Empty Outrage: Suleman, Child Abuse & A Controversial Bill of Rights

A great deal of media attention has been paid to Nadya Suleman, the recent mother of octuplets by IVF.  The general consensus is that there’s something wrong with an unemployed mother of six choosing to have eight more children.  News pundits, psychologists, and the public have speculated about Suleman’s mental health, her motives, and her mothering abilities. Some have even questioned whether Suleman has had plastic surgery in an attempt to look like Angelina Jolie.

There’s no doubt that Suleman’s story is interesting, not only for its shock value, but because it opens up public debate on issues like parenting choices, child rearing, IVF, ethics, individual responsibility, and more.

I can’t help but wonder which horrific case of child abuse will open up the same kind of national debate.  How many tortured children, infant rapes, dead bodies, and light sentences will it take before the public demands substantial changes to child welfare, adoption, and foster care policies?

ngatiThe U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimated that in 2006, out of 48 reporting states, 1376 children were killed by abusive parents, relatives, and caregivers. (They estimate 1530 nationwide). In Florida, which ranks among the worst states for child abuse and welfare, 52 of the 140 children killed in 2006 had prior contact with “family preservation” (DCF) services.

Those are the children that died. 885,245 more were known to be victims of abuse in 2006 — a highly conservative estimate since many cases go unreported.

I’ve expressed my belief that child welfare agencies need a drastic overhaul before.   It is unconscionable to me that an advanced society still views children as chattel, and confers what amounts to child ownership on the basis of DNA.

“Preservation of the family” methods, such as anger management or parenting classes for abusive parents, largely fail.  The mentality of violent parents is not born of short-term frustrations.  Even though perpetrators may place the blame on any number of stressors, from job loss to drug use, the essential fact is that the ability to choke, beat, stab, burn, rape or poison another person, particularly a child, doesn’t come from stress, or even from mere ignorance, but from an ingrained mental or character defect.  Stress or lack of education does not cause people to throw helpless infants against the wall or immerse them in scalding water.  If this were the case, humankind would not have gotten as far as it is now.

There have always been violent people in society, and unfortunately they have never seemed to lack for partners.  One of the most appalling trends in child abuse has been pedicide caused by the live-in boyfriends of mothers. In many cases, women are choosing to live with men they’ve known only a brief time, and entrusting these men to care for their children.

haley-marieHaleigh Marie Cain is only one of the many children brutalized by their mother’s boyfriend.   Haleigh died from massive injuries at the hands of Dennis Creamer, who was angered by Haleigh’s request for juice and cookies before bedtime.

A course in anger management or proper parenting is unlikely to change men like Creamer, or people like Kimberly Ann Trenor and Royce Zeigler, whose all day torture session of two year-old Riley Sawyers resulted in her death.

While America holds fast to the notion of parenting as a right rather than a privilege, it has yet to provide a national Bill of Rights for its most vulnerable citizens.  Individual states such as New Jersey, which recently introduced such a bill, come under fire primarily from conservative religious groups such as The Eagle Forum, which believes that giving rights to children “undermine(s) the sacred role of parental rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children“. The tone of dissent borders on hysteria that the State will interfere with the “rights” of parents to rear, educate, and control their children as they please, particularly when it comes to home-schooling.

One of the fundamental rights of children should be a well-rounded, quality education.  While thousands of homeschooling parents immerse themselves in providing this, and ensure that their children have varied academic as well as social opportunities, others are sorely unqualified, largely unmonitored, and use homeschooling as a way to control and isolate their children, rather than to enrich their experiences.

While many would disagree with the State of California, which recently upheld a law stating that homeschooling teachers must be credentialed, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that parents who wish to teach at home show some qualification outside of a DNA relationship to do so.  Even the children-as-chattel mindset cannot do away with the fact that eventually children become adults.  There is no recourse for poorly educated, overly-sheltered children when they enter the world of adult work and responsibilities — if they enter the world at large at all.

Homeschooled children from religious cults, like those from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, are taught to fear the world outside of their sect. Most never attend school at all, and what little education they receive is from under-educated parents whose main concern is the indoctrination of their children into a set of cult beliefs and behaviors.

The call of neo-conservative religious groups to hold the rights of parents as “sacred” while denying children their own set of rights is transparent.  They want exclusive dominion over their offspring regardless of what society may deem harmful or contrary to the best interests of children.

