I wore a blue pin this week and had someone approach me, “Is that for Autism awareness?” I felt almost bad saying no, but my blue this month is for child abuse prevention month. Child abuse kills 5 children in the US a day. A DAY. Thousands of other victims a day go on living; their young lives physically, mentally, and socially altered.
Child abuse is rampant and knows no ethnic or economical boundary. More often than not, a trusted caregiver or parent is the child’s abuser. The truth is not everyone loves their children and not everyone protects and cares for their children. As a mother, this is hard to accept.
I live mostly for my daughter, every day I wake up thankful I have her. I spend my nights worrying about her, my decisions center around her needs. But, not everyone feels this sense toward even their own children. As I type this, hundreds of children in America are being hit, starved, burned, molested, and left in the dark at the hands of those who brought them into this world. They have no out. And when they wake up tomorrow, their abuser will either continue to abuse, or further perpetuate the sick cycle of abuse by rewarding the child with praise and affection, regaining trust.. only to abuse again.
What is the key to preventing child abuse? Like winning any other battle, we must understand the enemy. How do they infiltrate? How do they succeed?
Abusers gain a powerful tool, trust; either by proxy or because the child knows no other way. TRUST is the open door for an abuser. A parent, caregiver or family member often already has this trust by biological or situational nature. Children are born innocent and their only security comes from what is under their roof.
In recent years, many programs aim to help parents, caregivers and teachers recognize these grooming tactics. But what about parents who abuse? As we delve more into the causes of abuse, or indicators, rather, there really is not a picture of a parent abuser. It happens in trailer parks, it happens in mansions.
City officials were investigating my mother and other adults in my house, when I was found at 5; abused, beaten, burnt, and starved for a long period of time. They came to my home half a dozen times looking into suspicion of severe abuse of my older brother. No one knew for over a year that my mother had another child. She kept me locked in a basement and lied to the police. A case worker literally turned on a light on the staircase, and my brother finally uttered he had a little sister.
The psychological cycle of abuse was in full swing. My brother was afraid to get my mother and her friends in trouble. As children, this power abusers hold is a deadly one. Another day or two not fed, I would not be writing this, I would be another number. Instead, I was taken to a hospital, learned to walk and talk, and was placed in foster care. I never saw my brother again.
Abuse and neglect by trusted parents destroys the fiber of young souls. The reparations go beyond bandages. Children caught in this web who survive, have higher rates of PTSD than veterans. Often they develop mental health issues, depression, have very high drop out rates, high rates of suicide, and are more akin to end up in domestically violent relationships. Physical and sexual abuse in childhood has a physical impact on brain development. It literally stops the development of certain synapses and can alter memory, cognition, language, emotion, anger, and hormonal fluctuations. The challenges that arise, as the brain attempts to heal itself are evident in our schools and echo through adulthood.
What causes a parent to abuse? Some link it to mental health issues, others will say it is socioeconomic, cyclical, or related to high stress factors. Still others, say it is just the evil running through the veins of a parental abuser. I tend to agree with evil, though it is not always the case. Some researchers have even found some genetic mishaps which may cause a parent to be violent or abusive. Neglect is a whole other mine field. Often, children are purposely withheld from food and water, and living in filth as a tactic to control.
When it comes to this close-knit abuse, it is up to outsiders to recognize the emotional, physical signs of abuse and report it. This is not as easy as it seems. A child who is lazy, or aggressive, or depressed, or violent, may not be being abused. But being trained into looking into those behaviors is the only way to truly help that child.
Perhaps the saddest roadblock in preventing abuse is its perpetuation in families and its near acceptance. Families often hide or even are a gateway to this abuse. They know it is happening and allow it to continue. It has run so deep, that it becomes the norm. Abusers are meticulous, in that they can groom generations and generations. It is a sick, twisted, disgusting, and evil game.
Outside of familial ties, abusers gain access to children in trusted positions such as coaching, babysitting, through churches, in schools, or by proxy through friends. They often buy gifts or special tickets to expensive games/concerts, or offer missing parental “affection.”
These outsiders who sexually, physically, or emotionally abuse or neglect children “groom” children and even parents of the children they will abuse. Whatever is lacking in this soon to be victim’s life, the abuser gives and gives. And once trust is given, abuse is an open game. They have an Achilles heel and a need for adult affection. Children are then guilted into either not telling anyone, or thinking the abuse is normal or deserved. Often they love their abusers.
Foster children and children without parents, are at the highest risk of abuse by these manipulators. There is very little to safeguard them, and often, prior abuse puts them psychologically in a position to be re-abused. Predators know this fact well and research shows that they target children considered to be “weak links.”
Education is the key to combating child abuse. Teachers are being trained to handle students with emotional and behavioral challenges, but in my opinion, are not being trained to understand the dynamics of abuse. Often schools are the only safe haven for these students. Teacher training programs gloss over abuse, except to offer some reporting protocol. Often diagnosis of issues bleed into one another, and children who are abused are again left in the cold academically, economically, and socially.
Preventing child abuse seems like an impossible feat, but is not. Loving and protecting your own children is the first step. Educating yourself about grooming tactics, recognizing the signs of abuse, reporting abuse, and teaching your children to recognize manipulation, is a starting point for your own family. Make sure to go to familywatchdog.us or your state sex offender registry to further protect your family. You can map offenders in relation to your home and discuss your findings with your children.
Do not be afraid to intervene if you suspect a child is being abused. Do not jump to conclusions, but do not close your eyes either. Bruises do not always mean abuse, neither does dirty clothes necessarily. First, offer help to seemingly overwhelmed parents. Most cities and communities offer nutrition and stress resources through local social services and your school districts. Make suggestions. If you do notice repeated bruising, or a child confides in you about other abuse, do not be afraid to report it. You can also help the child seek safe shelter through county or city resources.
All of our children of all races and backgrounds, parent-less children, unaccompanied minors coming across our borders, foster children, children with special needs, and homeless teens need society’s attention. The law needs to stop protecting abusers, and instead give children the rights they deserve. Our weakest need our strongest advocates.
We cannot settle for giving abusers a few strikes until they are out. Let’s not restrict reporting abusers to a 10 year window, let’s not let molesters back into our communities time and again, lets not let children be bought and sold, let’s not let our foster children be thrown onto the streets. Children are born with the right to thrive. Our laws need to stop protecting the wrong side of this tragedy and start standing up to those who threaten our most valuable resource and our future.
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