“I’m late. I’ve got to finish the dishes on time, otherwise no breakfast; and since I didn’t have dinner last night, I have to make sure I get something to eat. Mother’s running around yelling at my brothers. I can hear her stomping down the hallway towards the kitchen. I dip my hands back into the scalding rinse water. It’s too late. She catches me with my hands out of the water.
“SMACK! Mother hits me in the face, and I topple to the floor. I know better than to stand there and take the hit. I learned the hard way that she takes that as an act of defiance, which means more hits, or worst of all, no food. I regain my posture and dodge her looks, as she screams into my ears.
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“I act timid, nodding to her threats ‘Please,’ I say to myself, ‘just let me eat. Hit me again, but I have to have food.’ Another blow pushes my head against the tile counter top. I let the tears of mock defeat stream down my face as she storms out of the kitchen, seemingly satisfied with herself. After I count her steps, making sure she’s gone, I breathe a sigh of relief. The act worked. Mother can beat me all she wants, but I haven’t let her take away my will to somehow survive” (Pelzer, 3-4).
These are the words of a brave child named Dave Pelzer who experienced emotional, physical, and mental abuse. Dave was born in a middle class suburb in San Francisco in the 1960s. His father was a firefighter and was away days at a time. His mother was a loving homemaker who within time turned into an alcoholic and started abusing Dave since he was four. His mother starved, beat, and burned Dave. She referred to him as “the boy”, which eventually lead to “it”. Dave was the only family member that she abused; she took care of the family, except for Dave. Within time she thought Dave’s brothers to hate him, and to exclude him from the family. His mother made him do many gruesome things such as drink ammonia, eat his brother’s feces, and hold his arm over a gas stove. As the years past, Dave believed that he was worthless of love. No one stopped his mother. His father was always at work and his mother turned his brothers against him.
Survival, for Dave, became a matter of “out-witting” his mother. School was a safe escape from his mother. Dave’s mother made him wear the same clothes for years at a time to school, kids made fun of him, but school was still known as heaven to Dave. In school he stole food from the cafeteria and from classmates lunches. His schoolteachers noticed his behavior and evidence of physical abuse, but no action was taken until Dave was twelve. In 5th grade, two of his teachers notified authorities, saving his life.
Since Dave’s “rescue” in 5th grade, he lived in a series of foster homes till the age of 18. Dave dropped out of high school in fear of becoming homeless when becoming a legal adult. Instead of school, he concentrated on working double shifts and earning enough money to survive. At the age of 18 Dave joined the Air Force.
Under the law, an “abused child” means “a child less than 18 years of age whose parent or other person legally responsible for the child's care inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical injury by other than accidental means which causes or creates substantial risk of death or serious disfigurement, or impairment of physical health, or loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ” (http://www.safechild.org/childabuse2.htm, 11/27/2007). Some signs of an abused child would be handslap marks on the cheeks; twin bruises on either side of the mouth or cheeks, bruising on both sides of the ear which is often cause by grabbing a child as it is running away. Black eyes are common and so are heavy bangs on the nose.
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Children who are physically neglected or abused often have behavioral problems. For instance, the child may seek constant attention. Children who are abused physically or emotionally may experience ‘frozen watchfulness’. This means that the child watches adults acutely in order to adapt his or her behavior to try and avoid abuse. If a child is too strictly controlled at home, frequently the child will assert his or her own strict controls over others. Many of the behavioral signs are natural defensive reactions to an abusive relationship. “A child who is constantly aggressive or always a victim is hardly a happy child who is enjoying life” (Stainton Rogers Hevey, Roche and Ash, 167).
By looking at factors which may increase the risk of abuse, we might be able to identify high-risk families and prevent abuse by changing their circumstances. One of the circumstances that we should consider is the parent’s personality. Some parents may be feeling angry because of the abuse that they have experienced in the past. This anger may erupt violently and inappropriately against there own children. If the parents have felt rejected or isolated in their childhoods and if they have no ongoing support in the present, this may also lead to physical or emotional abuse of their children. The marital and family relationships should also be under consideration. For instance, if the parents are both immature people and if they each depend on each other, neither being capable of providing support. The parents may expect the child to provide love and appreciation in order to increase the parent’s self-esteem. These family relationships may also produce emotional and physical abuse or neglect.
Another principle that we should take under consideration is the vulnerability of the child. For instance, if the mother has a difficult pregnancy or birth she may find it harder to relate to the child. Today, hospitals make sure that the babies are not separated from their mothers for long periods of time. In the past, these separations, for long periods of time, led to problems of the lack of mother-child “bonding”. The social deprivation is a main resource leading to child abuse. Such as, the families whose social circumstances are poor and are unable to incorporate into the community. Since their finances are limited, children might not be able to attend schools.
Victims of abuse experience damage in the future. There is evidence suggesting that children that are exposed to abusive environments show delays in their physical growth as well as their mental development. These form of abuse and neglect causes young children to experience “failure to thrive” or abuse dwarfism. Failure to thrive is a common problem in childhood. FTT is composed of inadequate nutrition and social interactions, which lead to poor weight, gain, peculiar behavior, and delayed development.
