Child abuse, neglect deserve to be taken seriously

By Clyde Davis: Local columnist

It was a long-term substitute-teaching assignment for seventh-grade math, with the teacher expecting to be gone for three weeks. Within three days of that three weeks, I had developed an opinion about what was going on in the life of one child. It was some objective pieces — the worn clothes, the consistent lateness, the bruises around the eyes, the cheeks, the wrists. It was, to some extent, a matter of intuition as well. There is an intangible something about abuse.

Of course I did what the law required. And as it turned out, my suspicions were justified, since there already was an investigation. I wish that they hadn’t been; I wish I had simply been guilty of overcaution. How can we expect a kid to learn algebra when he, or she, is fighting to survive in a world we can only conjecture?

April has been Child Abuse Prevention Month. I have already written, in a column last fall, about my views on those who abuse children, what they are morally and what ought to be done to them. They’re still cowards and weaklings; that hasn’t changed. What about a revised edition of the three R’s, though, to make it more concrete and manageable ?

The first R is Reality. We do not live in an ideal world. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that child abuse, in its several forms, does not happen. We could wish that it didn’t, we could turn our eyes away, but it is there and needs to be dealt with.

Reality is that children in our society in one of the most advanced nations are abused physically, emotionally, sexually, spiritually. Reality is that this happens in homes of various incomes and various professions, from the hovels to the Hamptons. Reality is that there is no stereotype.

The second R is Responsibility. The young teacher in my opening example was not excited about doing what he had to do. It was the first time I had ever encountered such a situation. There was a great temptation to allow someone else to be responsible for opening up this possibility. There was a temptation, when I found that the situation was already under investigation, to say to myself, “See ? It was already being handled.”

The truth is, we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Each of us has a responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves.

The third R is Recompense. Recently, a judge in New England allowed a child rapist to go free after six months in prison. In Texas, a woman was acquitted of murdering her daughter because of her mental status. The stories emerge every day, and though these cases are not frequent, one case a year is too many in my opinion.

Recompense means that if you harm a child, you receive your punishment. It also means that those penalties should be far stiffer and determined than they are. No parole, no easy outs, no plea bargaining. It’s my belief that penalties for child abuse should be higher than that for committing the same violence on an adult, and that all penalties for violence against human beings should be higher than they are.

Only by taking this seriously will we begin to rid our society of the human predators who skulk and scavenge around the fringe of our culture.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at:
clyde_davis@yahoo.com