In martial arts circles, we spend lots of time training to understand threats to our person. We work hard to prevent as much crazy as we can by being aware of our surroundings, avoiding situations that might lead to trouble and neutralizing confrontations via verbal or physical de-escalation to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. We assume that the potential for violent confrontation will come from outside the home, but statistics constantly tell us that most attacks will come from someone we know - and maybe even someone we live with or near.
That is truest for children. But unlike adults, the choice to get to higher ground is not one they can ever really make.
According to the National Children's Alliance, almost 700,000 humans under the age of 18 are abused in the U.S each year. In 2018, there were about 678,000 unique incidents of abuse and neglect nationally, which represents about one percent of the population of American children across all social-economic and ethnic barriers. It's all an estimate that many consider low, in that these numbers rely on actual reported cases - and if rape statistics are any guideline, we know that not all cases are actually reported. (Read more stats from the organization here.)
During my time as a case worker, most of the children and families I worked with struggled with issues most of us can't even imagine. Whether the parents MEANT to cause their children harm was never the issue, understand - as our goal was to make it stop. Sometimes that meant removing the children from the home. Sadly, there was never a straight path to that outcome at all - and it sometimes took many months to untangle it all. Bureaucratic red tape really is a thing, believe me. What that often looks like is "we need to exhaust all other options first" which of course kept the tape - and the crazy at home - flowing.
The assumption seems to be that a child is better off with his or her family, so placement of a child outside of his/her home is considered a last resort. But some guardians simply have substance-abuse/misuse, emotional/medical issues and/or a myriad of other personal or societal situations that make the home they head and the space they provide for a child an absolute minefield. How that can ever be considered "better" is truly beyond me.
Yes, leaving everything a child has ever known can be traumatic as hell - but imagine the trauma living with neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse can cause. We too often rationalize the signs in front of our faces and automatically default to the "he/she is better off with them than without them" setting on our moral compasses. We try too hard to save the family (read: the parents) from the trauma of dealing with child protection services because, you know, it could ruin their careers (insert eye-roll here).
And while we are doing all that to protect the reputations of the abusers, no one is protecting the children affected.
Abuse and neglect are never "It's simply not my business" situations. Ever. Think about it this way: Although an infant can't tell you what they're experiencing, a toddler, grade-schooler or teen many times won't or can't. The reasons why are varied and complicated - which makes it all the more important that we step up and get someone to ask the right questions, or ask them ourselves.
Afraid Uncle Ray-Ray might lose his job if you call the abuse hotline? The pastor's family might be disgraced if the state gets involved? The neighbors might lose their home? Why is any of that more important than the damage being done to the children under their roof?
While we should be treating such situations like an abandoned backpack in the airport, we get a little squeamish instead. We hesitate and hope, I guess, that someone else will handle it. That simply shouldn't be.
Like that unattended backpack, if you see something, say something. Let the investigators determine if there are problems that can only be addressed if the children are no longer living with their abusers. But that can't ever start if those investigators aren't aware of what might be going on - and awareness, as martial artists know, is the very first step of self-defense.
If you see something - or even if you think you do - call or text the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.4.A.Child (1.800.422.4453).
An abusers best friend is silence. We all owe it to children not to be quiet anymore.