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Telltale signs of child abuse are evident

Few things are more disturbing than the thought of a child being abused.

As part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, local organizations are stressing the need for public education on how to identify possible signs of child abuse and how to report abuse.

“There are just so many [signs],” said Jana Conlee, forensic interviewer and therapist with Child Protect Children’s Advocacy Center.

Possible signs depend on the type of abuse. There are basically four different types of abuse — physical, sexual, emotional and neglect.

Physical abuse is the inflicting of physical injury upon a child. Sexual abuse includes inappropriate sexual behavior between a guardian or caregiver and a child (acts committed by a stranger would be considered sexual assault).

Emotional abuse can be bizarre forms of punishment, such as confinement in a closet or dark room; belittling or rejecting treatment; using derogatory terms to describe the child; or habitual scapegoating or blaming.

Neglect is the failure to provide for the child’s basic needs. Neglect can be physical (not providing adequate food, clothing, medical care or supervision), educational (failure to provide appropriate schooling, or allowing excessive truancies) or emotional (lack of emotional support and love).

Signs can be either physical or behavioral. While physical indicators may be the most obvious, behavioral indicators are just as important, if not more so, Conlee said.

“It can be any extreme of behavior,” Conlee said. “Some kids might become more withdrawn, but some kids get angry and act it out at school and home.”

The following is a list of some physical and behavioral indicators of abuse:

Signs of physical abuse — unexplained bruises, welts, human bite marks or bald spots; evidence of delayed or inappropriate treatment for injuries; extreme behavior; staying late at school; wearing clothing inappropriate to weather; and bizarre explanations of injuries.

Signs of sexual abuse — pain, swelling or itching in the genital area; frequent urinary tract infections; poor self-esteem; peer problems; and massive weight change.

Signs of emotional abuse — speech disorders, delayed physical development, habit disorders (sucking, rocking, biting), antisocial behavior or delinquent behavior.

Signs of neglect — consistent lack of supervision, hunger, inappropriate dress, poor hygiene, regular fatigue and frequent tardiness.

Conlee said signs depend on both the child’s age and tactics of the abuser.

“Sometimes younger kids don’t even realize what’s happening to them,” she said. “Abusers say things like, ‘This is normal. This is what people do when they love each other.’”

Even though older children may understand what is going on, they often do not tell anyone because of embarrassment. In other cases, they may even feel at fault. Sometimes children make up bizarre explanations of visible injuries.

“Even if the child denies it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be reported,” Conlee said. “If you suspect that a child is being abused, it’s your duty to report it.”

Certain people in Alabama are required by law to report suspected child abuse. These are known as “mandatory reporters” and include medical professionals, educators, law enforcement officers, social workers daycare workers and others. State law provides immunity from liability for actions by mandatory reporters.

To report suspected child abuse, call the Chilton County Department of Human Resources at 280-2000. On nights and weekends, a social worker may be reached at 755-2511. In an emergency, call 911.