In a time of mass predatory behaviors against children, it’s vital that we as human beings do our part to protect the most vulnerable and innocent among us. They are not only unable to protect themselves against an unstable adult with bad intentions, but they don’t always know when they are being mistreated and let’s just say it - abused. We must fight the tendency to become complacent or desensitized to the epidemic of child abuse. When trusted adults and even family members betray the trust of a child, that child’s world changes, sometimes forever. Several victims of convicted criminal Larry Nassar testified in court that they still feel dirty and damaged by what he did to them several years earlier - when they were children.
Nassar was a trusted, high-profile sports-medicine doctor. He served on the United States girls’ gymnastics team at four Olympic games, between 1986 and 2015. He was also a sexual predator. Among other crimes, he’s been accused of inappropriate conduct, namely sexually abusing over 100 women athletes while “treating” them for lower back and hip injuries. For 15 years, he’s taken advantage of his position and used it to prey upon the young girls he was tasked with keeping strong and healthy. Instead of protecting them from harm, he placed them directly in the line of fire on his own path of destruction. One complainant says the doctor molested her from 1994 to 2000. She says he began “grooming” her in 1994, establishing a standard of regular physical contact that would lead to inappropriate sexual behavior in the future. This grooming would show up as “…athletic training” and was used to “normalize intimate, inappropriate and sexually abusive contact.” He did this to many young women and girls for more than 20 years. He was recently sentenced to 175 years in prison as punishment for his crimes. The judge told him he did not deserve to walk around free and she was right. Sadly, there is no shortage of disturbed people who prey on defenseless children.
David Allen Turpin and Louisa Anna Turpin were arrested January 15, 2018 after their 17-year old daughter escaped their home and called 911. When police arrived at their home in Perris, California, they found 12 emaciated, malnourished minors and young adults chained to beds in darkened, foul-smelling rooms. The Turpins were charged with multiple counts of child abuse, neglect, false imprisonment and torture. Their known crimes took place over the last 7 years. There has been an outpouring of support for these children. They will undoubtedly need tremendous amounts of love and support in the upcoming years to regain some sense of security and normalcy.
In both real-life situations, the criminals have been apprehended. In one case, thus far, the perpetrator has been punished. Sadly, so have the victims. They have endured what no child should ever have to face. Thankfully, some people overcome childhood horrors and live a productive life. For others, the effects of the abuse stay with them their entire lives. Studies show that childhood physical and mental abuse can lead to insecurities, social anxiety and an overall feeling of unrest. Damaging a child’s sense of security can lead to multiple failed relationships as an adult and stunted emotional growth later in life.
It is essential that people get involved and take measures to prevent child abuse. Start by knowing the possible signs of abuse. Recognizing the signs and reporting your concerns to officials could go a long way in keeping a child from experiencing major, on-going suffering and long-term damage. In the case of the Turpin children, neighbors have stated that they felt something was “off” about the family but they said nothing because they didn’t want to cause conflict or create a confrontational situation. If you witness odd behavior, take a moment to consider what could happen if you don’t speak out.
The following behaviors may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect:
• Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
• Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
• Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
• Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
• Lacks adult supervision
• Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
• Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home
• Is reluctant to be around a particular person
• Discloses maltreatment.
These are only some signs of abuse and neglect. It is essential to stay alert to behaviors that may not be listed here but are noticeably out of the ordinary for the child(ren) you know. In addition to being aware of signs of abuse, we can help protect children who may be at risk – specifically from people they trust - by engaging abuse prevention strategies at the individual level.
Things you can do to try to prevent abuse:
• Get to know your neighbors. Problems seem less overwhelming when support is nearby.
• Help a family under stress. Offer to babysit, help with chores and errands, or suggest resources in the community that can help.
• Reach out to children in your community. A smile or a word of encouragement can mean a lot.
• Be an active community member. Lend a hand at local schools, community or faith-based organizations, children’s hospitals, social service agencies, or other places where families and children are supported.
• Keep your neighborhood safe. Start a Neighborhood Watch or plan a local “National Night Out” community event. You will get to know your neighbors while helping to keep your neighborhood and children safe.
• Learn how to recognize and report signs of child abuse and neglect. Reporting your concerns may protect a child and get help for a family who needs it.
• Support organizations who dedicate time to the prevention and protection of victims of abuse.
Pinwheel Place offers an exciting opportunity to fundraise for the prevention of child abuse. The organization uses the national symbol of child abuse prevention – the pinwheel – to aid fundraising efforts throughout their community Consider organizing an event in your neighborhood. Ask your friends and family to join you in creating a pinwheel garden. Click here for more information on how to get started. Then, click here to send an email to Pinwheel Place to let them know you want to take your first step toward building your own pinwheel garden. Plant a garden anywhere that can serve as a visual reminder to your community that there are children who are being, or have been, abused all around us. Let’s not forget to take care of the little ones. They are, after all, the future. They deserve a chance to make it as bright as their dreams will allow.
Resources for more information on child abuse and neglect:
· http://www.childhelp.org/pages/hotline-home - The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (800.4.A.CHILD) and its website offer crisis intervention, information, resources, and referrals to support services and provide assistance in 170 languages.