Biggest weapon against child abuse is awareness, groups say

Child playing with toy CPS (KXAN photo)
Child playing with toy (KXAN photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. Child advocacy groups are planning a string of events this weekend designed to encourage more reporting of crimes against children.

Texas is one of 13 states that has a whistleblower law, said Steven Phenix, Public Relations Director for the Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking. His group is one of several child advocacy organizations taking part in a march from the Austin City Hall to the State Capitol building Saturday.

The law requires people who come in contact with an abused, neglected or abandoned child to report the crime anonymously and without penalty. If they don’t, it is a crime.

Nationwide, one out of four girls and one in every six boys will be abused by the time they are 18. Phenix said there are red flags parents, guardians or someone close to a child can spot and report.

Paying attention to signs and symptoms are critical.

Signs of abuse to watch for:

  • A sudden change in behavior
  • When a child is hungry, hoarding or stealing food
  • Bruises or suddenly becoming aggressive
  • Children acting much younger than their age

Phenix told KXAN that many times the abuse comes at the hands of someone a child knows, not a random stranger. And, the most common form of abuse is neglect.

“A lot of people have ‘stranger danger’ fear, but 60 percent of abusers are known by the child, and, 30 percent are family, relatives, neighbors, babysitters, teachers,” Phenix said.

There is a national database that tracks these crimes but police and Child Protective Services cannot do much to act on them until a report is made. That’s why child advocacy groups say their greatest weapon against abuse and neglect is a boost in awareness.

“Child abuse, child sex trafficking is something people are becoming much more aware of now,” said Phenix. “It’s like domestic abuse two generations back, police would show up and say, ‘keep it down,’ now people go to jail for that.”

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