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Child Abuse and Neglect (Part 2)

Child sexual abuse is an especially complicated form of abuse because of its layers of guilt and shame. Sexual abuse does not always involve body contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive. This type of abuse, usually occurs at the hands of someone the child knows and should be able to trust—most often close relatives.

It is not just girls who are at risk boys are also victims and may be underreported due to shame and stigma. The shame of sexual abuse makes it very difficult for children to come forward. They worry that the adult will not believe them, angry with them, or even split the family apart.

Some warning signs of physical abuse in children are frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, cuts, welts, flinches at sudden movements, or afraid to go home. Wear “inappropriate" clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days. Signs of neglect are clothes that are filthy, wearing no coat or warm clothes, when it very cold outside. Hygiene is consistently bad (not bathed, hair not washed, noticeable body odor). Untreated illnesses and injuries or frequently unsupervised or left alone to play in unsafe situations and environment.

Signs of sexual abuse could be trouble in walking or sitting, displaying knowledge, or interest in sexual acts inappropriate for his or her age. Does not want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities. A child makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason or runs away from home.

Many of us do not know how to approach a child that has been abused. It is normal to feel overwhelmed. Inaction in child abuse should not be an option. You can make a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child, especially if steps are taken to stop the abuse at the earliest stage. When speaking to an abused child, the best thing to do is reassure them that you will provide unconditional support and help will be provided.

Some helpful hints: Avoid denial and remain calm. If you display denial, or show disgust at what they are saying, they may be afraid to continue and shut down. Do not interrogate. Let the child explain to you in his or her words what happened. Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong. This cannot be emphasized enough. It takes a great deal of courage for a child to disclose this information. Reassure the child you are listening and taking the matter seriously. Safety comes first. If you feel that your safety and the child’s safety at risk, leave it to professionals. Reporting child abuse to the police is the first step to intervention.

In California, Penal Code (PC) Section 273 (d) punishes corporal injury or punishment on a child. This charge is a “wobbler"—the prosecutor can charge it as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Caifornia child abuse laws, like many states, encompasses neglect, physical, sexual , and emotional abuse. PC 273d only deals with physical. This code defines child abuse as the willful infliction of a cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or any injury that results in a “traumatic condition."

The abuse do not necessarily need to result in great bodily injury or harm, a minor injury could trigger the charge. Prior acts of child abuse or domestic violence will be used against you in court. It is not even necessary that the prior acts of family violence resulted in convictions. A judge will allow the prosecutor to introduce prior allegations of domestic violence and/or child abuse. These prior acts do not need to involve the same victim, circumstance, or have any other similarities to the pending case. Simply put, if you have been accused of abusing a child or domestic violence, that evidence, pending a hearing, will generally be allowed into evidence.

A related criminal offenses could be child endangerment. For example, a mother knows that her child is being beaten by the father or boyfriend and does nothing to prevent it. Another example is driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs will trigger this charge. Battery is another charge that could be filed if the force or injury is “slight."

Since the 1980’s, the penalties in all the states have increased substantially. In California, the prison term changed from 16mths/2/3 years to 2/4/6 years. In 1987, penalties rose to maximum fine of $6,000 excluding mandatory taxes and an additional 4 year prison term enhancement if you had prior convictions for the child abuse offense and sentence was served within a 10 year period. This is for every criminal charge. Note that the prosecutor can charge you for every act so multiple charges could be filed against you

There are defenses to child abuse—such as “it was an accident," or “I was disciplining him or her," If this is the case, then an effective defense must be implemented without losing sight of the need to insure the best interest of the child.

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