Protecting Your Child from Potential Abuse
In 2015 there were over 15,000 confirmed cases of child abuse in Oklahoma. Statistics show that family members are the predominant abusers of children but the incidence of boyfriends as perpetrators is significant. Recently a high-profile case in Oklahoma involved a professional, well-known, married man charged with killing his mistress’s young child. Particularly disturbing were parts of the abuse caught on home surveillance tapes that show the alleged abuser holding the limp, injured child in his arms as he calmly went to the kitchen for a piece of pizza. The child later died of skull fracture and internal bleeding. In another recent Oklahoma case, the alleged perpetrator beat his girlfriend’s 19- month-old daughter because he was jealous, thinking his girlfriend had cheated on him. In his fit of anger, he beat the child, causing a fatal brain bleed.
Often the abuse is part of a generational cycle of child abuse. Those who have been abused are statistically much more prone to becoming abusers unless they have therapy to overcome the damage. Physical violence as a means of dealing with jealousy, frustration and anger is a learned behavior that is passed from generation to generation. Lack of education about normal child development sometimes leads to extreme punishment for normal behavioral issues such as crying and toilet training. Substance abuse is present in 40-80 percent of the families where children are the victims, according to the National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence.
Where are the mothers of these young children being abused and murdered? Often, the child has been left in the care of the boyfriend while the mother goes to work. Economic necessity and lack of child care are the most often cited reasons women give for leaving their children in the care of their boyfriend. As one mother of a murdered child stated,” I shouldn’t have left him alone with my son but I had to go to work and I didn’t have any other option.” Sometimes the mother comes home to a child that is injured, but the boyfriend has explanations and they are believed. In one case of a child that was killed by the boyfriend, there had been numerous injuries to the child in the past but the mother, and even the emergency room doctors, had deemed the explanations valid. Until the last, fatal injury.
Co-habitating presents a risk in itself. According to a 2005 study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children living in a home with unrelated adults are nearly 50 times as likely to die from inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents. Female children face a significantly higher risk of sexual abuse if their parents are divorced whether they live with their mother or their father.
If the woman knows about the abuse and allows it, she can be charged with “failure to protect” and face jail time. In fact, every person in the state of Oklahoma that has reason to believe a child is being abused or neglected is legally required to report.
In light of these alarming statistics, and high-profile abuse cases, what can single mothers do to ensure their children’s safety? Before introducing a man into your children’s lives, apply the same investigative procedures that you would use if you were screening a babysitter, day care or pediatrician. Ask the following questions:
- Does he have a criminal past and, if so, was it for violent offenses?
- How does he react when frustrated or angry?
- Does he abuse alcohol or drugs?
- If he has children, does he have a positive relationship with them?
Know someone a long time before you involve that person in your child’s life. As mothers, we must be responsible for the safety and well-being of our children. If you decide to allow a man into your children’s lives, follow these guidelines:
- Never let your boyfriend discipline your child. That is your role, not his!
- The boyfriend should not be involved in toilet training or bathing.
- Be aware of changes in your child or signs of fear when the boyfriend is around.
- Listen to your children and believe them if they tell you they are being abused.
- Educate yourself about signs of abuse.
As bears do with their young, we must protect our children from all predators, inside and outside the home. If you suspect anyone is abusing your children, report it to the authorities and remove that person from your life.
Resources for Reporting or Getting Help
- Oklahoma hotline for child abuse: 800.522.3511
- National Hotline for child abuse: 800.422.4453
- Child Abuse Network: childabusenetwork.org
- Children’s Advocacy Center: 918.224.3121
- Parent Child Center of Tulsa: 918.599.7999
- Family & Children’s Services: 918.587.9471 (appt.); 918.744.4800 (confidential crisis services)
- Domestic Violence Intervention Services: 918.743.5763