Violence on the Home Front

Published on ZNet (first on TomDispatch), by Erika Eichelberger, April 19, 2013.

… Between 2005 and 2010, 60% of all violent injuries:

in this country were inflicted by loved ones or acquaintances. And 60% of the time those victimizations happened in the home. In 2011, 79% of murders reported to the FBI (in which the victim-offender relationship was known) were committed by friends, loved ones, or acquaintances. Of the 3.5 million assaults and murders against family members between 1998 and 2002 (the last time such a study was done), almost half were crimes against spouses. Eleven percent were against children. But the majority of violent deaths are self-imposed. Suicide is the leading cause of violent death in the U.S., and most of those self-killings happen at home.  

Violence Against Women: … //

… Violence Against Children:

Deon, who is now 27, doesn’t cry. Ever. And he doesn’t get angry. His eyes are wide apart and impassive. He talks matter-of-factly about how, when he was 14, his mother tried to kill him. She said it was because he hadn’t done his homework. One day too many. She lashed him with an extension cord and threw a glass at him. She screamed that she’d call the police and then came at him with a knife. But she missed — deliberately or accidentally — and stabbed the wall instead. He says she meant to hit that wall. His little niece, his two sisters, and his mother’s boyfriend were all in the apartment. His older sister kept pleading, “Mummy, that’s enough.” But no one ever reported the incident.

Child Protective Services may not have gotten a call about Deon, but it does respond to millions of reports of alleged abuse: 3.4 million in 2011. There were 681,000 unique victims that year. Seventy-nine percent of those kids suffered from neglect at home. Eighteen percent were physically abused, and 9% were sexually abused. Babies under age one were assaulted most often; 1,570 of those children died from abuse and neglect that year. Eighty-two percent of child victims in 2011 were younger than four.

While the rate of assault on children (as with women) has dropped over the past two decades, a recent Yale School of Medicine study found that serious child abuse — the kind that results in fractures, head injuries, burns, open wounds, or abdominal injuries — is actually up.

Being poor is a good way to increase your chances of being hurt by your parents. The same Yale study of severe abuse found that over the past 12 years, parental punching, thrashing, or burning of children has jumped by 15% for kids on Medicaid, the government health insurance program for families in poverty, but by 5% for the general population. Another recent Yale study suggested that child Medicaid recipients were six times more likely to be victims of abuse than those not on Medicaid.

Kids in violent homes have sleeping, eating, and attention problems. They are generally more withdrawn, anxious, and depressed than children with parents who don’t abuse them. A 2012 Harvard study of the brain scans of 200 people found that childhood abuse can be associated with damage to the brain’s hippocampus, which plays a major role in short- and long-term memory. Such kids are also more vulnerable to chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, leading some to call child abuse the tobacco industry of mental health. One National Institute of Justice study of 1,500 kids found that abused children were also more likely to become violent criminals.

Child abuse first received national attention in 1874, due to the case of Mary Ellen McCormack, a 10-year-old orphan in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen who was abused by an adoptive mother. No laws then existed to keep parents from beating their children, so the case was brought to court by, yes, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “I have now on my head two black-and-blue marks which were made by Mamma with the whip,” McCormack testified, “and a cut on the left side of my forehead which was made by a pair of scissors in Mamma’s hand; she struck me with the scissors and cut me.”

The McCormack case spurred a reformers’ crusade. In 1912, the U.S. Children’s Bureau was created to research and publicize the issue of violence against children. After World War II, more research led to the system of child-abuse reporting we have now, in which various professionals — doctors, teachers, daycare workers — are required to report suspicions of abuse. Child Protective Services does screenings and investigations and has the power to remove a child from a home, if necessary.

Deon didn’t have his day in court, but even if he had, research shows that, again and again, courts return abused children to parents with a history of violence. A 2005 study by the New England Research Institutes found that, even in states with laws that tilt against custody for an abusive parent, 40% of adjudicated wife-beaters got joint custody of children. The American Judges Association says that about 70% of wife-abusers are able to convince a court that the mother is unfit for sole custody. Nationwide, some 58,000 children a year are put back into the unsupervised care of alleged abusers after a divorce.

Deon left his mother’s apartment in Brooklyn at 18 and moved in with a coworker in Harlem. He visits his mother maybe once a year. Her place is windowless, wall-to-wall carpeted, and tight with too much furniture. He and his mother don’t ever talk about what happened with the homework and the knife and the wall. When he stops by, he’ll hover in her apartment for 20 minutes or so. And then he has to leave.

Self-Violence: … //

… (full text incl. many hyperlinks).

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