Library hosts child abuse awareness event

Liz Wheatley, executive director of the DeKalb County Children's Advocacy Center, tells participants about the CAC's new therapy dog, Luna, during Thursday's event at the Henagar Public Library. 

On Thursday, the Henagar Public Library hosted an event on Child Abuse Awareness presented by the DeKalb County Children's Advocacy Center.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and everyone can play a role in supporting families to prevent child abuse. This month is about recognizing the importance of families and communities working together to strengthen families to prevent child abuse and neglect.

During the event, Executive Director of the Children's Advocacy Center, Elizabeth Wheatley, talked about the history of child abuse, child abuse types and what all the Children Advocacy Center does.

Wheatley said most people may not think about child abuse very often, but taking the time to think about it, even just in the month of April, helps with awareness. "So this is a time where we can make you think about child abuse a little bit more and what all it entails," she said.

In the 1970s, child abuse cases started coming to the forefront of people's minds.

Elizabeth Wheatley said in 1970, there were 70,000 cases of child abuse in the U.S. In 1990, there were 862,000, and by 2018, 4.1 million cases of child abuse were reported. That increase was due in part to more people being aware of child abuse and reporting child abuse.

There are four types of child abuse: neglect, emotional, physical and sexual. Negligence is failing to provide basic needs for a child. Emotional abuse is also referred to as verbal abuse. "This is the hardest type of abuse to prove," said Wheatley. With neglect, there are physical signs that can be seen, but emotional abuse is things that happen that do something to somebody's heart. "Often, we don't see results of that until years and years later," she said.

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that takes place over an extended period of time characterized by intimidating, belittling, and otherwise damaging interaction that affects a child's healthy emotional development.

Physical abuse gets more attention than other types of abuse. Physical abuse is a non-accidental bodily injury inflicted or caused by an adult, parent or guardian, or any other person. This also includes additional instances that place children at risk of physical harm, such as domestic violence and drugs.

"We're hearing of more incidences of domestic violence these days, and that can be physically harmful to children if things get thrown and the child is around," said Wheatley. "Often, there is hitting going on, and sometimes the child will go to defend the parent and get the brunt of a punch; It's a fearful, fearful situation."

Wheatley said that caregivers on drugs in the home are consumed with what's going on in their little world, and they forget about the children. "Sometimes they will use the children's baby bottles to mix up their meth, and then pour the formula right into the bottle without even thinking to wash it out," she said.

"Sexual abuse is using a child to meet the sexual needs of an adult," said Wheatley. Indicators of sexual abuse can be sexually transmitted diseases, knowledge of sexual behaviors inappropriate for a child's age, being fearful of a particular person, a child may disclose that they've been abused, bizarre sexual behaviors or acting out. "We get calls very often of children who are acting out with other children; these children have either been made to watch porn, seen it happen or it's happened to them," said Wheatley.

Wheatley said there are people who begin grooming children by just talking about sex, and it doesn't have to be that they touched them or sent nude photos. "If they are even talking to your child about sex, that is a warning sign," she said. "There are pedophiles who apparently have time all day to sit around on the internet and look for photos of children, and it's an addiction; they live on that.”

The CAC staff helped abused and at-risk children and their families find new beginnings for 28 years. On staff, they have an Executive Director, Administrative Assistant, Forensic Interviewer, Bookkeeper, Marketing Coordinator and five Therapists. They provide free services to the abused children of DeKalb County.

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