When most people think of child abuse, they picture bruises on quiet, sad-eyed children. They see concerned teachers reaching out to school counselors, or Child Protective Services sweeping in to save the day.
The problem with these images is that they rarely happen. Most of the time, child abuse goes unnoticed by adults, and children are left to suffer until they leave home. This is because almost 75% of abuse cases are neglect. Only around 18% are physical abuse, and 7% are emotional abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse are invisible. They're almost impossible to spot. Once they've been spotted, it's even harder to find proof to report to an authority. In 2016, out of the 7.4 million child abuse cases reported, only 3.5 million cases actually received any attention from authorities. Child crisis organizations can't totally upheave a family's life just on the basis of hearsay, so they usually require some sort of evidence of the abuse in order to do anything about it.
I know firsthand how difficult it is to get help as a child. Starting when I was eight, my mother became slowly more and more verbally and emotionally abusive, and eventually got into various drugs that made communication impossible. It was horrible. Everything I did or said was wrong by my mom's standards, and I learned to withdraw when I was around her to avoid arguments and to avoid feeling even worse about myself. I lived like this for years, never thinking it was wrong. One day, my mother's wrath turned physical, and she pinned me against my bed and hit me. This was the first time I knew I had to find a way out.
I talked to my friends first. None of them believed me.
I agonized over whether to call CPS, but wimped out when I had the phone in my hands. When you're a kid, it's hard to really know whether something's very wrong in your relationships or whether you're just being dramatic. I didn't want to risk being told everything was fine.
I talked to online counselors, but realized that no one could take me out of my hell unless I had hard proof that I was being severely mistreated. In my case, I never had any bruises, and this basically meant that all the pain was in my head. It was hard to swallow, but I just couldn't get real help.
The whole time I was being abused, I was terribly angry. I was angry that no one noticed, that no one seemed to care. The few people I talked to didn't believe me. There was no escape.
At 14, I talked to a lawyer about moving into my dad's house, and at 15, that dream came true. I was free.
For most children, there's no second parent to run away to. Most are held in their prisons with their jailors until they turn 18 or go to college. The truth is, children have little authority, and adults rarely trust children to tell the truth.
So what do you do if you're a child victim? You call an abuse hotline (a good one is the National Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233). This is useful for figuring out your options and just to talk to someone who will listen. Tell your friends; they're probably the people you trust the most. Stay with them if you can until you have a permanent plan. I'd even say run away to a safer place if there's no other option.
Know that it will be hard, but eventually, you will find your way out of your personal hell. Don't doubt yourself; if you're constantly feeling sad or empty, and you think someone is hurting you, then seek help.
I love you.