I do not watch television. My TV set is used exclusively for Netflix and series. However, once I get settled into the apartment in Manhattan, New York, the first thing I do is turn on the TV. I am completely fascinated by the talk shows. From Live with Kelly and Ryan to The View, Dr Phil, Maury and the Wendy Williams Show, I get an idea of issues that reflect the social curiosities of the country. I am pretty much aghast at the crudeness with which these curiosities are presented, with little care for maintaining the dignity of the people who choose to expose themselves to millions of viewers.
A few weeks ago one topic, in particular, caught my attention: Steve Harvey was talking to a young mother whose very young child was brain damaged due to an injury inflicted on him by her boyfriend. I know I don't need to go to New York to learn about this heinous crime. We South Africans have one of the highest rates of abuse of children in the world.
On 25 May 2017, the Cape Argus reported on child abuse, disclosing one in three children, across all genders, are at risk of becoming victims of sexual and physical abuse before the age of 18. Children under the age of five are most likely to be abused and killed at home. Since January 2017, 19 children have been reported killed in the Western Cape. The government, alongside concerned, hard working and under-resourced NGO's scratch for solutions that will have an impact.
Advocacy, training of police and social workers and implementation of policies that exist become the discourse of desperation. These solutions feel too academic to actually make a difference. I invite you to think about how you can make a difference to prevent your child from being abused by your intimate partner.
There was something about the mother and the grandmother's stories on the Steve Harvey show that gave me pause to think about this situation from the mother's perspective. On hearing of such horror stories, we have immediate empathy for the abused child and anger flares in us for justice to be reckoned against this perpetrator. But what about the mother of the child? Where is she? How does she feel?
Clients tell me that more than the pain of abuse is the pain of a mother's silence and denial. It is felt as an ultimate betrayal that solidifies and freezes the child's trauma for life. This is a typical response of a mum who is confronted with facts of abuse by her intimate partner. Does this mother deserve our empathy?
I confronted my boyfriend about it. Of course he denies touching her... I watched his reaction and he seems sincere. I just don't know if I can ever trust him with her again. Without trust, there is no relationship. I would never choose a man over my child - but in this case, with a child so young and the possibility of her misunderstanding me; plus he and I live together... it's hard. He has everything going for him and I don't want to ruin his life if I call the police but I certainly don't want to live with a child molester/abuser.
The mother is there, in the shadow of her own ambivalence. She makes excuses and becomes defensive. Or says she never knew a thing. She may have her own history of abuse and trauma and hence a poor history of making good partner selections. She may attach in an anxious and dependent manner and feel grateful for any love that comes her way. If she is financially insecure and afraid, the promise of financial relief and security may blind her to the red flags she notices and quickly dismisses with the new partner she brings home.
Accepting there are huge complexities around abuse, I reject the notion of the bystander. Standing up against abuse of your kid or grandchild is non-negotiable. Yes, you are probably being abused by the same partner. This makes your child vulnerable to being abused. Let me educate and assist you with some prevention ideas. Get help if you are struggling.
Guidelines For Protecting Your Child:
- Before bringing a new man home assess his ability to manage conflict. For example, how does he manage differences between the two of you?
- Find out what are his rage triggers. For example, driving on the road, your socialising alone, your family time.
- It is your responsibility to determine whether he is emotionally stable and mature. Adults have to be emotionally regulated to be able to handle stress and demands of children.
- Red flags that you feel in your gut, or that you witness, need immediate attention.
Red Flags Include:
- He gets angry quickly - for sure your child will trigger his anger.
- His family is violent, and disruptive - meet his family before bringing him to meet yours.
- He has a history of abuse or trauma- unless he has undergone therapy, he is at risk to triggers that your child may inadvertently bring up for him.
- Out of control emotions - if he is unable to control himself when upset or angry, it is unlikely that he will be able to soothe your child or control irritation he may feel around your child.
- Abuse of substances - it's a sign that he cannot control his emotions and uses substances - or sexuality - as an escape from emotions that are painful.
- Insists on doing things his way - being rigid and inflexible is harmful to children who are spontaneous and playful.
- Unable to take responsibility for his behaviour - your child will be blamed for any misdemeanours and misunderstandings.
- Responds harmfully under pressure - assessing this gives you an indication how this person will respond under pressure when alone with your child.
- Physically abusive - it is a high risk that if he is physically/emotionally/verbally/sexually abusive to you, he will be the same to your child.
- Your child does not like this person - always believe your child. Tease out what is expected jealousy and possessiveness from a child to a new partner entering a household, from a child's behaviour. For example, your child might be nervous, anxious, defensive, afraid or defiant.
- As a grandparent, intervene and protect your grandchild.