What Should You Do If You Witness Child Abuse?

Nov 15, 2011, 7:25 PM, Posted by

Advocates say the immediate response should be a call to 911. “That’s an emergency, a child is being assaulted,” says Mitru Ciarlante, director of the Youth Initiative at the National Center for Victims of Crime. Trained operators will then contact the police and dispatch experts trained to handle the specific assault that has occurred. “Every one of us is responsible for keeping children safe,” says Ciarlante.

If you suspect abuse is taking place but haven’t witnessed it, calling the police can be a more intimidating step, says Ciarlante, who suggests instead calling Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD. The hotline line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in 170 languages. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are anonymous and confidential.

Almost all groups who handle children crises have updated their websites since the news broke at Penn State to better help the public seek out help for children who might be in trouble, says Ciarlante. While many are baffled by the alleged hesitation to call authorities at Penn State, Ciarlante says many people hesitate to report crimes against children for a variety of reasons. They may not be sure abuse is taking place, for example, or may not be able to admit the seriousness of the problem for a range of personal reasons.

Experts at Stop It Now, the Child Sex Abuse Prevention and Protection Center, say they hope the cases being investigated at Penn State can be a catalyst to bring attention to the issue of sexual abuse of children in the U.S. Over 90,000 children are sexually assaulted in America each year. Many more take place but are never reported, says Ciarlante.

Stop It Now offers additional sexual abuse reporting resources, including toll-free phone numbers to call to report abuse in every state.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.