Child Abuse Numbers Staggering on Maryland's Lower Shore - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Reported by Rebecca Gannon

Child Abuse Numbers Staggering on Maryland's Lower Shore

(Photo: AP) (Photo: AP)

WICOMICO COUNTY - Shocking numbers of child abuse on the Lower Shore reveal Worcester, Wicomico, and Somerset counties all have a higher rate of child abuse than even Baltimore City.

The most recent numbers date to 2002. Wicomico and Worcester counties have a 7 percent rate of child abuse in children who go to school. In Somerset County, the number is even higher at 11 percent. In comparison, Baltimore City has a 6 percent rate.

Detective Sgt. Stephen Mathews of the Wicomico County Child Advocacy Center equates it to a disease.

"If you don't deal with it," he says, "it's a cancer, and that cancer will kill our society."

WBOC met a mother we called "Jane" on Wednesday. Jane's daughter was sexually abused by her uncle (Jane's brother-in-law) when her little girl was 5. She will turn 8 this year. But her mother said the abuser will be out of jail well before her daughter will be able to come to grips with the abuse.

"This can't be happening, that was my, you're worst nightmare," Jane said with tears in her eyes. "Except worse, it wasn't a stranger. It was a family member. And it was hard in the beginning because nobody wanted to believe you."

The only people who would believe a 5-year-old, Jane said, were "her mom, her dad."

Jane quickly reported the abuse.

"It had to be done," she said, as her voice strengthened with resolve. "You mess with my kids, it's like ripping my heart out."

Jane is part of a growing number of people reporting abuse. While the number of abuse reports are rising, experts say it is a positive thing.

"The problem's always been there" Mathews said. "I think we as adults have always abused children. I think now, it's just being recognized and reported more."

Mathews said that nationally, one out of every eight boys will be abused by the age of 18. For girls, the number is one in three. Overall, one in six children in the United States will be abused by their 18th birthday.

Jane shudders at those numbers.

"And when you think about all the kids that don't say anything, that's even scarier," she said. "They just don't feel like they have anybody that they can go to. It's the kid's word against the grownup's word. And a lot of these kids are scared."

 The best way to combat child abuse, say experts and parents alike, is to listen.

 "And you've got to have an open ear for your kids," implores Jane. "You've got to be able to let your kids talk to you about anything. And you've got to believe them."

Experts say one sign of abuse could be stress in a child. They may act out in anger or take on regressive behavior, like bed wetting.

Experts also say 40 percent of children in juvenile services have been abused. A staggering 80 percent of criminals behind bars right now, they say, were abused as children.

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