Monday, April 4, 2016

Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

This month, the talk gets real. People don't like to talk about it, exposing some of the deeper, hidden shames in our society, but let me be clear:

Child Abuse exists and it is far more prevalent than you may think.

In the 2014-2015 year, in the state of Virginia alone, almost 50 000 children were reported as possible cases of abuse or neglect, 6 500 of them having enough evidence to be considered a founded report. (CASA of Central VA Fact Sheet)

In one year, in a state of 8.5 million people, 6 500 children were reported, with enough evidence, of being abused.

Sure, that's less than 0.1% of the state population, but that's 6 500 children who will become adults. That's 6 500 children who were fortunate enough that someone realised that abuse was happening and was able to gather evidence thereof. For each one of those children there are unknown others who are being abused or neglected, many, majority, of them by family members.

In my small city of Lynchburg, and its surrounding area, there are currently over 500 children reported as being abused.

Child abuse has lasting ramifications - and I don't just mean on mental health (See a couple immediate examples) and the perpetuation of abuse to future generations. The CDC is currently conducting an ongoing study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), an inventory of 10 indicators of childhood trauma, and their prevalence (~ 65% of the US population has a score of > 1) and health implications, showing a remarkable correlation between chronic diseases and an ACE score as low as 1 (ACEsTooHigh).

For those of you curious enough, ACEs comprise:

  • Abuse
    • Physical
    • Emotional
    • Sexual
  • Neglect
    • Physical
    • Emotional
  • Traumatic Household Experiences
    • Separated/Divorced parents
    • Witnessing violence against mother
    • Family member was a alcoholic/drug addict
    • Family member was a mental health patient
    • Family member was in jail/prison

Oddly enough, ACEs were discovered during an obesity study in which a patient who had been losing weight significantly suddenly regained all her lost weight. When the researchers investigated this, they found that the patient in question had been sexually abused as a child and turned to obesity as a protective mechanism. In the process of losing weight, she was catcalled, which triggered memories of her abuse and she put the weight back on as protection (ACEsTooHigh).

Our children, the generations of tomorrow deserve a life free of the effects of abuse and neglect. Those who are trapped deserve a way out and understanding arms to lean on.

Begin the discussion today and let's all take a stand against Child Abuse in Virginia, in the US, around the world.

Virginia Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-800-552-7096
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-Child (422-4453)

Court Appointed Special Advocates (Of Central VA)
Prevent Child Abuse (VA)
 - Fact Sheet
US Dept of Health and Human Services
 - ACE Questionnaire
ChildTrends ACE Factsheet

Sunday, April 3, 2016


So, my wife and I went to watch Zootopia in part of an early birthday celebration and I was thoroughly pleased. In fact, in this current political climate, I would recommend the entire US watch it - and here's why: As a family movie, it very tactfully and directly deals with prejudicial tension and what can happen when it is allowed to go unchecked.

Spoilers (Highlight to read):
In this movie, a number of predators have gone missing and are found to have gone "savage". When uncovered, the protagonist, an eager, fresh, idealistic recruit to the police department unwittingly chalks it up in a media interview to the predator species, for some reason, reverting to their pre-civilised states, because "It's in their DNA." Of course, this causes widespread panic and discrimination against the predators and, depressed, our heroine quits her job.

While back at her family's farm, she realises that she had made a mistake - the reverted behaviour was due to a plant compound, not a freak reversion of nature. In the process of trying to mend her mistake, she uncovers a plot headed by a faction of prey (headed by the assistant mayor, a sheep) to smear predators via this extract and gain the power and recognition they deserve through harnessing the fear of the other prey.

What I, as a white man, saw is the stark reality of America today that I see on a regular basis.

