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Prevention and Response to Child Abuse

Child abuse can take many different forms, such as physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. A first step in helping abused or neglected children is to learn the symptoms of child abuse. While no one symptom alone indicates abuse, two or more symptoms may indicate possible abuse and should cause you to take a closer look.

What Temples Can Do To Prevent and Respond to Child Abuse

When child abuse occurs in our communities it gets our attention, and it should also serve as a catalyst for action.

Temples must assure that abuse of children will not be tolerated or ignored. The temple can demonstrate its commitment to providing a safe, secure place for children emotionally, physically, and spiritually, by seriously addressing the need to develop and implement an ongoing educational plan for the congregation and its leaders on the reality of child abuse, risk factors leading to child abuse, and strategies for prevention.

Strategies for Child Protection include:

  • Screening procedures such as application forms, interviews, reference checks, etc., for workers (paid and unpaid) directly or indirectly involved in the care of children and youth.
  • Safety procedures such as two or more adults present in the room, leaving doors open. providing hall monitors. and instituting sign-in and sign-out procedures for children ten or younger.
  • Giving children numbers of an agency or person whom they can contact for advice and help in case of abuse.
  • Developing awareness and self-protection skills in children through special curriculum and activities.
  • Being aware of temple policies concerning abuse, past abusers, and abuse cases. Also, be aware of legal liabilities for temples and individuals.
  • Having training courses for temple leaders, child protection team members and teachers on signs of abuse, obligations and prevention.
  • Having congregational awareness days to emphasize child protection, what abuse is, and how to prevent it. Child abuse can be as much of a problem in the congregations as within the temple.
  • Hold annual management meetings to develop safety and risk-reducing policies and procedures.
  • Carrying liability insurance including abuse coverage.

Know the Facts – The Law and Your Liabilities

Child abuse is criminal behavior and is punished severely in every state, although each state and/or country has its own specific legal definition. You should know the laws and responsibilities that apply to managers and clergy of your state or country.

Know the Facts – Why temples have such a high risk of abuse

To understand how important it is to have preventative measures in place it may help to first know why temples are at such high risk for abuse.

Several of the following factors could be named:

  • Temples behave as relatively trusting organizations, relying upon their members and their leaders to conduct themselves appropriately. Sometimes our trusting attitude persists even in the face of questions or reports of misconduct.
  • Temples are notoriously inactive when it comes to screening its devotees and new members.
  • Temples routinely provide opportunities for close contact and personal relationships with children.

It is understandable that members of our temples do not like to think that any person in the Gurukula or other congregational members would harm a child, but the transgressions of the past are a reality. Conversely, we do not like to think that false allegations of abuse could be made. Therefore a comprehensive strategy against abuse should be implemented to reduce needless risk of harm that may be done to our children.

What To Do if Abuse Occurs-Guide for Temple Presidents

When a child reports that he or she has experienced any of the behaviors detailed above, serious attention should be paid to the report. While not every child’s story is actually a report of abuse, the truth needs to be determined to prevent further harm to the child or further false allegations.

The following initial steps should be taken if anyone has come to you with a concern of abuse:

  • Follow local laws concerning mandated reporting of suspected or confirmed abuse. These laws may entail that the first step after hearing about the abuse is to contact the police and/or the State Child Abuse Hot line. In any case, be sure to contact these government authorities as soon or sooner than the law requires you to do so. After contacting these government agencies, cooperate with them fully.
  • Remove child from situation of suspected abuse.
  • Remove suspected abuser from situation near children.(Ensure that suspected abuser does not have access to, or interact with, children.)
  • Call the local Child Protection Team.
  • Give the child love and support.
  • Put the family in touch with local support groups for abused children and their families.
  • Hold istagoshti to intelligently inform community of facts, actions taken to protect child, and cooperation with police investigation.
  • Prepare press release of information of facts, if necessay. Please first check with Anuttama Prabhu of ISKCON Communications­ – 301-299-9707.
  • Make sure all information is relayed to the ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection:
    P.O. Box 272 , Umbongintwini, 4120, South Africa
    or contact the Director: Champakalata dasi
    Phone: +27(0)82 824 2203
  • Be sure not to do or say anything that may cause the child to feel responsible for being abused.
  • One should also remember that both the child and parents of the child will be very scared and/or angry. It is in everyone’s best interest to act with kindness and understanding in these situations.

What is Abuse and How Does It Happen?

Child abuse is when a person exerts his or her power over a child in ways that harm and/or exploit the child. The abuser is powerful; the child is vulnerable. The abuser can gain power over the child through size, position, knowledge, or money. All of these work to make the abuser feel he or she is able to behave inappropriately toward a child and that the child will be unable to stop the abusive behavior.

