Deacon Silva provides a sobering commentary on child abuse and neglect, offering prevention tips for parents. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
By: Deacon Marques Silva, Director, Office of Child Protection and Safety
No one wants to believe that child abuse or neglect happens. But it does. Everyone wants to believe that they can spot a predator because they have a certain “look.” But we can’t. Most do not want to admit that we have willingly given predators unfettered access to our children through their unmonitored phones, tablets, iPods, and so on. But we have.
The truth is that nearly 700,000 American children are victims of child neglect or abuse annually, including 1 out of 5 girls and 1 out of 10 boys. And, those are the cases we know about. Child abuse has been part of our culture for a long time, and it has been allowed to be a part of our culture because nobody wants to talk about it. I get it. It’s a taboo subject. But the research is clear: Communities that discuss child sexual abuse decrease the abuse in that community.
I have the privilege of knowing and calling friends a number of victims and survivors. Their stories of the perpetrator’s process to victimize is eerily the same – access to them, grooming, abuse, imposition of guilt and shame, then repeat. The aftermath is often debilitating and lasts a lifetime. It affects every aspect of their lives. Sometimes the shame is so overwhelming and the memories so painful that even their spouse does not learn about the abuse for decades.
I share this because April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and I want to encourage you to be part of the solution to assist in working to end this cultural tragedy. When we look to protect our children, we naturally think of the stranger. But only 10 percent of all abuse/neglect is committed by a stranger. Ninety percent of all abuse/neglect is committed by an individual known and familiar to the child (30 percent family – normally outside of the nuclear family and 60 percent – known relationships i.e., coaches, teachers, volunteers, friends of parents, etc.).
So, how do we learn to protect our children? I’ll be honest, the Virtus program offered by the Diocese for free is an excellent start. It is a 4-hour commitment and yet, it provides insights into the problem and then practical and user-friendly tools to protect our children. But the training is not enough.
Families need practical plans, especially when young children are involved. A great tool that may be found on our website (arlingtondiocese.org) is the Safe Friends and Safe Adults Worksheet for Parents. This tool is a great way to start the safety conversation and have an open discussion to consider who your children, and you, find safe or unsafe. This list will also help you and your child(ren) determine where they should go – or who they should avoid – in case of an emergency.
So, you gave your child a Smartphone to stay in communication with them. Still, the majority of the time they use it has nothing to do with communication. How are they using their phones? It’s time to get to know the social media apps that are on your children’s digital devices. The truth is that if the device receives a data stream, they are vulnerable. Let me be candid. What I hear from parents all the time is, “It’s not my kid.”
I recently offered a Teens and Technology presentation to a group of parents. Initially, most were resolute that their teens were not involved with any unhealthy apps, conversations or pornography. Then they took my challenge and went home to “trust but verify.” Unfortunately, many of the tweens were knee deep. Parents started speaking among themselves since those parents’ children were on the “distribution lists” of the material in question. Much good is coming out of this painful realization that we gave our kids electronics but never set, enforced or secured safe boundaries. Remember, you bought the device and pay for the cell, data, roaming usage; therefore, you always have a right to its contents.
I know what you’re thinking, “I am not a social media subject matter expert.” No worries! I would direct you to a fantastic resource aptly named the Popular App Guide for Parents and Teachers. What’s to like about it? Not only does it rank social media apps (Green Zone, Gray Zone and Red Zone), and provide short descriptions of each app, it also gives a 2-5 minute YouTube presentation on how to use it, what to avoid, what your children may be hiding and when you should be concerned. This and all the previous resources are ways to help prevent child abuse and neglect.
Maybe you’re asking, “But I am a victim; is there hope?” Yes, there is. First, it is not your fault and I am so sorry for the pain that you are in and the weight you carry every day. There is not only hope, but healing, wholeness and holiness for you – “A bruised reed he shall not break and the smoldering wick He shall not extinguish. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice…” (Isaiah 42:3). The Diocese of Arlington’s Victim Assistance Office is well equipped to help start that process of healing for victims of child abuse. In fact, Bishop Burbidge’s Message of Welcome and Hope is just for you. Take that first step toward healing today by calling the Victim Assistance confidential phone line at (703) 841-2530.
May I ask everyone reading this to join me this Sunday to pray for all victim survivors of child neglect and/or abuse? This Sunday, April 30, is Blue Sunday. All are invited to pray in a particular way for abused children and for those entrusted with their care. Together, united in prayer and armed with good resources and training, we will strengthen our communities and continue to protect and safeguard all children from any form of neglect or abuse.
Vicar General Rev. Thomas Ferguson will lead a prayer service for victim survivors of sexual abuse and their families Saturday, April 29 at 10:30 a.m. at Holy Family Catholic Church in Dale City. Learn more about the event here.
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