More should be done to stop abuse

Published 7:10 pm Tuesday, April 13, 2010

To the editor:

I respect the heartfelt letter by Melissa Hedelius that was printed in the April 7 edition of the Suffolk News Herald, and I would like to add to what she wrote.

I have been a witness in a child abuse/molestation case (the children confided in me about the abuse). I have been called a liar, and I have been insulted by social service workers due to my standing up for the children. Also, the children have been called liars. This all stems from the fact that a female is the abuser.

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In addition, I have been threatened with being thrown in jail for reporting what I was told to Social Services. I have tried to go up the chain of command to voice my opinions and concerns, and I have been met by excuses or silence. This is due to the “circle-the-wagons” mentality when Social Services is questioned.

I would like to let good Samaritans know what to expect if they do the right thing and inform Social Services of suspected child abuse or give information about an open case:

Their personal information might not be kept confidential.

They could be called liars if their information does not match what the abuser says.

The children claiming the abuse could be called liars.

Children might not be removed from a house where they claim they are being sexually molested.

There is no such thing as emotional abuse.

Most cases will be considered unfounded, unless the children are abused in front of the proper persons.

According to a May 2005 report by the Virginia State Child Fatality Review Team, there were 13 child deaths in Hampton Roads caused by the abuse or neglect of a caretaker between July 1, 2001, and June 30, 2002.

Forty-five percent of Virginia’s abuse and neglect fatalities occurred in Hampton Roads. Last year, 34 percent of the state’s fatalities were in Hampton Roads.

Also, the overall number of fatalities due to abuse or neglect in the region increased from 10 in FY 2001. This year, eight of the 13 deaths, 62 percent, were founded for neglect.

Five children who died had not reached their first birthday, and 10 of the 13 children were three or younger.

More than one third of the 13 children had previous injuries documented by autopsy.

Six of the founded caretakers had previous child abuse complaints. Three caretakers had criminal convictions for violent crimes.

Two newborns were abandoned.

The team noted two trends of potential significance to the Hampton Roads area with regard to child death. First, the team is currently seeing an increase in the number of abandoned infants in the region.

Second, the number of children killed intentionally by their caretakers is also increasing. The abusers in these cases seem to have profound mental health problems; some committed suicide after murdering their children.

In 2009, at least two children in Virginia that I know of have died due to the neglect of Social Services. There are surely more than that.

In addition, I have been told that in known cases of sexual abuse, the abusers may not be arrested and the parents can retain custody although they may have known of the abuse.

I applaud Ms. Hedelius’ intentions, but the way the system is set up, children will not be protected. Not every mother is a victim and not every father is an abuser.

Unfortunately, there is a long way to go before children will truly be safe from their abusers’ reach.

Denise Haynes