By Daniel J. Vance


  Child abuse.


  Hearing the words usually makes good parents jittery. Most parents deeply love their children and would do anything and everything in the world to protect them from a potential child abuser.


  But not all people love children.


  In the United States, a child with a disability is especially vulnerable -- between 3 and 7 times more vulnerable depending on the type of abuse. According to a study of 40,000 Omaha school children in 1995-96, children with disabilities were 3.44 times greater than non-disabled children to have been abused.


  The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1996 defines child abuse and neglect as, "at a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."


  "Sexual abuse" according to CAPTA is "the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children." 


  Children with disabilities are vulnerable because they are more likely to live in residential institutions; many depend on others for their physical care; and, there are many children who can't mentally comprehend that they are being abused.


  Often, children with hearing and speech problems lack the ability to ward off or tell others of abuse. Caregivers may not be able to discern differences between the child's regular emotional state and one involving abuse.


  In general, child abuse and neglect is an enormous - and often ignored - societal problem. A U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services study found that a parent or parents were the abuser in 84 percent of all child abuse cases, and 60 percent of the abusers were female. In the U.S., child abuse is the leading cause of death for children under age 4.


  If you would like more information about child abuse involving a child with a disability - or any child - visit www.childhelpusa.org. Or call their 24-hour child abuse hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.


  [Visit www.danieljvance.com. Copyright 2002 by Daniel J. Vance]