Letter from the Editor

Monday, April 30, 2007

Stopping abuse takes more than 30

This poem was written by a woman named Andrea. It is a touching introduction to take us where we are going today.

As I noticed myself becoming older and gray,

I knew it was time to visit the little girl of yesterday.

She had been kept safely hidden

In a place where others had been forbidden.

She knew I had to leave her long ago,

So one of us could find the strength to grow.

I promised her that I would someday return,

For she was my main concern.

No one could understand how her and I connect,

For I was the one present during the crime and neglect.

As I opened the door to yesterday,

I heard the sound of children happily at play,

But I noticed her sitting all alone and sad

Until our eyes met and she became glad.

We reunited by hugging and kissing one another

Like a beloved daughter and a mother.

I comforted her and dried away her tears

That were too painful for so many years.

As I looked in her small eyes of grey,

I told her that the monster had gone away.

She looked up at me and said,"I love you"

Then I replied, "I love you too".

Someone who cared had finally set her free.

The little girl that I used to be.

Since taking part in our local child abuse vigil not long ago, I've been doing some thinking about how we approach this issue.

To begin with, we don't have the guts to face it. Oh, we know it exists, out there somewhere. We read the stats. But we take careful care not to see it in our own neighborhoods, even when they signs are right in front of us.

Our newspaper put out a special section on the vigil - and that much ink is usually good to draw a few hundred people out to anything, just out of curiosity.

There were maybe 30 people at the child abuse vigil, about half of them there in direct connection to their work. That's out of a county of over 20,000 people. We can't get to everything, to be sure. But was everyone too busy to spare 15 minutes for a lovely and meaningful ceremony?

Do the other 19,970 not care? I don't think that's it. Maybe their hearts can't take it...

The vigil is a good thing in terms of awareness, thought it certainly doesn't reach the people who need to be reached. The level of support seems to say that as a community, we aren't ready to march on this issue.

Chances are, at some point we will be drafted. We will see it happen to a child in our neighborhood, we will hear about it happening to a classmate of one of our children or grandchildren. We'll see it right in front of our faces at a store somewhere. There's no denying it then - what are we going to do?

We don't have to attend a vigil to care. But when it comes down to the bruising moment when we have to take off our blinders and do something ourselves to stop it, to spare one child the pain, we had better be ready to step up. Call the cops, get in between.

Teachers and medical personnel are considered to be "mandatory reporters." I took that same class. We all need to be mandatory reporters - if not required by law, then by conscience.

At the vigil, they had music and candles and balloons and wristbands and all of that stuff to dramatize the reality, and someone had cut out teardrops to label with the names of all the children in Iowa who were killed by child abusers this past year. In deep blameless blue...

Anyone remember Shelby Duis? She was a bright, happy little northwest Iowa toddler turned into an empty shell by abuse, and finally was beaten to death. Funny thing is, everybody seemed to know it was going to happen. A staffer at the school wrote about it, people called DHS. And nothing was done. They built a playground and put her name on it. If someone had worked as hard to save her then as we have to honor her when it was too late, she might be playing on some other playground today.

Looking at that lengthy line of blue teardrops, I had to think that someone knew or at least suspected the truth, in every case. Maybe lots of someones had seen it coming, and figured someone else would do something.

One of those children was three years old. She weighed 12 pounds. The adult she trusted starved her to death over a long period of time. And nobody seemed to notice...

In recent years, our society has been all about keeping the family intact, even when the family includes mama's scummy live-in sex buddy. We have become gunshy about taking a child out of a home - the system just seems to hope for the best, that an unsafe environment will somehow change. Or maybe it is just that the resources and people, such as foster parents, aren't plentiful enough to allow us to do it differently.

It is a lovely sentiment to believe that family will triumph. I wish it worked that way. Sometimes it does, sometimes we get blue teardrops.

Very often, people don't change, not really. Rotten people stay rotten. People who hate themselves eventually take it out on someone else. I can't help but believe that if we really want to help the children who are abused and neglected, often the sooner we can get them away from the adults who are doing or allowing this, the better chance they have. Just ask Andrea.

Those damned blue teardrops. Our hearts can't take it.

If only 30 people cared, we wouldn't stand a chance.

Tell me it isn't true.