“Moooooom, can’t we just stay in the car?”
I whined from the backseat of our mini-van over the screams of my baby brother from his car seat. We were parked outside in front of our local grocery store. My mom seemed to hesitate. It was October, after all, and the weather had begun to cool down exponentially compared to the previous month. After a quick moment’s deliberation, she turned off the car, grabbed her purse, stepped out and began to walk to the side of the car. Unstrapping my brother from his car seat, she looked at my 10-year-old-self deliberately.
“Come on, you can get a cookie.”
I pouted the whole way inside until the cookie my mother had promised was placed in my hand. I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom had made an extremely smart choice.
Child Abuse. There are a multitude of definitions thrown around with this phrase. Some are mild and more cultural while others stem from one extreme to another.
In more recent years, there has been a sharp increase in cases of child abuse throughout the United States and around the world. One type of child abuse which has garnered more fame in recent years is the prevalence of children whom are left alone in cars without parents or other adults present.
“There have been nine reported cases of American children whom have died in cars since the beginning of 2017. Nationwide, more than 138 children died from heatstroke between 2013 and 2016” (Dietderich, 2017), explains Jackie Gillan, president of Highway and Auto Safety. Yet, this type of child abuse isn’t seasonal as heat stroke can lead to death inside cars for children even when temperatures are mild.
As a result of increased cases of these preventable deaths, “U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, introduced the HOT CARS Act of 2017 on June 7, joined by co-sponsors Peter T. King, R-N.Y., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois. HOT CARS is an acronym for Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats” (Dietderich, 2017). This bill requires the Transportation Department to equip cars with a new system that will alert drivers if children are left in back seats after vehicles are turned off.
“The bi-partisan effort has already received widespread support from more than 20 of the nation’s leading public health, consumer and safety organizations, as well as an expert in neuroscience and the brain memory system, along with families who have lost their child or were seriously injured due to child vehicular heatstroke” (Dietderich, 2017) Ryan explains.
Even with this evidence readily available, some make the argument that parents nowadays are much more lenient with their children than in past times. Yet, the past may not have been as lacking as people may think. Recently, cases of child sex abuse at the prestigious Gordonstoun school in Scotland have been revealed since the 1980’s and 1990’s. Many royals have studied at Gordonstoun, including Prince Charles as well as both of his brothers, Andrew and Edward. Reportedly, “the school has been in touch with thousands of former pupils to ask them to report any abuse they may have suffered while studying there…Principal Lisa Kerr said it was important to ‘learn the lessons of the past’ in order to ensure the abuse never happened again” (Hendry, 2017). Kerr claims the past will ensure a brighter, healthier future for the students of Gordonstoun and hopes that former pupils will have “the confidence to come forward” (Hendry, 2017).
In more extreme examples, the case of Cristian Degregory, a 36-year-old convicted of severely abusing a 5-year-old in New Orleans, has arisen this year. The office of Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro stated, “the boy suffered life-threatening injuries including brain bleeding, a broken arm and rib and burns to his cheek, shoulder and limbs when he was taken to a hospital in May 2015” (Sledge, 2017). Orleans Criminal District Court Judge Byron C. Williams sentenced Degregory to 40 years of prison while Cannizzaro’s office is simultaneously hoping to invoke Louisiana’s habitual offender law which could tack on an additional 40 years to Degregory’s time. Degregory lacks the possibility for probation: “This was a truly horrific crime and one of the worst cases of child abuse that I have ever seen in my long career working in the criminal justice system. I appreciate Judge Williams’ decision to give the defendant a maximum sentence and hope he will consider increasing it after the defendant is found to be a habitual offender” (Sledge, 2017), Cannizzaro said. Morosely, Heather Simpson, 39, the mother of the 5-year-old, “pleaded guilty to second-degree cruelty to a juvenile on May 12. She faces up to 40 years at a separate sentencing hearing on July 13” (Sledge, 2017).
While child abuse is somewhat of an umbrella term, encompassing a myriad of examples and interpretations, it is preventable. It’s important to know and understand what consists of possible cases of child abuse. If you see something that looks suspicious, such as children left unattended in parked cars, weird and abnormal behavior from students, violent or borderline violent parenting techniques, etc., it is always better, regardless of doubts, to dial 911. Police officers and law enforcement are equipped to handle these cases, and you never know what your call could do to help improve the life of a suffering child.
For more information on what you should do if you witness child abuse, click here to read about advice from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Dietderich, A. (2017, June 25). North Branch woman charged with child abuse for leaving kids in car. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from http://thecountypress.mihomepaper.com/news/2017-06-25/News/North_Branch_woman_charged_with_child_abuse_for_le.html
Hendry, B. (2017, June 26). Plea from headteacher to 3,000 former pupils: Did you suffer child abuse at this school? Retrieved June 30, 2017, from https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/moray/1275544/gordonstoun-contacts-3000-pupils-amid-child-abuse-claims/
N. (2017, March 16). What Should You Do If You Witness Child Abuse? Retrieved June 30, 2017, from http://www.rwjf.org/en/culture-of-health/2011/11/what-should-you-do-if-you-witness-child-abuse.html
Sledge, M. (2017, June 23). Angry New Orleans judge sentences man to 40 years in child cruelty case. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/courts/article_54c44e90-585d-11e7-ac11-ab0ee3797b31.html