Did you know that in the U.S. alone, 3 million+ incidences of child abuse are reported involving 6 million or more children? This breaks my heart…because this statistic is based solely on those incidences that have been reported. Imagine all the children affected by abuse whose voices have not been heard…scared and scarred…beaten and defeated…feeling lost and alone.
We learn at a young age that when there is a bad guy, you call the cops. We learn that these bad guys will get in trouble by the authorities. But what do you do when the bad guy is your own father? Your own flesh and blood? You think in your head, I can’t betray my own family. Or at least that’s what I thought.
It’s never easy for a child to open up about something that he or she knows is innately wrong. More often than not, their abuser is a family member, a loved one…someone that is closest to their heart…someone that they trust. We want the abuse to stop but we don’t want our loved one to get in trouble. I can vividly remember when I had to make decisions that a child should never have to make.
My parents fought quite often (every hour every day) and they would scream and taunt each other. It was a twisted, volatile relationship. It always ended badly…with my mom getting beaten and left with not only physical, but emotional scars. Even at a young age, my brother and I always tried to get in the middle and stop the fights. My mom always threatened to call the cops and went as far as picking up the phone…but that’s where it ended. She never followed through. Eventually, my dad knew that they were always empty threats…the boy who cried wolf. I would always think, What the heck are you waiting for? Call 911 already! You can’t call them when you’re dead! Save us! My dad knew she would never do anything. But I always wished that she had.
One day, I got into a fight with my mom and she told my dad to punish me. He started to hit me and then she yelled, “Wait!” I remember thinking, Oh good! She feels bad and is gonna save me for once (from her own doing)! But then she said, “Take off your glasses and give them to me.” She didn’t want to protect me…she just didn’t want to have to buy me new glasses. 😦 My heart sank and that moment has been forever singed into my memory.
I was 16 then and it was the first time I had a visible sign of abuse…a black eye. All the other times it was well hidden, but this time his temper made him careless.
Being 16, I had a job and had to call out sick. Eventually after a few days, my employer said I had to come in no matter what. I couldn’t keep up the lies. I showed up to work and my Assistant Manager, whom I babysat for and whose husband was an FBI agent, said she had to tell her husband. I begged her not to. But shortly thereafter, I got a call from him. He gave me an ultimatum. I either had to go to the police or he would.
At that stage of my life , I should have been making decisions like what outfit to wear or which boy to crush on. I hated that I was put in this position. I hated that I had to run away from home. I hated that my dad, whom I loved, could hurt me this way. I was not a vengeful person and had no intention of hurting him back, but I thought it would be worse if a third party reported it so I went into the police station.
Child abuse is a serious matter so I took it very seriously. It was not something to lie about or exaggerate because there were irreversible consequences that came along with one’s actions. I thought I was being courageous and finally doing what my mom could never do. There I was, telling the authorities what had happened and secretly hoping that they could save me…yelling inside SAVE ME!
The follow-up question was: Has your dad ever hit anyone else? I verbalized what I was thinking in my head: yes, he used to hit my brother but he has moved out. But he beats my mom almost every day. The officer asked for her number and was going to contact her to corroborate my story. For a moment, I thought she would be proud of me for trying to save us.
The officer came back out and said he had spoken to my mother. “Esther, your mom said that your father has never hit her nor anyone else and that this was a first.” I looked at the officer, the officer who now thought I was a liar, as tears rolled down my eyes. All I felt in that moment was betrayal. It was a sinking feeling deep down in my gut. I had opened the door for my mom and given her an out…I had done something that she should have done 10 years ago…I was the child making grown-up decisions… All hope had vanished and my heart dropped. How could she do this? Now, no one will EVER believe me.
The authorities also took this matter very seriously so they called a meeting with my father and I. Prior to the meeting, my dad had expressed how I had become a traitor to the family and all of our relatives thought that as well. I was a teen and easily manipulated. The pressure was too much. So we went into the meeting and I expressed that it was a one-time event. I let the opportunity slip right past me and that is NOT something I am proud of.
So here I am today, as a voice for the children who are unable to speak out. For those who are scared, manipulated, or threatened. For those who have been harmed and seek refuge. For those who are downtrodden and unable to find their voice…this is for you.
April is Child Abuse Awareness month but we should keep it in mind year around. If you witness or sense something is wrong with a child, please do not turn a blind eye. Please take a moment to ask questions and make yourself available to the children you love. Even if you have to ask them repeatedly in order to get it out of them. You might save a child’s life.
P.S. For those parents who have stopped in their tracks reading this article and thought to themselves… OMG! Did I abuse my child by disciplining them? Rest assured that I’m not referring to those who give their child a smack on the toosh and feel guilty afterwards. I’m referring to the cowards who take it out on their innocent children day in and day out.