These last few days of media revelations and coverage of NFL players allegedly harming women and children have been, at best, disappointing for football fans like me. But what they represent for the Child Abuse Prevention Center is a teachable moment.
One recent case involves the direct physical abuse of a young child, and at least two others involve children living with perpetrators of domestic violence. To be clear, both instances do significant damage to children.
The physical abuse is obvious. But consider the extent of emotional abuse done to a child exposed to violence and rage. Imagine being a kid, captive and frightened, with no opportunity for fight or flight. Research confirms that both types of abuse can cause cognitive damage, and have long-term health and emotional consequences well into late adulthood.
I have heard defenders of the players say as an excuse that a victim of abusive corporal punishment will behave the same toward his own children. They say it’s inevitable. But harming a child is a crime. Would we excuse and release a thief, murderer, embezzler or other criminal because his or her parent committed the same crime? Why is the future of a child of less concern?
I have also heard defenders say that physical child abuse is an accepted cultural practice in many African American communities. I suspect many African Americans would contend otherwise and be offended by that stereotypical notion. Corporal punishment was common several generations ago in many regions in our nation, but social mores have changed. Society is obligated to protect and defend children, even if it means confronting and changing cultural practices.
One accused player’s friend said that this media dust-up was simply a debate about discipline styles. Did he actually mean to imply that out-of-control violence is acceptable when the victim is a child?
The Child Abuse Prevention Center has advocated for some time in the state Legislature to make crimes against children as serious as those perpetrated against adults. To its shame, the Legislature has resisted.
It is true that our own parenting styles are influenced by our childhood, both good and bad. Perhaps this is the best testament we have to the value of our work. More than 95 percent of young parents who had a background as a victim of substantiated child abuse have learned effective parenting in our programs and do not repeat the cycle of violence.
Child abuse, including exposure to domestic violence, is wrong, criminal and unacceptable in a civilized society. And most importantly, it can be prevented.
Through the education and services such as those our center provides, and by every adult taking the responsibility to protect every child, we can eradicate the problem.
Don’t be silent if you suspect abuse, and don’t be silent in public discourse. We cannot undo the harm, but we can recommit to our mission to prevent child abuse.