Unfortunately, the rights of parents are largely put above the almost non-existent rights of children. Thousands of children spend years in the limbo of foster care, unable to be adopted into loving families, while abusive, neglectful, and otherwise unfit birth parents hold onto their legal parental rights.  Thousands more live unmonitored with people who have previously been convicted of violent crime such as rape, murder, assault, molestation, or child abuse.  Under present laws, custodial parents may live with whom they please, and non-custodial parents don’t even have the right to demand a background check on those who will be involved in the day-to-day parenting of their children.

Social services for children is a nightmare of red tape, inefficiency, and outdated, provincial policies.  Who was watching Donald Medsker, who was 26 years old in 1989 when he was granted custody of his 10 year-old half-sister?  He started sexually abusing her right away, making her quit school when she became pregnant at age 14.  Over the next 20 years Medsker’s sister, indoctrinated by him to believe that their relationship was normal, gave birth to six more children, two of whom were put up for adoption. Where were the social service follow-ups and the truant officers? How did a 10 year old child fall so completely through the cracks?  Was Medsker examined and found to be the best parenting choice or was this, again, a case where a DNA relationship outweighed consideration of the child’s best interests?

America could do so much more to prevent child abuse.  We could launch more comprehensive education and support programs for parents.  Schools could demand yearly physical exams as well as immunization records.  We could make it against the law for known violent offenders to live with children, at least without monitoring, and we could do much more for children living in isolation, such as those born into religious cults.  We could certainly rewrite the “preservation of family” standard that returns children to abusive homes.

However, as long as children are viewed as chattel, and a parent’s rights lawfully outweigh those of a child’s, we won’t.  We’ll just continue to be outraged — in the most empty way — because we’re not really willing or ready to give children a set of rights that would help ensure their dignity, education, or safety.

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  1. Jane, as you know I work in a girl’s residential treatment facility. The MAJORITY of teens we treat have been abused, and by majority, I mean almost all of them. When it wasn’t their bio-parents, it was their step-parents or their parent’s flavor of the month. Many of the girls have seen their mothers beaten, and come to expect that from men and boys they dated. As you pointed out even violent people with records find someone willing to put up with them.

    I’ve often wondered what would happen if domestic abuse were made reason enough to remove children. Would women be more likely to leave the men that beat them, or just less likely to report them? From what I’ve learned, alot of these men do have records, so you bring up an interesting point there too. What would happen if violent convicts were prohibited from living with kids, especially those they’re not related to?

    You propose some intresting ideas. I do hope that somewhere they would be debated and discussed.

  2. And why is it that the same groups that are so against a Bill of Rights for children are the very same ones that are so pro Right to Life and against a parents choice to BE a parent?

    I imagine this was as hard for you to write as it was to read and know it is true. Keep shining the light, Jane. I thank you.

  3. ah. man. i’m having one of those days. this just makes me cry, Jane. seriously, i’m drowning in boogers and tears. well, that’s partly because we are all battling a cold. i’ve had several nights of fevers and asthma related crisis and in one moment was rocking my very sick boy with my amazingly wonderful pediatrician staying on the phone with me for an hour, walking me through care to keep him out of the ER. the crisis was averted. we are all on the mend. even now, i’ve had to stop typing this several time because a wee boy has come to me with the simple request of “i want to hold you”….and how can i resist that? it’s taken 45 minutes just to type this much….

    so this stuff…this ugliness is so foreign, so repulsive that i can’t wrap my head around these types of people. yes, i agree. where is the outrage???? but again, there are times i cannot even bear to see it, hear it…it is that repulsive.

    reproductive rights are such a strange thing. some would like to deny me the right to be a parent based on my choice of a same sex partner. in florida it is especially so and what are those statistics again?

    keep talking, Jane. this is such an important and vital dialogue. i cannot think of a better champion for the rights of children. i’m right behind you…or rather, i’m standing with you.

  4. Powerful and important. And your entry point is very well stated. I admit that Nadya Suleman seems nuts to me and I hope she doesn’t give an unfair bad name to the vast majority of fertility clinics. But you’re absolutely right. If one-tenth of the insane attention that has been given to Suleman was paid to the critical issue of rampant child abuse, it would be an enormous help to his horrific problem.

