The Abuse Excuse


Looking through the Gainesville Sun newspaper the other day, I came across a headline: “Police: Couple arrested for ‘malicious’ punishment of child.” The first sentence presented the information in much the same way: Police arrested a couple for allegedly using “malicious” methods to punish children – this time using full quotation marks around the word “malicious.” This raised my curiosity, because it appeared to me that someone was questioning whether the punishment was truly malicious – if not, why the quotation marks? So I read on.

Before continuing, I should say that I know there are readers who might roll their eyes in cynical misery, moaning that every “deserved” slap across the hindparts is called child abuse these days, and swear that kissing your child can get her removed from the home. This, in particular, is dedicated to those cynics. Particularly the next sentence.

The next sentence (in the newspaper story) states, “According to Parker (Florida, of course – five miles southeast of Panama City in the panhandle) police reports, 33-year-old Dannie Lee Bullock and 31-year-old Amber Nicole Waldrop had been investigated for allegedly using a stun gun to shock one child and forcing the child to eat dog feces.” Three other children in the home witnessed the – and here they again use quotation marks, “malicious punishment.”

The ages of the children were not released, and, although police said that Bullock and Waldrop lived with the four children, reports did not indicate how the children were (or were not) related. The couple appeared in court on Thursday on charges of aggravated child abuse, child neglect, and drug possession. They were each held on $47,500 bail.

Every now and then, stories appear in the papers or on television or these days on-line, in which the headline appears to be something about which the above-mentioned cynics might roll their eyes so hard they’ll see the back of their brain. For example, some time ago the headline appeared: Ohio mother charged with raping infant son. Well, knock me over with a feather, our cynical pals might be thinking. Impossible more ways than they can count (possibly literally). If the cynic(s) would have read on, they would have discovered that the Columbus Ohio woman not only raped her 10-month-old son, but she videotaped it and sent it to her “Michigan boyfriend.” Unfortunately for the perpetrator, her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend discovered the videos and contacted police.

The perpetrator’s name was posted, but I will not repost it here. She was 24-years-old at the time. She was indicted on two counts of rape, one count of child endangerment, and one count of pandering sexually-oriented material involving a minor. The rape charge was apparently a capital charge – that, according to the Franklin County Prosecutor, could “land her life in prison.” At the time of the brief article, the woman was being held in the Franklin County Correctional Center in lieu of $1 million bond.

So what does all that have to do with the title, The Abuse Excuse? Only that the same cynics are the first ones to leap up and holler “The Abuse Excuse!” at the first sign of presentation of a history of egregious child abuse. So allow me to clarify that, too. Having a history of having been abused as a child does not excuse anyone from responsibility for their actions later in life. There are far too many children who have been subjected to the most horrific abuse imaginable, and beyond imagination, and they have NOT ended up hurting others. In fact for many it is the most important thing in their lives NOT to pass on what was done to them to the next generation. And they will tend to be the least “understanding” when someone tries to use history of abuse as a somehow mitigating factor in their prosecution, not only because they know better than anyone else that it is not inevitable that victims become abusers, but they are the ones who suffer more than anyone else when that vicious, terribly wrong stereotype surfaces and resurfaces.

Please allow me to reiterate: although many perpetrators were themselves abused as children, that does NOT mean that most victims (or survivors) of terrible child abuse become abusers. That is definitely NOT the case. It is simply WRONG.

In fact, some survivors become the best parents you can imagine, not only because they make damn sure not to repeat the crimes of their parents, but also because there is no vengeance sweeter than to be the best parent imaginable.

Having said all that, to those cynics out there who believe everything they cannot relate to personally is either an excuse, a pathetic appeal for pity, or something that the other person should just “get over it!” Rather than suggest all the various horrible things one might consider appropriate to happen to someone who believes callous lack of empathy and mocking of compassion somehow makes one tough, manly, or these days, the contemptibly conformist “politically incorrect”, I will leave it to the readers to provide their own.

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About Thomas N. Dikel, Ph.D.

I am a Developmental Psychopathologist trained in child development, clinical psychology, pediatric neuropsychology, and forensic psychology. My focus, expertise, or specialty is trauma and PTSD, particularly child abuse and combat related trauma. I work with both adults and children, and adults who are dealing with childhood issues. I am available for forensic evaluations, consultation, and expert witness testimony.
This entry was posted in Child Abuse, Criminal Justice, Developmental Psychopathology, Evil, Psychology, PTSD and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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