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America's child abuse epidemic

Four times more children have been killed this decade than US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their assailants? Their families

Seema Jilani,

Monday 24 October 2011

An adult survivor of child abuse. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

When I arrived to provide medical care, the four-year-old girl
was unconscious. She had multiple bruises, skull fractures, a brain
contusion, vaginal and anal tears, venereal disease, and was
hemorrhaging from places a little girl should not. The perpetrator? Her
stepfather.I actually sighed with relief when I learned she later
died of her abusive injuries in the hospital; at least she was spared
the anguish of surviving such brutality. Pediatricians across America
have witnessed countless similar tragedies. A new BBC documentary has investigated why the US, one of the most prosperous nations on earth, has the worst child abuse record in the industrialised world.
America's child maltreatment death rate is triple Canada's and 11 times
that of Italy. Over the past decade, more than 20,000 American children have been killed their own family members – that is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.What differentiates us from other countries? The single best predictor of child abuse is poverty.
Children raised in families with annual incomes of less than $15,000
are 22 times more likely to be abused. Since the economic downturn, there has been a 30% increase in child maltreatment. The recession is, quite literally, a slap in the face of American children.
The vast social programs available to low-income families in other
countries are gapingly absent in the US. Social programs are also
suffering funding cuts at the hands of Republicans, who persistently
paint citizens in need of social programs as manipulative pariahs on the
populace.Since entering the bid for the 2012 presidential election, Gov. Rick Perry has boasted Texas'
pseudo-success, bedazzling voters with misleading statistics. His
swagger is rooted in the fact that Texas is a low-tax, low-social
service state. He neglects to mention that children
from Texas are four times more likely to be incarcerated, four times
more likely to be uninsured, twice as likely to drop out of high school,
and nearly twice as likely to die from abuse and neglect. In order to
perpetuate the façade of "traditional family values", Child Protective
Services in states with strong Republican leanings prefer to keep the
faux family together, even in cases of flagrant abuse, instead of taking
custody and removing children from their cruel environment. Nearly half
of all Texan children killed by abuse belonged to families investigated
by CPS,
but the service's myopic political masters would rather leave a child
in the hands of a sadistic, torturous family than have a child raised by
a gay couple in a safe and nurturing home.Thus Texas has the
lowest rate of removal for abused children from their homes. Not
surprisingly, it also has the highest number of child abuse fatalities
in the country.Amid these dire circumstances, House Republicans passed an atrocious bill this month
that would deeply impact pregnant women of lower socioeconomic status.
Currently, hospitals receiving federal funds must provide emergency
healthcare, including abortions, which can sometimes be life saving for
the mother. The deceptively named Protect Life Act – which does anything
but - would permit hospitals receiving federal funds to refuse to
perform an emergency abortion, even if a woman's life was at stake. A vicious attack on the most basic right to life, HR 358 ambushes poor pregnant women into a bleak decision:
either deliver an unwanted baby and raise the child in an unstable
home, or have an unsafe abortion that could jeopardise your life. Will
the GOP, our bastion of God-sanctioned moral righteousness, also be
providing discounts on rusty coat hangers to further hasten the death of
pregnant women?In contrast, a new UN report released this week demonstrates that restrictions on abortions do not impede abortions; they only impede safe
abortions and endanger women's lives. The report also shows that that
access to sex education and contraception are proven to reduce the need
for abortions.The GOP's shrill moral indignation will force low-income mothers to have children who are born into poverty,
rendering them at risk for abuse. Once the babies are born, however,
Republicans abandon them in their most vulnerable moment by vehemently
opposing social programs that would ameliorate their deplorable
conditions. Love those fetuses unconditionally … until they take they
take their first breath, when they magically transform into wretched,
handout-seeking leeches on society. Abortion? A sinful abomination!
Allowing a toddler to die because of lack of access to social programs?
Man up, kid; God helps those who help themselves.Inevitably,
adoption is always the suggested panacea, but many children are just
filtered through foster programs,which are themselves horrifically
abusive. Seventy-seven per cent of foster caregivers need substance
abuse services, but less than a third get them. This is no place for a
child.Republicans can cry "scary socialism" all they want. If
that is what it takes to prevent blindness in a shaken baby, or anal
tears in a seven-year-old resulting from knife sodomy, bring it on.
Jonathan was an seven-year-old I treated whose relatives used to starve
him, hang him from his shirt on the coatrack all night, dip his feet in
boiling oil, and threaten to cut off his penis while holding a hot knife
to his genitals. His caretakers had suffered similar abuse in their
youth. Abused children are 74 times more likely to commit crimes against
others and six times more likely to abuse their own children. This is
why it is of paramount importance to offer therapy and rehabilitation to
those from broken homes.Ultimately, the blame of abuse always
lies with the perpetrators who commit these heinous acts. But while
those to the right of the aisle use melodramatic rhetoric to demonise
social programs, studies have shown that preventive measures and
therapeutic rehabilitation can, indeed, diminish the cycle of violence.
Furthermore, women who are unable to provide a safe environment for
children should be allowed to terminate their pregnancies safely, rather
than risking their own lives and subjecting their children to a
wretched existence full of misery and pain.The narrative of
healthcare reform and social programs must stop reflecting the agenda of
morally bankrupt politicians whose eyes only fix on the next election.
Propagandised myths need to be replaced with an empathic truth that
reflects the needs of catastrophically shattered children who are
struggling to survive and begging for our compassion.• Details of patients, including names, have been changed to protect their identities

Added: Oct-24-2011 Occurred On: Oct-24-2011
By: allyssa
Tags: Poverty, USA, Child Abuse, Texas, Rick Perry
Location: United States (load item map)
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