  5. I’ve always thought one should have to have one of those birth control thingies that are inserted under the skin on your upper arm at the beginning of menses. Then, when you’re grown up and want a child, you and your mate (same sex or not) must attend parenting classes and get a permit to be able to conceive a child. We make it difficult for good people to adopt but any idiot/psychopath is able to give birth.

    But I think the price of a marriage license should be exorbitant and include marriage counseling and a few other counselings and divorce should be cheap and easy.

    But that’s just my opinion.

  6. I’ve been working with the kids our society “throws away” for many years. I currently work with incarcerated youth. Just about all of them have been abused/ neglected in one way or a dozen… A few will actually get what they need to heal. Most won’t. Some will get a little of what they need and limp along. Many, many, many will wind up in adult prison.

    These grim realities have pretty much been true in every area where I’ve served “at-risk” (hah! way-beyond-at-risk) youth and their families–from treatment foster care to community mental health to kid shelters and family shelters…

    There ARE ways to shift the cycles of violence/ abuse but funding for serious, long-term systemic programs that actually function as more than tiny and often-useless bandaids (like 10 weeks of “anger management”) is, and has always been, in short supply. And what little funding there is, is all too often eaten up by corrupt and byzantine bureaucracies.

    These days, “managed care” insurance companies gobble up beyond obscene amounts of Medicaid money (which funds the bulk of public services for youth these days) and create systems so bizarre and impossible for providers to negotiate, it seems that more often than not, competent providers of effective services who also actually care are driven out of business because they don’t have the staff to battle for payment and/ or can’t wait months and years (yes, years) to get paid and the most mediocre (or worse) mercenary providers are all too often the only ones left standing…

    Sorry, Jane, I loved most of this article, but “character defect”? Huh? Perpetrators are, not always, but usually broken people who come from broken people who come from broken people… who are products of a very broken society.

    Some, yes, perhaps irredeemable. Some, yes, born irredeemably broken. But most not. And most no different than any of us would become if we experienced one unmet need after another after another… and came from three or four generations of people who weren’t parented who weren’t parented who weren’t… and came from planets where empathy was an alien concept or a sign of weakness to be crushed…

    Thankfully, most people who have been sexually assaulted DO NOT become sexual perpetrators. But, overall, abuse does indeed feed abuse does feed abuse… unless someone, somewhere along the line, gets what they need to break that chain.

    Wasn’t it you who said something to the effect in a recent blog that we are collectively responsible?

    Because, as I see it, we all sure as heck are responsible–for everyone in every part or role in those cycles.

    I realize I’m probably ranting now but oh well…. As I see it, that 10 year old you spoke of didn’t fall through a crack in our social fabric: She fell into one of many, many gaping Grand Canyon-sized chasms that are growing wider and wider with each passing day.

    Good news is, there are lots and lots of people out here on the front lines trying… but we need funding, folks. And we need voices demanding funding and demanding the overhaul of dozens and dozens of systems from schools to Child Protective Services to foster care to early intervention to treatment centers and and and…

    But those kinds of things are only triage.

    We need a culture where kids actually matter and community is much more than a word… And that starts with each and every one of us.

  7. Hello Little Sun,

    Just as not every sexual abuse victim becomes a rapist, not everyone who was abused as a child become an abuser. In fact, statistics say that the majority of abuse victims do not grow up to be offenders. That doesn’t mean that many of the perps weren’t abused, it just means that there are a whole lot of victims in the world who didn’t grow up to repeat the past. There are, though, quite a few abusers and child murderers who came from homes that were not violent , yet they became sociopaths, rage addicts, narcissists, people with poor impulse control, people with control issues — there are any number of mental or character defects that can create a violent person independent of background. Like you, I’ve come face to face with perpetrators. In most cases, I do not think “there but for the grace of God”. I think, instead, of all the big red flags and warning signs that people closest to them ignored or didn’t or wouldn’t take seriously.

    We are, in the collective sense, part of the problem when we do not speak, do not warn, do not follow our intuition — or refuse to do whatever we can do to prevent the perpetrators or help the victims, either because of cost or some steadfast belief in self-determination (otherwise known as “not my problem”).

    I believe we do need to work toward a culture where children actually matter, and where more than lip-service is paid to their long-term needs. I’d like to see a national Bill of Rights for children as a start, as well as some very proactive changes to the laws and social policies that leave children at the mercy of their tormentors. Childhood is the shortest period of life — one year spent in hell or limbo is too long.

