If you suspect a child is being abused
It only takes a phone call to get help
If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, call the Monroe County Child Abuse Hotline at 585-461-5690. (If you live outside of Monroe County, you can call the New York State Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720.)
These hotlines are staffed 24 hours a day. When you call, a Child Protective Services intake specialist will ask you for information about the child's family and about how and why you think the child is being mistreated.
If the situation you describe meets the legal standards required for Child Protective Services to take action, a report of your suspicions will be registered with the New York State Child Abuse and Maltreatment Register.
Ask for the child to be helped at Bivona Child Advocacy Center. That way you know the child and family are getting all the support they need to end the trauma and begin the healing process.
“It won’t happen again” is not a good enough excuse
You may hear, “it won’t happen again.” Or “we were just fooling around.” Or, you may be thinking, “I don’t really want to get involved.”
When a child tells you that he or she is being abused, support the child. Leave it up to professionals to decide if the child is telling the truth. Do what’s safest and best for the child.
Child sexual abuse is a crime
It has to be reported. And it’s not something that you should think you can deal with by yourself. Even if you were to make sure that your child never saw that adult again, that adult could (and probably would) go on to abuse other children. So do what’s right and report what you have seen or what you suspect.
Still not sure what to do? Contact us at Bivona Child Advocacy Center and we’ll talk with you about it.
It is any sexual act with a child performed by an adult or an older child. This might be fondling the child’s intimate parts (genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttocks, or breasts—clothed or unclothed), having the child fondle an adult’s intimate parts, oral-genital contact, or actual penetration of the child's vagina or anus. The sexual contact is intentional, not accidental, and is intended for the sexual arousal or gratification of either person.
Any form of sexual contact with a child fourteen years of age or younger, when the perpetrator is 19 years of age or older, is a felony.
The term “statutory rape” refers to sexual intercourse or penetration with a child who is less than 16 years of age when the perpetrator is 19 years of age or older.
“Consent” is not an issue. Children can not consent. States have differing ages at which a person can legally consent. In New York State the age is 17. Ages of consent in other states.
“Incest” is a term used to refer to sexual intercourse or penetration between family members (parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, brothers and sisters, uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews). Any person who engages in sexual penetration with his or her minor stepchild also is considered to have committed incest. Incest is a felony.
Other forms of sexual abuse include indecent exposure; showing the child pornographic pictures or videotapes; using the child as a model for pornographic materials; or allowing, encouraging or forcing a child to engage in prostitution.
Most people know that physical abuse includes any kind of physical harm to the child. Sexual abuse can be more confusing to identify. Child sexual abuse includes touching and non-touching behaviors.
Touching behaviors include:
- Touching a child's genitals (penis, testicles, vulva, breasts, or anus) for sexual pleasure or other unnecessary reason.
- Making a child touch someone else's genitals, or playing sexual (“pants-down”) games.
- Putting objects or body parts (like fingers, tongue or a penis) inside the vulva or vagina, in the mouth, or in the anus of a child for sexual pleasure or other unnecessary reason.
Non-touching behaviors include:
- Showing pornography to a child.
- Exposing a person’s genitals to a child.
- Photographing a child in sexual poses.
- Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts either in person or on a video.
- Watching a child undress or use the bathroom, often without the child's knowledge (known as voyeurism or being a “Peeping Tom”)
Do you see this kind of behavior in the child?
Children who have been abused may have some of the following symptoms. This is NOT a complete list of all the symptoms that could indicate sexual abuse. These symptoms could also be the result of another problem.
- Nightmares or other sleep disturbances
- Problems in school or with peers
- Sudden changes in attitude or behavior
- Regressive behavior—returning to bedwetting or thumb sucking
- Pseudo-mature behavior—trying to act older than their age
- Fear of a certain person or loud objections to being left somewhere or with someone
- Truancy, running away, promiscuity, or prostitution
- Self-mutilation or addiction to drugs, alcohol or food
- Suicide attempts
- Drawings, writings or school work of unusual or bizarre sexual themes
- Excessive sexual curiosity or masturbation
- Unusual or explicit knowledge about sex
- Seductive behavior, sexual advances, or aggressive sexual play toward peers or adults
Do you notice this kind of behavior by a preschool child?
Have a thorough knowledge of abnormal sexual activity. There are a number of sexual behaviors that are not normal during childhood. The behaviors least often seen in non-abused children are:
- Placing the child's mouth on a sex part
- Asking to engage in sex acts
- Masturbating with an object
- Inserting objects in the vagina/anus
- Imitating intercourse
- Making sexual sounds
- French kissing
- Undressing other people
- Asking to watch sexually explicit television
- Imitating sexual behavior with dolls
(Source: Reasonable Efforts, published by the American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI), Volume 3, Number 1, 2006. “When the Victim is Very Young” by Victor Vieth.)
Do you notice these physical signs in the child?
Children may have some of the following symptoms as a result of abuse. This is not intended to be a complete list of possible indicators of sexual abuse.
