Imagine a 7-year-old boy, curled up on a cold bed in a room, where darkness and sadness reign. The boy craves warmth and care but receives neglect and harm instead. Bruises cover his arms, and sleeves cover his bruises. You may meet the boy when you pick up your children from school, or you may meet him at the playground. And you may be the boy’s only chance for escaping the darkness and sadness. That’s why you need to be prepared and you must recognize the red flags.
Child abuse can happen in any town, neighborhood, home. In Coffee County, many children experience pain and live in fear. Employees of the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center, law enforcement and the Department of Children’s Services meet victims of child abuse every day. Everyone involved fights the issue and works hard to provide support and healing to children in our community. But we need your help. We can only end child abuse with the help of the community.
Unfortunately, no community is safe, and, chances are you know a child who has experienced child abuse. It’s extremely important to be aware and know the red flags because sometimes you may be the only person who can save a child from his or her abusers. Usually, the red flags exist, and it takes someone with knowledge about child abuse and determination to react responsibly and to report abuse.
As child abuse crosses all socioeconomic and educational levels, religions, and ethnic and cultural groups, you may notice concerning signs and need to be ready to react.
Last year, of the 347 referrals received for services in Coffee County, 40% of the children were 6 years old or younger, 36% between the ages of 7 and 12, and 24% were between 13 and 18.
In Coffee County, in 2020, there were: 4 investigations involving the death of a child; 244 investigations involving sexual abuse allegations; 333 total severe child abuse investigations.
Think about the four investigations involving the death of a child – families and friends mourning the loss; communities dealing with trauma; and children robbed of life and a chance at happiness.
Just this past month, there were 32 referrals, with 12 children being 6 years of age or younger. Thirteen of the children were from Tullahoma, 10 from Manchester, and nine from the county.
Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused by age 18; and 95% of victims are abused by someone they know and trust.
The good news is our community can fight the problem and end child abuse if all adults become involved and learn about the issue.
When a child enters the Coffee County CAC, I see fear and desperation in the child’s eyes. And when the child receives the necessary services, he or she can thrive. We must continue to help children who are victims of abuse. And together, we must make efforts to prevent child abuse.
*Column by Joyce Prusak*