Often it's not until some horrendous case makes headlines does the tragedy of child abuse come to the front burner. Then things settle down and we tend to forget about it. Until the next time.
The next time came last month after 13 malnourished siblings allegedly kept captive in filthy conditions by their parents were discovered in a Southern California home on Jan. 15 after a 17-year-old daughter jumped out a window and called 911.
What police found was horrifying. Deputies said some siblings were shackled to furniture in the foul-smelling home - so malnourished that the older ones still looked like children. Their parents - David Allen Turpin, 56, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49 - were arrested on multiple counts of torture, child abuse, dependent adult abuse and false imprisonment. David Turpin also pleaded not guilty to performing a lewd act on a child under age 14. They were jailed on $12 million bail each.
Child abuse must never be relegated to the back burner. Sadly, this is a boiling pot that cannot be left unattended.
The statistics are ghastly. According to Childhelp, the United States has one of the worst records on child abuse among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to abuse and neglect. Every year, more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies involving more than 6.6 million children. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds.
The California case put to rest the myth that such awful things only happen in poor neighborhoods. This suburban Riverside County middle class neighborhood was lined with neat homes and the children's father worked as an engineer at the Northrop Grumman aerospace company where he reportedly earned $140,000 a year. The couple, according to the Associated Press, has been married 32 years and moved to Southern California from the Dallas area in 2011. They bought the home in 2014 in the rapidly growing city of Perris 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the AP reported.
The family apparently hadn't been on the police radar for any reason. And while there was a sense of normalcy about them, there were some signs that might have sent a signal that all was not quite right.
Neighbors said the family kept to themselves and never so much as waved. Also, the AP reported, the parents sometimes dressed the kids alike, kept them away from outsiders and cut the boys’ hair in a Prince Valiant-style resembling that of their father. And they all were painfully thin.
"They weren’t allowed to watch TV. They weren’t allowed to have friends over — the normal things that kids do,” the children’s aunt, Teresa Robinette, told NBC’s “Today” show.
Another aunt told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” that she tried for years to get in touch with her sister, the children's mother, but was shut out.
Though perhaps not glaring, the quirks were enough to raise a red flag.
We must all be alert to red flags.
The National Children’s Alliance reported earlier this year that in 2015, an estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States. Children’s Advocacy Centers around the nation served more than 311,000 child victims of abuse, providing victim advocacy and support to these children and their families, it said.
In Oneida County alone, the Child Advocacy Center investigated 755 cases of abuse last year - up 61 from the previous year - and made 114 arrests, according to Oneida County Sheriffi's Deputy Joe Lisi of the center. It provided counseling to more than 200 children.
According to the Alliance:
• Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S annually. An estimated 683,000 children (unique incidents) were victims of abuse and neglect in 2015, the most recent year for which there is national data.
• CPS protects more than 3 million children. Approximately 3.4 million children received an investigation or alternative response from child protective services agencies. 2.3 million children received prevention services.
• The youngest children were most vulnerable to maltreatment. Children in the first year of their life had the highest rate of victimization of 24.2 per 1,000 children in the national population of the same age.
• Neglect is the most common form of maltreatment. Of the children who experienced maltreatment or abuse, three-quarters suffered neglect; 17.2 percent suffered physical abuse; and 8.4 percent suffered sexual abuse. (Some children are polyvictimized—they have suffered more than one form of maltreatment.)
• About four out of five abusers are the victims’ parents. A parent of the child victim was the perpetrator in 78.1 percent of substantiated cases of child maltreatment.
There are many forms of abuse, ranging from physical abuse — hitting, kicking, shaking, burning or other violent acts — to emotional or sexual abuse. Any form of abuse can trigger other health issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control, including mental problems, social development and risk-taking behavior.
Abuse can go undetected for years, as was the case in California. And that's why it's so very important that we be the eyes and ears of a frightened constituency that otherwise might find no escape. Teachers, coaches, youth leaders, day care providers, relatives, neighbors and anyone else in a position to see signs of abuse must speak up. Know the warning signs and don’t ignore them.
Kids are innocent victims. Frightened. Sometimes alone, with no place to turn.
We must all be their guardians.
Not all odd behavior means abuse. And while some warning signs might be clear, others could be fuzzy. If something seems peculiar, it might be worth paying closer attention.
You might make the difference.
We must make a difference.