Sunday, February 26, 2012

Child Abuse

It's hard to stop thinking about it. It's heartbreaking. How could we let it happen? How can a teenager live with all this? The news reporting has been full of it.

A 15-year old girl was found walking barefoot and wearing pajamas. A man stopped his car to help her and ended her terrible ordeal. He took her to the police. The girl had escaped from her home after fearing that her stepmother would throw her down the stairs.

The story unfolded, as described in the link above. The girl had been imprisoned and beaten in the basement by her father and stepmother, with no bathroom other than a box, and not allowed to eat, since she was ten years old. Her eighteen-year-old stepbrother had sexually assaulted her since she was ten years old. She ate garbage when she could. She weighed seventy pounds and was said to be starving.

This scenario took place in Madison, not inner city Milwaukee. The people are white, not black or some other race. While they don't live in my neighborhood, in a way they are my neighbors. We are all members of the human condition. The human condition includes providing our children with the basic necessities of life, including a safe and nurturing home. This girl's family failed her.

The girl didn't go to school. She didn't go anywhere. Her biological mother had given up custody because she was married to a sex offender. Her father didn't love her enough to give her a chance to live a normal life. Abandonment and abuse are scars she will carry for a long time.

It calls to mind the story of Jaycee Dugard, who was abducted, imprisoned and sexually abused in California a few years ago. Jaycee Dugard escaped back to her loving family. Both Jaycee Dugard and the Madison girl were not found by the safety net of social workers who came to their homes because they were monitoring someone in the home, Dugard's captor, and the fifteen-year-old girls stepbrother. The system failed both girls.

Jaycee Dugard gave birth to two children fathered by her captor; the Madison girl was so malnourished that police said she had not entered puberty by age fifteen.

Something is terribly wrong with people who are entrusted with children, and yet they become cruel predators. The court system is dealing with the family of the Madison girl, but it can not give back the interrupted life she didn't have. Foster care is likely to be a better alternative than her own family. But what will go on in the heart of a girl who has been so badly violated, as she lives into adulthood? Hillary Clinton once said that it takes a village. This girl will need the whole human village.

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