The Tragic Problem of Child Abuse
My husband and I were recently in
Israel. Almost everywhere we went, we saw
children, running, playing, shouting. I thought
that Jesus must have seen children, too, as He
visited the places we did, and I was tenderly
reminded of how much He loves children.
On one occasion the disciples tried to keep
the children from Jesus, and the Bible says He
rebuked them. Jesus said, Suffer little
children, and forbid them not, to come unto me:
for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14).
Jesus not only had a special love for
children while He was here on earth, but when He
returns He is going to give special attention to
them. Zechariah 8:5 says, And the streets of
the city shall be full of boys and girls playing
in the streets thereof.
Unfortunately, there are people today who
do not share God’s love for children. Instead,
they abuse children, mistreat them, and even
kill them. Child abuse is now being called
“the most under-reported crime in the United
States.” America’s children — our nation’s
most precious resource — are in peril.
Scarcely a day goes by without the
headlines screaming out the tragic loss of a child’s
life somewhere in the country, or the media
reports another case of sexual abuse of an
innocent child or the beating of a youngster. It
is a tragedy, a crime of monstrous proportions,
with children — the most vulnerable members
of our society — the targets of abuse.
Psychologists are now telling us that
parents who physically or emotionally abuse their
small children were reared in a similar
manner. In view of this, child abuse is a matter we
must make our concern. My reading has
revealed that parents who batter their children,
whether emotionally, physically, or a
combination of both, say that is how they were
raised. They say they don’t know any other
way to keep their kids in line. Thus the cycle
of abuse continues from one generation to another.
Abuse often goes unrecognized
One tragedy of child abuse is that parental
or adult child abusers often go unrecognized
for a number of reasons. Often the outside
world really doesn’t want to become involved
in what could turn out to be a long, drawn-out
situation. There may not be enough evidence
for outsiders to justify their early involvement,
or they may want to spare the child any
additional, needless hurt.
Another reason child abusers go unrecognized
and unpunished is because of adult
denial. When a child reports that he has been
or is being abused by an adult, too often his
parents or the authorities will deny it. Some
parents who do not wish to cause problems
within the family or with friends or neighbors
will shame their children into silence.
We have Sigmund Freud to blame, in part,
for parental denial. He fashioned what came
to be called the “seduction theory” based upon
early encounters with young girls who were
brought to him by their parents. In 1905 he
published the theory that children were ruled
by their infantile sexual desires and that the
sexual “abuses” children reported could not be
believed as real events because the abuses
were merely the children’s own deepest wishes.
Because of this, our culture, pervaded with
Freudian psychology, for 60 years has ignored
or de-emphasized children’s reports of seduction,
cruelty, and sexual coercion by family
members and/or by friends or neighbors.
Some adults are now speaking out after
years of silence and telling of their experiences
as abused children. They say that a
common message they received was, “You’re
bad even to think such thoughts,” when they
tried telling their mothers what was actually happening.
Fortunately, today people are beginning to
be aware of child abuse, to talk about it, and to
do something about it. Recent reports in the
news media about child abuse at preschools
have done much to heighten public awareness
of the problem. This has led to the formation
of community services and self-help groups
to deal with the increasing problems both for
abusers and the abused.
Awareness within the Christian community
has grown along with public awareness.
Adult “care-givers” in both arenas are working
diligently to provide treatment and counsel.
They are even teaching youngsters how to
protect themselves from abuse and where to
go for help if it is needed. We should recognize
and admit that the abuse of children is a
problem that affects not only society but the
church as well. The church should be ready at
all times to minister to an abused child or to
an abusive family.
What is child abuse?
How is child abuse actually defined? The
public is, by and large, uncertain as to what
constitutes abuse, and that accounts, in part,
for an under-reporting of suspected child abuse.
“Doesn’t every parent have the responsibility
and the right to discipline his child?”
someone may ask. As Christians, we believe
we have a biblical mandate to train up our
children in the way they should go, and where
necessary, to use corrective measures. My
own parents, as well as Jack’s parents,
exercised controlled discipline with us, and I see
others doing the same. The key word is
Professionals who speak of child abuse are
not referring to the spankings parents give
their children now and then when the children
deserve a firm hand on the bottom of their
anatomy. Abuse, they say, isn’t something
that happens “now and then.” It is consistent
and severe and is motivated by the parents’
hostility and unresolved inner conflict rather
than by a desire to change the child’s behavior.
