Abuse Always Has Negative Consequences

by Barbara Free, M.A.

     The news for the past few months has reported numerous cases of child abuse, both by adoptive parents and by birth parents. Some of these are difficult to read about, which is nothing compared to what a child goes through in experiencing the abuse. It is tempting to just ignore such news reports, just as it is tempting to ignore various forms of abuse when we suspect it, or even witness it in stores, churches, neighborhoods, or elsewhere. The book reviewed in this issue of the newsletter deals with the awful consequences of long-term abuse by birth, foster, and adoptive parents. Not every child abused by their parents ends up killing them, or our prisons, already overflowing, would be even fuller. However, if one investigates the background of most people in prison, one finds a history of abuse in most cases.
     A recent issue written about in the Albuquerque Journal, particularly by columnist Joline Gutierrez Krueger, who is an adoptive parent, concerns a family which has several adopted children. These parents use several harsh forms of corporal punishment on at least some of these children, with the excuse that they have “reactive attachment disorder” and don’t respond to anything else. The columnist defends and excuses what is clearly abuse, which makes the reader wonder how she treats her own adopted kids, some of whom she says also have attachment disorder.
     Aside from that, and her touting these people as wonderful parents, one has to question how in the world they managed to wind up with several children and how the abuse was either hidden or ignored. Even after they bruised a child and broke her leg, they eventually got all of the children back. Are they now retaliating, as is common when abuse is exposed? George E. Davis, M.D., Director of Psychiatry at CYFD in Albuquerque, has written to the Journal that corporal punishment is abuse, and that it is damaging to children. This writer can attest to that also. If hitting or otherwise physically assaulting an adult would result in a charge of assault, why should it be acceptable to do the same, or worse, to a child?
     Not that long ago, spousal abuse was legal and acceptable, until enough people spoke up and got laws changed. Children, however, cannot vote and cannot truly defend themselves, nor leave an abusive situation, by the very fact that they are children. In addition to physical abuse, many experience emotional, intellectual, and sexual abuse, and for most, it goes on for a long time. This is called process trauma. It most often happens in places that ought to be safe, including homes, schools, churches, and even in supposed treatment. This is called sanctuary trauma. For many, it is sanctuary process trauma.
     Those who experience it carry it for life, and often pass it on to the next generation. What happened to the parents in question, this writer does not know, but from many years as a therapist, she does know that it’s never the first generation. The abused, without education and effort, do abuse in turn.
     Someone recently asked, “But aren’t these foster and adoptive parents screened? How can this happen, especially to children who were removed from their original homes because of neglect or abuse?” We should all be asking that, every day. It can happen because agencies like CYFD get overwhelmed with the need for foster and adoptive parents, get short-staffed because of budget cuts due to children not being the real priority in society, get burned out because they are overworked and/or because they have an increased tolerance for abuse themselves, and because society at large still thinks child abuse is acceptable.
     A syndicated columnist, a supposed parenting expert, in the Albuquerque Journal, regularly advocates emotional and intellectual abuse, and quite often physical abuse. Yet he is a highly paid writer and speaker. Some school districts still argue that they ought to be allowed to beat children. Some people home-school their children so they can’t report their abuse to other adults, who might intervene, or send them to private, usually religious, schools where abuse is acceptable.
     Finally, we have a culture in which violence is tolerated and encouraged, in sports, movies, television, video games, and even books. The currently popular Hunger Games, read by young children, portrays extreme violence, including death, and society lauds it as literature and entertainment.
     Certainly not every foster or adoptive parent is abusive; it is probably as rare among them as it is among parents who raise biological children, which is to say it is nowhere rare enough. In cases where the adoptee or biological child threatens or even kills the parents, there is almost universally a history of abuse on the part of the parents. We have seen numerous instances just in the last few months. It is sometimes blamed on “mental illness,” but again, one wonders whose mental illness, parents, child, both? One hears of it in one’s own family and chooses to ignore it, accept it, or even worry about it but do nothing to intervene. One sees a child being abused in some way and is afraid to “get involved.” It is true that parents are overly stressed themselves, and children may be overly stressed by school, activities, not enough time with parents, too much noise, not enough sleep, just like the parents, but that does not excuse child abuse. This writer recently saw a billboard on I-40 that said “Our heritage and our future ... There is no excuse for abuse.” That should be our ongoing slogan— there is no excuse or abuse.
