My heart is heavy as I write today’s post. Within the past two weeks, I’ve read about child sexual abuse, missing persons, rapes by spouses, teens driven to suicide by bullying, and children being killed by their parent.
Is this the world we live in? After twenty years of working with families and children, I’m still shocked by each new tragedy. I still feel the emotional rawness of each new story. I still feel the despondency at the loss of innocence. I still feel the rage at those who would cause harm to others. I still feel the overwhelming need to make things right.
Realistically, I know I am one person and I know I cannot make right the wrongs inflicted on those who have been bullied, abused and killed. But if I can help even one person, then I will celebrate that one.
I warn you that what follows may be disturbing. But I think it is important that we make ourselves aware of what’s happening to those around us.
I spent 8 years working as an investigator for Child Protective Services and another 14 months as a supervisor. I saw things no one should have to see much less endure. I saw children on life support from gun shot wounds. I saw a child dead from being held upside down in the waste of a sewer. I saw children scalded with hot water, burned with cigarettes, bruised across every part of their bodies, and with broken bones. And I’ve heard too many stories to count of children being molested by a parent, relative or other.
One story in particular haunts me to this day. It involved siblings who were routinely sexually abused by both parents and acquaintances of the parents. They were sold to whoever chose them. There was child pornography involved. I often think about them and wonder how they are. If they’ve overcome what happened to them and built wonderful lives for themselves. They’re all adults now and I sincerely hope they have a bright future. (In case you’re wondering, both parents were sent to prison. I checked. They’re both still locked up.)
I remember cases where I couldn’t help because of bureaucracy or the whims of those above. One little boy had a broken leg caused by his mother’s boyfriend. I was not given permission to remove even though I requested it. I got a call late at night (we often got called out on cases we’d previously investigated prior to the institution of a night response unit) not long after I had surgery and shouldn’t have responded myself. But there were reportedly more injuries and I felt responsible for this child. I called another caseworker who drove us out to the house. She went in with the police and came out with the boy and his younger sister. I still remember the relief on the little boy’s face when he saw me. And even though it had been a couple of weeks since he’d seen me, he remembered my name. He told his sister, “This is my friend, Rhonda, and she’s going to help us.” I cried then (after I got home) and I still tear up thinking about it.
I was told during my training that kids will want to stay with their parents no matter the abuse because the “devil you know is better than the one you don’t.” While that is true, there are times when the abuse is so bad that even the children know they can’t survive there. As in the two examples above. I still remember the first set of siblings cheering and clapping their hands when told they weren’t going back home.
I remember a newborn who should never have been placed with it’s drug addicted homeless mother who was released from jail to have the baby. The judge decided she should be given the chance even though I recommended against it. So he tied my life to hers basically. She was to page me (before cell phones were so prevalent) every night at a certain time so I’d know she’d made it back to the shelter I found for her and the baby. That lasted two days. The third night she didn’t show up. I spent all night making calls and trying to track her down.
When she still hadn’t shown up the next morning, I spent the next day on ice covered roads (yes…probably the only time that year we had the problem in North Texas) looking for her. I talked to drug dealers, homeless people, other prostitutes (because that’s how she earned money for her drugs when not in jail) and other persons that most people don’t communicate with during their lifetimes. The thing is — all of these people who might otherwise have blown me off, were very worried about the baby and tried to help me locate her. Several of them told me they’d seen her out walking with the baby in the cold. Some even went so far as to call the hotline to get a message to me since our local offices were closed that day. Never under estimate the caring of an individual just because of the position they are in at the moment.
When I finally caught up with her and the baby, the baby was so sick he had to be admitted to the hospital. The next day in court, the judge looked at the mother like he might cry and said, “But I gave you a chance.”
I told you that story because I think it’s important that people like our judges who are making life and death decisions for our children have a basis in reality. (NOTE: I just want to say I would not expect a decision like the one above from the Judges I worked with over the last 10 years in the family courts. I think they all did and do try their very best to make the right decisions for children and the families.)
I know nothing about the judge who ordered that Josh Powell could have supervised visits at his home with his children and I don’t know all the facts of the case. But with him being “a person of interest” in his wife’s disappearance, the images found on his computer, etc. — I don’t understand why he wasn’t seeing his children at a secure location or at least in a public setting. He might still have found a way to harm them, but it’s doubtful he’d have been able to take an axe to them before blowing them up.
