WORDS: ANNA STREZMPKO ('17)
When I was a little girl, I was with my best friend Christine when we came across a dead rabbit. Our neighborhood is essentially in the woods, so it wasn’t uncommon to find dead animals every once in a while. My family’s cats sometimes left mice on our front stoop. I wasn’t horrified, but I was definitely more squeamish than Christine. She insisted that we take a closer look at the rabbit because she was going through a weird dissection phase. She sought out a sharp stick and poked the rabbit’s shredded stomach sac so that shiny, thick liquid oozed out. We were both captivated, so we were shocked when a fox ran in front of us and tore into the rabbit. It chewed on it’s ears and licked the fat stuck to it’s ribs. We later found out that the fox was rabid, but I swear it was human for those few minutes. It attacked the carcass as though they had a blood feud. The messiness seemed personal. We only watched for a minute until my mother found us gawking. That night, I had ghastly dreams of decapitated bunnies holding their heads in their paws. I had to sleep with my parents for a month and a half. Christine was completely fine.
Some people can watch horror movies and others cannot. Some people can handle growing up in poverty, and others cannot. Nobody reacts the same way, but I can tell you that being exposed to violence as a young girl really fucked me up. I don’t mean the dead rabbit, but the three years I spent being abused by my swim coach as a young teenager. The thing is, the dead rabbit messed with my soul as well. To children, violence is still unexplored territory. They have not developed their comfort level or pain threshold, let alone an understanding of cultural and social implications. Christine was able to stomach the rabbit for no reason other than chance. We were both learning about how we reacted to violence, and she was figuring out that she had an unusually high tolerance. She is a policewoman now. I was learning that I had an intense fear of bodily violation of any kind. These differences only account for being human.
Of course, it is impossible to argue just from the evidence of my experience, because no abuse survivor has the same story. Violence affects every child in different and subtle ways, and that is the point. Sean Hannity says, ‘I got hit with a strap, bam bam bam, and I have never been to a shrink!’ , but I got hit too and I have been to plenty of shrinks. Reggie Bush insists that he ‘was punished the same way’  as Adrian Peterson’s four year-old son, and he turned out fine. But I met a girl in eating disorder rehab who killed herself. Her father abused her, and that is what it said in the note she left in the garage after she turned the car on. Charles Barkely apparently suffered similar ‘welts on [his] legs’, but that is just common for ‘every black parent in [his] neighborhood in the south’ . Except Aileen Wuornos was abused as a child and went on to kill nine men in cold blood. I met a boy in my support group who shot his father between the eyes while he slept. Some kids turn out okay, but a lot of kids get fucked up.
It is not hard to see the thought correlation. A girl is beat by her father as a child, and thus, she learns that discipline comes in the form of physical abuse. When her husband slaps her for not cleaning the kitchen, it makes sense. A boy is whipped whenever he fails to remain quiet at his father’s request. Violence is the only kind of problem solving he knows, so he whips his son into silence at well. It is not hard to see the thought correlation.
So, is the freedom to instill discipline by violence in your children worth the potential damage they could bring to themselves and society? Not every kid who plays violent video games shoots up their high school, but some do. Not every kid is affected for the rest of their lives by an early exposure to violence, but a lot are. How are we still justifying the fucking up of millions of children by saying Sean Hannity is ‘fine’? Thirty percent of abused children will later physically abuse their own children . It is sick to say that the potential devastation that abuse imprints on one child is worth it if another one turns out okay.
Child abuse creates the only situation in the fucking world where a human can end up bruised and bloodied, and it is still socially acceptable to discuss whether the perpetrator did the ‘right thing’. When looked at with an inch of empathy, this view is perversely fucked up. I want my friend to stop talking about his math classes, but I don’t whip him every time he brings up Discrete Math. At least people are beginning to admit that women don’t deserve the physical violence they often suffer at the hands of their partners. But we’re STILL questioning whether parents have the right to beat their children to teach them a lesson?
It’s hard for me to understand how the freedom to physically discipline a child is glorified as some kind of political statement. “We might as well hand our kids over to the government” is an embarrassingly weak defense to spew to a bleeding four year-old. Two-thirds of people in drug rehabilitation report being abused as children . Essentially, the argument could be condensed to, “The American obsession with violence and freedom to commit it is more important than human safety.” Adrian Peterson is not the man to blame for systematic violence. He experienced it as a child, and now he is one of the fucked up ones, but that is not his fault. The fault lies within the blind eye we turn towards the role that violence plays in the development of the psyche.
I grew up in girl’s elite swimming, and it was filled with a culture of physical pain. Who could swim harder for longer, faster; who could do the most push ups; who could finish the set without crying. If that culture hadn’t been there to enforce my coach’s idea that he had the right to abuse me, things might have gone differently. I live with that uncertainty every day. Every person who experiences negative affects of child abuse has to live knowing that a different culture would not have allowed it. I am a person who was abused as a child, and I am taking this personally. The responsibility to convince society that child abuse is wrong does not fall on Adrian Peterson or the NFL or video games or swimming, but on us. We have to work to create an atmosphere that values the physical and emotional well being of humans above all else. Above politics, above the ‘right’ to parent as one sees fit, and above the right to whip a four year-old on his genitals. Frankly, we should be ashamed that this is just the beginning of the national discussion, but that does not mean we should settle. Child abuse should not be tolerated, and if we live with that in mind, it does not have to be.