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There Should be Harsher Penalties for Child Abuse

Children are precious and innocent, and as the adults in their lives, it is our duty to keep them safe from harm. We trust other adults in our lives with our children's safety, from family members, clergy, school teachers and babysitters. When that trust is betrayed and our children's safety is threatened, there need to be steep consequences.

In many instances, it is parents themselves that are harming their own children. Child abuse is rampant in our society, and the pandemic has made it worse. When children were home and in online school, they had less time spent with trusted adults who are mandated reporters of abuse.

There have been many instances in recent years of children suffering religious abuse. This can happen in the home, or in the church.

Often times, parents who abuse children come from fundamentalist backgrounds who believe such things as "spare the rod and spoil the child" and take this as an excuse to harm vulnerable children in the name of religion.

In the vast majority of states, there are currently no protections in place for children who are homeschooled. This is the case despite a 2014 study finding that 47% of children who experience child torture were removed from school to be homeschooled (and another 29% were never enrolled in school), and a 2018 Connecticut study found that 36% of children removed from school to be homeschooled were subject to past child welfare reports.

These troubling statistics show a trend of removing children from contact from other caring adults when they are being abused in the home. Parents take children out of school, so that they won't be able to reach out for help to a teacher or school counselor about what is happening.

According to Child Protect, here are some additional facts about child abuse:

  • Approximately 5 children die every day because of child abuse.

  • 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will be sexually abused before they reach age 18.

  • 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way. 68% are abused by a family member.

  • Most children become victims of abuse and neglect at 18 months or younger.

  • In 2010, 1,537 children died of abuse or neglect. 79.4% were under the age of 4 and 47.7% were under the age of 1.

  • Boys (48.5%) and girls (51.2%) become victims at nearly the same rate.

  • 3.6 million cases of child abuse are reported every year in the U.S.

  • Abused and neglected children are 11 times more likely to engage in criminal behavior as an adult.

  • About 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder.

  • 14% of all men and 36% of all women in prison were abused as children.

  • Abused children are less likely to practice safe sex, putting them at greater risk for STDs. They’re also 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy.

  • For every incident of child abuse or neglect that’s reported, an estimated two incidents go unreported.

  • Child abuse occurs across all socioeconomic levels, ethnic and cultural lines, and religions and education levels.

  • Neglect, the most widespread form of child abuse, makes up more than 59% of abuse cases.

These children have suffered badly at the hands of people whose care they were entrusted to. It is an unforgivable offense, and one that should have harsher penalties in our society. Caring for all of our children is of paramount importance, and it is our job to make sure that they are being treated with dignity and respect.

Children are vulnerable, and when they are harmed from a young age, it can cause problems with their brain development, social development, education, and cause disorders such as CPTSD to develop which can cause a lifetime of heartbreak.

Many people who are diagnosed with PTSD in adulthood have suffered abuse or neglect in childhood. Living in constant fear as a child can impede normal brain development. It makes the child have an insecure attachment to their caregivers, which can cause difficulties with relationships later in life as well.

Doing our best to prevent child abuse, and to remove children from the care of people who are abusing them is of paramount importance. As someone who was abused as a child myself, I can attest to the harm that it does to your psyche and your future when you live in constant fear of your parents.

Penalties for Child Abuse

Unfortunately, many cases of child abuse go unreported every year. The perpetrators never face any consequences for their actions. In many instances, it isn't until a child reaches adulthood and is able to get away from their abuser that they are able to speak up about the abuse that they endured.

If someone is convicted of child abuse, some of the penalties, according to NOLO are:

  • Incarceration. Jail or prison sentences are very common with child abuse convictions. A misdemeanor conviction may bring a few days, months, or up to a year in jail, while felony convictions can lead to several years in prison.

  • Probation. Probation sentences are often included with less serious child abuse sentences. Probation terms typically last at least six months but can last a year or more. If a person violates the probation terms in that time, the court may then impose the original jail sentence, fines, or additional probation.

