Child Abuse: Our Littlest Victims
Child abuse can happen in any family, anywhere, given the right circumstances. It is not confined to families with a history of familial abuse. Unemployment, finances, illness and divorce can all exert terrible pressures on parents. As pressures escalate, so does the tendency to lash out at the smallest members of the family. The child might be reacting by whining, demanding or just acting out. The overwhelmed parent erupts in a haze of rage and frustration, hurting or killing his or her children.
How can this be? It happens when the child becomes a symbol for the parents perceived failures. Not being able to provide for the family, is in some cases, a crippling blow to parental self esteem. As the child continues to act out their own tensions, they become depersonalized, an "it" who demands when there is little to give. Once this depersonalization occurs, it then becomes much easier for a parent to strike out. If you begin feeling this sense of your child being a thing, get help. Call someone you trust, get away from the children and if necessary, have someone else care for them, until your life is back under control. This situation, the hurting or killing of children can be prevented. There is no room for pride here. You owe it to your family to reach out for help.
From a child's viewpoint, long term sustained abuse is a nightmare. There is no safety, no recourse, no trust.. I know, I was physically abused for years. To this day, I have difficulty sleeping. The defense mechanisms I had built up to hide behind were formidable. As a child I lived in a state of continual hyper alertness. I would scan my motherís moods, looking for the signals that bad things were going to happen. Once the hurting started, I would retreat to a safe place, deep inside myself, where her words and hands couldnít reach me. Multiple personality is often seen in victims of this kind of long term torment.
Focused abuse is the hurting of one child, who has siblings who are not subjected to the same treatment. This in itself is terribly damaging, not only for the victim, but for the helpless siblings. It creates an unhealthy dynamic that hardens, the longer it goes on, of better her than us. At that point, the other children become complicit in the abuse. And this form of abuse is much more difficult to discover, with an entire family unit acting in concert.
This is very different from the first example I gave you, but the results are the same for both. Profound psychological damage and distrust of life as a whole. My mother tried to kill me on several occasions. I remember thinking how worthless, how despicable I was to have my mother hate me this much. Even today, if someone becomes angry or upset near me, I hide. Itís an automatic reaction to years of terror and hurt.. a negative comment can send me into a state of self loathing, in which her words echo in my ears, years later. I used to pray at night that God would send someone to help me. Years later, someone did.
Which brings me to the issue of reporting abuse. If you know or suspect a child is being hurt, do something- NOW. However, the Child Protective Services system has been bogged down by well meaning individuals, who report friends, neighbors and others, for spanking a child in public. As a survivor, I know full well the difference between abuse and spanking. I spank my children for certain things. In my opinion, this is not abuse. One: It is logical. In other words, the spanking has a direct correlation to the misbehavior. Two: Itís a swat or 2 on the bottom-period. Three: Itís always followed with a talk about whatís just happened and why. I tell them we both failed, when I have to resort to spanking. And I always reassure them of my love.
Abused children very seldom talk about their abuse. They become vested in keeping it a secret. Their world is so filled with fear and mistrust, they would actually prefer the familiarity of the abusive parent, then risk the unknown. Tragically, we still love the abusive parent, and would do anything to have them love and approve of us. So, true abuse is often hard to detect. What are some signs of abuse?
--Extreme nervousness or jumpiness
--Involuntary shying or flinching when touched
--Overreacting to criticism
--Reluctance to go home
--Reluctance to talk about family
--Long sleeves and pants, in hot weather
--Difficulty in walking, reaching or sitting
--Unexplained and frequent injuries
Look at families with multiple children. If one among them is continually kept inside, referred to by her/his siblings as a problem, a troublemaker, and this child is not in school like the others, then it's time to start watching closely.
Your local child protective services has a very stringent set of guidelines which help them decide which cases are actionable, and which aren't. Often this frustrates people who don't like nor understand the thinking behind the guidelines. For instance if children are left alone, that's not considered abuse, as in most states there is no set age for this. Parents may be neglectful, have a drinking problem or don't keep their children clean. Again, according to most abuse guidelines, these are not actionable. Their criteria for action involves ONLY the threat of imminent danger to children's health and safety.
Gaining a childís trust may be long and difficult. Trying may save that childís life. If you have children, ask them if theyíve ever seen anything wrong with the child. Kids are regular founts of information. Watch the child around their parents if possible, you may get more from this than anything else. Getting involved is an uncomfortable business for most of us. But we have to. To do anything else is abandonment. The child you help save will never forget you. I know I never did.