When I was a little girl, there were things that I went without. Growing up on the Southside of Oklahoma City, we didn’t always have electricity and water. The hardest part of my childhood though, was growing up in fear that if I told anyone at school what was happening in my home life, I would end up in foster care, perhaps in a worse situation than the one I was already in.
My mother was an alcoholic, and the men she brought into our lives were not only addicts themselves, but were also very abusive to us both. When I went to school, I tried to hide all that was going on. Looking back, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in school that was being abused. Teachers and school staff must have often seen the signs of abuse in their students. No adult in their right mind wants to turn a blind eye to an abused child, but when you have hundreds of children all facing the same issues: hunger, sexual exploitation, abuse . . . what are your options? Taking on issues that seem to be way too big to tackle can leave many feeling that they are at their wit’s end. But if you are a teacher, please remember that you have taken an oath to not only teach kids but to be their protectors. No matter how much you are getting paid, you should be accountable for them. Kids don’t become "problem children" for no reason; they are acting out because of whatever is going on at home. Often, abused children have to depend on help outside of their homes.
Let’s look at the effects of child abuse, and what it means in an individual's life. According to safehorizon.org, a site dedicated to moving victims of violence from crisis to confidence, these are the facts:
• 1 in 10 children suffers from child maltreatment.
• 1 in 16 children suffers from sexual abuse.
• Nearly 1 in 10 children has witnessed family violence.
• Child abuse can result in malformation of the brain, resulting in impaired mental development and lack of growth in vital areas. Child abuse victims are more likely to exhibit anti-social behaviors, including borderline personality disorders and violent behavior.
• Are 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy if they’ve been abused as a child
• In a study of young adults who suffered child abuse or neglect, 80% met criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder by age 21, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. 59% were more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% were more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% were more likely to commit violent crimes.
• Adults who were abused or neglected as children are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs during their lifetimes. A study found that as many as two-thirds of individuals in drug treatment programs reported being abused as children.
• Researchers estimate that one-third of abused and neglected children will grow up to abuse their own children when they become parents.
So what's the solution? The two most important things in this country that get cut the most: education and mental health care. Children from low-income families experience child abuse most often, and they usually don’t have the access to education and the mental health care that not only they need, but their parents also need in order to break the cycle of abuse. In my own experience, I learned that my escape out of the ghettos of OKC was to educate myself in every way, no matter if I was hungry, had bruises, or no shower—but not everyone has the ability or resources to do what I did.
I wonder what my life would have been like if I had been able to stand up without fear of consequences and tell someone that I was being abused. Maybe it would have been the push that my mom needed to get clean and to become the parent that I so badly yearned for, or maybe foster care would have helped me. I have my doubts because there are so many reports about foster parents abusing children. We need better screenings of the people our government are paying to be temporary caretakers; we need to take accountability for placing children into safe homes and for getting them the education and psychological services they need.
Luckily for me, I found my way out, but for many others, the vicious cycle will continue. You should be aware of the signs of child abuse, no matter who you are. Children are our future, and it's up to everyone to make sure that we encourage them and protect them. If a child you know is being abused, it is your duty to speak up for them and help to make sure that they are placed into a safer environment.
If someone had been aware of what was going on with me and had helped me when I was young, perhaps my two suicide attempts would not have happened, and I’d be mentally healthier and happier.
They say that love conquers all, and I believe this saying to be true. If we give every man, woman, and child a bit more affection and a bit more attention, it will make a world of difference, and perhaps stop the cycle of abuse. Every day should be child abuse awareness day!
To learn more about child abuse awareness and the signs of child abuse, visit safehorizon.org, or call their hotline at 1.800.621.HOPE (4673).