Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston
Sunday Mornings with Rania: Child Abuse - It’s Everyone’s Problem
I was talking to a local headmaster of one of the schools Crime Stoppers’ services. As he shared stories of the students, I was riveted . . . until he spoke of her. She was almost a straight A student. She showed up every day and worked really hard. But for her, home was a place of worry and assaults. Her bedroom door didn’t have her name in glitter, pictures of friends or welcome signs; instead, it had an interior deadbolt (installed by her own mother) so once inside, she could lock herself in and shield herself from the sexual attacks of her father. This was her story and her reality.
Around the table, we all stopped to talk. It’s so unfortunate that “those” kids are being raised in families like that…. Or, I can’t believe that happens in Houston, I imagine it only takes place in “that” part of town…. With each statement, there was a mix of sorrow and concern, of course; we were simultaneously recognizing the abuse but using words that created clear separation. This was happening to “those kids” in “that part of town” and surely amongst people who are “different” from us.
I left that meeting thankful for the work of Crime Stoppers of Houston, especially in the schools, but also with a very heavy heart. In 2015 alone there were 66,721 confirmed cases of child abuse / neglect in Texas according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Within these cases, 171 children lost their lives on account of the abuse/neglect.
We hear the numbers and it’s shocking but I ask you to think of what those numbers represent. Each of these cases represents children who are enduring thousands of beatings or burns, sexual assaults or more; they represent cold nights and hungry stomachs; they represent child after child who is terrified, helpless and alone.
Child abuse is not a personal family issue. It’s not something that happens to those kids, in that part of town in families different from ours. Child abuse is a human issue. It is our collective issue and one society as a whole must come together to eradicate. We know that these children, if they survive the abuse, will go on to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be accompanied by depression, anxiety or disruptive or defiant behaviors. For these children, even something as small as a sound, smell or action can cause great trauma and distress decades after the abuse.
During April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the team at Crime Stoppers took a focused look at child abuse. We partnered with Sheila Aaron of The Thread Alliance for a Child Abuse Lunch and Learn at Crime Stoppers of Houston; we reached teachers and school administrators across this city sharing trends and tips; we joined the Children’s Assessment Center efforts by specifically highlighting 10 fugitives wanted for child abuse and last but certainly not least, Crime Stoppers joined forces with the Harris County Criminal Warrants team to do a Child Abuse Fugitive Sweep, which led to the arrest of 22 wanted child abusers in just a four-day period alone. There’s a lot we can do if we work together.
So what’s the call to action? First, stop and recognize that this is taking place to our kids and all over our great city. We must also agree that we are the voice of the voiceless and remember that the law in fact places each of us (not just doctors, nurses and teachers!) with the duty to report child abuse/neglect if we legitimately suspect or see it. Let’s take that seriously. And then let’s work to make sure there’s a path for safety for these children. There are many nonprofits dealing with health and safety of youth, such as Crime Stoppers Safe School Program, The Thread Alliance, Houston Children’s Charities, The Children’s Assessment Center, Child Advocates and more.
We are a powerful community and a great city. No child living in any area should have to endure abuse or neglect. We can be their voice, their strength and their protection. Certainly it’s not easy but we can make strides. Let’s work on this, together.