Child abuse across Johnson county remains a problem
April is child abuse awareness month and when you look at the number of cases of abuse throughout the county, state and country, the task of getting these numbers down can seem daunting. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. Additionally, in Johnson County, less than 2 percent of abuse is made by a stranger. Most of the time, it is a family member or person known to the child, according to Tammy King, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Johnson County.
“Abuse is widespread,” King said. “It does not touch one socio-economic class or race. Every walk of life is affected.”
The CAC handles all levels of abuse cases and sees sexual abuse, physical, emotional and neglect cases on a daily basis. King wants to see members of the community step up for children and act as advocates. Not just during April, but throughout the whole year.
“If you see something that is out of place and wrong, and it’s a child you’ve observed for a long time, you can be a voice for that child,” King said. “You can play a key role and help us find kids who haven’t been found yet that we know are out there.”
King further said that if you suspect abuse is happening, the observer can make a ‘good faith report’ to the child abuse hotline, the CAC or your local police department. If a person makes a report in good faith and abuse is ruled out, the reporter does not get in trouble. However, if you know abuse is happening but do not report it, and is later discovered by authorities, you can be prosecuted.
“I really feel like we are doing a better job here in Johnson County,” King said. “Cases have been very successfully prosecuted and that has sent a strong message that we don’t tolerate abuse. This past year, I don’t remember a case of shaken baby syndrome, which is really good.”
However, King said that she continues to see cases of parents being in drug-induced states and falling asleep and suffocating their baby or toddler.
“Because they were in such a drug-induced state, they didn’t move or wake up, so their child died,” she said. “It’s very sad.”
King has also seen extreme cases of abuse and neglect, such as children being starved and locked in closets for years at a time. One child the CAC worked with was released from a closet to go to school during the day, but then spent the rest of her life locked up.
“When that child came home, she was forced to urinate and defecate in the closet,” King said. “She survived, but the damage had been done. She had what’s called reactive attachment disorder. She can’t bond and attach with people because of what occurred at such a young age.”
There is a mistaken perception that if children experience abuse at a young age, they will forget about it and grow up just fine. However, the first five years of a child’s life are the most formative years when bonding and feelings of trust and love are established.
“If abuse happens during those first five years, especially long-term abuse, a child will have a harder time coping later on in life than say a teenager who experiences abuse short-term,” King said.
Additionally, the rate of incest-type abuse is “incredibly high,” in the county, King said.
“The vast majority of our cases the child knows the person that hurt them or is a member of the family.”
Brandon Morris, licensed social worker and program director for the CAC, said sexually abused boys can have an especially hard time when they come to the CAC.
“It can be very confusing,” Morris said. “Children say, ‘These people are supposed to protect me, and they’re hurting me.’ There is also a shame factor when it comes to boys being sexually abused.”
“Males are ‘supposed’ to be macho, protectors. So when they can’t even protect themselves, that really damages how they view themselves. It can be very hard for them.”
Moreover, Morris said there is an additional layer of confusion for boys who may have been sexually abused by another man. It can be hard for boys to disclose that they have been sexually abused by a male. This can lead to an identity crisis and questioning if they themselves are homosexual.
King, who has worked at the center for 18 years, said that boys who have been abused as pre-teens have a harder time processing what has been done to them.
“It can be hard for them to understand and accept that what has happened to them doesn’t have to identify them.”
However difficult their jobs may be, both King and Morris said they are thankful for the support of the community and county. The CAC is in the process of expanding its facility, and while King is happy that they are getting the chance to help more children, that also means that more children need help.