Guest blog by B. J. Mitchell
For years our society has turned a blind eye to the crimes against women and children that occur behind closed doors. The old saying that "a man's home is his castle" has been taken to mean that whatever happens in the home is no one's business and should not be interfered with. Gradually, some states have passed strict laws that require any person who works with children to report to law enforcement any sign of abuse to a child. That is a major breakthrough in the battle against domestic violence.
Unfortunately, there are millions of children who have no visible bruises but who regularly suffer emotional and psychological abuse. They are warned (usually by mom) never to tell a soul about the abuse, and they never do. They suffer in silence and then grow up to abuse their dates as teens and their own children as adults. Thus, the cycle of violence continues and grows. Teens from abusive homes are 25 times as likely to abuse their dates than those from non-abusive homes. These children are not identified and for them there is no help available.
The statistics are horrifying, but largely go unrecognized or unacknowledged: 62% of teen mothers are prior victims of sexual abuse, primarily from step-fathers, mother's boyfriends, family members, and other they trust; 66% of children of teen mothers are fathered by adult men, 20 years or older; 33% of teen girls are in an abusive dating relationship before they are out of high school; 50% of dating women suffer physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from their dating partners; 35% of women who are killed in the U.S. are murdered by a boyfriend or husband, 25% of them are 15-24 years old. And so the violence continues, spiraling upward as millions of children grow up thinking that violence and abuse are a normal way of life.
My own childhood was marred by emotional and psychological abuse by an abusive, alcoholic stepfather. I had no visible bruises or scars, and I would never, ever have told anyone. The person with visible bruises, my mother, would have been mortified at the thought of friends, neighbors, or even family knowing what she was suffering. I never spoke of it until, in my senior years, I sat down to write a proposal designed to help children who won't tell. My proposal is centered on a community listing of counselors and psychologists who agree to accept anonymous phone calls from children who are in abusive homes. The counselor would help them cope with their environment and counsel them on how to distinguish between abuse that is non-life-threatening and that which is bad enough to advise the child to talk to a counselor about it openly so they can get some protection from law enforcement.
When I began to work with my pastor to set up such a program, I ran into objections from a church official who feared that my program would undermine the law requiring disclosure. In order to continue my effort to reduce the cycle of violence, my church will be working with children who have at least one parent already convicted of child abuse, so there can be no fear of hiding anything from the police.
One person, one church, cannot change the face of an incredibly abusive society, but if it were to become a pursuit of many people in many churches, change would eventually come. Details of the proposed program can be found in a children's fable titled The Huckenpuck Papers: the tale of a family's secret and a young girl's search for self esteem, by P.J. Pokeberry.