurt or is in danger right now, call 911 immediately and ask for the police.

In Oregon, 10,186 victims of child abuse and neglect were identified by DHS/SCF in the year 2000 (a 9.4% decrease from the previous year.) There were 35,552 reports (up 2.5% from the previous year) of child abuse or neglect made to DHS/SCF. The number of reports shows a 51% increase since 1991. Child deaths continue to be a tragic result of abuse and neglect. In the year 2000 there were 21 children killed by abuse or neglect. Twelve of these deaths resulted from neglect. Nine were caused by abuse.

Across the United States, more than 2,000 children die each year from child abuse and neglect.

  • Sexual Abuse:  Sexual abuse of a child includes any use of a child for sexual gratification. This includes any inducement, persuasion, or coercion of a child to engage in or assist with sexual activity, including rape, child prostitution, indecent exposure, or exploitation of a child by production of pornographic materials. The Child Welfare Information Gateway estimates that 10% of abused children experience some form of sexual abuse.
  • There were 1,185 children sexually abused in Oregon in 2000. Sixty-five percent of sex abuse occurred within the family. Child sexual abuse occurs when a person over the age of 18 years uses or attempts to use a child for their own sexual gratification. This includes incest, rape, sodomy, sexual penetration, fondling, exposure/voyeurism, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation. Abusers often use threats to keep children quiet.

It is everyone’s responsibility to help prevent child abuse. However, some individuals are defined by Oregon statute as “mandatory reporters” and have a greater duty than others.

According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway, professionals such as teachers, physicians, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, neuropsychologists, social workers, case managers, administrators and many others are responsible for reporting 56% of all alleged cases of child abuse or neglect. 44% of these cases are reported by nonprofessionals like friends, relatives, or neighbors.

Child Abuse should be reported directly to the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) Child Protective Services (CPS) or to a local Law Enforcement Agency.

Making a child abuse report

Either Oregon Department of Health Service DHS or a law enforcement officer will need a specific allegation of abuse before they can conduct an investigation. If you have a concern about a child, and you have a relationship with him or her that allows it, you could ask the child about your concern in a non-threatening, non-leading way. General questions like, “Is there anything wrong?” or “You look upset, is there something you want to talk about?” may help encourage him or her to talk to you.

DHS cannot respond unless there is a specific allegation of abuse. “Mary seems withdrawn and quiet,” is not an allegation of abuse. If Mary comes to school with bruises on her face and tells you, “I don’t want to go home because my mom hit me,” you should report it.

Always pay close attention when a child tells you about being abused. If possible, provide as much information about the abuse as possible:

  • Names and addresses of child and parent
  • Child’s age
  • Type and extent of abuse
  • Any previous evidence of abuse
  • Explanation for abuse
  • Information to help establish the cause of abuse or the abuser

You do NOT need to know the name of the abuser before you report.

The more information you can provide DHS, the easier the assessment will be for the child and family.

Also, the more quickly you get the information to DHS/CPS, the more likely they can respond effectively. Bruises and other physical marks can fade, and it is important for the investigators to have as complete a picture as possible.

After the report is made, CPS follows a process which includes six possible decision points for every child abuse report:

  1. Screening
  2. Assessment
  3. Determine whether abuse occurred
  4. Decide if the child is safe at home
  5. Agree on a plan for services
  6. Close the protective services case

Who is a Mandatory Reporter?

Seventy-five percent (75%) of the child abuse reports made last year were made by mandatory reporters. In some cases, especially for small children, you may be the only person outside their family who sees them. The information you have is vital.

As a mandatory reporter, if you have reasonable cause to believe a child with whom you have had contact is being abused or a person has abused a child, you must tell either the Department of Human Resources CPS office, or a law enforcement agency (city or state police, sheriff or county juvenile department).

Oregon law defines mandatory reporters. A mandatory reporter is anyone who works in the following occupations:

  • Physician, including interns and residents.
  • Dentist.
  • School employee.
  • Licensed practical nurse or registered nurse.
  • Employee of the Department of Human Resources, State Commission on Children and Families, Child Care Division of the Employment Department, the Oregon Youth Authority, a county health department, a community mental health and developmental disabilities program, a county juvenile department, a licensed child-caring agency, or an alcohol and drug treatment program.
  • Peace officer.
  • Psychologist.
  • Clergy.
  • Licensed clinical social worker
  • Optometrist.
  • Chiropractor.
  • Certified provider of day care or foster care, or an employee thereof.
  • Attorney.
  • Naturopathic physician.
  • Licensed professional counselor.
  • Licensed marriage and family therapist.
  • Firefighter or emergency medical technician.
  • A court appointed special advocate, as defined in ORS 419A.004.
  • A child care provider registered or certified under ORS 657A.030 and 657A.250 to 657A.450.

When does confidentiality override the need to report abuse?

If you are a mandatory reporter, your obligation to make a report applies regardless of whether or not your knowledge of the abuse was gained in your official capacity. Those people who have been granted the right of privileged communication by ORS 40.225 to 40.295 are not required to report information about abuse if the information is gained in a situation where the professional/client relationship is protected. If you have any questions, contact DHS or your licensing board.

What if a mandatory reporter doesn’t report?

Mandatory reporters must make a formal report to DHS or law enforcement agencies. Reporting abuse to your work supervisor does not exempt you from the mandatory requirement of reporting. The report must be made by you. If you are a mandatory reporter and you do NOT report, you may face:

  • Criminal penalties
  • Civil lawsuits
  • Loss of professional accreditation

Failure to report is a crime, and carries a maximum penalty of $1,000.

Given the serious extent of their failure to act, mandatory reporters have also been successfully sued for damages in civil court for failing to report. Some reporters have lost their professional certification for failing to report.

Know your responsibilities

If you suspect that a child is being abused and neglected, the best thing you can do to protect that child is to take action immediately. It is very important to act quickly before that child’s life is irrevocably altered by a catastrophic event resulting from the abuse or neglect. Not only is acting quickly in the child’s best interest, but it is also the law. Anyone who could have prevented the child’s injury or could have reported the suspected abuse before the child was affected could be held liable for damages if they fail to act.

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