The child is vulnerable to an abuser as a result of having fewer resources available to him or her. The child is physically smaller and weaker, intellectually less mature, and can be economically dependent upon the abuser or some other adult. When a child’s vulnerability and an abuser’s misuse of power combine with opportunity, then child abuse may and often does occur.

Types of Child abuse

Child abuse can be categorized in five primary forms: physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and ritual abuse.

 Physical Abuse

Abuse in which a person deliberately and intentionally causes bodily hann to a child. Examples may include violent battery with a weapon (knife, belt, strap, and so forth), burning, shaking, kicking, choking,. fracturing bones, and any variety of non-accidental injuries to a child’s body.

Emotional abuse

Abuse in which a person exposes a child to spoken and/or unspoken violence or emotional cruelty. Children exposed to emotional abuse may experience being locked in a closet, being deprived of any sign of parental affection, being constantly told they are bad or stupid, or allowed or forced to use alcohol or drugs. Emotional abuse is often very difficult to prove and is devastating to the victim, sending a message to the child of worthlessness, badness, and being not only unloved but undeserving of love and care.

Neglect

Abuse in which a person endangers a child’s health, safety, or welfare through negligence. Neglect may include the withholding of food, clothing, medical care, education, and even affection and affirmation of the child’s self-worth. This is perhaps the most common form of abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Abuse in which sexual contact between a child and an adult (or with an older. more powerful youth) occurs. Examples of sexual abuse may include fondling, intercourse, incest, and the exploitation of and exposure to child pornography or prostitution. It is important to note that the child is never truly capable of consenting or resisting such contact.

Ritual Abuse

Abuse in which physical, sexual, or psychological violations of a child are inflicted regularly, intentionally, and in a stylized way by a person or persons responsible for the child’s welfare. The abuser may appeal to some higher authority or power to justify the abuse. The abuse may also include cruel treatment of animals or repeated threats of hann to a child and other persons. Reports of ritual abuse are often extremely horrifying and may seem too grim to be true. However, children making such reports must not be ignored.

Indicators of Child Abuse

Often children suffering abuse will not tell anyone. Therefore, it is important to be able to recognize signs of abuse. The following characteristics may be indicators of abuse, although they are not necessarily proof.Individually, anyone of the indicators may be a sign of other less serious problems. But if these indicators are observed in a child, they can be considered as warnings and should lead you to look into the situation further.

 Possible Signs of Physical Abuse

  1. Hostile and aggressive behavior toward others
  2. Fearfulness of parents and/or other adults
  3. Destructive behavior toward self. others and/or property
  4. Inexplicable fractures or bruises inappropriate for the child’s developmental stage
  5. Bums, facial injuries, pattern of repetitious bruises

Possible Signs of Emotional Abuse

  1. Exhibits severe depression and/or withdrawal
  2. Exhibits severe lack of self-esteem
  3. Failure to thrive
  4. Threatens or attempts suicide
  5. Speech and/or eating disorders
  6. Goes to extremes to seek adult approval
  7. Extreme passive/aggressive behavior patterns

Possible Signs of Neglect

  1. Failure to thrive
  2. Pattern of inappropriate dress for climate
  3. Begs or steals food; chronic hunger
  4. Depression
  5. Untreated medical condition
  6. Poor hygiene

Possible Signs of Sexual Abuse

  1. Unusually advanced sexual knowledge and/or behavior for child’s age and development stage
  2. Depression – cries often for no apparent reason
  3. Promiscuous behavior
  4. Runs away from home and refuses to return
  5. Difficulty walking or sitting
  6. Bruised/bleeding in genital or anal areas
  7. Exhibits frequent headaches, stomach aches, or extreme fatigue
  8. Sexually transmitted diseases

Consequences of Child Abuse

When a child is abused in one of our temples or schools, many victims are created, including the child, the congregation, the child’s family, and even the family of the abuser.

Of course, of foremost importance is the child who has been harmed and he or she must be cared for.

Innocence has been stolen from the child and the trauma of abuse causes emotional injury as well as physical injury. Feelings of mistrust, guilt, and sheer emotional pain are scars that can last through the victim’s life. Spiritually, great harm is done to the child when a trusted person in the temple community perpetrates the abuse. The child may struggle with faith in Krsna and the temple with questions like: “If Krsna loves children, how could He let this happen to me?” and “How can the devotees go on chanting and taking part in kirtan, acting like nothing has happened?” Experiences of child abuse create emotional effects, as well as physical, that can be profound and can effect the victim’s life for many years.

If any such child abuse is brought to the attention of the child protection team, the team should act upon it with deliberation. The longer the abuse goes on, the more harm it does to the child. If you suspect a child is in a dangerous situation, take immediate action.

Every team should learn and follow local laws on mandated reporting of child abuse to civil authorities.

It is our responsibility to protect the children sent to us by Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada.

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