Child Abuse Awareness month is here as it is every April in the US. For most people, the surreal imagination of a big, scary monster hiding under the bed is just a fantasy. For others among us, we were forced to fight off the beast from very early ages. While other children learned to tie their shoes, some of us were taught how to bear pain without shedding tears.
Those advocating for this month of child abuse awareness assigned the color blue to represent it. But, in all honesty, the true colors are black and blue for all the bruises that were inflicted upon us. Child abuse is not a spanking or even a horrific beating. Rather, it is fear, deep in the bones terror. Mind control is a key ingredient. It is the unpredictability of the volatility that keeps people always on edge. It is a forever fright of ever speaking up, or even speaking. It is not the color blue to remind us that it exists. Pithy sayings do nothing to chase it away. Neither do dramatic pictures. It is a paralyzing horror of what may come, of having met the monster under the bed up close and personal. And knowing that nothing will ever assail it. And no one will ever help or even care. That you are all alone in the world to fight the beast. And you are too scared to scream, or even whisper. And often to even care.
” The monster under the bed is not imaginary…it is the hands that are supposed to love their children that transformed into the horrible beast.”
As I sit and write this, my heart is saddened that other children are being abused as I type. I am more horrified that there are people who know this abuse is happening yet, do nothing about it. I feel the pain and the fear these children are enduring. I taste the hopelessness that fills their beings with dread. I hear the savage words being thrown at them. And I hear their hearts break as they begin to believe all the insults and that they are to blame. Many years later, I can still feel it all.
In the US, the statistics regarding child abuse are indeed very scary. And many believe the true prevalence is under-reported. While the rest of the medical community focuses their attention on the Zika virus, the child abuse epidemic persists in remaining hidden and neglected.
The Ugly Truth About Child Abuse and Neglect in the US:
Last year, nearly 6.6 million children were involved in reported child abuse and neglect cases.
- In the US, about 4 children die of abuse or neglect every day representing one of the worst records among developed countries in the world.
- Last year, over 1500 children died as a direct result of abuse or neglect.
- Of those who die from child abuse, 44.2% are under the age of 1 year.
- Physical abuse was involved in 17% of cases.
- 3% were sexually abused.
- More than 27% were abused starting before 1 year of age.
- More than 90% of sexually abused children know the perpetrator.
- Child abuse occurs across all socioeconomic classes, religions and educational levels.
- More than 50% of children who died as a result of abuse do not have this recorded on their death certificates.
- Of those in prison as adults, 13% of men and 36% of women were abused as children.
- Approximately 30% of children who were abused go to become abusers themselves.
The statistics clearly reveal that this hidden epidemic is here and not getting better any time soon. As when I was a child, people still look the other way. The topic makes them uncomfortable. It is not something to be discussed in polite conversations. But, despite what people may believe, the monster under the bed is not imaginary for many children. Rather, it is the hands that are supposed to love their children that transformed into the horrible beast.
When I bring up my past with others, they become distressed and try to change the subject. They congratulate me for surviving. No, I did not survive. I won; I defeated the beast whom wished me dead and tried to kill me. They tell me it is in the past and my life is good now. And they are right but some scars will never go away.
Glaringly obvious is the fact that many people wish me to be quiet on the topic. Is it because they know a child who was a victim but did nothing? Or perhaps they wish to think this human tragedy away? Or the fact that children are abused or dying or hungry makes them sad?
Nonetheless, I will not be silenced because children are not dispensable. As healthcare professionals we are bound by duty to report suspected cases and help these kids. But even the medical community often fails in this regard. As a society, we need to start having the discussion. Children are dying and the cycle of abuse is escalating. When will we start to care and stop this suffering?
Dr. Linda Girgis MD, FAAFP, is a family physician in South River, New Jersey. She holds board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and is affiliated with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital. Dr. Girgis earned her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency at Sacred Heart Hospital, through Temple University and she was recognized as intern of the year. Over the course of her practice, Dr. Girgis has continued to earn awards and recognition from her peers and a variety of industry bodies, including: Patients’ Choice Award, 2011-2012, Compassionate Doctor Recognition, 2011-2012. Dr. Girgis’ primary goal as a physician remains ensuring that each of her patients receives the highest available standard of medical care.