How Do We Stop Child Abuse?

Recently, my family and I sat down to watch, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" -- a really remarkable film and equally well-done book. Physical abuse is a theme in the movie -- and an even bigger one in the book. We took this as an opening to talk as a family about the realities of abuse in our country -- something family movie night rarely offers.

One in five children in the United States will be sexually molested by the time they reach their 18th birthday. Statistically speaking, you know someone who has been abused. But the silence that surrounds that abuse is what keeps it flourishing.

Talking about the realities of abuse, especially child abuse is critical to helping to stop it. In the director's commentary to the movie, Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the book, says we stop abuse by talking about it in bringing out into the light. Chbosky's work helps us start that conversation.

As another way to start this difficult conversation with your children, the Exploited Children's Help Organization (ECHO) created an infographic to remind the public of how prevalent child abuse is and how with discussion, we can help end the cycle.

I wanted to chat with Kendell Nash, the executive director of the ECHO, about the work she is doing she is doing helping to end child abuse. In our interview, Kendell talks about using moments and events in our lives to talk with children and others about child abuse.

Tony: Why did you create an infographic about child abuse?

Kendell: We wanted to do something that was relevant and new. A lot of the information on child abuse statistics is not only very limited, but very heavy and unhopeful. We wanted to kind of shift the language to make it more about how everybody can do something about it. If we all work together, we can end child abuse.

Tony: So, essentially, you're trying to move from a culture that talks about fear, uncertainty and doubt to talking about why this impacts everybody across the country.

Kendell: Absolutely. We wanted to change the conversation. In our community, child abuse--actually all abuse, any kind of domestic abuse--is seen as a family issue. We want to shift the conversation to more of a public health issue and make it a community issue. And so, this is one piece of the puzzle to help start that shift.

Tony: Why is domestic violence or any type of abuse not just a family issue? What are the effects of it?

Kendell: Children who were abused are more likely to have teen pregnancies, more likely to commit violent crimes later in life. Children who are abused are 30 percent more likely to abuse their children than children who are not abused.

Drug and alcohol abuse is closely tied to survivors of the child abuse.

We spent $67 million a day as a country on the social, legal and healthcare effects of child abuse.

Tony: So, what can people do to identify victims of child abuse?

Kendell: Typical things that you would look for with any kid - are there unexpected bruises that aren't explained by normal activity at whatever age the kid is. Is the kid withdrawn, are their grades suffering? Are they often unsupervised--are the kids talking about any time when they're unsupervised at home? Is there disconnection or disengagement between parent and child or guardian and child?

I think the biggest thing is teaching people to just talk about it. The number one thing you can do is just talk about it. The numbers show that it's happening in everybody's back yard. So, if we start talking about it and include it in the spectrum of other safety conversations with our children, we're doing not only our kids a wonderful service, but it'll eventually ripple out into the community, and we'll have a community that's freer from violence.

Tony: And everybody needs to know that they have a role to play. Can you give me three examples or roles people can play?

Kendell: I would say talk about it with people in your family. Ask the kids in your life. Ask the adults in your life. Talk about what they think about child abuse. Use moments in everyday, in your everyday life to bring up the issue.

If you're bathing your kid at night, talk about good touch, bad touch. You do that every day. Have that conversation every time you give them a bath.

Or if there's a violent act in your community, you hear about something that happens in your community. It's a good time to talk, even if it's just among your church group, your family group, whatever it is, just talk about.