We Must Protect Our Children From Abuse

04/22/2015 04:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015

The abuse of a child -- whether emotional, physical or sexual -- is one of the most heinous of crimes.

The United States has one of the worst rates of child abuse among industrialized nations.

Incidents of child abuse are reported every 10 seconds, and each day five children die from child abuse. Around 3 million reports of child abuse are made each year, involving 6 million children. It's an epidemic that we must do more to confront.

Headlines from just this past week exemplify the horrors these children face. A 7-year-old boy was locked in his room for a year. He was allowed out of the room only to go to school. In another case, a 4-month-old infant remains in a coma after his skull was fractured.

Child abuse leaves permanent scars that may prevent children from becoming healthy, productive adults. In one study, 80 percent of 21-year-olds who reported childhood abuse met the criteria for at least one psychological disorder.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that two thirds of people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children, and the Department of Justice reports that 14 percent of men and 36 percent of women in prison were abused as children.

Today is the annual National Day of Hope, an opportunity to reflect on how we can better serve and protect our children. The day was first organized by Childhelp, one of the oldest and largest national organizations focused on helping the most vulnerable.

To stop child abuse and ensure that children get the help they desperately need, we must increase awareness about how to detect and report suspected cases of child abuse.

We all have a responsibility to report suspected cases of child abuse. Reports can be anonymously reported to Childhelp's National Child Abuse Hotline by dialing 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). The hotline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It received nearly 100,000 calls from across the country last year, including 17,000 in California.

Professionals in a child's life -- doctors, teachers or childcare providers -- are often in the best position to identify signs and report abuse. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, 60 percent of all reports of child abuse and neglect are made by professionals who work with children.

However, only 16 percent of reports are submitted by teachers and other education professionals. Given the amount of time children spend in school, this indicates that they need training to better spot the telltale signs of abuse.

Typically, teachers and other education professionals do not receive any training on how to see these signs.

To allow schools to train staff, I plan to introduce the Helping Schools Protect Our Children Act, a bill to expand approved uses for professional development funding to include training for teachers and school personnel on how to recognize signs of sexual abuse in students.

The earlier abuse is detected, the easier it is to minimize the long-term effects on children.

As a society, we can and must do better by our children. They are our future and deserve every opportunity to live full and healthy lives. So join me in recognizing the National Day of Hope and thanking groups like Childhelp. We must all work together if we are to eradicate the appalling epidemic of child abuse once and for all.