Children who experienced physical abuse and neglect live their life in fear. They have to be continuously alert about the moods and reactions of the individuals around them. They are impaired to enjoy life, they often appear sad. Abused children develop psychiatric or psychosomatic stress symptoms, such as, trauma, bed-wetting, bizarre behavior, low self-esteem, and they feel that they are worthless to deserve such treatment. Lack of concentration that leads to school learning problems. Victims also experience withdrawal from relationships with other children; therefore they become isolated and feel depressed. They may compulsively carry out certain activities. Victims of abuse also experience pseudomature behavior. Meaning “a false appearance of independence or being excessively ‘good’ all the tie or offering indiscriminate affection to any adult who takes an interest” (Stainton Rogers Hevey, Roche and Ash, 206). Many children will also experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Adult survivors are reported to have low self-esteem, self-blame, and guilt. They have difficulty coping with anger.
This does not necessarily mean that every abused child experiences these symptoms. It matters for the child, how heavily the child was abused, what kind of environment the child lived in, etc. “Some children react to abuse with fear, anxiety, withdrawal, over compliance and a general pattern of avoidance behaviors. Others appear to be willing victims and to actively expose themselves to repeated pain and suffering” (Stainton Rogers Hevey, Roche and Ash, 207). The other factors that contribute to the effects on a particular child include age, gender, frequency of the violence witnessed, and whether the violence has been stopped at a point.
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Children that are victims of abuse are also at great risk of becoming involved in violent relationships, with both their peers and adult relationships. Their needs are poorly recognized and understood. “The needs and risks of children who witness violence in the home are not sufficiently recognized by mental health and children protection professionals, law enforcement personnel, school teachers or administrators, health care providers, or social science researchers” (Wolfe, McMahon and Peters, 55).
Survivors of abuse will always maintain some horrific memories of their childhoods. Memories offer multiple meanings, some more complex than others. Memories are the past experiences that are kept with you. Memory allows us to return to our past in our consciousness. The events that we experience throughout our lifetime are recorded several times. According to Sylvia Frasier, memories are “filed” away somewhere in your memory, but they are not erased. All of your past experiences are stored in your memory. According to King, in “Memory in Theory”, your most recent memories will be on the surface and your more distant memories may be buried beneath the earlier. To uncover these buried memories, one must dig deep into the memory. Therefore, a survivor of child abuse will forever remember the horrific memories that he or she has experienced.
According to the article on corroboration of child abuse memories (http://mentalhealth.about.com/cs/abuse/a/cooroborate.htm, 11/23/2007) 31%-64% of abuse survivors reported that they forgot "some of the abuse." Others were reporting severe amnesia. When asked the question “Are there any factors associated with forgetting child abuse?’ the answer was quite simple. Children who were abused at a younger age are most likely to have forgotten the abuse. People that were reporting more than one type of abuse, and abuse which included threats to safety, were more likely to report forgetting the abuse also. Another questions was; “Is their corroboration for returned memories of abuse?” According to the website “studies report 50-75% of abuse survivors corroborating the facts of their abuse through an outside source.”
Child Abuse is under reported. "1,500 children die from abuse each year. There are 140,000 injuries to children from abuse each year. There are many reasons for the under reporting. The victims will not tell others of their abuse, they have rational fear of retaliation. Victims of abuse often deny there abuse even after it has already been reported. “There are 1.7 million reports of child abuse each year" (http://www.findcounseling.com/journal/child-abuse/child-abuse-statistics.html, 11/20/2007).
“In every state, the following people are required by law to report suspected abuse: Doctors; nurses; dentists; mental health professionals; social workers; teachers; day care workers; law enforcement personnel. In some states, clergy, foster parents, attorneys, and camp counselors also are required to report abuse. In about 18 states, any person who suspects abuse is required to report it” (http://www.findcounseling.com/journal/child-abuse/child-abuse-statistics.html, 11/20/2007). There are reasons why abused children are underreported by doctors, teachers, day care workers, etc. One reason is that there is little enforcement of the reporting laws. People believe that reporting abuse will not help. Finally, our government does not fund child welfare agencies enough money. It is also uncomfortable to accuse an individual of abuse. Now a days there are cases were parents are scared to discipline their children for fear of being reported to the CPS for child abuse.
- Nicola King, Memory in Theory
- Pelzer, Dave. A Child Called "It." Omaha: Omaha Press, 1993.
- Wendy Stainton Rogers, Denise Hevey, Jeremy Roche, and Elizabeth Ash. Child Abuse and Neglect. The Open University. 1982, 1992.
- David A. Wolfe, Robert J. McMahon, and Ray DeV. Peters. Child Abuse. New Directions in Prevention and Treatment Across the Lifespan. SAGE Publications, Inc., 1997.
- http://www.safechild.org/childabuse2.htm, 11/27/2007
- http://mentalhealth.about.com/cs/abuse/a/cooroborate.htm, 11/23/2007
- http://www.findcounseling.com/journal/child-abuse/child-abuse-statistics.html, 11/20/2007