Next time you hear someone bemoan the wicked, sinful, decadent times we live in—this generation of vipers—remind them that child abuse was only recently recognized for the colossal problem that it is. The full ramifications of child abuse on human civilization are not appreciated even now, but the code of silence has been smashed, and smashed forevermore. That development came about in our times.
Awareness itself is powerful. It is the difference between having some social pressures against a behavior and having none at all, or even any acknowledgement that the behavior exists. Certainly awareness of child abuse in America came about in a big way with the release of Suzanne Vega’s song “Luka” in 1987. The lyrics were of a little boy admitting in an indirect way that he was being beaten in his apartment at night, and at the same time constructing excuses for the mistreatment, taking the blame for it, and asking that it be kept quiet. (Luka is on the album Solitude Standing). It covered so many of the grim bases of abusive behavior, and had such depth of insight on the subject, its power was gut-wrenching. This was driven home all the more by comparison with most other 1980’s pop tunes, which had canned drum tracks in place of any pulse of humanity.
An Organized Stand
An organized stand against maltreatment of children got going in 1972, with the group Prevent Child Abuse. They are still going strong, now on-line at http://www.preventchildabuse.org/ They have a great variety of programs and parents’ resources. Causes and warning signs of child abuse are identified. (Who would have thought that social isolation of the parents might be one of them?) This is only one of a legion of social service organizations out there dealing with this crisis. Some are no doubt more effective than others, but their overall worth has to be compared to what went before, which was silence.
Silence is not worse than hysterical mass-manias, which accompanied the emergence of the child abuse issue in the public mind back in the 1980s. This was the decade of the infamous Satanic Cult / Ritual Abuse hysteria, in which millions of Americans convinced themselves that day care centers all over the country were operated by lunatic Satanists who performed endless unspeakable ritual abuses on the children in their care. Case after case was found to be based on no evidence other than therapists leading and coaching children to make incendiary accusations.
Traumas Transferred Through the Ages
If only all the abuse was fictional, and not an ageless nightmare. How many books and documentaries on this subject have lines like,”…In those days, child abuse was out of sight and out of mind. The child would not have been believed even if he did speak up.” In the Victorian Age, it was common practice to view children as small adults. But children were to be “seen, not heard,” as they had yet to receive proper moral instruction. Emotional repression was the absolute rule of the day, and proverbs like “Spare the rod and spoil the child” were used to justify generations of horrific abuse. The echoes of those days are with us still. Psychological traumas are passed down over the generations, agonies reverberating across history. Not through anything mystical, but verbally and nonverbally. People conveyed their emotional states and imprinted them on younger people.
When the scandal of pedophile priests exploded on the Catholic Church in the 1990s, miles of text were written without making the connection to the antiquity of the problem. It would have been easy to come away thinking that all this was a recent aberration. But the only thing recent was the exposure and condemnation of it. The ghastly pattern of abuse is older than the Catholic Church itself, and in no way limited to Catholics.
In contemplating the full extent of the damage done to us by child abuse down through the ages, one almost feels the need for a memorial moment of silence. Imagine how our world would be different today if more of it had been stopped. Imagine all the spin-off tragedies, and the multi-generational ripple effects. Try to imagine the total impact of child abuse on the human race. You cannot, because imagination can only encompass just so much.