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Confronting Child Abuse: The Smallest Victims Need a Voice

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Monroe Journal - Confronting Child Abuse: The Smallest Victims Need A Voice

AMORY, MS — Two events were held in April to recognize Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.

In Aberdeen, the sky above the Monroe County Department of Human Services (DHS) was painted with blue balloons. Belle Elementary student council students, DHS staff, and families from around the county joined together to honor the most vulnerable amongst us.

At Bigbee Baptist Church in Amory, Yvonne Funderburk with the Amory DHS office, Dana Copeland with Save-A-Life of Monroe County, and a group of social work students from The University of Mississippi presented information on child abuse awareness, statistics, and programs available to the community to help prevent child abuse.

Child Abuse Prevention Month is recognized each April and signified with the color blue. The use of the color blue to commemorate Child Abuse Awareness Month was started by Bonnie Finney in 1989. She wanted a way to memorialize the tragic death of her 3 year old grandson at the hands of his mother’s abusive boyfriend.

“One day I was just thinking about all the bruises I had seen on my grandchildren. I just decided I was going to tie a blue ribbon on my van. Why blue? I intend never to forget the battered, bruised bodies of my grandchildren. Blue serves as a constant reminder to me to fight for protection for our children,” Finney said.

Mississippi faces a stark reality. The number of child victims is rising.

Figures from 2010 showed that in Mississippi, 28,666 referrals for child abuse and neglect with over 69% of those referrals being referred for investigation. The number of child victims has increased 27% from the previous four years.

There are a number of factors that can be attributed to the cause of child abuse. Child abuse is a cycle. One third of abused and neglected children will eventually victimize their own children. Family factors including marital difficulties, unemployment, financial stress, and social isolation can contribute to the risk of abuse. Substance abuse, lack of knowledge about raising children, unwanted pregnancy, physical illness, and social stress, are also counted among the indicators for child abusers.

“It’s a very serious crime, child abuse,” said Cecil Cantrell, Monroe County Sheriff. “It has such a broad scope.” Funderburk confirmed that there are at least 30-40 child abuse and neglect cases reported each month in Monroe County.

Child abuse occurs in all ethnic groups. The youngest children, the smallest of victims, are the most abused. Children three and under are the most consistently victimized group.

What is the definition of an abused child? According to Section 43-21-105 of the Mississippi Code of 1972, Annotated, “Abused Child means a child whose parent, guardian or custodian or any person responsible for his care or support, whether legally obligated to do so or not, has caused or allowed to be caused upon said child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, emotional abuse, mental injury, non-accidental physical injury or other maltreatment. Provided, however, that physical discipline, including spanking, performed on a child by a parent, guardian or custodian in a reasonable manner shall not be deemed abuse under this section.”

Child maltreatment, or abuse, is categorized into four common types. Physical abuse is any type of contact that results in bodily harm such as unexpected bruising, fractures, messy appearance, and/or burns. Sexual abuse is any inappropriate touching by a friend, family member, or anyone having on-going contact, and/or a stranger. Emotional/Verbal abuse is the most difficult form to identify because it encompasses the frequent or excessive use of put downs, invalidating a child’s emotions, or inappropriate threats. The last is the type of abuse that is regrettably the most common, neglect. It’s not meeting the basic needs of the child.

When asked what the general public can do to put an end to child abuse, Lynn Bertrand, supervisor with the Aberdeen DHS office laid out three steps. “First, learn the signs. Secondly, help make communities aware of child abuse, and thirdly, don’t be afraid to step forward for a child. There is hope and we do have positive outcomes. It’s done one child and one family at a time.”

If you suspect a case of abuse, neglect, or exploitation, in the state of Mississippi, a report may be made online at www.msabusehotline.com or a call placed to 1-800-222-8000, a statewide toll-free 24-hour line that is answered seven days a week.


Monroe Journal Newspaper Article
Written by Colleen Conger | Photo by Colleen Conger
Originally published in print and online May 16, 2012

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