Allegations of Child Abuse: A Current Reality & an Emerging Opportunity for Change

 

By Harold Johnson, Professor at Michigan State University & Hands & Voices Board Member

On a fundamental level, the topic of child abuse is such a difficult and unpleasant topic that we simply do not want to think, or talk about it. The unfortunate reality is that abusers use this silence and the lack of willingness to confront the problem to continue and even expand their abuse of children.  A recent case involving deaf and hard of hearing children illustrates this.

There are 70 students, ages three to twenty, at the Hawaii School for the Deaf.  A lawsuit filed by attorneys Michael Jay Green and Glenn Useugh on August 19, 2011 in the Circuit Court of the First Court of the State of Hawaii alleges that a pattern of sexual assaults were carried out by students (“Ringleaders”), on a significant number of fellow students at the school.  The lawsuit also alleges that two key individuals at the school, an administrator and a counselor, knew of the sexual assaults and failed to take appropriate actions: such as notifying the appropriate authorities and parents, taking actions to stop the abuse, and establishing policies to prevent future abuse.  The allegations of abuse and the lack of appropriate school response occurred between 2007 and 2009, according to the lawsuit.   

Instances of abuse were alleged to have occurred in a school bathroom, swimming pool, woodshop and on the bus.  Student “Ringleaders” are alleged to have used threats and actual violence to coerce students to carry out, and be subjected to, acts of violence and sexual abuse.  The Hawai’i Free Press published a story concerning the lawsuit and alleged abuse on August 15, 2011 entitled “Lawsuit: Adult counselor engaged in questionable activities with students at Blind, Deaf School.”

Our Kids at Risk

While the courts will decide the facts of this case, the fact remains that children who are deaf/hard of hearing (d/hh) experience a significantly higher risk for maltreatment than their hearing peers– and we can’t assume it ‘only happens in certain settings’ (i.e. residential placements)

Hands & Voices (H&V) has both recognized this risk and taken a national leadership role for the prevention of child abuse as experienced by children with disabilities.  This article identifies how YOU can be part of this national effort to protect our children while simultaneously enhancing their learning, communication, and self advocacy skills. 

Many children with disabilities experience a higher risk for abuse because we, i.e., their parents and the professionals who work with them do not…:

  • …realize the increased risk;
  • …recognize what constitutes a “risky situation;”
  • …know how to recognize, or report when children may have experienced abuse;
  • …understand or believe children when they try to tell us that they have been abused;
  • …provide children with needed knowledge concerning normal, healthy relationships, open and full communication, their own sexuality and self-protection;
  • …experienced initial, or ongoing, parent and professional development opportunities concerning the recognition and prevention of child maltreatment; and
  • …establish, or effectively implement, school based policies, protocols and programs to prevent, recognize, report, and respond to child abuse.

Fortunately, the very skills that protect our children from abuse also serve to enhance their academic success, such as frequent and effective communication with parents and professionals, knowledge and use of self advocacy skills, and reduction of social isolation and increases in social maturity all serve to reduce a child’s risk of abuse, IF the child is also provided with an understanding of their own emerging sexuality, what constitutes abuse, and what to do when they find themselves in a risky situation, or in fact have experienced abuse.  This link between protection from maltreatment and achievement of academic success constitutes a key element of Hands & Voices child maltreatment prevention program entitled the “O.U.R. Children Project” (http://www.handsandvoices.org/resources/OUR/index.htm)

Hands & Voices recognizes the fact that the prevention of abuse starts with a conversation, a question and a request. A conversation with a peer, or child, concerning the occurrence and risks of abuse.  A question to an educational administrator concerning the existence of school policy, procedures and programs to deter, recognizes, and report suspected instances of child abuse.  A request to an educational administrator for the provision of programs for children, parent and professional to prevent child abuse.  Hands & Voices also recognizes that many individuals are uncertain about how to start a conversation, ask a question, or make a request concerning child abuse.  As a result, at the 2011 Hands & Voices National Leadership Conference in Portland, Maine a series of brief video vignettes were created to demonstrate how parents and professionals can initiate conversations regarding child abuse, share critical information, and respond to common questions.  These video vignettes can be accessed either by contacting Harold Johnson (hjohnson@msu.edu), or going directly to the following URL:  http://deafed-childabuse-neglect-col.wiki.educ.msu.edu/2011+-+Hands+and+Voices+-+National+Leadership+Conference.

Together we can help protect our children from abuse by simply having a conversation, asking a question, and making a request.  Alone, our children will continue to be at increased risk for abuse, a risk that many, many children at the Hawai’i School for the Deaf are alleged to have experienced. 

To see the news article, visit http://www.hawaiifreepress.com

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