  8. LBJ, I’ve often wondered the same thing about domestic abuse. I have been floored by stories of men in prison for murdering their wives who get visitation with their kids. It’s just not rational to me to believe that any child would benefit from such a relationship, a belief that’s been confirmed for me through previous interviews with their grown kids. That’s another story.

    SusanS, I think it’s all part of the control package that the ultra-conservatives wish to foist on the rest of society, where men, specifically the white ones, remain dominant with women and children under their control.

    Kris, yep. Florida. Don’t get me started. As for “i want to hold you” from the mouths of babes, there’s no parent worth her handprint turkey who could resist. :-)

    Danny, I don’t think IVF will really come under the gun as much as the actions of Suleman’s doctor. At least I hope not.

    Marcie, I’d like to see more of a swing in cultural mindset, where rearing children is viewed more as a privilege than a right, and where communities take a stake in the lives of the children around them.

    Elaine, I have that feeling all the time. I often have to give myself a break from the news.

  9. Jane – I read yesterday but couldn’t comment…too painful. You and I have walked so many of the same paths….thank you for being that voice. thank you.

  10. Jane, I just saw my first case yesterday as a CASA (Court appointed Special Advocate). I knew how she had been abused and molested before I met her and it broke my heart. This wasn’t the first time.

  11. Actually, what the statistics say varies a lot. And varies all the more depending on which of the many kinds of abuse they’re studying and whether they are only dealing with documented abuse or not. There are many kinds of abuse, not all actively and obviously violent that do, as I see it, indeed feed the cycles. But, that aside, yes, there are violent offenders who seem to have sprung from the head of Zeus–with nothing apparent in their background to account for their behavior. However, in my experience of working with all types of offenders (and all types of victims), these would appear to be a minority. Unfortunately, a minority that would appear to be increasing, but still a minority.

    No, most people don’t look at offenders and think “there but for the grace…” etc. Most don’t want to identify with those among us who act out most violently. It’s definitely easier to identify with those who clearly fit most solely in the victim role. And easier to make all who do hideous things as much “other” as possible.

    And, no, to those who might wonder, I don’t buy “abuse as an excuse” thinking. I strongly believe in people being held accountable for their actions and do believe some people may never be safe to be let loose in society. But, I also believe that punitive responses alone serve none of us–and that anytime we try to classify all perpetrators as “other” is disowning some important realities that also contain some important answers that can lead to more effective responses in dealing with the violence in our culture. The lines between perp and victim are just not always as clearcut as most would like it to be.

    Most victims I’ve worked with over the years may not have ever gone on to engage in physically violent behavior, but a majority percentage have engaged in acts of mental, verbal, and emotional violence if only during particular stages of their healing processes… And these kinds of violence, as I see it, do indeed feed the cycles…

  12. Oh my goodness … what a tragic and terrifble article, Jane. It’s right up there with putting Mountain Dew in a baby’s bottle. I find it interesting that folks have trouble seeing the fine (fault) lines that exist …the lines that divide broken & suffering and broken & inflicting suffering. There is indeed a huge difference. In fact, it’s a testimony to the spectrum of ignorance, violence and horror that exists in the human psyche.

    Some people suffer abuse at the hands of adults, neglect, violence, rape … you name it. And grow up to be prolific writers and a voice for the innocent. Some people endure the endless revolving door of new boyfriends, staving off their advances with a fiery personality and certainty of what is deviant, and then grow up to be productive, happy and prosperous … managing not to pass the legacy down to their children. Others grow up to have a revolving door of their own and a blind eye to what they’ve exposed their children to.

    What is it that separates the individuals from the animals if it isn’t some basic internal filament?

    Isn’t that character?


  13. D… Leaving other animals out of it who are much less likely than humans to commit atrocities ;) As a survivor of torture and many other things, and as a healer committed to assisting others in their healing, I’ve devoted much of my life to that question of what tips the balance and allows some to break the cycle and not pass (or to stop passing) on their suffering to others. What I’ve found, thus far, is that it seems to be a choice and the tiniest, tiniest things seem to sometimes tip the balance of whether a person is able to make that choice and to keep making it… Oftimes, that tiny thing seems to involve one moment of connection with “other”, the spirit within “other”, one moment of feeling “seen”… one flash of a picture of a potential for wholeness… Things that far too many may rarely or never find in the disconnected worlds they stumble within. Only for a rare few does innate “character” or brain wiring seem to have a thing to do with whether they’re ever able to make that choice or not.

