Trigger Warning: Child Abuse
In a stunning announcement Friday, Adrian Peterson, a professional football player for the Minnesota Vikings was indicted for child abuse. He allegedly beat his 4 year old son with a switch after the child shoved his brother.
Police reports detail the child's account and it is harrowing. Not only did he get beat with a switch, but claims that belts had been used in the past. Expressed fear of being punched for telling and at one point said "Daddy has a whoopin' room".
Photos taken a week later show red welts and scabbing cuts. Peterson allegedly injured the child's back, buttocks, legs, thighs and scrotum. He also texted the child's mother in what can only be termed a gloating tone. Saying at one point he "got too good with the switch". He admitted to police that he did it and it was discipline.
Today we learned that Peterson's employer, decided to let him play despite the evidence. Relying on 'due process' and the criminal system. It should be noted that Texas CPS has probably already had a "founded" report no matter what happens in the criminal case.
Adrian Peterson is famous and that makes this a sensational case, but he's certainly not the only child abuser in the country. The injuries that he inflicted on his four year old son are horrible and it's almost impossible not to be furious at what happened to that child. Sadly that child is not alone. Peterson's excuse that he was just disciplining the way he was disciplined is an all too familiar refrain.
(Bloggers note: Some details have been altered to protect confidentiality)
The first time I met Adrian Peterson, the name wasn't Adrian Peterson. I honestly don't remember what the name was. I remember the little girl whose eyes were swollen shut and whose forehead skin was scalded almost to the bone. The child had put too much 'grease' in her hair so as a punishment she was held face up under scalding (150 degree) tap water. That was 1995.
In the most recent reporting year there were 3.4 million reports of child abuse and neglect made to hotlines around the country. Of those 1.8 million were opened as investigations. On those 1.8 million cases there were 3.1 million unique children. There are 32,000 Child Protective Service Workers in the US. 32,000 people investigating 1.8 million cases. It's safe to say we've all met Adrian Petersen.
In 1999 Adrian Peterson was a mom's boyfriend who beat a 2 year old so severely that the blood beneath the skin was trapped by the diaper he was wearing. When the diaper was removed it looked like the kid was wearing brown, red and purple underwear. He was mad about potty training.
Potty training is one of the most dangerous times in child development. The risk of abuse over and during potty training rises dramatically. In the last twenty years I can attest to a mound of anecdotal evidence of abuse during potty training. Anybody who does this job can relate to it.
In 2001, Adrian Peterson was a guy gave a 3 year old a cookie when she performed oral sex on him. Turns out that was a pattern of abuse that had gone on for years with other 3 year olds and younger children. He's in prison for the rest of his life.
In 2012 there were over 62,000 children reported to have been sexually abused. The number is probably significantly higher. Some states report sexual abuse directly to police. Some types of sexual abuse aren't counted in the Manual of Child Maltreatment. Sexual abuse by teachers for instance in many states aren't reported to CPS.
Adrian Peterson was a teenage mom in 2008. She was arguing with her mom and snatched her baby out of his car seat dislocating his shoulder. She didn't know why he wouldn't stop crying and proceeded to slap his face. The police were called, nobody caught the dislocation for 2 days.
Twenty five percent of children who are abused experience teen pregnancy. Of those parenting teens fully 30% of them will abuse or neglect their child at some point in the future.
Peterson is the guy that blackened his son's eye in 2010 when the kid tried to keep his dad from beating his mom. Arrests were made but no charges were pressed. The kid was old enough that while he was certainly at risk, he wasn't in immediate danger.
As we've discussed before. Domestic abusers are 50% more likely to abuse a child as well.
Adrian Peterson is the policeman, the firefighter, the teacher, the doctor that delivered your baby. Adrian Peterson is a single mom on welfare. Adrian Peterson is a millionaires wife popping illegal prescriptions. Adrian Peterson is your mail carrier, your next door neighbor and your best friend.
