Parents Learn Myths And Realities Of Child Abuse

.jpg photo of New Jersey Child Abuse Advocates
Pam Celenza of NJ Child Abuse Prevention, and Maria Conti

Wildwood school hosts Child Abuse
Prevention workshop

WILDWOOD, NJ  –  Parents at the Glenwood Avenue School learned about the myths and realities of child abuse at a Jan. 12 parent involvement meeting.

Pam Celenza, a coordinator with the NJ Child Abuse Prevention Program, sponsored by the NJ Department of Children and Families, introduced the program to parents, telling them the NJCAP slogan is, “Helping Children to be Safe, Strong, and Free.”

Celenza said NJCAP, through the International Center for Assault Prevention, is working in 13 states and 13 countries.  The Atlantic/Cape May Counties CAP Project is hosted by AlantiCare Behavioral Health.

Celenza said NJCAP is trying to reach students, teachers, and parents, to educate them on child abuse prevention.  Celenza said the program is presented to pre-K and kindergarten students.  The workshop is given over three days, 45 minutes per day, for the younger students, and the kindergarten program is over two days.

With the aid of Spanish language translator Maria Conti, Celenza told parents the program began over 30 years ago, when a student was sexually assaulted on the way to school.  Parents in the victim’s school wanted to develop a program to educate students on assault prevention.

“They wanted to look at the myths and realities of an assault on a woman as compared to a child,” Celenza said.

One of those myths, Celenza said, was that children were in danger mostly from strangers who preyed on children they didn’t know.

“Typically we educate children they can be harmed by strangers, whereas 85 to 90 percent of the time it is someone they know,” Celenza said.

Celenza said NJCAP identifies four common types of child abuse. One is neglect, which is simply not providing enough of the necessities – food, clothing, and shelter.  She said there is a difference between poverty and neglect, which she said was purposely withholding basic necessities from children.

She said the next is emotional abuse, which is done with words, including withholding praise and attention.  Physical abuse means injuring or harming the child.  Celenza said some parents use corporal punishment, but evaluators look at the frequency and severity of the physical punishment.

“Adults have the right to discipline, but they can do it by withholding privileges rather than being physical,” she said.

Celenza told parents there are different types of sexual assault. Rape, she said, is defined as penetration.  Incest involves someone living in the home, and can be an adult, an adolescent, or even a child assaulting another child.  She said the assault can be by someone of the opposite or same gender.

Other forms of sexual assault include exhibitionism, which is someone showing their naked body without the victim’s permission, or voyeurism, which is looking at the naked body of the victim for sexual gratification.

Celenza said it is a sexual assault to take pornographic pictures of a child or force a child to view pornography.  Sexual assault also includes sexual exploitation, which involves selling the use of the child’s body.

Celenza said there are generally two means of addressing sexual assault and child abuse: prosecution and education.  Prosecution, she said, does not stop the attack, and there is a low conviction rate.

“In New Jersey we have Megan’s Law, which requires sexual offenders to register, but that won’t tell us where the unregistered offenders are,” Celenza said.

Celenza said sometimes the offender is not registered because the victim child has not told his or her story.

“Because 85 to 90 prevent of the time they are harmed by someone they know, it keeps them from telling anyone,” she said.

Celenza said the child will worry about what will happen to the offender, who is someone the child loves, and who they don’t want to see get in trouble.  She said the child is often convinced no one will believe them if they tell.

Celenza said teaching children to say “No” is one of the best ways to prevent child abuse.

“Studies have shown that if a child had said no, the offender would have moved on to another victim,” she said.

She said the NJCAP program aims at giving children the skills and strategies they need to prevent an assault, because prosecution is not a prevention tool.  In addition, teaching a child to simply avoid behaviors or visiting a location may not help.  If the child breaks a rule, and is assaulted, the child will feel it is their fault.

“How do we reduce their vulnerability to being victimized?” Celenza said.

In the NJCAP workshops, Celenza said, they teach children to be self-assertive, they teach about peer support, and about telling a trusted adult.

First, we want to empower children to say ‘no’ or ‘stop,’” she said.

She said while children must listen to adults, there are times when a child’s right to say no exceeds adult authority, such as when someone wants them to view pornography or watch an R-rated movie.  She said children should be encouraged to ask ‘Why?’ and adults should be prepared to give an appropriate response – not simply, “Because I said so.”

She said children need to have a trusted adult outside the home, which might be a teacher.  However, if there is someone the child trusts, it might be difficult for them to express what happened.  In these cases, the child will normally demonstrate through his or her behavior that something is wrong.  She said if a child starts sucking their thumb or wetting the bed, when they did not do this before, it could be a sign of a problem.  A child becoming overly affectionate could be a sign of a learned behavior.  Celenza said if parents notice new behaviors they should ask the child about it and see if their story fits.

“There can be emotional or physical indicators…ask the who, what, where, when and how,” Celenza said.

According to Celenza, children will lie to get out of trouble, but they cannot lie about something they have no knowledge of or experience with.  She said if a child talks about someone touching them inappropriately, it must be something the child experienced. She said parents should calmly question the child about the incident because it’s not easy for the child to talk about.

At the same time, she said, don’t project or make assumptions about what the child is saying.

“If the child says they don’t like how their grandmother touches them, ask how she touches them.  They might say, ‘She rubs my head and squeezes my cheeks,’” Celenza said.

Celenza said it is important to teach children the appropriate anatomical terms.  She said there was a case of a girl telling a teacher someone was touching her “pocketbook.”  The teacher told her not to bring it to school.  Later, when the school psychologist asked the girl where her pocketbook was, the girl indicated her vagina.

“A lot of time prosecuting these cases is not successful because the child does not know the language,” Celenza said.

Celenza said anyone suspecting child abuse should call 1-877-NJABUSE.

4 thoughts on “Parents Learn Myths And Realities Of Child Abuse”

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