    Just my perspective and I understand many may disagree and/ or misunderstand due to my poor articulations…

  14. Ah Little Sun … your desire to see only the light is admirable. And I think you are articulating your point quite clearly. But I disagree with it.

    I believe that hard brain wiring and character (aka personality trailts, intelligence, etc) have everything to do with the topic at hand. And people, in their purest form, are very much like animals, differentiated *only* when they are able to insinuate the ability to make right choices under stress … and violence are rage are indeed stress. What you describe, seeing wholeness, is a spiritual dynamic, and one that is rarely in play in the circumstances Jane describes in her posting.

    Give thanks to your god (or goddess) for the ability to heal after your particular ordeal, and let us acknowledge the grace in healing when it is accomplished. But don’t for a minute make the mistake of thinking that’s all there is. In this day and age, when tremendous spiritual pressure is upon the earth, making our Great Mother a veritable pressure cooker and causing the darkness to react gravely and as much as the light defects its shadow, it is folly to think that “making right choices” is all there is.


  15. D:
    Obviously I’m not articulating myself well and/ or you misunderstand if you think I am saying one should only see the light! That’s about as actually hysterically contrary to what I’m trying to say as it gets. And the kind of choice I am talking about is not the least bit simple or simplistic or a one time thing. And hardly “easy”. It is also a choice that requires a deep understanding of and embracing of one’s own capacities for “darkness” and violence that goes far beyond character, intellect, brain wiring… And one that I have witnessed many make and keep making–across wide spectrums of supposed character, IQ, etc.

    I would argue that “wholeness” is always in play. The kind of wholeness of which I speak does not exclude what you call “darkness”.

    Many who think themselves above violence, who position themselves in their own minds as standing across some special chasm from those who commit violence, do indeed themselves commit violence daily through thoughts, words, and simply turning away… Supposedly “small” acts of violence for which most of us absolve ourselves in very much the same ways non-sociopathic rapists and murderers minimize and self-absolve their “larger” acts of violence…

    (Sociopathic behavior doesn’t necessarily indicate an innate lack of capacity for empathy. True sociopaths appear to born lacking the capacity. The vast majority of sociopathic behavior, however, is committed by those with an undeveloped, underdeveloped, or otherwise wounded capacity for empathy. These are what I call “created” sociopaths.)

    My point was, really, that there are no “small” acts of violence and none of us are truly innocent in the making of “created” sociopaths. And as we each daily contribute in our “small” or “large” ways, we each feed the cycles and all contribute to creating most of the people who do the majority of the most heinous things in this world–“created” sociopaths.

    Until we begin to individually and collectively acknowledge our contributions to these cycles and the creation of those kinds of sociopaths, the cycles will continue and we’ll keep making more such people.

    BTW: In my version of life with the Great Mother, humans ARE animals. Very mixed-up ones who would be better served if we stopped making false and demeaning distinctions between other animals and us, and, spent more time learning from other species.

  16. There is no one, definitive answer. Some children can be beaten or neglected so severely when they are young that their brains are damaged, if not by the beatings than by the permanent effect of rapid-fire, long-term stress hormones. There is no undoing of this type of damage, and often no awareness since it’s often unknown and undiagnosed. Diagnosis comes most for those who ended up in hospital with SBS or brain bleeds. The effect of stress hormones on the developing brain was recognized a number of years ago, and recently came up again in a study dealing with poverty. Most of these children will never be diagnosed.

    That’s hard-wiring, and it can also occur when a child has limited access to other experiences, and is indoctrinated daily to a lifestyle or set of beliefs others would find appalling.

    Then there’s the spectrum of choice, which is nowhere near as easy or b&w as many believe. A child can grow up in violence and “see” other options, and see them as better, or as a faraway dream. He can dip his foot into other, foreign waters, and much will depend on the consequences of that and the reactions of others. Does he stand to lose everyone he has ever loved, no matter how imperfect? Will the people on “the other side” understand him? Will that fresh-faced lady who looks like she’s never seen trouble a day in her life give him a job? Does he not speak well enough, are his clothes good enough….is all this work (and it is so much work) worth trying to be someone you don’t even know you can be yet? Situations like this happen frequently, and it is where others and the larger part of society play a major role.