I know I was very sheltered growing up and hadn’t seen abuse or violence up close. I really had no idea what I was getting in to when I decided to go to work for the state. It doesn’t take long to lose that naiveté once in the field. Maybe judges should be required to ride along with an investigator for a few days to see what’s really going on in a world they don’t normally live in. I’ll bet not many of them have spent any time in crack houses or among those who can become violent quickly after looking as if they couldn’t hurt a fly a minute before. It’s an eye-opener.
During those years with CPS and then the next 10 conducting investigations for the family courts, I saw or heard about even more instances of child abuse and heard about spousal abuse and rapes and other atrocities visited upon individuals from any number of sources as they gave their personal histories to me during their interviews. I’ve seen the devastation that can change lives.
In my earlier post, Domestic Violence: Are You Safe at Home?, I gave statistics regarding domestic violence as well as the signs to look for and numbers for places to get help. If you’re being abused or suspect you know someone who is, please take a look at it.
There is hope. There are those who are telling their stories and of their survival and triumph in order to help others. Robert Lee Brewer, an editor, writer, and blogger has a series on his blog: Blissfully Series. He shares part of his story here.
Emmie Mears is another writer and blogger who not only shares her story on her blog, but has been sharing hope through the voices and examples of other strong women.
After several teens committed suicide after being bullied and harassed for being gay (even though some of them weren’t) while staff at schools looked on without intervening, the students now have a support group and a law suit has been filed to hopefully change the way the school handles issues like LGBT and bullying.
And there is you. You can do your part to help those who may not be in a position to help themselves. You can call for help or guidance at any of the numbers below. I’ve heard people say they can’t do anything or get involved because they don’t want to make a relative or friend mad at them. Isn’t it better to make the report and give them a chance to forgive you in the future than for them not to have a future?
911 is always an option if help is needed immediately to prevent harm to yourself or others. However, if danger is not imminent, use one of the other resources available.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you have a duty to report it. You can call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD or you can search for the hotline in your state here. Websites are listed for each state as well. (The system isn’t perfect but I believe there are caring caseworkers out there that do the very best they can in horrible situations. They’re under-funded and under-staffed and people who haven’t been in the trenches make the guidelines. Maybe the powers that be should do ride-alongs too.)
If you’re being abused by a spouse or partner, there is help available to you. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224. There are also shelters and other hotlines in your area.
One thing that needs to be clear: Women are not the only ones abused. And men are not the only abusers. Men also suffer at the hands of others (men and women) and these agencies are there for them as well.
From the RAINN website: “The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE and the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at rainn.org, and publicizes the hotline’s free, confidential services; educates the public about sexual assault; and leads national efforts to prevent sexual assault, improve services to victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.”
The White House has proclaimed February to be the National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Talk to your teens.
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, please seek help immediately. (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Trevor Project Lifeline for LGBT youth at 1-866-488-7386.) As someone who was harassed and teased in school (too tall, wore glasses, was a nerd, didn’t wear the right clothes or hang out with the right crowd, etc.) I can tell you things do get better. While there were times I thought I couldn’t face another day at school, I did. There were times I thought I might be better off dead. Fortunately, I had the love and support I needed elsewhere that made a huge difference in my life.
I’m sure what happened to me wasn’t as bad as what some of you are going through, but as an adult looking back, I can tell you that I would never want to go back there if given a choice. But having gone through those events, I can say that they shaped me and made me into a strong person. A person who doesn’t sit idly by while someone else is being picked on or abused. Someone who reaches out to and stands up for the rights of others. If you’re going through any sort of harassment or bullying tell someone. Tell your parents, teachers, or other person in authority. You’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the bullies and abusers who should be ashamed. Most importantly — Don’t give up. High school doesn’t last forever. You have years ahead of you to be the person you are and the person you want to be.
There are other ways you can become involved as well. Become a volunteer. Many of the local shelters or agencies in your area have volunteer positions. You can help out at the shelters, sit with a victim while they’re in court or meet with them at the hospital after a sexual assault to provide needed services. Some of these will require training. But making a difference in someone’s life is worth it.
If you’re aware of an issue at your local school, speak up. Go to board meetings or better yet become a board member.
There are all kinds of ways you can make a difference. For whatever strengths you have, there is an area of advocacy. Let’s do what we can to stop the madness, help the abused and heal the spirit.
Originally published on rhondahopkins.com. This article may have been modified to meet the needs of this site.Follow Rhonda Hopkins/Navigating Family Court: