Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A few Significant Facts on Domestic Violence: How you can help

According to the National Organization of Women:
  • 1400 women are beaten to death every year by their husbands or boyfriends.
  • 2 to 4 million women are battered each year.
  • Women are ten times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner.
  • Of women who are victims of assault and rape, the majority are women who are separated, divorced, single, or from low-income households
  • African-Americans are more likely to be victims of assault and rape.
Here's more:
  • 3.3 million children are exposed to violence by family members or female caretakers
  • 40-60% of men who abuse women also abuse children
  • Fathers who batter mothers are twice likely to seek sole physical custody of their children than are non-violent fathers
  • 27% of domestic homicide victims were children (in 1996).
Since President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994, victims of domestic violence have been able to avail of free Legal aid, housing and counseling services provided through shelters. But 2008 prompts action as funding for Domestic Violence programs will be reduced. Funding for VAWA which is tied to the Justice Department's budget appropriations of $400 million in 2008 will be reduced to $280M next year.

Legal intervention has saved lives and allowed victims to move on. The consequences of a cut in the budget appropriated for domestic violence are the following:
  • Lack of free Legal aid: The reduction or absence of Legal aid reduces the chances for fighting for child custody and/or obtaining court-ordered protection against the abuser. Abused persons who are undocumented immigrants or in the process of legalization may find it difficult to petition the government for legal status.

  • Lack of housing programs and transitional housing: The lack of shelters places the abused at a much higher risk as women and children will need to spend the night or continue to live with their abuser.

  • Scaled-back counseling: Reduced counseling services will lead to prioritization of services such that only the brutally abused receives counseling. The reduction in crisis intervention also leads to a lack of social support and counseling which can lead to prolonged stays at shelters. This also lengthens the time for the abused to reach self-sufficiency. The average length of stay in a shelter is currently 25.5 days.
What can we do? Logon to Find members of the House and Senate who have shown an interest in domestic violence issues. Write to them with suggestions on how victims of domestic violence can be important contributors provided that their immediate needs for crisis intervention are met. Provide them with examples of success stories and describe cost-efficient means to protect women and children in transitory situations.
Members of Congress can also be sent pre-formatted letters petitioning the continued funding of VAWA by accessing the following websites:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Are you under someone's control? Recognizing Abusive Behavior

In a previous article, I mentioned that abuse is not always physical. It can start with mind play, a.k.a. emotional abuse. Threats and manipulations delivered to the victim increases until the victim becomes passive, withdrawn and emotionless. Victims try to protect themselves by not doing anything so that it doesn't provoke anger from the abuser. It's hard to realize how serious it is when a person is emotionally out of control and when the victim turns numb to the absence of controlling behavior. Emotionally-abusive partners do the following:

  • Stalking or following your every move
  • Intimidation: Threatening to kill himself when he doesn't get his way
  • Freewheeling spending resulting in placing the other person in debt
  • Puts you down and says you can't do anything right, derogatory name calling
  • Destroy a family heirloom or harms the family pet
  • Isolates the other from friends and family
  • Gives unexpected gifts, makes unwanted phone calls and unannounced visits
  • Frequently questions and interrogates about where you were and who you were with
  • Accuses the other of inappropriate behavior or having an affair
  • Sexually assaultive: Forces the partner to engage in unwanted sexual acts.
Men who batter are seeking a sense of power or control over their partners. Some men batter because it is the only way they know how to be close to or relate to a partner. Sometimes a batterer is very dependent upon the woman and any signs or movement towards the woman's independence is considered a threat.

