***image1***Rose’s earliest memories aren’t of family trips to the zoo or picnics at the park; they are of three-hour-long beatings and endless pain. She remembers nothing but terror and abuse.
“There was always food in my house, but also an ever-present sense of fear,” she said. “Every payday, my father would get drunk and high and come home and drag us out of our bed by our hair.”
An estimated 896,000 children in the United States were victims of abuse or neglect in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Every April, family agencies put the focus on these innocent victims during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time set aside to educate people on how to identify and prevent all forms of child abuse.
“Abuse can have a devastating effect on a child’s entire life,” said Linda Towry, 39th Medical Squadron family advocacy treatment manager. “The people they are supposed to trust the most are the ones hurting them. This creates major trust issues that impact all their relationships.”
As a result, many victims of child abuse find themselves caught in a vicious cycle.
“Because of a lack of trust, they struggle with having real relationships with people and may get into destructive ones because it’s what they know; it’s familiar,” Ms. Towry said. “Women especially tend to attract potential abusers.”
Despite the best intentions, some abused children grow up to turn that abuse on their own.
“When I was 7, I would go cry in my closet. I didn’t want to come out,” Rose said. “I swore to myself that I would never treat my kids that way.”
Although her intentions were good, the statistics are stacked up against people like Rose.
“We learn to be parents from our own parents,” Ms. Towry said. “During times of stress, we fall back on what we learned.”
This creates what’s known as an intrafamilial pattern of abuse.
“This is a pattern of abuse handed down from generation to generation,” said Capt. Gordon Lyons, 39th MDS family advocacy officer. “It’s a powerful cycle and one that’s very hard to break.”
But not impossible.
Parent education, a support network and a healthy lifestyle are key to abuse prevention, Captain Lyons said.
“Take a self time out if you’re upset,” Captain Lyons said. “Never discipline when you’re angry. Cool off first.
“You can also try methods other than hitting,” he added. “Remove privileges, use time outs and reward positive behavior. But no discipline will work unless a healthy bond is present. Spend quality time with your kids.”
For parents struggling with stress and control, “get help,” Ms. Towry said. “Call family advocacy or talk to a chaplain, friend or family member. Therapy can also make a difference. Get help before things get out of hand.”
People who witness an act of abuse often struggle with loyalty issues and may choose not to report the abuse.
“You have to think of the safety of the child,” said Maribeth Viray, New Parent Support Program nurse. “Talk to your friend, see if you can help relieve stress. Or, you can report people anonymously to family advocacy.”
One phone call can help prevent a lifetime of sadness.
“It took me a long time to trust my husband. I have a need to self-protect at all times, because that’s what I had to do every minute of my childhood. I wish my father had gotten help.”
For more information about abuse prevention call, 479-2370.