Child Abuse

Saturday, October 18, 2008

When Sofia was born, Gonz and I would often just sit and watch her sleep, turn to each other and say, "I have no idea how people can hurt children." Sure, even before we had children we knew that child abuse is a horrible, horrible, unspeakable thing - after we had a child, it only magnified this sentiment a thousand times.

A headline showed up in my RSS newsfeed stating, "Mom convicted in malnourished girl's death."

Evidence included grim crime-scene photos from the room where Nixzmary was bound to a chair, starved and forced to urinate in a litter box. She was so

malnourished when she died that she weighed only 36 pounds, about half the weight of an average girl that age.

Defense attorney Kathleen Mullin said Santiago tried twice to stop her husband from hitting the girl and didn't know that he continued beating her until she died. She said Santiago was a loving but overworked mother caring for five other children and was afraid of her husband.

A while back Heather Armstrong, of Dooce, blogged about:

Her name, her mother had said, was Danielle. She was almost 7 years old.

She weighed 46 pounds. She was malnourished and anemic. In the pediatric intensive care unit they tried to feed the girl, but she couldn't chew or swallow solid food. So they put her on an IV and let her drink from a bottle.

Aides bathed her, scrubbed the sores on her face, trimmed her torn fingernails. They had to cut her tangled hair before they could comb out the lice.

Her caseworker determined that she had never been to school, never seen a doctor. She didn't know how to hold a doll, didn't understand peek-a-boo. "Due to the severe neglect," a doctor would write, "the child will be disabled for the rest of her life."

And right now, my neighbour is yelling at her son, yet again - probably the seventh straight day in a row. Most of the time it's during the time he's practicing piano.

Sometimes it's beating a child. Sometimes it's ridiculing a child. But sometimes, as the two stories I cited above, it's doing nothing at all. When your child needs you, you're not there. Basic needs, such as food when they're hungry, clothes when they're cold, a bath when they're dirty, a hug when they're sad. Parenting isn't rocket science, but when the parent isn't healthy (in every sense of the word), no matter how hard they try, they cannot be a good parent.

Which makes me think, to be a good parent, it's not just taking care of Sofia, but also taking care of myself. It's having that time with God, it's eating a balanced diet, it's going to sleep on time, it's having friends over, it's connecting with my parents (and Gonz's parents) at least weekly... I might feel like I'm far from being a child abuser, but they aren't born over night. The more issues I have the more I risk taking those issues out on my children.

I have thought of many times to confront my neighbour. To knock on her door (which I did once, and she did not answer) and speak with her about how she is treating her child. Some might say it's none of my business, but I think that when you think about living in a community - whether you like it or not, we do - I have a responsibility. But what I fear is that my actions may embarrass her, which of course, is not my intention. I also feel like what good can I do if I don't have a relationship with this woman. She lives next door - I don't want her avoiding me because I know how she treats her son. But on the other side of the coin, WHO CARES IF SHE IS EMBARRASSED. SHE SHOULD BE. I dunno. I am at a loss.

I have lots of thoughts about child abuse, but most of all, it just makes me sad about how many children suffer without anyone even knowing about it.


  1. So disturbing and sad.
    I'm glad you knocked that time like you were telling me. At LEAST it lets her know someone there is listening and is disturbed by it, in more ways than one. And you'll use your judgement when the time comes if any further action is needed.

  2. You know, its a wonder society can function as well as it does. So many kids survive such horrible things, but grow up to be contributing humans. Its that kid's right to have people watch out for him - like you.

  3. OK get this i feel bad when there is something compelling on TV that i would really like to see but the baby is there. I feel bad for looking up at the TV. and then some times when she is crying i bounce her and wiggle around and i think oh no wait what is too vigorous? i don't want to shake her but i would love to some how distract her and get her to do anything but cry or fine cry but change keys or something, you know?
    Jade got some shots yesterday and was sad all night. Karina said it was right when i came home after being fine for several hours. It was like she wanted me to know too what she had gone through.


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