  • We have a presidential candidate smearing other races by fear and mockery, rallying many to a prejudiced cause of racism and xenophobia. 
  • We have a population comprised largely of one racial group (White) who, actively or passively, are acting and reacting to other racial groups with a preconceived notion of criminality or mal-intent
    • African-Americans are perceived as criminals, illiterate, and thugs
    • Hispanics are perceived as illegal, drug lords, and job thieves
    • Arabic-appearing individuals and Muslims are perceived as terrorists and threats to the American way of life
    • You could even make a connection to many heterosexuals' fear and discomfort around homosexual individuals
  • You see whites and heterosexuals jumping to the immediate, easy conclusions, applying blanket discrimination along a stereotype instead of looking deeper for the/an actual cause
When talking to my wife, who is African-American, I discovered that one scene resonated with her in a way that took me a while to understand. In the attitude and monologue of the ringleader, she identified a deep-seated bitterness reminiscent to the attitude of many in the African-American population towards the white population as a result of racial labeling and prejudice over the years.

Through the film, it's very possible to see an exaggerated portrayal of prejudice being allowed freedom to act. We see the growth of prejudice within a population and a demonisation of another population. 

We also see two responses to prejudice. Either, (spoiler) like the assistant mayor, you can act upon prejudice, seeking vindication through vengeful action, leading to division, or, (spoiler) like the protagonist, you can react to prejudice, seeking its end through restitution, leading to unity. 

These actions can be either internal or external, responding to the prejudice within yourself or the prejudice of others. It's easy to see the external, lashing out in prejudice or seeking forgiveness for committed or implicit prejudices, but the internal is more important, being the seed from which actions develop - the fermenting of prejudice, often through resentment, bitterness, or fear, or the battle to overcome ingrained prejudices, often through forgiving those who have enacted injustice.

Of course, forgiveness is difficult, especially in the face of deep-rooted wrongs. 

Why should I forgive those who have wronged me in the first place?
Firstly, for those readers who are Christians, it's what Christ did for us - he forgave us and took our punishment while we were still his enemies (Rom 5:8-10). We are commanded to right any wrongs and grievances with others before coming to God in worship (Matt 5:24) and to not allow anger to ferment within ourselves (Eph 4:26).
Secondly, especially for those who aren't Christians, granting forgiveness tells the aggressor that you no longer subject yourself to the effect of his/her wrongdoing, that you no longer allow it to cripple, poison, or otherwise negatively affect you in any physical, mental, spiritual, or social capacity. It also tells the aggressor that you relieve yourself of any right to retaliation, seeking restitution through mutual peace instead of vengeance. (I'm not saying that recompense is not due, however, just that vengeance will not be sought)

What if I forgive someone only to have them repeat the same insult? 
Jesus answered this question to one of his disciples, telling him to forgive endlessly ("not just seven times, but seventy-times-seven times" - Matt 18:22).

What if someone takes advantage of my forgiveness to continue acting in prejudice or offense?
Christ tells us to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors (Matt 5:44). He also tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matt 22:39). 

What if I recognise my wrong and have sought to address it, but those I've hurt refuse to forgive me or those like me?
To be honest, this is a difficult question to answer and is something that is often very disheartening, especially as someone who desires to help open racial dialogue and bring about restoration in my immediate communities. The most I can say, though, is this: Paul writes to the Galatians, encouraging them to never cease in doing good, to continue doing so anywhere the opportunity presents (Gal 6:9-10). 

We must never give up the fight for reconciliation, doing what little we can as often as possible, whether that be forgiveness or redress. Perhaps then we can to bring peace and unity to our own Homotopia.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Psalm

Why does my head hang low, O God?
Why is my spirit quiet within?

My mind soars to greater heights
My thoughts search deeply after you

And yet, it's all for naught

Inside my heart lie white coals
Trapped within an empty shell,
my soul lies desolate

My knowledge fails, fueled by self and pride

My emptiness laid bare

Teach me, O Lord

Teach me how to trust,
to lean on you in faith

Teach my heart and make ignorant my mind

Let aught come of it

Put your spirit within me
Breathe life again into my lungs
Let me burn with your fire
and move with your strings

Let it be, Amen, cries my soul