The Twin Evils

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The twin evils: domestic violence and child abuse. We don’t usually talk about how they go together. But in reading the paper this morning, I realized that there is a connection. They may not both occur in the same household, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they often do. I haven’t seen studies on a possible correlation, however.

The paper I was reading was The Columbus Dispatch, the only daily paper in Columbus, Ohio.  (There used to be two, but the fact that I remember that dates me, big time.) The first article bore the headline “Cases of child abuse multiply.” Apparently there has been a 26% increase in child abuse cases from 2007 through 2008 and a 15% increase over the same period so far this year, according to reports from Columbus’ Nationwide Children’s Hospital. But similar increases have been reported across the nation.

What is most disturbing is that child abuse fatalities have more than doubled over this past year. Nationwide Children’s saw five cases in 2007 and 12 in 2008. These cases draw from the Central Ohio area of which Columbus, the largest city,  is still only three-quarters of a million in population. The thing about child abuse, and especially fatalities caused by abuse, is that even one case is too much.

The most upsetting case I recently read about was where an infant was so abused both her femur bones were snapped off at the hips. The abuser, her father, was sentenced to 21 years. The paper says of the child, now 16 months old, only that she “is recovering.” What a horrible way to start a life.

Then I looked at the next page and saw where a man in Holden, Louisiana, killed his estranged wife, son and two-year-old grandson and seriously injured his pregnant daughter-in-law (who subsequently delivered three months early) before taking his own life when police caught up with him 20 minutes later. And guess what? The wife had a restraining order against him. Surprise, surprise.

In the article about child abuse, the medical director at Nationwide Children’s Center for Child and Family Advocacy, Dr. Philip Scribano, is quoted as saying, “One could argue pretty compellingly that the most potent explanation [for the increase in child abuse cases] is, in fact, the economic decline. ” He said that he believes “that there is something between the stress that families experience during a downturn and how that stress is manifested in the home.”

Might not this also include domestic violence? Our families are at risk because of the worsening economy and the most common victims are wives and children. Not all abusers are male, but the vast majority are and that’s just one more reason to be vigilant about how we teach our sons to handle stress and strong emotions. You don’t snap off the legs of your infant daughter. You don’t murder all the members of your household, including your two-year-old grandson.

Yes, I may be overstating the situation, but to the families of the victims, I’m probably not stating it vigorously enough.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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