Sunday’s Dear Abby column included a letter from a mother who was concerned that her daughter and future grandchild are involved with a violent man. I can tell that Abby has no experience with this kind of thing, because I would have offered different advice.
The letter writer said that an officer called last winter to say that her daughter had been found battered, with a broken arm, standing on a street corner. He believed that she had been beaten by the man she lived with and he had “kicked her outside to freeze.” This man had threatened the parents in the past, demanding money to ensure that their daughter wouldn’t be homeless. He was also “bringing other women home for sex,” and the daughter stayed with him anyway. Now the daughter is pregnant and the letter writer is terrified for the future of her grandchild, as she lives across the country and doesn’t know what to do.
Abby’s advice, while well meaning, fell far short of the mark and only scratched the surface. She, in essence, told the woman to make sure the daughter knew she could come to her parents for help. This advice does nothing for the kids that will be born into this mess. My mother was told the same thing by her parents, and yet my father was still able to rape and beat all three of us kids until my brother killed him (and then killed my mom 15 years later).
But let’s start at the beginning: the letter implies that the police officer did not arrest or question the man, or even offer the daughter a safe haven. I don’t understand, in the year 2011, why people are still keeping their heads in the sand and not helping victims of abuse. This woman is pregnant so now another innocent child will be born into an abusive home. These grandparents need someone in the daughter’s town to step up and do something. Someone needs to report the abuse—the broken bones, bruises and being locked out. Here is the opportunity for the system to do the right thing.
When I was growing up in the 80’s, it didn’t matter if you called the police to report domestic violence. I know this first hand—I called 911 one night when my father was beating my mom so viciously that it was clear he intended to kill her. When the officer showed up, my father answered the door and said everything was fine. No one else in the house was spoken to or seen—even though I told them, when I called, that he was on probation (he had threatened to kill one of our neighbors). When the officer left, I was severely beaten.
Why do the police still close their eyes to abuse? Why is it that this system still refuses to listen to the cries from abuse victims? Many people say that the victims should just leave on their own. Others say that the children will be fine and the adult chooses to stay in the situation. I am here to say that when you are abused that severely, thrown out of your home with broken bones and still stay, you are obviously too traumatized to think clearly.
In my house we all knew that if my mom had tried to leave, we all would have died. That is how the abuser wins—FEAR. The grandparents in this situation are like my relatives. They don’t live close enough to be there, but also don’t know how to help. If I were them, I would find a way to be there when the baby was born. I would stay nearby as long as I could afford it, and I would support my daughter any way I could. If they show support, they may be able to help her decide to leave.
I would also try to find a way to have someone check on the baby on a regular daily basis. They can’t just close their eyes to the abuse they know is happening to their daughter, but they also cannot force her to leave or the door will be closed on them.
I would question the police in that town as to why no arrest was made and why they didn’t take the daughter to the hospital, even if she didn’t want to go. That would have started the ball rolling. The hospitals now are trained to look for abuse and report it.
Dear Abby, you need to please follow up with this family. As an advice columnist you should have advised these grandparents to seek professional guidance with this issue. You have no idea how abuse can escalate in a home. These grandparents came to you for advice, and you should have taken the time to find resources for them to talk to. People in this country need to realize that all abuse in a home affects everyone in that home—abuser, spouse, and children.
I fear that this country is still in the dark ages when it comes to abuse. I read it every day and hear it on the news. This country needs to face this epidemic head-on or children from abusive homes risk ending up where my brother is—in jail for the murders of both parents, so psychologically and physically damaged that he couldn’t remain rational. Is that what this country wants—abused children killing their abusive parents? I would like to think not. As a country, let’s work together to find a solution to the epidemic of domestic violence and child abuse.
Stacey M. Kananen
Advocate, Author, Abuse survivor
Co-founder of Amnesty for Abuse
Stacey Kananen’s father violently and sexually abused his entire family. He vanished in 1988 and 15 years later his wife went missing. Stacey’s brother had killed both parents. Stacey cooperated as a witness until he told police that she helped him with the crimes. She was arrested and her trial, which aired on CNN’s In Session, ended with a not guilty verdict after her attorney proved that she had been railroaded.
Now that her personal life is no longer private, Stacey is using her story to make waves. She and co-author Lisa Bonnice have signed a publishing deal with Berkley Books. They created the Amnesty for Abuse program to address the dynamic that stops families from asking for help: fear, shame and hopelessness. She states, “If a program like this existed during my childhood, both parents would be alive, my brother would not be in jail and my family would have been spared years of anguish and terror.”
Sink or Swim–the Stacey M. Kananen story (Berkley Books, 2012)
BBC Documentary: America’s Child Death Shame