    That’s just one example of difficult choice, though. There are thousands and thousands in the spectrum, with varying degrees of difficulty. What un-abused or un-neglected others usually don’t understand is the pain factor and level of emotions involved. A 14 year-old girl begs to stay in her abusive home because all of her friends are in the neighborhood, she doesn’t want to leave her sister, her grandparents are too strict….fill in the blanks. A 22 year-old woman stays with her abuser because she has no money, no resources, and if she left she’d end up in a shelter where she has even less control over her daily life.

    Those are the victims, and they are easier to understand, even if they are often frustrating. Perpetrators are a much more loaded subject. I don’t subscribe to Little Sun’s notion that “Many who think themselves above violence…do indeed themselves commit violence daily through thoughts, words, and simply turning away.”

    There’s a chasm of difference between a terrible word or thought and a violent deed. Turning away, which I view as one of the worst things a person can do (they heard the girl screaming, they didn’t call police, she died) is still not tantamount to actually committing murder. Excluding severe mental illness, those who perpetrate are not making choices based on fear or confusion, as victims often do, but on self-gratification and greed. They want what they want, they need what they need, and they are going to get it no matter who gets hurt.

    “Sociopath” is an overused term. By modern definition, it can be used to explain almost every violent crime in which there was no empathy for the victim/s shown, from drive-by shootings to supermarket holdups to the rape of a child. It can also be used to describe white-collar criminals like Bernie Madoff and everyday con artists. In “The Sociopath Next Door”, the author makes the case that most diagnosed sociopaths are not violent, and many are rather successful — and like her, I don’t buy into the theory that a lack of empathy for others is the primary cause of violence.

    What is common among almost every violent perpetrator is a sense of entitlement. They feel entitled to beat and rape others. They believe that their wants, desires, and emotions are of paramount importance. When this feeling of self-importance goes beyond what they know as wrong and right, they will create a delusion. This is strongly apparent in those who deal in child pornography, where children are often made out to “want it”, “crave it”, and more. From a recent story where a six year-old was raped and murdered —

    Arender testified that the incident began while the two men were staying up late smoking marijuana and talking about pornography, among other things. Later, Arender said, he was sitting on stairs near the front porch when he saw the boyfriend molesting Hanna. When Hanna suddenly cried out, the man grabbed her by the throat and took her to the garage and then tried to talk Arender into assaulting the girl. “When I got to the garage, he said, ‘It’s OK; she does this all the time,’ and that she just wanted to have sex all the time,” Arender testified.”

    No, we are not all capable of acts like this, and for most of us, our worst acts combined do not rise to this level of depravity, which is not likely to be cured. And no, I do not believe we are animals of the wild. It is not acceptable when we eat our young or fight and kill others for dominance just because we can. We were gifted with intelligence, much of which is untapped, ignored, or wrapped up in social red tape or worn philosophies.

    Prevention. How much belongs to society now, and how much to parents? Read my latest post. Were the police actions correct? Should the mother have been allowed to “defuse” the situation? Does this boy need society to interfere and get him help?

  17. Again, I fear my articulation is poor. I didn’t mean to sound simplistic. Yes, there are those with Traumatic Brain Injuries. And, yes, I left them out above in my focus on what I see as the majority… And, yes, there are those with damage from stress hormones–though I would strongly, strongly argue this can indeed be overcome, given proper intensive long-term help (and NOT just Big Pharm meds that may help and may well make matters worse)–just as I would hotly argue “crack babies” aren’t necessarily doomed by the assaults on their neurology. Will most get that kind of help? No.

    Our society largely turns away and often labels their issues as “character defects”… As I see it, lack of empathy and lots of “little” violences from the rest of us also help create most of these kids and lead to the continued neglect of most of these kids, many of whom will survive to adulthood and become “problematic” adults.

    And no, most don’t subscribe to my “notion” that our “little” acts of violence do feed the larger cycles. If one subscribes to it, all sorts of personal responsibility and needs for action arise that are not comfortable… But, once “othering” stops, the doors to healing the seemingly unhealable begin to open in all sorts of ways previously closed… if we begin to choose to respond responsibly and don’t shut down our own empathetic capacities.

    Is turning away tantamount to committing murder? No, it’s not the same thing. But, to say there is no relationship between the two, no complicity, is to absolve all of us when there is no such absolution, in my mind: To turn away is to “allow” and is to aid and abet. Aiding and abetting isn’t the same as actually pulling the trigger or swinging the fist, but it is still aiding and abetting, isn’t it?

