On the surface, a recent Washington Post article describing the horrors of summer vacation for victims of child abuse does its job. It’s a reminder that school serves as a respite for kids for whom home is not a safe haven.
But it does one great mis-service to the fight against child abuse.
It gives a pass to perpetrators from middle and upper class families. Take this quote: These kids “don’t get summer vacation, a house at the beach. They don’t go anywhere. They just sit in the house, being watched by the unemployed uncle who just got out of jail or the unsavory character who is around while school is out.”
Unfortunately, this fits the bill for a large percentage of abused kids in America. Statistics have long pointed to greater problems within low-income families, upping the risk for child abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.
Just as unfortunate: news of the affects of abuse outside the low-income bracket is under-reported, and comments like this continue to focus attention away from signs of abuse and onto class issues.
A kid with a black eye and scruffy jeans earns a double take. A kid with a black eye wearing True Religion jeans earns barely a raised eye or an amused “now what did you do to yourself, did your brother hit you with an oar while you were rowing crew?”
Parents in a better financial state are also better prepared to cover up the signs of abuse – thanks to more means to hire sympathetic physicians and, frankly, more respect in the community from officials who will believe them over their “bratty kid.” There’s a long history of children being removed from the homes of poor families – often without cause – but the middle classes afford themselves an extra layer of protection from social service-type investigations based solely on the size of their pocketbooks.
Author Petula Dvorak’s column still stands out for its importance – that teachers take seriously their responsibilities (and I would say most do) as mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. But they need to check their preconceived notions at the door.