When Children Tell - Page 1

When Children Tell And No One Listens

October 1997 By Sherry A. Quirk, Esq.
Bio: Sherry A. Quirk, Esq., is a member of the firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand. Ms. Quirk practices extensively in the legislative and administrative areas, and over the past several years has devoted significant time and effort to the issue of sexual abuse of children. In 1992, Ms. Quirk also established and continues to supervise Verner Liipfert's pro bono project on behalf of victims of childhood sexual abuse. She is the President and co-founder of One Voice: the National Alliance of Abuse Awareness and its public policy project, the American Coalition for Abuse Awareness. One Voice, a 501 (3) entity, is a national alliance of adult survivors and child victims of sexual abuse, their supporters, child advocacy organizations, non-offending parents, health care and legal professionals who are seeking to improve the quality of life for children and adult survivors of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. One Voice is active in educating the public, the national media and our members of congress on preventing the victimization of children, supporting the right of victims to seek redress through the courts and assuring access to appropriate treatment for victims of abuse. Ms. Quirk can be reached by e-mail at ACAADC@aol.com

Americans are more aware than ever of the tragedy of child abuse: our national and local media carry daily reports of children who have been beaten, imprisoned, starved, burned or sexually and emotionally abused. Shopping carts, milk cartons, billboards, newspapers all carry the message that children should tell if they are being hurt and that to prevent abuse, just call a hotline and help will arrive.

However, we are slowly awakening to the fact that, even if suspected abuse is reported, this does not always result in safeguarding the child from further abuse. In fact, some of the worst cases are those where authorities were notified of abuse and had determined that the child was at risk, but nevertheless left the child in the care of the abuser. We are also learning that not only the woman who flees domestic violence is at risk from further violence, but that her children are often the innocent witnesses to her being battered -- or additional victims. And in far too many cases, the batterer has not only revenges himself on his former partner, but hurts or kills the children as well.

But there is an aspect to this violence in the family which so far has escaped the public's attention: the granting of sole custody or unsupervised access to the batterer or child abuser. According to the American Judges Foundation, "One of the most common reasons given for resuming an abusive relationship is the fear that the abuser will act on the threats of taking the children from the victim. Studies show that batterers have been able to convince authorities that the victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in approximately 70% of challenged cases."


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