Child abuse is an ugly term that makes most people cringe. When we talk about child abuse we speak of a crime that seems somehow disconnected from the victim, because otherwise it would hurt too much.
Instead, we talk about the adult; news stories focus on the offender rather than the offended. He or she did this or that. Little does the audience understand that the heart of the crime against a child amounts to reducing the child to chattel. Chattel is something we own.
To own a person in the same way we own a dog, is to reduce him or her to the status of a thing – something to be treated on a whim. To be that non-person, to become chattel at the whim of another means to lose a grasp on humanity that may never be regained. The lesson is taught – you are less than human, therefore abuse is OK.
Child abuse is more than the action of one individual. In a herd mentality, an abused child is a target that often leads to more abuse not less. It’s the human condition. If one adult initiates the idea that a child is less than human, it is likely that people surrounding the child will come to think of the child as somehow inferior and will treat the child with less of every human passion than he or she deserves, and neglect begins.
It works that way in high school. There are always those children who succumb to being unpopular and therefore less than the rest, and therefore abuse is once again OK. The question is why?
Why is someone abused? The psychology of abuse is multi-dimensional. You can toss around modern words like insecurity, lack of education, or choose a mental disorder and tag an offending adult that gives his actions modern reason, or you can say something went awry with his formation.
The truth is an abuser is simply unable to love somebody else. Something isn’t quite connecting, and to the abuser, his action is OK.
“Love,” you say? Gag, scoff, wince. The whole idea of love has been brutalized itself like a recreational mountain we have hacked into bits and pieces like trinkets and charms. Poor love. It gets such a smarmy rap.
For fifty years we’ve made love a simple thing to feel. Yet real love is one of the most difficult experiences in our life because real love means to take the focus off self, and allow another to come first. Putting another first is a dangerous game; it means less for the lover and more for the beloved.
Sometimes parents can’t even recognize a child as a separate complete person. Even the basic needs of biology: the need for food, for clothing, for a place to sleep, are sometimes just too much to demand from a parent who can’t put another first – even his child - so the child is neglected, and sometimes scorned for his hunger and thirst.
Neglect is the single most common form of child abuse. It is more common than most people think. Neglect is everywhere, and it is the beginning of every part of more terrible child abuse.
“I don’t have to,” now fill in the blank.
Yet rearing children is more than food, clothing and sleep, it’s a daily offering. It’s a whole menu of “I have tos” performed minute by minute, day in and day out, and someone unable to put another person first is not going to be able to give that much of themselves to comply with the demands, so the house is a mess, clothes are rarely clean, food is eaten on the hoof, and sleep is when we aren’t doing anything else.
When something is scheduled like a music lesson or a school program, watch out, the world has a way of coming apart for parents unable to cope with a child’s needs, and somebody is emotionally assaulted, then physically brutalized.
Forming children is more than the demands of rearing. Formation means understanding self first and then because we have understood our self, we can turn to the child and understand him. That takes a lot of time, time spent on more than me.
When the focus stays on the adult, the growth and development of a child is an annoyance. The child is older which means the parent is older. “I don’t want to be older, I still want to play, and I’m going to play with you.”
Abuse is an insufferably selfish action that begins with neglect and often finishes with a kind of slavery that denies another person full human dignity. It’s a crime from the beginning.