From Common to Uncommon
Trinity Sanchez: Student Journalist
“My abuser is now who I fear most,” said 18-year-old, L. Child abuse is one of the most common tragedies in communities all around the world. However, Hawaii is doing a phenomenal job of keeping cases low. If it’s happening in Hawaii, it can happen in Kentucky. We can be the change for our future and make this tragedy as uncommon as possible. Although child abuse and neglect are very common, many don’t know much about the different types of abuse in our communities.
By definition, child abuse is any harm done to a child under the age of 18. This abuse can be from family, caregivers, or custodial roles. As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child abuse is categorized into four parts: physical, sexual, emotional/mental, and neglect. Physical abuse is the intentional use of force to create physical injury on a child. This can include hitting, kicking, burning, and anything else that results in an injury. Forcing a child to participate in any sexual activity, is sexual abuse. This also includes inappropriately touching a child who is unable to consent to this behavior. When a child's self-worth and emotional well-being are being questioned and mocked, it is considered emotional or mental abuse. Lastly, the failure to feed, house, educate, or clothe a child is called neglect. All four types of abuse are serious and encouraged to be reported immediately once witnessed or suspected.
In an online survey I conducted, I reached out to 14 teens in the Northern Kentucky region who allowed me to share each of their stories and survey results. I asked simple questions about when their abuse started, how it affected them, and if they would be willing to talk more about their experience. I received many results, most saying they have been abused or know of someone who has been abused. The figure below shows the percentage of people abused by trusted adults in the community and family.
As you can see, 63.6% of teenagers surveyed were abused by one or both parents. The family that they would come home to after a long day at school. The people who were in direct control of when and if they were fed, bathed, and loved. These poor children never caught a break. They’d go from making mistakes in school to being too scared to speak up at home. Some of these children couldn't have a night of laughter and happiness. One teen explained how they felt unwanted and unloved when coming home each afternoon.
Many of the teenagers I talked with described the abuse they endured as mental and emotional, while some were physical and sexual. One interview, in particular, stuck out to me. This interview was with B, a 17-year-old who I knew growing up. Her abuse was more mental and emotional from her father and stepmother. B explained how it was growing up and constantly being put down by both of them. She would be scared to participate in activities she liked doing because her father did not. She was often left feeling helpless, “because you can’t prove emotional abuse in a case of whether or not it really taking place.” B wants everyone to know that emotional and mental abuse is just as serious as physical and sexual. Some signs of this abuse that B included in our interview include; self-deprivation, not listening or connecting to authority figures, and becoming emotional when people argue. It is so important that we take these signs seriously and report any form of abuse we see.
According to the Hawaii State Annual Child Abuse Report, 1,342 reports were made in 2019. Yet, in Kentucky’s annual report, 20,130 reports were made that same year. In an interview with my classmate A, she responded to this statistic with, “it does not surprise me, because I feel like most parents don’t keep a close eye on their children, especially around family.” Unfortunately, A was abused sexually, mentally, and emotionally by a close cousin. She endured this horrific abuse between the ages of 4-10. Once the abuse began, A started to distance herself from her abuser, and although they are family, they haven't talked about it since.
In Hawaii, there are many tests and background checks used to ensure that their childcare workers are fully qualified and don’t have a criminal record. Hawaiians keep themselves educated and aware of child abuse and neglect. They have many support groups, advocacy centers, and laws behind child abuse. Where I live in Kentucky, there is only one advocacy center to support 5+ counties. This means that in my very large community, there is only one place to receive help in an abusive situation besides contacting Child Protective Services. There’s a problem with CPS though, there has been a lot of concern that CPS does not take their reports seriously. In an interview I had with L, she explained her own experience with CPS and how unthoughtful they were. “When my parents got divorced, the abuse got worse. I tried reaching out to CPS and they just ignored my cry for help.” Ignored. The children in our community feel like their voices are being ignored? Ignored by the people they were told are supposed to “protect” children like them. Ignored by their community, and shut down by the government. This is discouraging and heartbreaking to hear. Our children should be our priority, especially the priority of CPS workers who have trained and specialized in this type of work for years.
Although Kentucky has a much higher population than Hawaii, a report was made in 2019 to compare both rates per 1000 children. Where Kentucky led with 20.1 per 1000 children, and Hawaii had 4.5 per 1000 children. With these incredibly high rates, I wondered if children in my community had sought any help from family or therapists. I was able to talk to K who informed me of her amazing relationship with her mother who has helped her stand up to her father’s abuse and has made her feel safe and loved. K has always been in contact with the same therapist for multiple years now.
Not all children have someone to turn to. C was in an unsafe home with an abusive mother who was addicted to drugs. C described his abuse as physical and emotional. There were days C would be locked in his room, barely fed, and beat with a belt by his mother's abusive boyfriend. All of this abuse happened while C was only four years- old and had a one month- old brother. During the abuse, C had no one to turn to for a smile. Because he was so young, he didn’t have contact with anyone else but his family inside. Thankfully, CPS was notified of the abuse and C was able to be adopted by his aunt and uncle. There are so many situations and stories out there that haven’t been heard or told. Many cases haven’t been reported and even more, haven’t been discovered. It is our duty as the future of each of our communities, to report any suspicions or evidence we have found to the police and CPS. We should also talk to the children and let them know they are safe and won’t be harmed any longer.
Statistics show that adults who were abused as children are more likely to abuse their own children. I asked M what she thought about this. She replied, “I don’t want to have children now, I want to stop this cycle.” Knowing herself and her values, M is still terrified of becoming something she feared growing up. M knows she would never want to hurt her child, but the thought of those “genes” being passed down, scares M into not wanting kids. This shouldn’t be normal. We should want to have children, so we can teach, reward, and love them without harming them. M not wanting kids for the sole reason of not wanting to hurt them is extremely sad, but expected.
Abuse and neglect are things every child is terrified of. Whether it’s from a parent, cousin, aunt, uncle, or coach, it seems as if it’s never-ending. As common as child abuse is, it’s surprising how uncommon prevention plans are. The only way we can lower rates is to open more centers and support groups in every county. This will ensure that the safety of each child is being considered and that they are being prioritized. There are efforts we can make to help our future children and our future grandchildren to keep their community safe from child abuse.