So, whenever a status starts popping up on my Facebook newsfeed..."copy and paste this to your status if you support ________________", I start feeling a tad hive-ish. I don't think I've *ever* copied and pasted such a status, no matter how much I may agree with the cause (or at least the ideas behind it). I hate cancer. I've watched it ravage two of my grandparents, my dad, and various friends through the years. It's a terrible thing. But I can't bring myself to post a "copy and paste this if you've lost someone you love to cancer" status. I love my children...but when I see a "copy and paste this to your status if you have a child you are thankful for", it doesn't cause me to think "Oh, yes, I must post that!"
I guess it shouldn't have been a huge surprise, then, that when I began seeing cartoon characters popping up in my newsfeed over the weekend, I began to feel a bit antsy. I actually did have some favorite 70s cartoons. The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, etc., were great! And of course, Looney Tunes are timeless. :) My FB friends may yet see a Hanna-Barbara creation or Bugs and Taz on my profile. I certainly have nothing against anyone else posting...it isn't like some of the "awareness" campaigns that have been little more than titillating sensationalism. And, again, I can't guarantee I won't post one myself.
But frankly, I struggle with understanding how a thumbnail image of a cartoon character is really going to make a difference for those who have already been devastated by child abuse or prevent children from being abused in the future.
"Awareness" seems to be the goal these days, no matter what the issue. And while in one sense, I understand that, in another, I just don't see the point.
Are there really that many people out there who aren't aware that child abuse happens? I look over my friend list and can't find anyone I really think would be shocked to know that child abuse exists. I suppose that there are people on Facebook somewhere who aren't aware...but really, is making that (relative) handful of people "aware" that there is such a thing going to stop a child from being abused, or help heal a child who has already been traumatized?
Please understand that I am not saying there is anything, at all, wrong with posting a cartoon character profile pic this week. Having written this post, I probably actually *will* post one later today, just because. :) Many of my dear friends have posted photos of characters that bring back feelings of nostalgia (or in some cases, a "did we actually WATCH that??? reaction :)). I appreciate the caring hearts I know are behind those profile pictures, some of whom I know have been directly affected by the horror of abuse and/or active in the fight against it.
I just don't think it goes far enough.
I don't think it gets the really necessary info out there.
I don't think it helps us differentiate between the frivolous, petty things some call abuse, and the truly horrific acts that actually are.
Child abuse is a hot button issue for me. I've talked about child protection on this blog before, and those who have read those posts know that child protection is an issue about which I am passionate. What may not have been clear in those posts is the fact that I tend to distance myself from things labeled "child abuse advocate." My pre-SAHM career was in the social work field, working with foster children, their families, and their foster families. I saw a lot of true abuse in those years...and I saw things labeled abuse that frankly weren't. (And while this blog post won't deal with that particular issue in detail, I must say that that is a *dangerous* thing, as it detracts from true abuse issues on so many levels.) I saw many false allegations and the devastation they caused to the families involved. I saw many caring people trying to help children and their families...and I saw a flawed system that sometimes caused as much trauma as the abuse itself. And I've seen some of the most caring folks of all devastated by the very system through which they were trying to make a difference.
Several years ago, though, child abuse became something much more personal when we discovered that two of our children had been victims of abuse by someone close to our family who we loved and trusted. Our family was rocked to the core and there were times that we wondered if we would survive.
I can't begin to describe the trauma experienced not only by those two children, but by our whole family. The first two years were spent literally trying to just survive hour by hour and minute by minute some days. It would take a book to even begin to tell the story of the last 4 1/2 years. The important part is...God has worked and is continuing to work in our family in amazing ways. He has taught us things through this that we could never have imagined. Our journey is far from over. We know that there will be new "layers of the onion" peeled away periodically for the rest of their (and our) lives. The perpetrator of the abuse is currently in prison on other charges, and while charges have been filed in our case, legal loopholes mean that the case won't actually go to trial until his current sentence is over. We know there are difficult and uncertain days ahead.
Through our experiences...years of combined experience of Billy and I both in the child protection field as well as our personal experience...true awareness of child protection issues is a subject close to my heart. Billy and I were "experts" on child abuse/protection issues. As a foster/adoptive parent trainer years ago, I taught classes in "signs of abuse" and "risk factors". Billy and I knew that we couldn't protect our children from every eventuality in life...we knew we couldn't control accidents, illnesses, etc....but we were *sure* that one thing from which we could protect our children was abuse/m*lestation. We were (and still are) hall of famers in the overprotective parents' club.
If the horror of abuse can happen to our children, it can happen to *anyone's* children.
Because of our experiences and my heart on these issues, I couldn't ignore this latest FB "awareness" campaign...but neither could I post a cute picture and be done with it.
We do need to be aware. Parents, grandparents, and anyone who is ever responsible for the care of children NEED to be aware of the fact that child abuse is NOT just something that happens to "other people".
It is NOT something that just happens in disadvantaged families.
It is NOT something that just happens in bad neighborhoods.
Perpetrators are NOT just the scary-looking guy on the street corner. They may wear nice clothes, have charming personalities, drive nice vehicles, live in the best neighborhoods, have a good job, and be well-educated.
