There are many times when we, as adults, suspect something is going on with the children around us. A new behavior may surface, or a child might lose interest in socializing. But how often do we consider why this is happening in our society? And to what extent do we question our intuition?

Numerous institutions have faced allegations of the maltreatment of youth, while the Catholic Church remains under scrutiny. However, reason may suggest that if clergy are mistreating minors, surely similar problems exist elsewhere as well. Therefore, we may be wise to consider how we perceive abusive actions, and then recognize potential warning signs of such injustice.

Despite decades of reports, American adults’ views vary

Between last February’s Vatican summit and the issuance of new rules for reporting suspicions of sex abuse within the Church, more than 6,000 adults participated in a survey. The key findings include:

  • 34% of those surveyed believe religious leaders take advantage of children’s innocence more than other adult youth workers.
  • Less than one-third of participants with regular religious attendance reported hearing their organization’s leader address the issue of abuse.
  • Of those, 12% recalled a message which warned of posing false accusations.

The country remains divided on where trauma occurs and who puts children in jeopardy. And while organizational leadership from various backgrounds address the matter, we would be remiss not to educate ourselves about how such cruelty might present in kids.

The index of suspicion may clarify doubt

One way mental health professionals address child sexual abuse (CSA) is through an index representative of the likelihood that a child was violated.

Observed emotional or behavioral changes lie at the base of the triangle. Although anxiety or depression may be indicative of mistreatment, they may have numerous reasonable explanations.

Stepping up the pyramid, we find increased suggestions on which to base our accusations. Age-inappropriate sexualized behaviors or injured genitalia erase doubts. Pregnancy is indisputable. And should a child want to talk about what happened to them, we need to be willing to listen, and then act on their behalf.

Trained professionals can help us understand and support accusations. And thanks to recent legislative changes, many adults can hold abusers from their childhood accountable.

No amount of financial compensation can repair the harm inflicted on children. However, shedding light on inappropriate adults’ transgressions – whether in or outside of the church – can open our eyes to the facts. From there, we can work together to put an end to such travesties.