I recently posted about a teacher at my primary school who was a bully and for all intents and purposes, a child abuser. Not sexual, but physical. She’d become uncontrollably angry and shake children like rag dolls while screaming at them.
I asked my mother a day or so later if the teacher had died. Her response was “No. She was nice, I’d have known if she died.”
I found it an odd thing to hear, so I told her of how the teacher used to behave. She was horrified – it was certainly something she hadn’t heard before.
My brother and I both went to that school. We both witnessed the behaviour on more than one occasion, yet clearly we never said anything to our parents. Perhaps because neither of us had been on the receiving end of it. (Well, I hadn’t. My brother was more rascally at school and conceivably could have had a shaking.)
As my partner said of the incident: “Kids tend mostly to observe.”
When child abuse cases come about, one of the most frequently bandied defences from the abusers and those trying to blame the victims is “Why didn’t they [the children] say anything at the time?”
It’s a facetious argument. As we’ve seen in so many instances within the Royal Commission into child abuse within Australia at the moment, so often when children did say something, they were punished. In some cases, that punishment, when meted out at orphanages, involved terminal methods. Terminal.
In other instances, children who say something get accused of lying, of telling stories, and of making things up.
Is it any wonder so many children don’t say a word? It’s like “the boy who cried wolf” turned into a lesson for society to disregard anything serious ever said by a child.
In an ideal world, there’ll be no child abuse, but we’re sadly not there yet. Part of getting there will be to teach all children that adults are not beyond reproach. Just because an adult does something doesn’t mean that it’s right.
Reporting child abuse is the responsibility of everyone, and victims should not be blamed if they struggle to come forward, or don’t come forward until years later. We can further address that by ensuring children understand that they have rights, and that adults can be wrong in what they do.