By Tammi Pitzen, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County
April brings spring, renewal, energy and awareness on a very tough topic — Child Abuse.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who, like many other people who talk to me about my work, was very focused on the “depressing” part of my job. The conversations usually begin and end with something like, “You hear a lot of horrible things” or “ How do you sleep at night?”
I have even had people ask me what my job was and when I answered, they turned around and walked away. There were times in my younger years where people would not be friends with me because of what I did as a job. There were times that people would not date me because of what I did as a job. They would say things like “You are really nice, but I just don’t want to be around that stuff”.
I look back now and shake my head and wonder what in the world they thought I would be talking about with them. Most of the things that happened during the course of my work day were confidential and not things I could talk to anyone about. AND it is not like child abuse is contagious like the flu. When people have asked me to speak at an event or to talk about what I do, they always ask that I keep it light.
Here are the cold hard facts. Child abuse is not pretty. Child abuse is not glamorous. There are not many ways to keep that light and joyful. There are children who are hurt by someone they love multiple times a day, every single day. Child abuse is real. Child abuse is happening. Child abuse is being perpetrated by people I know. Child abuse is happening to children I know. Child abuse can be heinous and life impacting both physically and emotionally.
If there is one thing that working 26 years in the field of child abuse has taught me, it is that there is another side to the story.
There is much to be hopeful about. Yes. You read that right. I am hopeful.
When I was working as a forensic interviewer, I was happy to see children come to me. It made me feel relieved, even if for only a fleeting moment. The day they came through the door was the day that, just maybe, an adult could help make the abuse stop.
When I was working as a caseworker, even under the most stressful situations, I was glad to get reports assigned. It meant that someone cared enough about a child to pick up the phone and make a report. On the days that there were too many children and too many cases being sent my way to deal with, I knew that, for those children, there was hope. Hope for recovery. Hope for safety. Hope for a better tomorrow.
There is much to be hopeful about if we are all doing our part.
It is everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe. We can make a difference in the lives of our children and in the lives of children of future generations.
But… there is a price to be paid for that hope.
There has to be a shift in societal thinking and values. We HAVE to be able to talk about child abuse in order to educate the world about the scope of the problem. I truly believe that people in general do not understand the scope of the problem. We have to be able to talk to our children about appropriate boundaries. We have to be able to talk to the adults in our child’s life about what will be tolerated and what will not be tolerated in regards to behavior with and around our children.
We have to be able to talk to our legislative representatives about why child abuse prevention needs to be a top priority. We HAVE to end the silence. We HAVE to end the shaming of victims of child abuse. We HAVE to end the blaming of child abuse victims.
Child abuse is not a “child” problem. It is an “adult” problem. The problem is not with the child’s actions but with the adult’s action or reaction.
What if we all decided every morning that we were going to do one act during the day on behalf of a child? What if we all decided that today… right now… was the time to end child abuse?
I AM so hopeful. Children are continuing to need interviews, medical examinations and therapy assessments. We are overwhelmed some days with the amount of referrals and work there is to be done right here in Jackson County, but I am so hopeful.
Children mean that reports are being made. Medical evaluations mean that children get to learn that their bodies have not been broken by abuse. Therapy assessments mean that children get to learn that abuse has not made them worthless. Interviews mean that children have an opportunity to talk about what has happened and that an adult in a position to help make that abuse stop is ready to help them.
It is not hopeless. We only need to decide that we will be part of the paradigm shift that is needed in our world by starting to talk about what is child abuse and how to keep our children safe.
We are not powerless.
If we teach our children about what is abuse and if we talk about what will not be tolerated behavior with the adults in our children’s lives, we take back the power and we give to our children.