It is usually irrational and uncontrolled.
Often the abusing parent has unrealistic
expectations of what the child is capable of
doing and giving. I’ve seen parents fly into a
rage in a restaurant when their two- or
three-year-old spills his milk. Parents who respond
in an uncontrolled manner will view the
child’s accident as a commentary on their
behavior rather than as a normal three-year-old’s
The National Committee for Prevention of
Child Abuse describes child abuse in this way:
- Child abuse is an injury or a pattern of
injuries to a child that is non-accidental.
- Child abuse is damage to a child for
which there is no reasonable explanation.
- Child abuse includes nonaccidental
physical injury, sexual molestation,
neglect, and emotional abuse.
Nonaccidental physical injury may include
severe beatings, burns, human bites, or
immersion in scalding water.
Sexual molestation is exploitation of a
child for the sexual gratification of an adult,
such as rape, incest, fondling of the genitals,
Neglect is a failure to provide a child with
the basic necessities of life which include
food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.
Emotional abuse is excessive, aggressive,
or unreasonable parental behavior that places
unreasonable demands upon the child to
perform above his capabilities. Examples may
include constant teasing, belittling, or verbal
attacks; no love, no support, and no guidance.
- Child abuse is NOT usually a single
physical attack or a single act of deprivation
or molestation. Child abuse is a
pattern of behavior. Its effects are
cumulative: the longer it continues, the
more serious it becomes and the more
serious the child’s injuries.
Signs of abuse: what to look for
What should you look for if you suspect
abuse? Are there signs?
Victims will often retreat into a silent
world. The reason for this is that they are
frightened or they may innately sense that
what has happened to them is wrong and they
are too embarrassed to tell. They believe they
will be thought of as bad and that they will be
blamed or punished.
Watch for physical signs, warnings that
something is amiss. There may be bruises,
welts, genital pain, or bleeding. If a parent
observes drastic changes in a child’s behavior,
he or she should be sensitive to the fact that
something may be wrong. A toilet-trained
child may suddenly, for no apparent reason,
become a bed wetter. A child might resist a
babysitter whom he or she hadn’t objected to
Children may be sending unspoken
messages — an unusual quietness…not wanting to
discuss things that are happening at school.
Or the children may be unusually fearful.
There may be a cringing, drawing back from
being touched, a reluctance to meet strangers
or even people they know.
A child’s inability to concentrate in school
and subsequent poor grades may indicate that
some form of abuse is occurring in the home.
A child’s withdrawal from friends and fun
activities or difficulty in sleeping or eating are
other signs that something is amiss.
What can you do?
If you are a parent or care-giver and you
suspect child abuse, take the child to a
physician. Reassure the child that you love him,
but take steps to protect the child by calling
the police or child welfare bureau. Above all,
provide that assurance the child needs from
you. Impress upon him that he didn’t do
anything wrong in telling you. If you suspect
your spouse is molesting your child, win the
child’s confidence and ask appropriate
Teach your children how to recognize
danger. Let them know that most adults are
loving people but that there are some who may
cause them harm. They need to be taught that
they are not to go anywhere with a stranger or
even with a casual acquaintance and that they
are never to accept candy or money from such
a person. Teach your children to say no to an
adult who tries to bribe them in some way.
Teach your children that there are some
parts of the body that are not to be touched by
other people. You can teach your children that
not even people they love and trust should
ever touch them in these places…and they
should be wary when adult friends are acting
secretive or when they say, “Don’t tell.”
If you are an abusive parent who needs
help, I am happy to tell you that there are
support systems available. Parents Anonymous
has chapters throughout the country which
offer non-judgmental help. Their toll-free
number is 1-800-421-0353. Another self-help
organization is called SCAN, Stop Child
Abuse Now. For these and other helpful
groups, look in your telephone book under
There are also community mental health
clinics which provide help; family counseling
services; city, county, or state social agencies;
family mediation and crisis centers; and
parents’ aid societies. All such agencies and
organizations are listed in the telephone directory
white or yellow pages and most provide
services free of charge.
If you suspect that a child is being abused
in some way — whether physically, verbally,
emotionally, sexually, or through neglect — act
at once by calling the police department.
Even if you have no proof, don’t hold back.
Don’t be afraid of “causing trouble.” I’ve
been told that the police will act on
anonymous complaints of suspected child abusers,
so don’t fear involvement with the authorities.
Remember, it is the lives of innocent children
who are in peril.