     One of the letters written to the Journal in support of the parents mentioned above states that these parents are his friends and “my brother and sister in Christ,” and that they are just being tormented by CYFD. He says the family is a loving family, that the kids were all happy and “these kids knew that they were loved by their parents especially the three adopted children.” How does abuse equal love? Yet we have all heard that, at many levels, all our lives. “He only beats you because he loves you... This hurts me more than it hurts you... Parents who never hit their children don’t really care about them.” We used to hear this about spousal abuse, too. Even therapists have justified verbal and emotional abuse of patients in this way, although it is clearly not ethical and is not done out of caring, but out of a desire for power over another human being.
     In another newspaper article, an adoptive father sexually abused his adopted sons and even arranged for two other men to rape one of them, yet said he wanted to protect them, that he had been sexually abused as a child by a relative and hadn’t seen anything wrong with what he was doing, even justifying the arranged rape by saying he didn’t get anything in return for it. He had also been a foster parent, youth basketball coach and substitute teacher for years with no problems. All of it only came to light following an undercover sting that began when a detective looked into an online posting about “taboo sex.” Had it not come to light, we might only have learned about the abuse when one of the boys finally snapped and killed the man, or when one of them abused someone else. Instead, the man will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. This article claims that sexual abuse by adoptive fathers is much rarer than by biological fathers or other male relatives and non-relatives. Surely this is not meant to comfort anyone! It claims “federal studies” have shown this, but we don’t know what that means. That would imply that government studies have been done, but there is no federal agency or even policy about adoption or foster care; each state handles those issues. No actual study was named in the article.
     When a birth parent, especially a birth mother, relinquishes a child, whether arranged before the birth or not, or even if the child is taken from her against her will, she still hopes for the best for that child, wants to believe the child will have a better life than she can provide. In a closed adoption, she (or they) hope all those years that the child is having a wonderful life with loving parents. In an open, or at least semi-closed adoption, there is some information about where the child is or how he/she might be doing, and in a truly open adoption, there is contact. Any birth parent’s worst nightmare is to learn that the child has been abused, or is even deceased. To learn that, even if the offspring is then fifty years old, is heartbreaking. To have relinquished a child because she could not provide for him, or because she is afraid she might be abusive, is to have put trust in the foster and adoptive system that others will provide the safe and loving home she could not. Whenever one of these horrific situations comes to light, birth parents who read about it, or hear of it, are horrified. “What if that were my child?” When an adopted teenager or young adult kills adoptive parents, there is always a plethora of publicity, usually blaming it on the act of adoption and not the circumstances nor the history of abuse or neglect. If the case is about an adoptee who has been abused or killed, birth parents think, “What has happened to my own child?” When the adoptee is the same age as the one a birth parent has relinquished, the first thought is, “Is that my child?”, and the next thought is usually, “Was there any way I could have not relinquished?” Open adoptions, of course, prevent some of these fears, because one has the knowledge about who their child is, and where, but the recurrent grief and loss are still there, just to a lesser degree.
     The foster systems were designed to help children, not harm them. Adoption agencies and those who arrange private adoptions do not, with a few exceptions, seek to harm children or parents. In the past, when we had orphanages and orphan trains, even these were originally thought of as helping children, and helping society as a whole. They seem crude and even cruel to us now, but that was not the intention at the outset. In future generations, people will no doubt see the current systems of foster care and adoption as crude and even harmful. Just a generation ago, open adoptions were rare and thought to be dangerous; now they are accepted by most. International adoptions were once considered risky, then thought to be kind (rescuing war orphans or destitute children), then became quite fashionable, and now are regarded in various ways, depending on the circumstances. None of it is perfect; the perfect situation is that children are wanted and planned by parents who have the resources to raise them to adulthood. Foster care and adoption exist because people and situations are not perfect, and society tries to find ways to ameliorate that. It doesn’t always work.
     In summary, there really is no excuse for abuse, and abuse always has negative consequences, for everyone involved.

Excerpted from the April 2013 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2013 Operation Identity