Victims of psychological or emotional abuse may even begin to believe they are stupid, useless or deserve the way they are being treated. Feelings of inadequacy makes the victim tolerate the abuser and therefore both continue to persist in the cycle of abuse.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Baby's First Year: Avoiding Injury

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2006, 91,000 babies were mistreated in their first year. Infants could have been mistreated by their natural parents (50%), non-relatives (17%), their mother's boyfriend (17%), step parents (6%) and others (10%). This figure amounts to over 23 in 1000 of 4 million babies in the survey, of which 7.6% were less than a week old. Five hundred of these cases were fatal and of the remaining non-fatal cases, the majority of cases was due to neglect (68%) while 13% were due to physical abuse. Neglect is defined as a failure to meet a child's basic needs which are housing, food, clothing and access to medical care. This indicates a need to provide more counseling to first time parents and pregnant women before they are released from the hospital. Education is key to the prevention of child neglect and unintentional abuse.

Two topics that relate to a baby's first year are Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS): One in 4 shaken babies die. More than 60% of the victims are male while almost 80% of the perpetrators ("shakers") are male. Victims range in ages of a few days to a few months old with the majority injured between 2 and 4 months. This is because crying in babies is at its peak between the 2nd and 4th months before crying subsides after the 5th month. Babies on average can cry for 3 hours each day. Parents and care givers who lose patience over crying infants forget that what might start as a rocking motion to soothe a crying infant can lead to shaking. An infant should never be shaken. Babies have weak neck muscles and large heavy heads. Shaking makes an infant's delicate brain bounce back and forth inside the skull, causing the brain to bruise, swell and bleed. The injured brain can lead to permanent and severe brain damage or death. Severe shaking can also damage the retina of the eye causing internal bleeding leading to blindness. Hospitals report neck and back damage and dislocated bones. The majority of infants who survive severe shaking will have some form of neurological problems like paralysis, seizures; mental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, speech and learning disabilities or mild to severe mental retardation which may not be visible until the child reaches 6 years of age. Such babies may require lifelong medical care.

Babies that show the following symptoms may have likely been shaken:

  • head turned to one side or inability to lift or turn head

  • pinpointed, dilated or unequal size pupils

  • blood pooling in the eyes

  • pupils unresponsive to light

  • bulging or spongy forehead, swollen head appears later

  • unresponsiveness: neither smiling nor babbling

  • poor sucking or swallowing; vomiting

  • rigid or semi-conscious, lethargic or lacking in muscle tone

  • difficulty breathing

  • seizures or spasms

  • pale or bluish skin

Crying is normal and good for a baby. It's the way newborns communicate. Babies cry when they're wet, hungry or trapped (check for loose threads that may have entangled around fingers and toes).

To avoid shaking a baby, adults should "time out" from a crying baby. Swaddle and lay the crying baby in its own crib and walk away for 10 minutes. Babies should be covered so that they are not feeling too warm nor too cold. Motion from rocking or a moving car; and steady sounds similar to what emanates from a clothes dryer or a dishwasher can also soothe a baby.

Sudden Infants Death Syndrome (SIDS): SIDS claims the lives of 2500 infants each year in the United States and is the leading cause of death among infants between 1 month and a year old. SIDS is associated with sleep and hence referred to as "crib death." Victims do not show signs of suffering. The following increases the risk of SIDS: smoking, drinking or drug use during pregnancy, poor prenatal care, prematurity or low birth weight, mothers younger than 20, smoke exposure following birth, overheating from excessive sleepwear and bedding, and sleeping position (infant laid on its stomach).

Sleeping face down puts pressure on a child's jaw, therefore narrowing the airway and hampering breathing. It is also believed that loose bedding creates pockets that can form around an infant's mouth and nostrils. Infants that breath in and out of the same pockets can accumulate carbon dioxide in their system and suffer from oxygen depletion. Furthermore, seemingly normal infants may have an abnormality in the part of their brains that help control breathing and awakening during sleep. If the baby were breathing stale air or is not getting enough oxygen, the brain usually triggers the baby to wake up and cry. Waking and crying changes breathing and heart rates, making up for the lack of oxygen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all infants younger than a year old should sleep on their backs. Death from SIDS dropped by 50% since the recommendation was published in 1992. Placing infants on their sides to sleep is not advisable either as it encourages infants to roll over onto their bellies during sleep. Conscious rolling usually starts around 4 months and at that point, babies may choose to either sleep on their backs or pick a position on their own.