  • Fines. A conviction for child abuse can result in a substantial fine. State laws differ widely on the fines imposed for a child abuse conviction, but fines of several hundred to several thousands of dollars are common.

  • Other penalties. When child abuse involves a parent, guardian, or someone with legal custody of a child, a court can also limit parental rights. Courts can impose restraining orders, place a child in protective custody with a state agency or foster family, require that the parent only visit the child with the supervision of a court-appointed monitor, order individual or family therapy and parenting classes, or even remove a parent's right to care for the child.

Not all instances of child abuse or neglect are treated the same way. It may depend on the severity of the abuse, and if the abuser was a parent or someone else. Depending on the state where the abuse happens, there are different penalties.

According to Connecticut General Assembly, the penalty for child abuse can vary widely by state. Most states will incarcerate the abuser for at least 6 months to a year. However, only a year in prison for destroying a child's future doesn't seem like enough.

You can also consider that in the cases of abuse by a parent or guardian, child services will often insist on family counseling, and will attempt to reunify children with their families after the parents have gone through treatment.

According to AEI, in cases in Philadelphia,

Even if the city had identified the sexual abuse of the girls earlier, they may have been reunified anyway. Based on our analysis of federal data, of children exiting foster care in 2019 who were removed due to sexual abuse, nearly half were reunified.

This is an outrage that is being perpetrated against children by social workers in the child welfare system. Children's needs should be put first. It isn't always, perhaps even often, a good idea to reunite children with parents who have been abusive in the past.

Advocates argue that children will have the best outcomes when they grow up if they are in their family of origin, but it is hard to see the truth in such an argument when in 50% of cases, children are just being returned home to be abused again.

In the Philadelphia cases, it was noted that the 'errors' in placing the children back at home with abusers was partially due to high staff turnover in the child welfare office. This is no excuse for children being abused again by the same offenders who had done so the first time.

In order to protect vulnerable children from abuse, we need to seek harsher penalties for those who are abusing children.

One organization that is advocating for harsher penalties for child abuse is Justice for Children, which states:

Justice for Children has proposed and drafted legislation to improve the laws pertaining not only to child abuse and child protection, but also laws concerning the funding for protective services. We have also presented legislation designed to make the legal process more child-friendly.

In many cases that have been recorded in terms of child abuse, the 'protective parent' of the child will often dissolve a marriage with an abuser and petition the court to have the child removed from the offending parent. However, there is still visitation granted in many cases to parents who have been abusive in the past.

There need to be changes to both the family court system to ensure the protection of children, and to the criminal justice system to ensure that abusers are incarcerated longer.

In the UK, they passed the Domestic Abuse Act, which is designed to help victims to receive more fair treatment in family courts. Something similar could be done in the US as well. Unicef and other international organizations acknowledge that the court system is failing children worldwide when it comes to child abuse.

It can be frightening for children to have to testify in court, and can cause further trauma for them. The system needs to be changed to show more empathy and compassion for child victims.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 7 strategies that can help to end violence against children:

INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children identifies a select group of strategies that have shown success in reducing violence against children. They are: implementation and enforcement of laws; norms and values; safe environments; parent and caregiver support; income and economic strengthening; response and support services; and education and life skills.

We all need to work together to help create a society where all children have the right to a safe upbringing that is free from violence and abuse. This is crucial in ensuring a bright future for all our children. If more instances of child abuse can be prevented, and more abusers can be more harshly punished for their offence and removed from care of children, then we can help to make the world safer for our children.

To report suspected child abuse:

In the UK, If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online or read about domestic abuse on the Childline website.

In the US, If you suspect child abuse, contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

You can find additional resources, including worldwide child hotline numbers on the Resources tab.

You can learn the signs that a child may be being abused, and what you can do to help. The more we all get involved with helping all children, the sooner we will be able to end the epidemic of child abuse and neglect worldwide.


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