March | April 2014

April Is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Photo of a girl.Child Abuse Prevention Month was first observed in 1983. Since then, each April our nation focuses on raising public awareness about the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children and on the importance of families and communities working together to prevent maltreatment.

According to the OJJDP-funded National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, 1 in 10 American children suffered from child maltreatment (including physical and emotional abuse, neglect, or a family abduction) and 1 in 16 were victimized sexually in the year of the survey.

The challenge of protecting children has been made significantly more complex by ready access to the Internet. Parents, child protection agencies, and law enforcement are struggling to protect children from the threat of online victimization, which can include pornography, cyberbullying, abduction, sexual abuse, and sex trafficking.

OJJDP took the lead early on in addressing this serious problem. More than 15 years ago, the Office established the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force program, which helps state and local law enforcement agencies prevent, interdict, and investigate technology-facilitated child sexual exploitation and Internet crimes against children.

Defending ChildhoodIn addition to ICAC, the Office supports a wide range of programs that promote evidence-based strategies to protect children against abuse, neglect, abduction, commercial sexual exploitation, and exposure to community and domestic violence. Following are a few examples of OJJDP’s work:

  • The Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Initiative, administered by OJJDP, aims to prevent children’s exposure to violence, mitigate the negative effects experienced by children exposed to violence, and expand knowledge about and spread awareness of this issue. Current activities include a demonstration program in eight sites to develop comprehensive community-based strategies to prevent and reduce the impact of children’s exposure to violence in their homes, schools, and communities. In addition, the Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence is currently holding public hearings to examine the scope and impact of violence facing children in Indian country. The task force is scheduled to make policy recommendations to the Attorney General in the fall of 2014.
  • Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking in the United StatesIn September 2013, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council released the findings of an OJJDP-commissioned study on the commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States. The report emphasizes that these crimes should be understood as acts of abuse and violence against children and offers a range of recommendations, including increasing public awareness and understanding of the issue, strengthening the law’s response to these crimes, and expanding research to support the development of enhanced prevention and intervention strategies.
  • OJJDP's Children's Advocacy Centers help coordinate the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases and treatment of the victims. Recognizing that child abuse is a multifaceted problem, the centers involve multidisciplinary teams of professionals—from child protective and victim advocacy services, medical and mental health agencies, and law enforcement and prosecution—who provide a continuum of services to victims and nonoffending family members.
  • In its role as a national clearinghouse and resource center, the OJJDP-supported National Center for Missing & Exploited Children offers critical intervention and prevention services to families and has supported law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels in cases involving missing and exploited children.
  • With the support of OJJDP, the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs manages the AMBER Alert program, which issues media alerts on radio, television, highway signs, wireless devices such as mobile phones, and over the Internet when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger.

“We know that a young person's exposure to violence and trauma puts them at significantly higher risk of substance abuse, depression, failure at school and in the workplace, medical problems, and entry into the juvenile justice system,” said OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee. “Our Office is working vigorously on all fronts to protect children and help children who have been hurt to heal and thrive.”

Resources:

Visit the National Criminal Justice Reference Service and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Child Abuse Prevention Month Web site to find the latest resources and outreach materials on engaging communities in the prevention of child abuse.