- Unexplained headaches, stomach aches, vomiting, fainting, blackouts and the like
- Bedwetting, soiling, or other related problems
- Loss of weight or appetite, or weight gain
- Problems such as itching, pain, or soreness in the genital or anal areas
- Unexplained injury of vagina, rectal opening, penis, or genital areas
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothes
- Sexually transmitted disease or vaginal discharge
- Pregnancy in a child
Remember, most of the items on these checklists are only warning signs and never proof that a child has been assaulted. Many of the behaviors or signs can also be a result of other stresses in your child’s life such as divorce, death, illness or a recent move.
Do you see this behavior by an adult? These are warning signs.
Have you ever seen someone playing with a child and felt uncomfortable with it? Maybe you thought, “I’m just over-reacting to her,” or, “He doesn’t really mean that.” Don't ignore the behavior; learn how to ask more questions about what you have seen.
Here are some warning signs. Do you know an adult or older child who:
- Refuses to let a child set any of his or her own limits?
- Insists on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling with or holding a child even when the child does not want this affection?
- Is overly interested in the sexuality of a particular child or teen (for instance, talks repeatedly about the child's developing body or interferes with normal teen dating)?
- Manages to get time alone or insists on time alone with a child with no interruptions?
- Spends most of his/her spare time with children and has little interest in spending time with someone their own age?
- Regularly offers to babysit many different children for free or takes children on overnight outings alone?
- Buys children expensive gifts or gives them money for no apparent reason?
- Frequently walks in on children/teens in the bathroom?
- Allows children or teens to consistently get away with inappropriate behaviors?
If you answered “yes” to some of these questions, talk to that person. If you are uncomfortable, but don't see these signs, be sure to trust your instincts and ask questions. If you don’t know how to talk to the person, contact us at Bivona Child Advocacy Center. We’ll help.
Ways to help the child
How to respond when a child discloses abuse
- Remain calm. A child may retract information or stop talking if he/she senses a strong reaction.
- Believe the child. Children rarely make up stories about abuse.
- Listen without passing judgment. Most children know their abusers and often have confused feelings.
What to say to the child
- I believe you.
- I know it's not your fault.
- I'm glad I know about it.
- I'm sorry this happened to you.
- I will take care of you—you don't need to take care of me.
- I'm not sure what will happen next.
- Nothing about you made this happen.
- I am upset, but not with you.
- I'm angry at the person who did this.
- I'm sad. You may see me cry. That's all right. I'm not mad at you.
- I don't know why he did it. He has a problem.
- We need to get help, so this doesn't happen again.
- I know this isn't easy for you to talk about, but there are some people who need to know what happened so they can help keep you and other children safe.
What matters most to a child, what helps her to recover, is being believed and supported.
What to do next
Report the abuse and get help.
- Report the abuse to the Child Abuse Hotline or law enforcement right away. Promises by the offender that it won't happen again rarely keep a child safe.
- Ask to have the child helped at Bivona Child Advocacy Center. We can coordinate all of the services to make the process easier and less traumatic.
Support the child emotionally.
- Never blame the child for what happened to him/her.
- Remember to communicate support for the child for having told about the abuse. Use statements like, “You were very brave to tell about what happened. I'm proud of you.” Say it often.
- Don’t communicate anger toward the child as you arrange for various appointments such as the interview, medical exam, and therapy sessions. Your child may believe you are “put out” with having to do this and may feel like a burden.
- Discuss with your child and other professionals what to tell relatives, teachers or friends about the abuse. Every detail does not need to be shared.
- Never use threats or intimidation to help make sure that the child is telling the truth.
- Don't pretend, in an effort to return your child to normal life, that nothing has happened to your child. This can communicate the wrong message
Keep the child safe—physically and emotionally.
- Keep the child away from the person suspected of the abuse.
- Ensure that the offender does not telephone the home where the child resides at any time when the child victim might answer the phone.
- Keep all your conversations with the offender, if any occur, in a room with the door closed and always away from the child.
- If you, as the protective parent, choose to meet with the offender, do so during school times or when the child is visiting a friend or relative. These meetings should be private and should not be discussed with the child. It is never okay for a parent or other relative to pass on messages from the offender to the child.
- Do not “ship off” the child to a relative so that you can see the offender in the house.
- Do not leave your child with a relative or friend who either doesn't know or doesn't believe the report of abuse, especially in a place where the offender might stop by and visit or call.
- If the offender breaks any supervision or protection rules, notify the investigating officer and caseworker as soon as possible. If you fail to do this, the court may see you as an unprotective parent, and you may run the risk of losing custody of your child. This is especially true if you allow contact between the offender and child.
Protect the investigation.
- Be careful not to question the child about the abuse. Repeated questioning by untrained professionals will only serve to compromise the investigation. If the child chooses to talk about what happened, listen supportively, but do not probe or ask any questions that may be considered leading or suggestive. This is very important.
- If you are aware of any child pornography, of any sexual solicitation, or your child (who is under 18) receives any sexually explicit images, you should turn your computer off and leave it off to preserve any evidence for future law enforcement use.
- Unless your law enforcement agency asks you to do so, DO NOT attempt to copy or print any of the images or text found on the computer.
- Don't discuss the case, the offender's bond, or jail arrangement within hearing distance of the child.
- Never coach or advise your child on how to act or what to say to the professionals on the investigation team. This may be seen as interfering in the case or not being cooperative with the system.