Wednesday, April 17, 2019

We enable this

Warning: post is about child harm.

There was an awful tragedy in our town last year.  A mother of twin toddlers went to work, and since her usual babysitting fell through, she left the twins in the care of her boyfriend, who lived with her.  While she was gone, the boyfriend beat both twins severely, killing one of them.

The murderer, of course, went to prison.  What surprised me was that the mother was also charged, on the argument that this couldn't have been the first time he abused them, and she had to have known.  No one else had had any reason to suspect abuse--the babysitter never saw any sign, nor the pediatrician--but the opinion of the town seems to be adamant that she did know.  I was horrified by the bile expressed toward her online, saying that if the judge didn't give her the death penalty, somebody else would.  Someone slipped her a razor blade while she was in prison and urged her to kill herself.

What gets me, what really gets me, is that all those same people who are utterly without mercy toward this mother because she should have known, are also the people who think parents who don't spank are neglectful, how in their day they got the belt and were better for it.  I even heard a man commenting at the library the other day that he moved here because my town is a lot friendlier to corporal punishment and in the liberal town he'd moved from, "you can't raise your kids right."  Certainly this town is big into spanking.  Everyone does it, everyone is proud of doing it, and they do it in public sometimes.  Any and all problems a child has are put down to weak parents who don't know when to smack.

And it just boggles my mind that nobody connects these dots.  How is anyone supposed to recognize abusive behavior when hitting children is okay?  Exactly at what moment is the mother supposed to know to call the cops?

I have known friends in similar situations and they don't know when to call the cops.  Because yeah, he blew up and he spanked the kids when we're not a spanking family, but spanking's not a crime.  Or he jerks them around, shakes them, screams at them, but well, he didn't leave a mark.

I listened to a comedy routine the other day where a dad talked about having choked his son for using a bad word.  Hopefully he didn't really do that, but how would you know?  Because hurting kids is something we joke about.  Because hurting kids is normal.  As long as you didn't cause any sort of permanent harm, it's considered discipline.  Even if you were angry and out of control, because nobody's perfect.

I just hear and see all these things and it hurts me to think about.  It makes me so angry.  Children die of being hit by parents and caregivers and we still can't wean ourselves off of it.  We think it's funny.  And I just don't know how we are going to stop these abusers before they kill a child if the line between legal and illegal is drawn as far out as it is.

This has been a rant.  Sorry to be such a downer but, man, we gotta talk about this and stop doing this, like, yesterday.


etteloc said...

Adapt this as a letter for your local paper. Seriously.

foggy bottom said...

Abuse is a pattern of behavior, not an individual act. That's why it's so hard to draw the line between normal discipline and abuse; some obvious exceptions aside, no single act constitutes abuse. What's more, any act *could* be abusive depending on its context, even (especially) non-physical acts. So, hitting kids being ok isn't what makes it difficult to recognize abusive behavior; everything else is.

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