C O M M E N T A R Y
Child Abuse & Neglect in Mississippi: Beginning the Conversation STEPHEN BEAM, MD AND KARLA STECKLER TYE, LPC Abstract The Mississippi State Medical Association House of Delegates passed Resolution 18 in 2016 to bring attention to child abuse and neglect in Mississippi. This descriptive article is the first of a number of articles that will be included in the Journal MSMA to educate further the medical community on a problem that impacts individuals throughout their life. Research has shown that our medical professionals, just like many other disciplines that encounter child abuse, are unprepared to identify and respond to the issue of child abuse. This article outlines the magnitude of child abuse in Mississippi as well as the life-long ramifications of that abuse. Lastly, this article outlines two current initiatives in Mississippi attempting to make systemic changes to identification and response to cases of child abuse. hild abuse and neglect, Children’s Advocacy Key Words: C Centers, Child Advocacy Studies Training Introduction The following vignettes are an amalgamation of literally thousands of events that occur in Mississippi each year. There is a plague of child abuse and neglect today that has been with us since antiquity. A few dedicated and hardworking, medically trained professionals in our state strive tirelessly to address these issues but the numbers are few and most of their efforts go largely unnoticed by the general public and by many medical professionals. It is estimated that, at best, only ten percent of child abuse/neglect cases are reported. Some estimates indicate an even lower percentage. Medical providers in our State who work in clinical medicine areas exposing them to infants and children should always be aware of the possibility of the presence of these hellish problems and be willing to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect. These children are living a nightmare everyday of their young lives and have no way of escaping without help. Case Scenario 1: I am three years old and have spent most of my life in a car seat in a bedroom with the windows taped so no light can see through it. My mom sleeps a lot. She forgets to change my diaper, sometimes for hours. She has men friends who visit her but none ever stay very long. I can’t walk because I am almost always in my seat. My grandparents also live in the house but I don’t see them very much. My mom took me to the doctor today after my aunt saw that I could not walk. The doctor checked me and said I need to see another doctor in Jackson. I hope someone can help me to walk so maybe my mom will let me out of my car seat.
Case Scenario 2: My little sister who is four cries a lot, especially when our mom’s man friend gets in her bed. He has been here about six months and sometimes hits my mom and makes her cry. My mom sleeps a lot especially after she takes her medication. She goes to work and leaves us with “Uncle Ted.” He sometimes makes us both get in bed with him while my mom is gone. I am six years old and miss a lot of school, and neither my sister nor I have friends who can come and visit. Today Uncle Ted was hurting my little sister again so I jumped on him to see if I could make him stop. He grabbed my arm and twisted it so hard that it made a popping noise and hurt real bad. He threw me against the wall, and I did not remember anything for a while. Later, I woke up and my sister was crying and calling my name. I hugged her and told her to quit crying. Uncle Ted was gone so we got dressed and waited for our mom. My arm still hurts but I know Mom will take us to the doctor and he will help us. Case Scenario 3: I am thirteen years old, and I have a terrible secret. When I was little my family and I lived on a farm near my uncle and his three kids. The oldest boy, Freddy, was about fifteen and we all played together. I was seven that summer and pleased that Freddy wanted to spend time with me since I was so much younger. There were times when it was just the two of us and sometime during that summer he began to do things to me. I was scared and cried but did not tell anyone. I started wetting the bed again and having bad dreams. That fall we moved from the farm but sometimes I wake up scared after a bad dream. About six months ago a new family moved in next door. They had a six year old boy who came over to our house to play with my younger brother. He was just a little kid but we began spending time together when my brother was not there. I have started touching him in bad ways. I know I should stop but I keep doing it. He has stopped coming over and my brother says he is sick and his parents are taking him to the doctor. What if he tells? I hope no one asks. Where Are We Today The state of Mississippi, as with every state in the United States, has long been in a crisis regarding the protection of children from abuse and neglect. The statistics are grim. Although the prevalence rate varies slightly by study, commonly accepted national statistics inform us that 1 in 7 girls and 1 in 25 boys will be a victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday.1 Complicating the issue, the greatest risks to children are not strangers, but rather family and friends. In 90% of sexual abuse cases, the child and family know and trust the abuser.2,3 In 2014, Mississippi had 27,967 total reports of child abuse and neglect,