Monday, October 17, 2005

On My Mind Today: Child Abuse...

I remember staying the night with a girl I knew from school. I was about 12 years old, and I'd known this girl about two weeks. The house was the filthiest I'd ever seen. Dishes were piled on every inch of the countertop (one of the scraggly cats wandering around was covered in grease from a stacked-pans avalanche). The 2-bedroom house was shared by my new friend, her 2 sisters, her mom, 3 men who weren't related whatsoever to my friend or her sisters, and Grandma living in a small camp trailer in the back yard. We ate cold hot dogs for dinner because there were no clean pans or a microwave to cook them. This girl shared a bare mattress on the floor with her two sisters and the dog. I was eaten alive by fleas all night long, and ate dry cereal in the morning because there was no milk, and no clean bowls. I was so relieved to go home I almost cried as I told my mom about all the trauma I'd endured on my visit.

So why didn't she call someone? Knowing what I do now - that this girl dressed like a tramp when she was 12 and was often covered in bruises - and the conditions she lived in, the situation reeked of sexual abuse. At the very least, it was gross neglect.

I'm sure she thought it wasn't her business to get involved. Maybe she justified it by saying that some people might not like her parenting either, and it wasn't for her to judge. I've thought that several times myself while I live in this dumpy house, with a yard full of junk (told ya I was a redneck, y'all). Where is the line drawn between dicipline and abuse? Between laziness and neglect? Who am I, the average citizen, to judge someone else?

I don't know what the answers are. But I know there are lots of kids out there being abused daily while the neighbors mind their own business. And I also know there are perfectly decent parents who are misjudged and lose their children to foster homes for months or years. I know that a lot of parents are afraid to even set boundaries for their children because of the constant fear of CPS. Are parents safe in this kind of system? Are children safe?

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