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For child abuse, look beyond statistics to the stories

By Pam Darnall

Typically, the story of child abuse is revealed through statistics, National, and then local. For example,

  • Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S annually.
  • Children in the first year of life are most vulnerable to maltreatment.
  • About four out of five times, parents are responsible for the abuse of their very own children.
  • In Kentucky, the number of substantiated child abuse and neglect findings increased 55 percent in four years, from 9,934 cases in 2012 to 15,378 cases in 2016.
  • In those years, at least 334 children died – 21 last year alone – or nearly died from mistreatment.

Powerful statistics, numbing numbers. But they don’t tell the real stories of abuse. For that, we must look beyond numbers to the children themselves. Children like Amanda.

For several years, Amanda’s grandfather abused her. Finally, the torment, guilt, shame and betrayal drove her to try to kill herself. It wasn’t a hasty decision – it was years in the making but in the end, she didn’t see any other choice, so she downed handfuls of pills.

But when she awoke in the morning, she felt like a choice had been made for her, so she told her mother. Amid tears, her mother told her that he (the grandfather) had abused her, too, but that she was never able to tell anyone.

Amanda and her mom came to Family & Children’s Place and over time, therapists and others helped them understand and work through the trauma to feel safe, to find laughter and happiness again.

Then there’s Sharon who, abused by her father, cut herself, even using a razor to carve the word, “ugly,” into her stomach. She suffered nightmares, mood swings, fits of rage, usually around bedtime. Sharon would fall asleep on the couch, clothed, and then get angry when her mother woke her and tried to send her to her room.

Working with therapists, Sharon’s mother learned the root of the rage — Sharon said she had fallen asleep on the couch when her father awakened her and took her to his bedroom, where he assaulted her. She was exhibiting protective, not belligerent behavior. Mom understood and stopped worrying about where Sharon slept; only that she did sleep – peacefully.

Consider Billy, who by age 7 had experienced things no child should. He was neglected – Child Protective Services had visited several times. His father had been shot and his mother had him stealing. He knew it was wrong, but he didn’t want to let her down. For protection, authorities removed Billy from his mother, but he blamed himself for the separation.

He moved in with a foster family but got into trouble at school, picked fights with his foster brothers – acting out as means to deal with conflicted feelings about his mother and the stress and trauma of his young, troubled life.

Counselors helped Billy understand it was OK to love his biological mother, but to be hurt and angry at how she treated him and the things she made him do. They also helped Billy and his new family understand the reasons behind his behaviors.

Tragic stories all, but each with a powerful and meaningful outcome.

Amanda is doing well in school, has new friends and hope, and is making real progress, along with her family. Sharon and her family are out of therapy now, and have their lives back. Billy’s new family adopted him and he says he feels safe in his new home. He loves having “real” brothers and when things get tough; he sits with his adoptive parents and listens to one of his favorite books, recorded by his biological mother. It calms him.

These are, of course, not the children’s real names, but their stories are real and they are but three of the thousands that occur every day in every neighborhood of this community. Though these children came to Family & Children’s Place for help, we are but one of the agencies working in Louisville and Southern Indiana to stop and prevent child violence, abuse and neglect.

We can’t do this alone, so we depend on generous foundations, on Kosair Charities and its giving heart, on Metro United Way, and on our partners in the Face It Movement, committed to erasing child abuse from the community. We count on policymakers to understand there can be no politics in protecting children, and that the only loyalty that matters is our responsibility to be sure children vulnerable to abuse and violence have the same opportunities for a happy, healthy childhood as those who are not hurt by abuse and violence.

After all, what kind of society are we if our first goal is not to protect our children — not your children or my children, but OUR children? Who are we if we turn our backs?

So as we move toward April, Child Abuse Prevention Month, please consider that while the numbers – of children who are injured and killed, and the costs to help survivors recover – are high, in the end it must come down to a single question – what is the life of a child worth?

Pam Darnall is president and CEO of Family & Children’s Place.

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