The discovery of an Austrian man having kept his daughter, and the children he sired by her, captive for over two decades (the abuse itself went on for over 30 years) has prompted many to ask how it could have gone on for so long. Several friends of mine who were not abused as children struggle with the idea of anyone getting away with it, but that he got away with it for so many years seems almost surreal to them.
At the risk of sounding indelicate — are you people serious?
I’ve watched parents in parks and stores smack the living crap out of their children while witnesses gasped, stared, and risked whiplash with how fast they made their getaways – in public, in America. The same people who witnessed the abuse and did nothing suddenly found their voice when they felt it was time to speak up – on behalf of the abuser. I have often been berated for not minding my own business as I called the police.
Why, then, is it so hard to imagine how someone could get away with keeping their abuse a secret when so much effort is put into keeping it hidden? We help the abusers by keeping quiet even when the abuse of a child is in broad daylight. When someone goes out of his/her way to keep it hidden, we’re as good as having told the abuser, “Well done!”
We don’t see what we don’t want to see. It isn’t like the abuse isn’t there to be seen. There are plenty of signs, signals, and symptoms. If, however, you don’t want to see them, you won’t. You’ll tell yourself anything to put as much distance between what you know you saw and what you’d rather believe happened – or that nothing happened.
Children are not the ones with the obligation to speak out, and in fact they are often threatened by those who hurt them to keep quiet. When their abuse is discovered (read: reported by the one decent person who actually gave a crap about what s/he saw) the child is often removed from the one guardian and/or sibling(s) who actually loved them as a way to “protect” them. From there, they’re often placed into a foster home whose residents were run through a screening process rivaled only by a community college admissions form.
The depths with which joy has found ways to my soul
Were mercilessly carved out way too long ago
You're taking for granted that I've always been
This happy go lucky; that's not always been
What uncle called training and auntie called chore
Turned out to be making a six-year-old whore
What the neighbor called favor, the old men called dues
Did mercilessly strip back all color and hue
This voice that you hear now whenever I speak
Isn't mine, it's a scar; when I cough it still bleeds
You don't want to know from where my joy now comes
It is not of this world, it's a world all it's own.*
People who mistreat their children (and then wonder why their children mistreat them and/or themselves later) know damn good and well the rest of us have their backs. Sure, we say we don’t like it and we talk about how those who hurt children should be sent to prison straightaway, but few and far between are those who will put their money where their mouth is by stepping in, making the call, and/or going to court – if it even gets that far.
It’s not like we the people are so shit-hot to pour tax money and time into prevention, much less the treatment of those who are found (and reported) to be abused here in America. “That sucks” is the extent of our concern, and there is no society-wide contribution to stop or even curb the abuse of children. We pay our taxes, those taxes are eked out to the various child welfare systems, which are in turn understaffed and overburdened, and then we all freak out when more than 400 kids are found to be in trouble at the hands of adults.
How did those kids get in that pickle in the first place? We don’t see what we don’t want to see. It’s that simple. It’s not complicated at all.
Behind closed doors and dollhouses there is a world
Where grown people get sick and throw up on girls
Where boys who stand shorter than the edge of your desk
Are strip mined and thrown out for some madman's quest
It's not just third world countries or back alley ways
It's not just in the fields or out of the way
It's right here beside you; just go on next door
Peer into that window and see what stains the floor
Draw back in disgust and then cover your eyes
The child can't see you, she already died
Oh, she'll get up and walk out, but look closer still
She carries no blankie, just a half beaten will
Her spirit now shattered, she will give it away
To just about anything that shuts down the pain
If that doesn’t work, and it probably won’t
Her mind will shut down while her body goes on
Once grown she will jump from one 'love' to the next
And her body will shut down right along with the rest
Perhaps she’ll know why, but she won’t know the score
She’ll just think she’s damaged all the way to the core.*
We give minimal time and effort to make sure our children get across the street safely on their way to school. When they get there, we feed them crap, cut the funding for their physical education programs, and then wonder why so many of them are overweight. We don’t even care how they look, much less how they feel. When the abuse of a child is kept in the least bit hidden (most effectively by threatening the child him/herself to keep quiet), it makes it that much easier for the rest of us to look away and sleep at night. This is why we quietly support this system of silence: it’s less work for the rest of us.
The very idea that we as a society treat our children with so little regard and then are so loudly (if not proudly) aghast when we hear of abuse is laughable. We don’t educate parents on how to parent. Hell, we don’t even educate children on how not to become parents, instead spending over a billion dollars on some lame-ass, sex-ed version of Just Say No. We don’t hold parents accountable for their actions unless they act out on their children – and even then, only if they’re caught (read: reported by the one person who gave a damn).
There’s no motivation in this society to do right by one’s kids and we have done everything we can to rob parents of the internal reward of raising a child well. We parade Rev. Wright’s bitter and unproductive rants across as many channels as he’ll fit, and then ignore Bill Cosby’s productive recommendations for parents who ignore or are ignorant of their child’s most basic needs.
Actions speak louder than words, and yes, doing nothing is an action – and doing nothing says, “I don’t really give a shit about that child.” We’ve even fewer words, with little more than, “Oh, those poor children” – and that’s our response to what happened to the child as a result of our having done nothing in the first place.
Whatever. At least apply a decent shade of red to that lip service first, will ya?
* Excerpts from “My Story: Where the Miracle Lies” by Diana M. Hartman ©2008