By April Sweazy
Somewhere right this minute a 5 year old is hiding under their bed with their ears covered, humming quietly to drown out the sound of their parents screaming at each other down the hall.
Somewhere right this minute a 10 year old is sitting alone in a dark treehouse, hoping to hide from the anger of a drunken parent who always turns their anger on the only person in the house small enough to not be able to fight back.
It happens. Every day.
These children live in your neighborhood, go to your school system, play with your kids, maybe even spend the night at your house occasionally. Statistics say as many as 10 million children witness, and are subject to, domestic violence each year. It’s not happening across town or in the inner city, it’s happening right next door.
Domestic Violence Is Real
Somewhere right this minute a child is trying not to cry, because crying will only make it worse.
Somewhere right this minute a little girl’s eyes hold fear instead of magic. And somewhere right this minute a small boy holding a careworn teddy bear is having nightmares of the angry shadow that comes down the hall rather than happy little league dreams.
More often than most would care to admit, breakable objects get thrown around homes that look normal enough from the outside, while the small children inside console each other. The older siblings try to distract the younger siblings so they won’t be frightened. And it’s a nightly occurrence.
There are children who aren’t old enough to cross the street by themselves but who have witnessed their father’s skull cracked open by their mother, and then watch the blood pour out, knowing they can’t rush to his arms because they could be next.
There are children who can barely read yet but who have to make weighted decisions like whether or not they’re going to try to fight their father to keep him from beating their mother into the ground.
According to www.childhelp.org more than 80% of children killed as a result of domestic violence are under the age of 4. KILLED. Can you imagine the life of that child? Are you willing to think of the life of that helpless child who knew nothing but a few fleeting years of pain and suffering before being killed?
This is not some hour long “real life” television drama that you can half watch while you check your email and then go to bed without giving it another thought. These things don’t just happen as part of a plot line for your entertainment. Children die, every day. Children suffer, every day.
Neglect Is a Form of Child Abuse
According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) child neglect is the most prevalent form of child abuse or child maltreatment in the United States.
If a parent gets sloshed and passes out on the couch before their child has been fed, washed, and put to bed, that’s neglect.
If a child heads off to school in a blizzard wearing inadequate clothing because a parent was too hung over to get out of bed, that’s neglect.
When a parent fails to meet the basic age-appropriate needs of their child, even though they are financially and otherwise able to do so, that’s neglect.
There are four types of neglect, read about them here.
Emotional neglect, while being the hardest to substantiate, is abuse nonetheless. Rejecting, ignoring, verbally abusing with name calling, threatening or terrorizing a child is all considered neglect and therefore abuse. I point this form out specifically because, as the one that is the hardest to prove, it is also the most often overlooked. But think of the long term repercussions of a child being emotionally neglected or abused.
Why do we turn a blind eye to these issues?
Alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, all of these issues are rampant and yet the awareness given them remains staggeringly low. There are dedicated organizations and people that struggle to bring whatever sliver of awareness they can to the affects these things have on families and children and yet we the public, for the most part, look the other way because we don’t want to acknowledge that ugliness happens to children, by those who are supposed to protect them.
Why do so many people say that it’s a social services or a family services problems? Social workers for child protective services are vastly overworked and under tremendous amounts of stress. It’s a job overrun with heartache and I commend those who do it, who have to look at those broken and lonely kids in the eye every day and give them the only hug they may have had in as long as they can remember. And foster care is not a solution. It’s sad to say but some foster care situations aren’t much better than what the kids were taken out of because there are people who abuse the foster care program. It doesn’t magically fix the kids that come from abuse, although I applaud the dedicated foster parents who try so hard to make a difference in the lives of these precious children.
These kids grow up with all their energy spent on survival. They often have no idea how to love or how to be loved. They don’t know what it means to be safe. They don’t have any sense of worth because they have been called vicious names and told everything was their fault and broken down physically, emotionally and mentally by the people whose job it was to nurture them. They’re pushed away instead of drawn close. They’re rejected in their formative years when they’re supposed to be adored.
What kind of adult does the child that never felt loved or wanted grow into? What kind of adult does the child who saw and knows nothing but violence grow up to become? Violence doesn’t always beget violence, but sometimes it does. Statistics say as many as 30% of those who are abused as children grow up to be abusive. The cycle does repeat.
Those that manage to not fall into generational habits have a lifetime of mental and emotional scars to deal with. It isn’t as easy as just putting it behind you.
Trauma Is Not Something You Simply Get Over
The personal work involved to heal from a childhood of fear and solitude and neglect and pain and loneliness is extensive and terrifying – to put it mildly. And it is usually only possible for those who, despite the odds, manage to find some form of real love and safety in their lives and learn that things truly can be different than what they’ve known and seen and felt.
All it takes is the patience and love of one person to take the time to teach the adults, who are still very much like scared little kids, how to love and be loved and let go of the fear and pain that binds them and keeps them from living a fully healthy, happy, thriving life.
Similarly, a child growing up in a loveless house can find solace and safety and love in the arms of grandparents and aunts and uncles and even in their friends’ parents. A little bit of love goes a long way. But someone has to be willing to give it.
Children should not have to grow up this way. And no child should grow up alone. It happens every day. The more aware of it we choose to be, and the more we commit to find better ways to make a difference than what are currently available, the better the future for the little ones who are fighting to survive today.
If I still haven’t got your attention, watch this video. Then stand with me and we can work together to make a difference.
How does this make you feel? Have a story you want to share? For the sake of the five kids that statistics say will be killed this year due to domestic violence and child abuse and the 10 million more who will suffer because of it, let’s talk about this.