The article was shocking. It was a story of a mentally handicapped boy who was seen being pushed by his father while at a local school. Officers took a closer look into this situation and found that the boy “smelled of urine and feces.” He was unable to lift his head and looked severely malnourished.
By Leticia Chase and Lerin Gleason
The article said that the boy, 15 years old, was later admitted to a local children’s hospital and was found to have symptoms of “severe dehydration and renal failure.” I read on to find out that as the police investigated further, they found equally tragic living circumstances in the home.
The parents of this boy were charged with child abuse, a third degree felony. I nearly stopped in my tracks when I read the names. These were two people I had known. These were once two relatively good people whose children attended school every day and church every week. These were people I talked to regularly and cared about. Abuse had been happening in this home and had been going on for quite some time. This led me to ask myself… where was I? What if there was something I could have done?
Though abuse may not be happening in your own home, there are numerous cases of abuse being reported every day. One study showed an 83 percent increase in sexual abuse and a 42 percent increase in physical abuse from 1986 to 1993. During 2011 alone, 676,569 victims of child abuse and neglect were reported in the United States. Abuse is steadily increasing in prevalence in America today.
Of the reported cases of abuse, 60 percent were reported by “teachers, law enforcement or legal representatives, or social service providers (teachers 16.4%; law enforcement 16.7%; social service 11.5%).” Whereas, those who were closest to the child, “other relatives of the child (7%), parents (6.8%), friends or neighbors of the child (4.4%), and anonymous (9%)” made up the remainder. Shockingly enough, those who were closest to the abuse were the last to report it. From this statistic it seems that only when people are legally mandated to speak up about abuse that anything is being done to stop it. However, according to another article, up to 25 percent of doctors are not even reporting abuse that they see.
Why didn’t these doctors speak up? Why do family and friends rank last in reporting abuse? Most likely, in each of these situations, fear was present. Maybe you and I could say that that it is not our responsibility to intervene. I’m sure that I have thought that what parents do within the walls of their own home is a “family affair.” We may even think that what parents do with their children is their choice and their responsibility. Though this is true in some respects, it does not apply to abuse. We have a responsibility to act because, whether or not we know it, abuse is directly affecting our lives and families as well.
Abuse impacts the broader community
Recent studies show that the annual cost of abuse to Americans in 2008 was $124 billion dollars. This cost accumulates from direct, short-term costs such as immediate medical attention, mental health services, the child welfare system, and law enforcement required to address child abuse and neglect each year, as well as the indirect, long-term costs. These long-term costs include special education, early intervention, emergency housing, long-term mental health care, long-term physical health care, juvenile delinquency, the adult criminal justice system, and lost worker productivity costs related to children and adults who have been abused.
Other research has shown that children who are abused are 25% more likely to experience teenage pregnancy and nine times more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Additionally, “14% of all men in prison and 36% of women in prison in the USA were abused as children, about twice the frequency seen in the general population.” No one should be abused, no one should have to pay for abuse and no one should have to live in a society plagued by it.
Current estimates suggest that four children die every day as a result of child abuse, one of the worst rates among industrialized nations. As heartbreaking as it is for me to admit, if not for the police officer that day, the boy I knew may have been one of these. Abuse is all around us. It is my neighbor and your neighbor. As a member of society and as a human being, we have a role and responsibility to step in when we see harm being placed upon another human being that is, or could be, detrimental to their life in some way.
Abuse is a learned behavior
One community based organization that promotes and provides safety to families against abuse says, “Abusing behaviors are learned behaviors. Abuse is not a natural reaction to an outside event. It is not normal to behave in a violent manner within a personal relationship. It is learned from seeing abuse used as a successful tactic of control often in the home in which the abuser grew up. It is re-enforced when the abusers are not held responsible or the act is ignored” (emphasis added). As long as we don’t speak up, the cycle will continue. Silence will never create change.
After reading this article I realized that there was probably a way I could have stepped in. I may have been able to help this boy. I plead with each of you to look for opportunities to help these innocent children. The next time you see an outburst in the store or hear something that doesn’t sound quite right, remember my story. By believing “it’s not my responsibility” or “that’s their business,” we can become an accomplice in another person being harmed.
Leticia Chase is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University – Idaho with a degree in Child Development. She has been married for four years and is a new mother. Leticia is an advocate for children and families and believes that the family is the fundamental unit of society and, therefore, all problems in society stem from the destruction of the family.
Lerin Gleason is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University Idaho with a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development. She is a happily married wife and new mother. Lerin is a strong believer in the family and the power and influence it has, inside and outside the home, to help shape, educate and influence society.