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Child abuse on the other side of the wall

February 27, 2010

I’m not always serious, of course, but this is actually serious.

Trigger warning: Child abuse

Almost everyday, and sometimes multiple times a day, I hear my neighbor screaming at her kids. They, in turn, scream and cry hysterically. At first, it was easy to dismiss because kids are brats or whatever and I know I have had some particularly brutal fights with my mom. The difference between my fights and these fights, and the thing that kept nagging me in the back of my mind, was that these kids are both under the age of 6 (I think). When I had fights with my mom that escalated to the level my neighbor’s fights do, I was a teenager. The fact that these kids are so young are so frequently subjected to such intense fighting is unsettling.

At the same time, though, it’s hard not to think that this kind of fighting, even in these extreme circumstances, is just different than what I’m used to. It’s hard to assume the worst in people. It’s hard to recognize signs of abuse when you have the fortune and the privilege to have never been subjected to it. It’s hard to decide if someone is being abused on the other side of the wall, particularly if you can’t totally make out what the fights are about. It’s hard to get beyond a cut-and-dry binary of abuse and non-abuse. My point, really, is that my role as an innocent bystander in this situation more difficult than I would have thought. I have a lot more empathy for the parents than I would have thought. I have a much stronger desire to not interfere than I would have thought. I have a lot more desire to minimize the extent of the situation than I would have thought.  If I were in listening to me talk about what I hear on the other side of the wall, I would be frustrated in my hesitation to take action on it.

It took me more courage than I would have thought to call the DHS child abuse hotline to report a family that I’ve had virtually no interactions with whatsoever. I called with the peace of mind, though, that the ounce of courage I had to muster up is, hopefully, worth a pound of cure for these kids.

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