How else to reduce the risk of SIDS:

  • Place baby on a firm mattress to sleep, never on a pillow, waterbed, sheepskin or other soft surface. Do not put blankets, soft toys, comforters or pillows near the baby (or within the crib) as these may form pockets to trap stale air that a baby can inhale.

  • Baby's mattress should fit snugly in the crib's frame so that the baby can't be trapped between the frame and the mattress.

  • Keep the room temperature at a level that is comfortable for an adult wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Babies should not get too warm while sleeping. Most incidences of SIDS occur during cold weather. Babies who get too warm could go into a deeper sleep making it more difficult to awaken.

  • Do not drink, smoke nor use drugs during pregnancy and avoid exposing the baby to secondhand smoke. Infants of mothers who smoked during pregnancy are 3 times more likely to die of SIDS than those born to non-smokers.

  • Pregnant women should receive prenatal care early and regularly.

  • Babies should have regularly scheduled check-ups.

  • Breastfeed. Breastfed infants are less likely to die from SIDS, though the reason remains unknown.

  • Always leave the baby's head uncovered during sleep.

  • Leave the baby to sleep in its own crib. This minimizes the risk of suffocation from adult beddings and/or parents who may accidentally roll over the sleeping infant. It can also prevent strangulation that can occur when an infant is accidentally trapped between parts of a headboard or footboard.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

April has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Many organizations committed to safeguarding the well-being of children advise that public awareness and early intervention are key to spotting and preventing child abuse. The community should not feel any hesitation to intervene on abusive relationships, for the sake of the individual and the community. Intentional, aggressive behavior from one; that endangers the well-being and physical safety of another, is not a private matter; it is everybody's business.
Child abuse can be one or a multiple of the following forms of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, verbal or neglect. It can be directly delivered as in name-calling, ignoring, terrorizing, over criticism, corruption or, by witholding attention. It can be indirectly shown or unintentionally delivered like in the case of children who witness domestic violence. Repeated actions from an abusive parent or caregiver leads to a child feeling worthless, unloved, damaged or unattractive, unwanted or, valued only if the child serves another's needs. Verbal abuse is like "hitting a child with words."
Child abuse has its social costs as it can delay the child's development or cause mental and emotional disorders. Though physical injuries heal over time, emotional abuse can last forever. The emotionally-abused requires counseling for support and to minimize the ill effects the individual's actions may create on society. Parental verbal abuse can lead to physical aggression in children. The verbally-abused child can grow to be a self-critical adult prone to depression and anxiety.
What are the signs of an abused child? A child may be verbally agressive and may break or throw things during angry outbursts. Withdrawn behavior or rocking and curled in a fetal position while hiding under furniture, and urinating in places other than the toilet are common signs. A child may equate negative things they hear about themselves as the reason for why something goes wrong. Physical injuries such as broken bones or teeth, burns and bruises that are unlikely to be the result of accidents may have been caused by a physically violent adult.
Should a child confide in you about feeling unsafe and unloved; or if you suspect that a child is in an abusive relationship, Childhelp®, a non-profit organization committed to helping victims of child abuse and neglect, offers the following guidelines:
Ask leading questions
Make promises
Notify the parents or the caretaker
Provide a safe environment (be comforting, welcoming and a good listener)
Tell the child it was not his/her fault
Listen carefully
Document the child's exact quotes
Be supportive, not judgmental
Know your limits
Tell the truth and make no promises
Ask ONLY the following questions as asking any additional questions may contaminate a case:
What happened?
Who did this to you?
Where were you when this happened?
When did this happen?
Call your local law enforcement agency • Call your local Child Protective Services Agency • Call the 24-Hour Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline to be connected with an appropriate agency. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD, is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and is staffed 24 hours a day.