    Same thing for thoughts and words… Personally, there are times when I’d have rather been beaten again than disappeared, demeaned, unfairly judged… I knew how to cope with a beating. A beating could no longer get at my soul in ways that thoughts and words and being turned away from could.

    The tiny things I referred to far above that I believe can make all the difference may seem simplistic nonsense in the face of such onslaughts of violence and carnage. But, again and again, I have personally witnessed and experienced that it is often the tiniest of things can save lives and set souls, hearts, and minds on the road to rebuilding. Just as thousands of “little” violences that we all participate in can and do feed the creation of the most disconnected among us… In my experience and witnessing, it isn’t always the most traumatic violent events that tip a person into a place where the unthinkable becomes thinkable, but more often it’s the accumulation of thousands of “smaller” woundings… the kind most of us daily absolve ourselves for.

    Jane, in your description above of the boy testing the waters outside his personal hellish planet, you illustrate (much more effectively) an important piece of what I’ve been stumbling around here trying to say. The “little” ways each of us may greet that boy as he tests the waters may make all the difference.

    Yes, “sociopath” is ridiculously overused and inaccurately used.

    I do believe lack of empathy, and lack of healthy responses to empathy when it is experienced, are the primary causes of most violence. As I see it, the sense of entitlement, the self-gratification and greed you speak about, Jane, are directly related to this, do indeed spring from this.

    And I believe that, while not always, more often than not, lack of empathy and empathy development is something we are individually and collectively responsible for creating. Any one kid not being held, not being given what is needed to develop healthy empathetic responses, being beaten, raped, isolated, indoctrinated, etc., etc. IS our individual and collective responsibility.

    And I do believe we are all capable, given certain circumstances, of both the worst and the best of what any human is capable of. I didn’t used to. I didn’t want to. I do now. It seems we most often tell ourselves We aren’t “Other” when viewing the extremes of humanity. Just as we tell ourselves Hitler was somehow “special”, we tell ourselves Ghandi was “special”, too. Not Us. When he was just a man that stumbled into certain things that made it possible for him to make certain choices and to keep making certain choices, moment after moment, day after day after day…

    It seems I have a very different view of other animals and the natural world. There is much much more to their behavior than the predator/ prey aspects many tend to focus upon. And a whole lot of it involves cooperation I feel we could learn from.

    Can adults be helped once certain corners have been turned? Some. Many not. But prevention and early intervention are very, very different stories. As I see it, we need to do a whole lot more “interfering”. But we cannot lay it all off on schools and other bureaucratic systems. If we really have a will to change any of this, it will require a sea change in how we each interact with “other”, how we each define “other”, “community”, and “responsibility”…

  18. just crying. such a wonderful article, though painful to think about. Painful to see the pictures and hear the stories.

    But that’s the point…

  19. Jane, Thank you so much for bringing Haleigh’s case to light for many people to see. I was the one of the detectives that worked the case. It will be with me the rest of my life. I am not allowed to put my full name in this due to our policy, but I believe Haleigh’s case should have had more media attention. It was horrific what happened to her. When it goes to trial I hope people get the full view of what was done to beautiful Haleigh. I dream of her every night. Please keep talking and being the voice of so many that can no longer be heard.

  20. Jane,
    I am Haleigh Marie Cain’s Grandmother. Thank you for writhing about her, and yes we need to direct more media to her case, it was horrific. Our family is destroyed. Please contact me via e-mail if you have any questions.

    Thank You,
    Maw-Haleigh’s g’maw

  21. Hi Jane.

    I found you through twitter after you and my friend were discussing the death of Natasha Richardson. (I’m @redneckmommy.)

    I can’t thank you enough for writing about this. I was a victim of extreme violence by my parents hands growing up. Luckily I survived and have moved forward. Not all children, as your article proves, are so lucky.

    I recently adopted a little boy who was removed from the custody of his parents after being severely mistreated and abused and he will now endure the significant complications of being battered and tortured while his mother is free to walk around and make more babies and his father for some reason escaped conviction twice. He’s up for trial again for crimes against my son this summer and let’s hope the third time is the charm.

    I just felt I needed to thank you for taking the time to champion the voices of these children. The world needs more people like you who care.

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