April is National Childhood Abuse Awareness Month and thinking about childhood abuse makes my blood pressure rise. I am a mother of two boys and even on days when they drive me absolutely crazy, I can’t imagine ever striking them. Seeing their reaction after raising my voice is enough for me to realize the impact I have on them as a mother.
I have lived in Ahwatukee for 15 years and love every aspect of it; a great community, fantastic schools, shopping and safety. As far as any type of childhood abuse, not in MY neighborhood, these things just don’t happen here, right?
Wrong, abuse happens everywhere, EVEN in nice neighborhoods, but does it always happen behind closed doors? No, and here is a true story that happened to me recently.
A beautiful evening a few weeks ago, my boys and I decided to take a bike ride to one of the local parks. Get a little exercise and have fun before bath and bedtime. I noticed that I didn’t have my phone with me, but didn’t worry about it, why would I need it?
When we arrived at the park, the boys immediately started playing. There was one other family at the park; a mother, father and three small children, all under the age of 5. The father spoke in a harsh tone of voice, I was unable to understand what he was saying, it was another language, but to me it sounded angry.
The wife was submissive and didn’t speak to either her husband or children. After 15 minutes, the family decided to take a short walk, one child in a stroller, one on a tricycle and one on a small bicycle.
When the family was 100 yards from the playground, I heard the father yell at the oldest child, I turned to see if everything was OK, what transpired next shocked and saddened me.
The father then broke off a branch from a tree and with full force hit the oldest child on the back with the tree branch. The child screamed out and started crying. The father paced and then threw the stick aside and proceeded to yell at the child, all while the mother did nothing. The mother did look in my direction and noticed that I had seen everything.
After a few minutes, everything was finished; the father proceeded to walk away with child No. 2 riding the tricycle to the nearby apartment complex. The mother turned around and walked back towards the playground with the older child and youngest child. When she approached the playground she just stared at the ground without making eye contact with me.
During this time, my boys were happily swinging and laughing, oblivious to what I had witnessed, for this I was thankful.
I did curse under my breath, why oh why didn’t I bring my phone with me? I would’ve called the police. Since I didn’t have my phone, all I could do was pray and that is exactly what I did, I prayed for God to comfort that child, to put his loving arms around that child and keep him safe.
I prayed at the playground and prayed before falling asleep that night for a child I didn’t know, but that I knew was hurting. I hugged, kissed and told my boys how much I loved them before they fell asleep that night, knowing that they are safe in this home.
Have you witnessed abuse? What have you done? Did you contact the authorities? Call the local Child Protective Services? An abuse helpline? What will happen if I call the authorities?
While I was researching information for this column, I found the following paragraph from the Arizona Department of Economic Security website, at azdes.gov: “When to report abuse? A report should be made when any person, who reasonably believes that a child under 18 has been abused, neglected, exploited or abandoned. A report of suspected abuse, neglect, exploitation or abandonment is only a request for an investigation.
“The person making the report does not need to prove the abuse. Investigation and validation of child abuse reports are the responsibilities of child protective service workers. If additional incidents of abuse occur after the initial report has been made, make another report.”
I know that there is help available all over the Valley, and I will be adding a few new numbers to my phone contact list in case I ever witness abuse again, will you do the same?
National Child Abuse Helpline: 1-1800-422-4453
CPS Child Abuse Hotline: 1-888-SOS-CHILD
Please remember that even a phone call to report a suspected case of abuse could save a child’s life, together we can help the innocent children.
• Leah Derewicz is a 15-year Ahwatukee Foothills resident. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.