April is Child Abuse Awareness month here in Polk County.
I hope that the information provided as follows will help educate individuals regarding the types of child abuse, general facts pertaining to child abuse, as well as the prevention of child abuse.
Most importantly, I hope that this information will also empower those in our communities to report any sign of child abuse, as reporting is the most crucial (and often underutilized) aspect of child abuse.
The following information is drawn from my own personal experiences as a patrol officer, as well as a general detective, and includes the ongoing training I have received while employed by the city.
I should note that I am currently assigned to “Detectives” and although I will investigate any type of crime, the vast majority of my cases consist of child abuse and sex abuse (often sexual abuse of children).
To start, I think it is important to know what constitutes child abuse, and what is prosecutable by law.
For the purposes of this article, I will only focus on what information law enforcement can use to build an investigation, however, it is important to note that other agencies, such as DHS, may have different protocols or standards.
For law enforcement to investigate claims of child abuse, the alleged abuse must consist of child sexual abuse, child physical abuse, or child neglect.
Child sexual abuse and physical abuse are often difficult to detect, as many children react differently when victimized in this way.
Some children may have noticeable injuries, while others will show no physical or emotional signs of abuse.
Most often, the perpetrator or alleged offender is known to the child — it is very rare that the offender is a stranger.
Those who offend often prey upon children whose life circumstances make them more vulnerable. Offenders may be either adults or older children.
Many offenders will take advantage of their unsupervised access to the child, and can even be vested members of our community; church members or leaders, coaches, daycare providers, and school volunteers are only a few examples of members in our community that may take advantage of their role to victimize a child. Other times, the offender is a family member, or someone else who has access to the child within the home.
To create an even bigger challenge, children rarely tell others that they have been or are being abused.
Furthermore, when children do tell, they often initially only tell parts of the abuse, and the entire event(s) are gradually disclosed over time. Children who are removed from the alleged perpetrator are also more likely to make disclosures.
Per Oregon law, child neglect occurs when a child is left unattended in a place for such a period of time that the health and welfare of that child is endangered.
Child neglect can also occur when a child is left at, or allowed to stay in, a place where drugs are sold, delivered, or manufactured.
Child neglect can also occur when a child is left at, or allowed to stay in, a home that is not fit for use (no power, water, etc.).
It is not uncommon for children victimized in this way to miss several days of school, unexcused, or to appear unreasonably hungry, tired, or unkempt.
Some children, however, are able to adapt to their circumstances, and show no signs of neglect at all.
All of the above information can seem discouraging and overwhelming, yet there are preventative measures that can be utilized by any community member.
First, become aware of the facts; child abuse is prevalent in all communities, and often unreported.
If officials do not know about the alleged abuse, no action can be taken. Reporting is the simplest preventative measure that can be taken, however, reporting must be done upon the first sign of abuse, or initial disclosure by a child.
Reporting may be done, even anonymously, by calling 1-855-503-SAFE, or by calling your local law enforcement agency or Department of Human Services representatives.
Once reported, law enforcement and DHS can work collaboratively on the investigation.
Simply being present in youth activities, such as volunteering in churches, schools, and sports, or dropping by unexpectedly when your child is spending time with older children or adults, are all ways to become a positive mentor, and proactive in reporting any signs of child abuse.
Monitoring devices such as computers, tablets, and phones, is also important, as the exploitation of children on the internet and social media is rising.
In closing, some adults may find themselves in a position in which a child is reporting abuse directly to them.
It is imperative that the adult does not question the child at all, but simply listens, and displays minimal emotional responses.
Although it may be challenging, confronting the alleged suspect is never a good idea, as it can interfere with the potential investigation.
It is important to remember that children rarely lie about such matters; if a child mentions any form of abuse or neglect, the disclosure must be reported to law enforcement or DHS immediately.
— Detective Sarah Scharf