American fascination with child abuse

No matter the day, no matter the season, Americans seem fascinated with the parts of our culture that are not seemingly consistent with what we like to think of as “The American Way.”

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Each time I check statistics for this blog, I see that the one blog post of mine that consistently ranks in the top 5 is a post I wrote over 2 years ago about a horrible case of child abuse. It boggles my mind that people don’t want to read about happy things; about children getting better, about how we teach our students and residents to become excellent pediatricians. Yes, those posts get attention when I write them, but the child abuse posts get attention every week, every day.

Why are we so engrossed by the dark side of humanity?

Well, I guess I am making an assumption that folks are not flocking to that post because they want to learn the data about how many children are abused, or killed by an adult. They aren’t interested in knowing that more than 4 children die each day in our country as a result of abuse.  Nor do they want to know how to prevent those deaths, because it is soooo hard to do. I think they just want to be shocked, over and over. Just like going to a scary movie, or sitting for hours by the radio or TV to listen to word about tornados leveling a town in the Midwest, or riots or rocket attacks in the Middle East, we just cannot get enough of the bad.

Well, let me tell you something about child abuse; it hurts us all.

It hurts our society. It hurts us all when the person who injured a child to the extent that he or she can never see again, never eat or go to school, never speak again, never sees the justice that society and the child deserve. It hurts us all when the crime committed upon a child is not persecuted to the same extent as it would be if that crime were committed upon an adult.

If I were to walk up to an adult, and shake him, and bang his head against a wall over and over again, causing severe brain damage and the need for life-long care with a feeding tube, perhaps a ventilator and other lines and tubes, you had better believe I would be in jail for quite some time. But often I see children, abused by adults they trusted, in similar situations, being cared for by strangers who care about them so much more than those who were supposed to care about them. This creates a heavy cost to our society. We all lose when the children lose. Our society means little, our freedoms mean little if we do not protect those among us who are the most vulnerable.

Yes, I know I am venting.

I know I am just offering you my opinion. But I wonder why we are so fascinated and at the same time so reluctant to do anything about it.

Yes, we have the department of social services, which contains child protective services. Of course we have the police.

But we don’t have THE answer.

We have not addressed the underlying problems that cause or at least contribute to the abuse problem. Although child abuse and neglect occur in every socioeconomic strata, there are some predictors for who is most likely to abuse their children: those who themselves were abused as children. In addition, overuse of alcohol and drugs has been associated with a higher likelihood of child abuse and neglect. We are not doing enough to prevent the problem. We are not doing enough to address the problem after it is identified.

Can we allow these unneccessary deaths to continue?

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What can YOU do?

You can get involved with an agency that provides prevention and education services such as the Children's Advocacy Center--there is probably a local branch near you. You can give of your time and/or of your money. You can help to provide support to young and vulnerable parents who may live under stresses that could lead to abuse. You can become a foster parent. You can work through your house of worship to help those at risk of abusing their children. You can mentor a young parent: help him or her to understand the 2 month infant who cries in the middle of the night is not able to communicate in any other way, and should not be punished. You get the idea.

Please help.

I would love to hear from you. What have you done to help prevent child abuse and neglect? What do you think should be done? If you are a foster or adoptive parent please lend your perspectives to our readers. If you are a physician, nurse or other healthcare provider who has personal knowledge please share it. 


photo credits:

Tombstone of Lexi via photopin

Mortality graph via Childhelp



About Dr. Ackerman

Alice Ackerman, MD, MBA, FAAP, FCCM is the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Carilion Clinic and Professor and Founding Chair of Pediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Dr. Ackerman is recognized nationally as an expert in pediatric critical care.

She has been at Carilion Clinic since June of 2007. Her primary goals are to enhance the health care of children in the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia, and is actively working to do this both as physician in chief of the children's hospital, as well as through involvement with many state-wide initiatives.

Close to home links

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The AAP website for parents
Just the Vax
Moms Who Vax blog
Parents Who Protect
Roanoke Times Medical blog
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