The results from a study last year cited that 64% of Hawaii residents felt it was difficult to identify the signs of child abuse. Like domestic violence, child abuse by nature is intended to be difficult to recognize and may manifest in unexpected ways as well.
The “point” of child abuse – like DV – is that the abuser gets his/her needs and/or wants met at the expense of the victim within the context of a relationship through the use of coercive control, and sometimes physical force. What I’d like to emphasize in that last statement is that coercive control is INVISIBLE (so it’s hard to see something you can’t, right?) and the word “sometimes” before the words “physical force”. Exactly like domestic violence, you cannot have child abuse – or abuse of any kind – without coercive control, and exactly like domestic violence, physical force may or may not ever be a part of the equation.
How can that possibly be? Like this:
Suppose every year on your birthday you had a parent who’d launch into the refrain “You’re a worthless good-for-nothing who’ll never amount to anything!” or snarled “Get away from me! Just the sight of you makes me sick!” every time you came home with an achievement? No hits or punches need be thrown after “beatings” like those, wouldn’t you agree? And hey, look: not a scratch!
Whether it’s DV or child abuse, the relationship between the abuser and victim is the tie that binds, with the victim constantly seeking the love, acceptance and approval from the abuser. This isn’t such a hard dynamic to understand because it happens all the time in non-abusive situations, ie: MANY siblings go through their lives with (typically) a younger sibling spending his/her lifetime trying to get into “the good graces” of his/her older sibling. Or how about a group of friends where one keeps trying to impress the group leader?
No victimization or pathology needs to be identified in either situation – it’s just the human pursuit of wanting to be accepted and belong – and if you feel that you’re being rejected, it’s NOT unusual to increase your efforts for connection even if you realize the relationship is a bad one for you!
The “urge for acceptance” or to “hang on” is all the stronger when we see other people treated the way we hope to be, if we feel we’re losing someone or if someone’s being taken away from us; voluntarily walking away is totally different then being unwillingly shoved away.
Bottom-line: victims aren’t doing anything that the majority of us wouldn’t do if we felt rejected by someone we’re seeking approval from.
The difference in disposition between a DV victim and a child abuse victim is that there is no difference. What is different has to do with her and our (mis)perception that she has the ability to “just leave” whereas with a child victim, there is more of a legal dependency issue where “just leaving” is actually contraindicated.
“Just leaving” implies willful, voluntary choice but for DV victims, there is no “just leaving” (and that’s why it’s called fleeing or escaping abuse). A child victim “just leaving” is termed “running away” and if not correctly assessed, those who “can help” may inadvertently assist in returning a child victim back to his/her abuser.
If you’re thinking “Well, then that’s the kid’s fault for not saying something” then put yourself in the kid’s position:
- You’ve run away from “home” and gotten caught = you’re in trouble.
- Chances are your abuser is mad at you for running (actually for getting caught by a helper whose not family).
- You get abused when the abuser is mad at you.
- Your abuser is a calm, “concerned” adult – you’re an upset (angry or sad) kid – who’s more believable here?
So here’s the dilemma: tell the helper what’s going on and you’ll run a 50/50 chance of being believed. If you ARE believed, you may be carted off to God knows where for how long or if you AREN’T believed, that nice helper is going to say “Good night” and go home leaving you back where you started but now it’s worse because you “told” on your abuser. This is the exact same no-win situation DV victims face and why it’s so important to really know what abuse is all about, NOT what you think it’s all about.
When there are physical signs of child abuse – like in the sad and tragic case of Marley Makanani http://www.kitv.com/3-Year-Old-Dies-Of-Abuse-Torture/-/8906042/9659100/-/v3oobd/-/index.html – it’s up to us to recognize what those signs are, which is one of the functions of Child Abuse Awareness Month. PLEASE remember, however, that physical signs aren’t the end all – victims live in full survival mode and going undetected is a part of that survival mechanism. The straight-A student “Most Likely To Succeed” may be masking unspeakable abuse the same as the despondent, disengaged high school dropout; everyone has their own set of survival skills – you just never know…
Abuse of any kind is so much more then what meets the eye. During the month of April, be sure to learn what you can about child abuse because that knowledge may just save a life someday.
Child Abuse Awareness Month will be kicked off this Sunday, April 1st at the Hawaii State Capitol during a ceremony from 2:00 – 4:00pm. (For more information about this event, go to: http://preventchildabusehawaii.org/ )
The primary color of BLUE represents child abuse so be sure to tie a blue ribbon on to show your support, care and concern throughout the month of April.