Everybody who investigates child abuse has met Adrian Peterson or will at some point in their career. We all wish that child abuse would end and we'd no longer be needed to protect the most vulnerable in our midst. We're all smart enough to know better. Adrian Peterson was out there today and he'll be out there tomorrow. We'll tackle him as we go.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Due to the Ray Rice case, domestic violence has been featured prominently in the news this week. It has been the topic of many columns and editorials. It's an epidemic in America. It is a daily fact of life for millions of people. Sadly far too many of them are children.
In the field of Child Protection domestic violence is is something that we are very familiar with. Fully 50% of child abuse and neglect cases either directly involve domestic violence or after digging into the case it's found there was a history of domestic violence.
Domestic violence that children witness stays with them. Not only is this a verifiable fact, I can personally attest to it in a small way.
When I was 8 years old there was huge family argument at my grandfather's house, there was yelling, some shoving and at least one person got slapped. Cooler heads prevailed and everyone calmed down and apologized, but even though it was 38 years ago, the memory is still with me.
It's safe to say that a child who witnesses their parent being hit, or punched, spit on or choked, will take it with them. The trauma of seeing a parent abused often takes years to overcome, and people who have experienced this often need professional counseling to work through it.
Witnessing domestic violence also breeds more domestic violence. Statistics show that many women who are battered as adults witnessed domestic violence as children. Men who witnessed domestic violence as are twice as likely to batter a partner or child as an adult.
When I started as an investigator 20 years ago, I didn't understand domestic violence at all. I, like most people, thought the decision for a battered partner was a simple one. Leave. Take your kids and go.
I remember cases in which I was so frustrated with the mother, I threatened her with taking her kids. That was the paradigm back then. Re-victimize the victim. I was young and thought I knew everything. The years and extensive training around domestic violence have taught me otherwise.
As was brilliantly and painfully depicted on Twitter by the Hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhenILeft, the decisions by victims of violence aren't always easy. The reasons for staying the reasons for leaving are complex. Often victims and their children are financially dependent on the batterer. Victims also express that they think it will end or that they can fix the batterer. Reasons for leaving range from realizing the abuse would never stop to wanting to show their kids that abuse wasn't normal.
When I investigate these cases now, we talk about how I can help that person make themselves and their children safe. Sometimes that means counseling and casework services for the victim, the children and the batterer, sometimes it means driving the victim and children to a shelter.
It should be noted that while the majority of cases I investigate involve heterosexual couples, domestic violence is prevalent in the LGBT community as well. Some studies show it may be more prevalent as a percentage of the population than heterosexual couples. We don't see it as much in child abuse and neglect cases because there aren't as many same sex couples with children.
While we focus on supporting the victims and keeping them safe, I think we also need more focus on helping those who batter. As a profession we tend to label the batterer, and not really focus on helping them learn and grow. We as a nation do a woefully inadequate job of teaching young people, mostly young men how to check their impulses.
We set up the expectation that men are tough, machismo is to be lauded and we reinforce it by rewarding young men for their macho behavior. It is imperative that more focus be placed on educating that a fist a club or a gun isn't the answer when things don't go their way. I have jokingly said it's simple "don't hit a woman" but the pathology that creates these situations isn't simple.
As mentioned earlier, many male batterers were abused themselves or witnessed abuse. I've spoken to thousands of batterers in the last twenty years. Over half of them related that they were abused, or they witnessed their mother getting abused, often saying "that's just the way we were raised". It is incredibly challenging to make a breakthrough with someone who was conditioned from a young age to solve problems by lashing out. Sadly, I've seen far too many of these men more than one time.
Domestic violence isn't going away because Ray Rice can't run with a football for money, or Roger Goodell golden parachutes into obscurity. Domestic violence isn't going away because we publicly humiliate abusers, but let's hope that the awareness spurred on by this week's events doesn't go away either. It is at least a start.