How to Spot the Signs and Make a Difference

Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, also leave deep, lasting scars. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal and break the cycle—rather than perpetuate it. By learning about common signs of abuse and what you can do to intervene, you can make a huge difference in a child’s life.

Effects of child abuse and neglect

All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars. Some of these scars might be physical, but emotional scarring has long lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child’s sense of self, their future relationships, and ability to function at home, at work and at school. Some effects include: Lack of trust and relationship difficulties. If you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust? Without this base, it is very difficult to learn to trust people or know who is trustworthy. This can lead to difficulty maintaining relationships in adulthood. It can also lead to unhealthy relationships because the adult doesn’t know what a good relationship is.

Understanding child abuse and neglect

Child abuse isn’t just about black eyes. While physical abuse is shocking due to the marks it leaves, not all child abuse is as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also child abuse. Regardless of the type of child abuse, the result is serious emotional harm. But there is help available. If you suspect a child is being abused, it’s important to speak out. By catching the problem as early as possible, both the child and the abuser can get the help they need. Myths and facts about child abuse and neglect
Myth: It’s only abuse if it’s violent.Fact: Physical abuse is just one type of child abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging, and since they are more subtle, others are less likely to intervene. Myth: Only bad people abuse their children.Fact: Not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and don’t know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or a substance abuse problem.
Myth: Child abuse doesn’t happen in “good” families.Fact: Child abuse doesn’t only happen in poor families or bad neighborhoods. It crosses all racial, economic, and cultural lines. Sometimes, families who seem to have it all from the outside are hiding a different story behind closed doors. Myth: Most child abusers are strangers.Fact: While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or others close to the family.
Myth: Abused children always grow up to be abusers.Fact: It is true that abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle as adults, unconsciously repeating what they experienced as children. On the other hand, many adult survivors of child abuse have a strong motivation to protect their children against what they went through and become excellent parents.

Getting Men to Speak Up

In early November 1991, a month after Anita Hill’s testimony about being sexually harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, my mother invited me to dinner. After a long and pleasant meal, she told me that Hill’s stories were all too familiar. When my mother was in graduate school, her mentor groped her. She left school the next day and didn’t complete her PhD for 30 years.Back in the 1990s, Hill wasn’t believed when she bravely came forward. Instead she was vilified by the Senate Judiciary Committee as a woman scorned, as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” as a now-contrite David Brock put it in his article smearing Hill. That response set the tone: Over the next 25 years, whenever a woman stood up to publicly accuse men like Bill Cosby or Bill Clinton of sexual assault, she usually ended up being the one on trial in the court of public opinion, charged with a lack of credibility.But outside this public narrative, something started to shift: Women like my mother began to speak privately about their painful experiences. Mothers told their children, wives told their husbands, women told their friends, daughters told their parents. And they were believed.

Social scientists who study movements often speak of the three elements of revolution. First come the structural preconditions — long-term institutional changes that slowly build pressure, sometimes without even being noticed. In this case, those 25 years of simmering private conversations paved the way for today’s widespread backlash against harassment. The second element of a revolution is precipitants — pivotal events that cause change to rapidly accelerate. One precipitant here was the 2016 release of the Access Hollywood videotape of Donald Trump bragging about kissing and groping women. After his election to the U.S. presidency despite this evidence, many women were both incredulous and furious.

Finally, there are trigger events that ignite a major explosion. In this case it was the rapid succession of revelations about Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Harvey Weinstein. In what seemed like a first, the women’s tales of abuse were not doubted — they were believed. And so #MeToo began, a reckoning so public that the women who spoke out were named Time magazine’s people of the year in 2017.

We are in a new moment. For many of us, particularly men, it is scary and uncomfortable. Men are feeling vulnerable and afraid of false accusations (or perhaps true ones). They fear that things they did a long time ago will be reevaluated under new rules. They tell me they’re walking on eggshells. Because of this, many men are staying silent rather than taking part in the conversation. And yet inaction isn’t necessarily the right approach; there are important things men can do and say to support the women in their lives.

My experience studying masculinity and working with companies on sexual harassment has led me to focus on how men can take action to address this problem in the workplace. To do so effectively, we must come to terms with four questions: Why do men harass women? Don’t they know it’s wrong? How do they get away with it? And finally, what can we do about it?