Tuesday, August 12, 2008



or: Sometimes Nobody Will Help You Unless You Make a Drastic Move

Sandy’s* father was a man who kept his children in line with his belt or his fists. These were used, however, not in what I would have called a “spanking” in my little-kid days. Spankings were common when I was a kid, most everybody got one at least once in a while.

But Sandy’s father took the issue far beyond mere spanking and into the realm of beating. It seemed to be common knowledge among the teachers at the middle school Sandy attended. I know. I was one of those teachers. Did we report? Of course we did. Teachers are required by law to report suspected abuse.

And Children’s Services arrived sweetly and politely at the household to inquire whether perhaps the children were being treated just a teensy bit roughly. Their investigation, of course, took place in the presence of the abuser. The children were asked if their father was given to beating them. Sweetly and politely, not even having to look at their father for cues, knowing already what would happen to them at his hands should they answer wrongly, each of the four children answered, “No. Why, no…he wouldn’t do anything like that.”

And the next day Sandy came to school with a mouse under one eye and God-only-knows what other signs of her father’s attention hidden under her jeans and her long-sleeved blouse.
Obviously that didn’t work.

Sandy had an older brother who had been in my room one year. I called him “Tom,” although that wasn’t his name. I said he reminded me of Tom Sawyer—who would pretty much go ahead and do whatever he wanted and thought was appropriate and desirable for him, and then take the consequences, which often included a “thrashing” in Twain’s wording.

I guess you could say that worked, in a sense. “Tom” made his own adaptation to the abuse and lived with his decision.

Despite the fact that Sandy herself eventually reported abuse, her report received roughly the same treatment as had reports from the teachers. It was weeks before she stopped looking frightened.

Obviously that didn’t work.

One of the children fled the home and went to live with grandparents.

Another thing that sort of worked. Provided a kid has grandparents he can trust and they are close enough to flee to.

A different time. A different state. A different school. And I was again a teacher. One family of little kids attended the school—which ran from kindergarten through 8th grade. The children from this family arrived each day in clothes that were dirty, poorly sized and unmended. The children themselves were usually dirty and unkempt.They came without lunches. We teachers called CPS about parental neglect of these children. And we called. And called. Nothing, to the best of my knowledge, was ever done.

So that obviously didn’t work.

Only recently in Northern Idaho, a three-year-old named Kyra Wine was taken to the hospital. Neighbors, medical people and friends had asked several times that CPS check on Kyra and her older sister. When a home visit was finally made, authorities found a child who had been terribly injured by her mother’s boy friend—including such things as having her hair pulled so hard that much of it came out and her scalp pulled away from her skull in places. Various parts of her body—including feet and hands had dead and decaying flesh. More than a month later, she is still in the hospital, and doctors are using methadone to keep her pain under control.

The input of nurses, friends and neighbors didn’t do much for this little girl, did it? Authorities arrived in time to save her life—but the rest of what happened to her is unbelievable.

In the state of Maryland, a father drowned his three children in a bathtub during an unsupervised visit at his hotel. This occurred after the children’s mother, Amy Castillo had begged a judge not to allow unsupervised visits because she knew the father was a serious threat to their safety and their lives. The judge ignored the mother’s pleading and allowed the unsupervised visits.

Obviously a mother’s pleading with the court didn’t accomplish much!

What is a kid supposed to do then, when he or she is being abused? It doesn’t matter if the abuse is sexual or physical, mental or emotional. Is there an answer? CPS obviously does not always come up with anything worthwhile, often arriving only after a child has died or been so severely injured that death threatens.

Well, I do know one story about a teenage girl who got herself out of an abusive situation after it had gone on for years. I’ll call her Angela. Angie had suffered abuse of almost every imaginable kind: sexual, physical, emotional and verbal. She had tried to tell her mother, and her mother just told her she had to put up with it, because “that’s just the way men are.”

Obviously disclosing to a mother who didn’t give a damn didn’t accomplish much, either.

I know another mother—her name is Elsa Newman—who did care. She cared so much that she fought to find help for her two sons and ended up in prison. She was convicted of a crime that didn’t even exist—conspiracy to commit murder—when there was neither a murder attempt nor any intention to murder, nor was there any conspiracy.

Obviously having a mother who cares immeasurably doesn’t do much good either.

Here is the bottom line: I know one person who was able to come up with a way to help herself. That would be Angie—the girl whose mother didn’t want to know about the abuse. Walking by a public phone one day, she stopped. She dialed. She got the police. And she said, “If you don’t come and get me right now…I’m going to kill myself.”

Police arrived, took her into custody, to protect her—not from the father who had abused her for years, but from herself.

Whatever works!

Would she actually have killed herself? Probably not. But authorities had to take her seriously, just in case.

Angie ended up in a foster home, and she was lucky. It was one of the good ones. There she was cared for and protected. End of story—or as close to the end as I care to bring you. Angie survived. I still know her today.

Obviously a nurse or a concerned friend or neighbor, a mother or a teacher or reports to CPS don’t work as we would like. Children die. Children are tortured. Children are beaten until they are bruised and bloodied. Children are sexually abused and tormented. Children are verbally and emotionally abused.

I tell you honestly that Angie’s is the only success story I know. All the other stories left children in abusive situations.

Do I advise use of her tactics? Heck, no! I’m in no position to give advice to children who suffer abuse. But Angie was desperate to escape her tormented home life, and the way she discovered is the only way I have ever known a child to save herself.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that!

*I’ve changed the children’s names and some minor details for the sake of the children’s privacy.

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