It comes in many forms. It lurks in the shadows behind closed doors. It is unpredictable and destructive. Child abuse is a parasite eating away at the heart of the family structure.
Every 10 seconds a report of child abuse is made and more than five children die every day as a result of child abuse, according to National Child Abuse Statistics on ChildHelp.org. About 80 percent of the children who die from abuse are said to be under the age of 4.
Child abuse can be mental, physical or sexual. Child abuse shatters the “Leave it to Beaver” or “Brady Bunch” family illusion, causing families to become dysfunctional and claiming innocent victims.
Amanda is a victim of child abuse known as Shaken Baby Syndrome.
At 2 months old, Amanda was hospitalized for a month after her mom or dad violently shook her causing internal bleeding in the back of her head. Within hours of being in the hospital, her twin brother came in after being shaken.
“The doctors kept saying I was probably not going to come out of it. I was not going to be able to walk, talk or do any of the things I do today,” Amanda said. “A lot do not survive so I’m very lucky.”
Immediately after their release, Amanda and her brother were put into foster care. Unlike Amanda, her brother became blind, couldn’t talk, was tube fed and was in a wheelchair until he died at 16. Amanda, did, however suffer a brain injury and visual impairment.
Throughout her childhood, Amanda lived on-and-off with her grandmother, mom and at the school for the blind in South Dakota.
For three years, she lived with her mom who was abusive both physically and mentally.
“There were times when my mother would hit me. One time she pulled my hair so hard that it actually removed the skin from the bone. It took about a year to heal,” Amanda said. “The mental part of it was basically she would tell me over and over that ‘you’re not going to be able to do anything. You’re stupid.’ It was very hard to deal with.”
At 13, she lived with her parents for a short time due to problems at her school; however, Amanda’s mom continued to abuse her.
“She isolated me. I was very close to my grandma and she (her mother) would tell me that ‘Your grandma dropped you off because she can’t deal with you anymore,’” Amanda said. “It was very difficult because I was by myself pretty much all the time.”
While staying with her mom in the middle of a South Dakota winter with 50-below temperatures, Amanda was grounded to her room with only blankets to stay warm.
“She didn’t feed me for a week. I only had candy to eat– nothing but chocolate. How I like it today I’ll never know,” Amanda said. “I drank water from a spray bottle. It was safer to stay in my room and eat candy because my mom and dad got into fights and would have to go to jail sometimes.”
Before she went to court and chose to live with her grandmother when she was 16, the only way Amanda could escape her mother’s abuse was to sleep.
“I guess instinct took over. You had to survive. You couldn’t let them win in a sense,” Amanda said. “My grandma supported me. She didn’t treat me like someone with a disability. She would say, ‘You’re gonna do it.’ You need someone to believe in you and you need to believe in yourself. I would refuse to believe that they were going to win.”
Despite all odds, Amanda escaped her mother’s entrapment when she moved to Texas. Now, she is studying to become a counselor for abused people or families dealing with children with physical or mental disabilities and she sincerely thanks her mom for giving her the experience to fuel her passion for counseling.
“I can say I’ve been through it. There is always a way out. It may not always be easy to see it, but I would certainly look very hard for that even if it takes standing up to the darkness,” Amanda said. “Everybody in my life told me ‘you’re not college material’ and ‘you can’t do it.’ I kept telling them I have to at least try and I’ve done very well.”
Similar to Amanda, Emma uses her family experiences as motivation to becoming a psychologist.
“I want to understand the human mind and what causes people to do the things that they do,” Emma said.
Emma is one of the millions of people who suffered from child abuse.
Her perpetrator? Her father.
“He was very verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. If you can be abusive in any way that’s how he was,” Emma said. “When I was 3 years old, I was supposed to be standing still so he could brush my hair and I was 3 – 3-year-olds don’t stand still. He got so mad that he picked up a piece of 2-by-4 sheet metal and spanked my butt with that.”
Bruises, scratches and scrapes can all be evidence of physical abuse which is why this type of abuse is the most recognizable; however, underneath the physical scars, mental and emotional abuse hides devouring the mental stability of its victim.
“I’m the older sister and he put me on a pedestal. I was perfect; I had to be perfect, there was no exception otherwise. I had to be smart. I had to be polite. I had to be just the perfect example,” Emma said. “The constant need to be perfect still affects me today.”
Emma’s father molested her once when she was 8 years old while in a supposed drunken state.
“It didn’t come out till I was 10,” Emma said. “When my mom confronted him about it he said ‘he wouldn’t do that, didn’t remember it,’ so it kind of just got pushed under the rug. It’s something we don’t talk about.”
The National Child Abuse Statistics say that more than 90 percent of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrators in some way. They also show that abused teens are less likely to practice safe sex, putting them at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
Abuse affects children physically, psychologically, societally and behaviorally.
“I became sexually active very early and it was because I wanted to feel the attention. I wanted the love I didn’t get at home,” Emma said.
Studies conducted in 1996 show about 52 percent of victims of maltreatment were female and 48 percent were male. Girls are sexually abused three times more often than boys, whereas boys are more likely to die or be seriously injured from their abuse, as documented by the Third National Incidence Study.
Many sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator like Scott who was molested by one of his male cousins.
“When I was like 5 years old I was molested and a strong sexual urge after that just came into me,” Scott said. “I watched pornography constantly– if not daily, every other day. I became hooked on pornography and that’s how I would medicate the pain, that and rap music.”
The first few years of a person’s life are important in shaping their character. Everything a child sees, hears or does impacts them in a different way and eventually acts as the building blocks to their moral foundation. As Scott grew up in an unstable, abusive environment he turned to aggression and drugs.
“I didn’t know if I was loved,” Scott said.
Child abuse is a vicious cycle. The National Child Abuse Statistics show that 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children. Scott’s father is an example of this self-destructive cycle.
“A lot of it is because he was abused as a child. His dad was an alcoholic and he almost died several times from alcoholism,” Scott said. “I guess it just stemmed from the hurts and pains he had never dealt with.”
The struggles Amanda, Emma and Scott experienced make them who they are today.
“Emotionally, there is a strength there and I’m ascribing all credit and worth to Jesus Christ,” Scott said. “In Isaiah 53, it says that Jesus took the strikes for our healing meaning He was beaten to heal us, heal our wounds. I believe it goes beyond our physical afflictions. I believe it is emotional, spiritual, inner healings. We live in a world of hurt people. I believe the only way to truly be healed and experience wholeness in your heart and the fullness of joy and true pleasure, intimacy, connection and love is through Jesus.”
The “perfect” family may not exist. Every family has its faults and secrets. But it is these relationships, situations and memories that mold characters. As college kids, we are told college is the time to “find ourselves,” and for many college is the first time away from home. Influences within the family decrease, but do not disappear.
Next time you’re in a classroom remember that child abuse has no boundaries. It is blind to race. It can’t be paid off with a fat check. It can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time.