Society Needs to Stop Normalising Abuse

Today’s trigger phrase is “child abuse”.
(Please don’t read on, if this is a trigger subject for you).

The following got me so bloody riled today that, yes, this had to be written.

“I know what abuse is. I was beaten all the time as a kid. Until, at the age of 12, I grabbed that switch, looked him in the eye, and asked if he’d had enough yet.”

Nope. Sorry. You were not abused. Not even close.

You see, there is the inexcusable beating of a child, once the norm in society, at a time when nobody knew any different. Then there is the inexcusable cowing of a child, by the application of the above methodology to the extreme detriment of the child’s natural development of character and ego. (So, given that you grabbed that switch, you weren’t even in the cowed zone). Then, somewhere, WAY off, over the horizon for you, there is abuse.

I was beaten. Usually for good reason. Usually for failing to learn, or at least half demonstrate, a previously imparted life lesson. The kind of lessons generally intended to assist me in avoiding an untimely death – which, given the number of accidental scars garnered in my early years, had a higher chance of occurring than not. Never remember being beaten on a first occasion. Sometimes I could avoid it on the second. But the third… you betcha, my ass was whipped.

It was my mother’s prerogative to mete out the whippings, with my father standing by aghast, muttering “that neither a dog, nor a child, benefited from such a lesson,” my mother giving it, “but you aren’t here when he *insert appropriate crime(s)*”. That all changed  the day of the barn fire… the only time my father ever beat me, to the rhythm of a mantra naming every piece of livestock that I (and my accomplices) had endangered that day. Never played with matches since!

My cousin. He was cowed. So much so that, in any other company, a bright, intelligent and socially adept individual, would go completely mute whenever he was in the same room as his father. Frightening to watch. The change all but instantaneous, his eyes never leaving his father as he tried to gauge the mood…

My friend… Can I call him friend? Would he, after all these years, call me friend?

My friend, George. He was abused. He came to the local village during one summer, and joined my class in the September of that year. George was underdeveloped, by far the smallest in the class. He smelled of pee. He had fleas. His shoes were holed. He was an obvious target… but he never became one. He was the happiest kid in class, always the centre of attention (being able to come up with “dirty lyrics” to go with the hits of the day pays dividends in the “who will be my friend” stakes) and always ready with an easy smile.

It wasn’t till that first gym session that George was revealed as a skin and bone specimen, undernourished, bruised in places no kid would naturally bruise… it kind of explained why he never really wanted the day to end, for at that point he would have to go home to whatever horrors awaited.

You might be able to hide in the big city. But when George’s parents moved to the socially tight community of a rural village, they hadn’t a chance! By December, the full horror that was George’s life was revealed. Chained to the banister for 12 hours per day. Eating only what he could steal from the dog. Trying to become silent and invisible for fear of awakening the passions of the man he called “dad”, or, somehow the worse betrayal, the anger of the woman he called “mum”.

Somewhere along the line, the political correctness of modern life has elevated the life-saving ass whippings I received, equating them to the abuse that George faced. It can never, not in a million years, be considered thus. To do so, offends every victim of genuine abuse and belittles those currently in real and present danger.

Perhaps, it could be argued (and I’d be one of them) that cowing a child the way my cousin was cowed constituted child abuse. He wouldn’t. He and his father have a closer relationship today than I ever achieved with my own.

George. Ah, George. In court, he pleaded to remain with the only two people in the world that he had known throughout his cruel, cold life. In those moments of absolute fear, facing a gaping unknown, George would rather the devil he knew than the one he didn’t. He, like my cousin, didn’t see the abuse… just that the two constants in his life were about to be taken away from him…

I never did find out what happened to George. Once you are “in the system” you kind of go off grid in a very big way. Revelations in recent years, of the kinds of institutional abuse that went on, makes me fearful that the well-meaning actions of a loving community may have turned George’s life into a much worse nightmare than he had previously known.

In any event, you got beaten as a kid? Unless you were so cowed by these beatings that you feared every nuance of mood; unless you were physically chained and were only able to survive by stealing from the dog. Then no. Don’t you dare reduce abuse to what was little more than a bruised ego, a sore behind, and a lifelong chip on your shoulder.

Society may have changed, effectively validating that chip, but true abuse, sadly, has not… and to normalise it thus, is, quite frankly, unforgivable.

About Running Elk

My given native name, Running Elk, was bestowed in 2008 as I took my first steps as a fully fledged Medicine Man of the Zuni tradition. A most unlikely candidate for the role, my journey as a healer began some four years prior. The detour onto the shamanic way was most unexpected, yet has been one of the most rewarding challenges to date.
This entry was posted in Random, rants, society and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Society Needs to Stop Normalising Abuse

  1. alienorajt says:

    Brilliant, if harrowing, Elk. You have made the point with such taut and elegant prose – and this very elegance allows the full horror of George’s story to stand out in all its malignancy. Thank you for flagging up something which is daily reality for all too many children – and for pointing out the very real difference between abuse and life-saving chastisement. A must-read post. Sharing now. xxx

  2. I read with sorrow and compassion your story and still disagree. Any inflicting of physical or emotional harm on a child or teen is abuse. Please don’t treat this important subject as a competition or a zero-sum game; labeling all harm inflicted on children and teens “abuse” does not trivialize or eliminate the significance of yours. We need to stop ALL child abuse.

    • Running Elk says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Sally.

      I agree wholeheartedly. We are in a very different world from the one that I grew up in. No child should be struck, neither physically nor emotionally. Ever. Period.

      I’d take it further – no person, whether child, teen or adult should ever suffer physical or emotional harm.

      However, to place being chastised through corporal punishment under the “abuse” umbrella, when there are obviously much more harmful forms of abuse being perpetrated on children daily, does, in my mind, risk trivialising the issue.

      The quote at the head of the article is not mine, and I never claim in the piece to have been abused. I have, however, seen abuse, and it’s effects, in too many.

      To then have some smart alec with a bruised ego equate his parent’s unfortunate social conditioning style (in the 60’s) with child abuse goes way beyond trivialising real suffering, it almost legitimises it in the form of “so what? we were all abused”.

      No we weren’t. Not by the standards of the day. Not by the standards of the “truly” abused today.

      Projecting past pain onto an updated paradigm does not change that, and unless we can start to look at the deeper issues within society that allow abuse to continue, then I’m afraid I will always stand by the assertion that there is a world of difference between poor parenting skills and child abuse…

  3. G. M. Vasey says:

    I agree entirely….

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