I’m that “helicopter” mom playing with my son at the park. I’m making sure my sweet boy doesn’t get out of sight.
I’m the mom at the play date who stays at your house, visiting, always keeping an eye on my child. I politely decline sleepover invitations.
I dearly love this boy. He’s funny and outgoing and generally kind. You may think I’m hovering and being overprotective.
Child sexual abuse: I’m making sure your child is safe from mine.
At age five, my child started acting out sexually, in explicit ways, and he told me clearly about inappropriate, intimate sexual contact he’d had with an adult’s penis.
I reported it to the proper authorities. Nothing happened.
The adult was my husband, and we were divorcing. Instead of believing my child’s words to me, it was easier for Child Protective Services to believe his dad’s word that they just took a shower together. CPS “educated” him on not doing this again and filed a report ruling out abuse.
Since then, his dad has been seen drunk-driving our son and leaving him strapped in a hot car while buying alcohol and cigarettes (CPS again did nothing, even though it was a criminal act, so it’s happened again). Our son says his dad has served him wine and shown him porn. Our son has talked about death and has tried to cut himself and strangle me. He’s drawn scary pictures with demons and genitalia and weapons. He has fits of rage. He has odd seizures of staring into space.
This happy boy, who could read at age three, by grade three needs help for multiple learning disorders and risks failing state exams.
Our son has been suspended from school for sexualized behaviors against other children. Most concerning, he initiated sexual contact with a friend the summer after first grade, while his friend’s parent and I were in the next room. He told his friend to keep it a secret. A few months later, he told his friend he wanted to have sex again. His friend, distraught, finally told his parents about the incidents.
State law mandates a person call CPS when a person suspects abuse. When I’ve made these required calls, I’ve been wrongly accused of “parental alienation.” Some judges wrongly use this unscientific theory to take kids away from protective parents who report abuse. This is a horrendous outcome for kids: to be stripped from a loving parent and given to an abuser.
Meanwhile, no one else ever reported the sexual behavior to CPS – not his psychologists, not the school counselor, not the (former) friend’s parents. Even though we all know acting out is a huge red flag for a child being sexually abused. It’s an even bigger red flag for a seven-year-old to ask his friend to keep it a secret. It’s an enormous red flag when we all know the child made a prior outcry.
When asked about incidents, our son pretends they never happened. He flees to a fantasy world. He tells me his dad tells him to keep secrets. He sometimes drops hints. But it’s possible we may never know what happened – or is still happening – to this precious child.
It’s clear that the person I love most has been abused. It’s also clear our society does not prioritize crimes against kids, and our courts do not make child protection a priority.
If a stranger victimized my child (or committed a crime against an adult), there would be a real investigation by police, with real evidence-gathering. But an abuser is almost always someone in a child’s circle of trust. When the perp is the parent or family member, the “investigation” is largely left to over-worked, under-resourced state caseworkers who don’t have the tools or time to gather or analyze evidence or even talk to relevant people. The CPS workers instead offer services to keep kids with parents. They meet strict deadlines and usually “rule out” abuse – which then makes protecting the child in court even more difficult for the protective parent.
It’s time to declare war on child maltreatment.
Toxic stress from abuse and neglect physically damages children’s developing brains. The Adverse Childhood Experiences study conclusively proves the link between severe or chronic maltreatment and future mental health problems, addictions, chronic diseases, self-harm, crime, and violence – and the perpetuating cycle. Children with several adverse experiences have a much greater prevalence of learning and behavior problems in school. Without intervention, they can end up repeatedly cycling through jails, emergency rooms, and hospitals.
It’s time to break the cycle.
My son is doing much better, after intensive counseling and other measures, but I don’t let him alone with another child. I want him to have friends and fun and learn empathy and respect and self-control. I want him to know he’s loved. I want him to grow up to be a good, moral man and to overcome the toxic maltreatment that can overwhelm him.
I will do my best to protect your child. My heart breaks when I can’t protect mine.