April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and today, perhaps while many of you are reading your newspaper, activists are on the Cherokee Capitol Square, pushing their message in their seventh annual Rally Against Child Abuse.
This group – which includes Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cherokee Country, Hope House, Bikers Against Child Abuse and others – strives mightily to call attention to the scourge of child abuse and to report it whenever it’s suspected. And they issue a clarion call for the rest of us to join them.
Coincidentally, April is also Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month. Or perhaps it’s not a coincidence at all. Practically every statistic bears out the notion that most people who abuse children, or commit violence against other adults, started their reigns of terror with small, helpless animals.
This is true in Cherokee County, too. Long-time social workers who keep up with the sad data can point to published allegations of cruelty to animals against an individual, and then years later, another report that the same person has been charged with abusing human beings.
We’re certainly not comparing the life of an animal to that of a child, though for many people, their pets are like children. The consistent message should be that violence against animals is sort of like a “gateway drug” – the users typically go onto more hard-core fodder.
Cherokee County has a deplorable record when it comes to animal dumping, as any Humane Society of Cherokee County volunteer can tell you. And instances of child abuse or neglect, or of children caught in the crossfire of bitter divorce or criminal cases involving their parents, are also rampant. This is why organizations like CASA of Cherokee Country are so critical. These caring volunteers stand up for the interests of the child – interests that are often lost in the shuffle of the court system.
It’s hard to change the habits of an abuser, especially when mitigating factors – such as alcohol or drugs – are involved. And these patterns tend to repeat themselves in successive generations. But all of us can take one small step to help eradicate this epidemic, and that is to report it when we see it.
We’re not talking about a spat on the bottom for misbehavior. We’re talking about witnessing actual violence against a child, or even just the signs of it: sudden weight gain or loss; unexplained and sometimes frequent bruises and other injuries; social withdrawal; “acting out” with out-of-character temper tantrums; self-mutilation; poor performance in school and other once-favored activities; and failure to attend to personal hygiene. There are many other signs, too.
Teachers are obliged to report signs of abuse. The rest of us should be, too – morally, if not legally.
If you have time, drop by the square today and sign a pledge to stand up against child abuse, and enjoy a hot dog and drink while you’re there. Commit to make a donation to one of the sponsoring groups, or volunteer your time. Or, if animals are a special concern for you, donate to or volunteer for the HSCC.
It’s up to all of us to do our part. We never know when we’ll save a life.