Wednesday, 5 October 2011

From Violence to Abuse

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Where does abuse come from? Where does violence come from? The two are closely and dangerously connected to our country’s struggle that can only be defined by the two. Violence is abuse and abuse is violence. A lot of us might have experienced some sort of abuse at one point in our lives. Whether physical, mental, emotional, sexual or even just verbal abuse, all will have an effect on anyone causing the victim to apply this abuse to others. In other words, what is seen, heard or felt by a child will have an enormous impact of this human being’s life later on. It begins with cute childhood quarrels, and then to immature teenage fights, and then to what? The Columbine High School Massacre? The murder of Matthew Shepard?

Children whose parents abuse drugs live daily with fear, neglect and helplessness. Some dont survive; for those who do, the inner damage can last a lifetime. Ashley Bryan lied down on the dirty carpet of her dads bedroom where she usually slept. The 10-year-old girl closed her eyes, clasped her hands and raised them to her lips. Firmly, fervently, she prayed. She wished not for a bike or Barbie like most kids her age, or to become a doctor or firefighter some day. Every night, Ashley asked for something she believed only God can deliver. She prayed for a new father. Someone kind, someone whose life--and thus hers�was not ruled by the demons of drug addiction and alcoholism. It could not get much worse. Her clothes, along with those of 8-year-old brother Kevin Bryan, were filthy. The two went weeks without a bath. They ate once a day, usually rice. Neglect was the norm. Their father, Calvin Holloman, drank Miller High Life beer for breakfast, sometimes until he blacked out. The kitchen of their one-bedroom Long Beach apartment was used mostly for cooking or mixing the heroin and speed he and his friends injected into their veins.

The conditions that led Ashley to her nightly prayer ritual were, sadly, too common in the United States, which has a higher rate of drug abuse than any other industrialized nation. Federal surveys show at least one in five children will spend some part of their youth being raised by a parent who is an alcoholic or drug addict. In Los Angeles County, 80% to 0% of child welfare cases involve substance abuse, rates higher than virtually any other major U.S. urban area. By some estimates, at least a quarter of all children in Los Angeles County deal at some time with an addicted parent. It is here, inside millions of homes, where societys most entrenched problems are born, where victimized children grow up to victimize others�a generational cycle costing taxpayers nearly $00 billion annually in criminal justice costs, health care and social programs.

Blame does not rest only with the homeless crackhead or corner prostitute. Many of Americas addicts hold steady jobs, secretly stirring speed into their morning coffee, shooting up at lunchtime in office bathroom stalls, downing six-packs as they watch TV after work. But no matter what their position in life, the offspring of junkies and alcoholics are bound by a brutal reality To their parents, they often rank below a shot of vodka or a rock of cocaine. These are children who live in daily dread, compiling memories of abuse and deceit they carry into adulthood. Memories of closed bathroom doors from which parents emerge in a stupor, of days-long binges that accompany every payday, of searching for mom or dad in alleys while watching other children make their way to school.

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Teen victims of dating abuse often are too immature and insecure to escape jealous, sometimes violent boyfriends. Nickys memories of violence are whole and sharply focused, despite the many punches delivered to the back of her head over the years. As she sat at the dining room table in her Pomona home, her story came in an unstoppable flow, like the tears of rage spilling over a dam of regrets. Nicky was 1 when she fell in love with Richard. He was 1. What Nicky has to show for their years together are a chipped tooth, a nose bent several degrees by his fist, three children--all of whom were born before their due dates because of beatings, she says--and emotional scars that are hard to fathom in someone so young.

In the last two decades, domestic violence has emerged from the black hole of taboo subjects to become highly visible. And what has long been happening between spouses or adult lovers is now recognized as a problem for teen-agers as well. Surveys show that about 8% of high school- and college-age students are in abusive relationships, roughly the same proportion as adults. But while adults have shelters and well-publicized hot lines, adolescents typically have only each other--if that. They often cannot or will not turn to adults for help and may not even talk to their peers.

The high incidence of adolescent abuse distressed Barrie Levy, a Santa Monica therapist and a founder of the Southern California Coalition for Battered Women. Levy, who edited the book Dating Violence Young Women in Danger became aware of the problem in 18 during a domestic violence education project in Los Angeles-area secondary schools. Our focus was on the development of an education program that would target adolescents, thinking that the way to start dealing with domestic violence was presumably before it started, Levy says.

That presumption was wrong. In school after school, children as young as 1 told her of abuse they had suffered at the hands of boyfriends, or of abuses they had witnessed among peers. It was harder for some of them to talk about relationship abuse than it was to discuss abuse from their parents.

The stories of Ashley and Nicky are just two of thousands in California. The stories in California are just thousands of the millions in the United States of America. Imagine the stories of violence in the whole world. The point is that violence exists everywhere and it has existed for too long. How can we stop it? No one really is for sure. Maybe if we started at home, maybe if we showed not only children but everyone else that problems can be solved without using abuse, then nothing will ever lead to violence. It may be difficult at first to try to erase our history of violence, but can they really be erased? Actually no, they can only be learned from.

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