YWCA hosts abuse prevention luncheon

STEUBENVILLE – Child abuse crosses all socioeconomic and racial lines, said Emanuela Agresta, county assistant prosecutor and guest speaker at the annual Child Abuse Prevention Month luncheon held Thursday at the YWCA and sponsored by the Jefferson County Job and Family Services, Children Services Division.

She said there are many misconceptions about child abuse, including the theory that only bad people abuse children.

“Abusers don’t intend to hurt children. They sometimes grew up in a similar household,” she said.

Agresta said child abuse is the worst form of violence.

“It crosses all socioeconomic and racial lines. It happens in well-to-do families. There, you need to pull back the veneers of normalcy to spot child abuse,” she said.

Awareness is the key to stopping child abuse.

“We need to reach out and spread the word. It can happen to your neighbor, to anyone.”

Agresta said the United States has one of the worst incidents of child abuse in industrialized countries. She said four to seven children a day lose their life to child abuse. She said more than half of those death certificates don’t list the cause as child abuse.

She said child abuse is deep rooted in an unhealthy environment. She said social workers need to work on behavior modification for abusers and influence their environment in a positive manner.

“We can’t expect a state agency to do it all. We need everyone to be a part of reporting child abuse. Things are not getting better despite your work.”

Agresta said child abuse does not come from a stranger. Of the nearly 300,000 child abuse cases reported nationally last year, only about 22,000 came at the hands of a stranger.

She said disciplining a child is one thing, but, when a parent keeps hitting a child, that parent should go to jail.

Agresta said verbal abuse, the same as physical abuse, leaves long-lasting scars on a child. Children who are victims of verbal abuse tend to have low self-esteem for life.

“If we educate children and parents, then we might be able to break the cycle of child abuse. We need to educate people that the problem is widespread and has to stop.”