There are perpetrators everywhere. That is not said for dramatic effect, and it is not to say we should be looking at every stranger (or friend or family member) as a possible perpetrator. However, more than likely, if you were to search the sexual offender registry, you would find at least one, if not more, registered sexual offenders living much too close for comfort to your home, church, or workplace. And those are just those who have been caught, tried, convicted, and registered as sexual offenders. There are many more who haven't been caught yet, tried yet, or convicted yet. AFTER we discovered the situation with our children, we discovered that the perpetrator in our case had been under investigation for over two years by the FBI for crimes against children...during which time we had absolutely no idea such an investigation was going on.
Almost ANY time your child is not in your line of sight...there is a possibility of abuse. That doesn't mean it is probable, but it is possible. It can happen in under five minutes. It can happen in a public place. It can happen, quite literally, in your own backyard. It can happen when they are with people you trust.
I am not advocating that parents never take their eyes off their children. I am not advocating that parents never trust *anyone* but themselves with their children. I am saying that there are often times when parents are lulled into a false sense of security that "it couldn't happen to us", and that can cause a lack of caution that can have devastating consequences.
We need to realize that allowing our child to go anywhere by themselves (*especially* public restrooms) puts them at risk. This doesn't just mean at the mall or the grocery store...this means *any* public place. I cringe every time I see a child allowed to go to the restroom by themselves at church. At one time, at least four known sexual offenders lived within a mile or less (some within blocks) of our church. As far as we know, they are still there. Our church is not in a bad neighborhood by any means. It is just down the street from a school. I would guess that there isn't a church in our town that doesn't have a registered sexual offender living in the vicinity. And again...those are just the registered ones.
We need to think long and hard about who we allow to care for our children in our absence. Every family will have their own boundaries on this...but we need to realize that just because we have known someone a long time, or because they live next door, or because they have passed background checks, doesn't mean they are "safe". I understand the need for background checks in certain areas, but they make me very nervous because they give us a false sense of security. All a clean background check can tell us is that someone has never been caught and convicted (or had a child abuse allegation "founded" against them).
We need to be aware that teaching our children about "good touches and bad touches" only goes so far. One of our children is, as far as we know, still unaware of the abuse they experienced for over six months (by the perpetrator's own admission). The other was apparently not aware of the abuse until the last occurrence...again, after over six months. The perpetrator said that they were always asleep...we believe, given the degree of the abuse and the lack of apparent awareness, that they were probably drugged. "Educating" a child is not an effective defense in such situations.
We need to understand that no matter how hard we try to protect our children, we are not all-powerful, and there is no way we can guarantee that we can prevent abuse from happening to our children. Our family is living proof of that. I taught classes in preventing and detecting abuse. Billy and I did everything "right" in that area. And it happened to our family anyway. As traumatic as our situation has been, however, I have to say that it would have been so incredibly much more traumatic for us as parents if it had occurred due to something we could have prevented. We need to do all we can to prevent...while realizing that our prevention efforts are not guarantees.
And for individuals and families who have experienced abuse, we must know that as horrible and heinous and devastating as it is for a person or a family...it is not the end of the world. It feels like it...often for a long time. But there is hope. God can and does give peace in the midst of the storm and bring beauty from ashes. I have written much on this blog about God's work in our lives during the dark days of the last few years, and I am sure that I am nowhere near finished writing that story. None of it has been easy, but He has shown Himself totally faithful through it all.
This is by no means an all-inclusive "everything you need to know about child abuse" post. It also doesn't begin to tell our whole story and what God has done in our lives and taught us through it. I could...and perhaps someday will...write a whole book on the subject. But hopefully it does take "awareness" a step further. Perhaps this is an issue that tugs on your heartstrings and you want more information. Feel free to email me by clicking on the "view my complete profile" link near the top of the sidebar, and then clicking the "email" button on the left side of the profile. Or perhaps your family or someone close to you has experienced the devastation of abuse and you are looking for support or encouragement or prayer...or you have encouragement to offer others. Again...please email me through the profile link. Or you are always welcome to post less personal questions or comments below.
This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for 3 days while I prayed and sought counsel about posting it. It hasn't been easy to write, and it won't be easy to hit "publish". God has brought us a long, long way in the past four and a half years. In the beginning, we were dead set against anyone knowing our story but the few who "had to" know. God has slowly changed our hearts over the last couple of years and caused us to realize that this story is not ours, but His. He has given our family, including the child who is aware of what happened, a strong sense of the fact that He has a plan for our family as a whole and each of us individually and that the last 4.5 years were not an interruption in that plan, but a vital part of it. God has given us a desire to minister to others who are walking this dark road, and to truly "raise awareness" about protection and prevention in a realistic way.
Mary Beth Chapman, wife of Steven Curtis Chapman and author of Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope
(which is, by the way, one of the two best books I've read all year), says of her family that she wants them to "steward their story well." That is my heart...to steward our story well. Even more than "raising awareness" of child abuse, I want to "raise awareness" of the Hope that lies within us...the Hope that has carried us through the many dark days and sleep-deprived nights of this journey. God is good. He loves us with an everlasting, unchanging love. He loves my children even more than I do! He is working for our best, always. His plan cannot be thwarted or changed. He has carried us in the palm of His hand throughout it all.
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
~ Genesis 50:20
"I know the plans I have for you," declares the , "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
"He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young."
~ Isaiah 40:11
"That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."