Patti had noticed the small boy around her neighborhood for a few months. The family had moved into a rental home just as summer began. He was usually alone, yet she had noticed other children in the family. The family kept to themselves and she had yet to meet the mother, even though they lived only three houses down.
She had been slightly uncomfortable about the boy, but could not really give a reason for her feelings. She had noticed that he always walked with his head down, was quick to anger for no apparent reason and had, on occasion, burst into tears in the middle of the games he played with other children. He always appeared sad and frightened.
She had also noticed scuff marks on his arms, and that he never wore shorts, even in the summer heat. And yes, she had noticed a few black eyes and scrapes on his face. Once she had attempted to question him about them but he seemed uncomfortable and quickly brushed her away.
She had not contacted children’s services or attempted to talk to the parents; they were very private and she did not know how to approach them. And yes, there had been other conversations about the family between the neighbors, they had all noticed; but no one acted.
The child was six years old, due to enter the first grade in the fall. These were her comments in the police report filed in the investigation of his beating death that summer; dead at the hands of his rage filled father, unprotected through the fears of his cowering mother.
This is not a unique story. As more and more societal stressors, including financial challenges and substance abuse increase, this horrible malady becomes more common.
The signs of child abuse, including emotional, physical and sexual are all easily available to the adults in any community. Most of us ‘just know’ when something is amiss. We notice things, and may even comment on them. But most people fail to act. Why?
Why can’t we hear the silent cries of these victims?
They are silent cries because they live in fear of talking, less the abuse increases as a punishment. Those who are abused and bullied and have lost all hope that their life will get better all exhibit symptoms. And so, they wear the symptoms like a badge on their arm.
We did not fail to see the downcast eyes, the darting looks, and the pitiful expression of joy over the simplest courtesy, the outbursts of anger, the sudden unexplained tears, the drop in grades and interest in school activities, the knowledge of and interest in sexual activities far too early, or the fear that crossed their face when the abusing person called for them or approached. We saw; we made a mental note of it, and then filed it away in our memories, hoping we were wrong.
But we weren’t.
The excuses are long and varied; they didn’t know for sure, didn’t want to interfere in a family, didn’t want to involve authorities, feared reprisal, got busy and it slipped their minds, were watching to see if any other instances occurred before they called… so many excuses on the reports, yet there is no excuse. We must begin to pay attention to what is going on around us.
We have a duty to act for those who cannot act on their own behalf; children, elderly or infirmed. We have a duty to do so, and to do so without delay. Our delay may be the cause of the interview we have as a result of a death investigation.
Somehow we, as a society, need to lose the fear of ‘butting our nose into someone else’s business,’ and act when we see the signs. We cannot be too busy or too fearful to take a moment and make a phone call; these can always be anonymous if you are uncomfortable with being exposed. If you make the call and nothing happens to intercept the abuse, make a second call and ask the police to stop for a wellness check. Contact the school and speak with the principal or nurse. Don’t stop until someone gets involved. Make some noise!
In almost every case of a victim being killed by abuse, someone noticed something, felt uncomfortable about it and usually failed to act. Every time, the witness stated that they wished they had acted.
We can, and almost always do hear their cries. What is the acceptable excuse for not making the effort to save a victim?
Are we willing to act when we do hear their silent cries for help?
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