The Path Out: Can Child Abuse Be Stopped without Revenge?

Is there a tipping point in horrific child abuse cases where we shift from rage to compassion?

I don’t know, but if there is, I came close to it today. It came from back-to-back news stories about locked up children. One story detailed the situation of a boy in North Carolina, chained to a porch with a dead animal tied around his neck. The other children in the house were living in filth and starving.

This story triggered my righteous anger reflex. When I read about such things it is nearly impossible for me not to “deal with it” by imagining horrific revenge meted out on the adults who would do something like this. I think our own rage/revenge reflex is a coping mechanism for the wash of sadness and powerlessness that comes over us when we have to confront the bad things done to children, the things from which they may never recover. For me, sometimes it’s also about my own anger at being exposed to something I will never be able to forget, no matter how much I want to forget it. This is secondary but it compounds my intense reaction.

Then I read the headline for another story, one so disturbing that I have not been able to bring myself to read it. It involved a child found locked up and so desperate that she had started doing something unimaginable to herself to survive.

I’m not sure why this was my tipping point, but it was.

I started to feel something other than rage toward the people who had done this terrible thing. I felt sadness. For the first time in my life, I felt sadness for the lost people who have made their legacy one of fear and pain and death.

Anger and revenge are glamorized. They feel good and they burn off painful emotions for a little while. They can even give you an identity if you need one; I have an acquaintance who makes it his business to make sure everyone knows that he will seek public revenge on you if he decides he doesn’t like you for some reason. I doubt I am going to show up on his list, but you never know. He’s vain enough to be convinced this is about him, not about social justice and not about compassion and not about forgiveness.

Revenge, when spun out as deserved and the only means to justice, is very attractive. You can do something. You can take all of your hurt and your disappointment and your anger and do something. You can hurt back. You can tangibly show the world you won’t stand for something.

But what if the path out is intangible?

What if the only real way out of these terrible stories is through compassion, and forgiveness, and speaking out for those who are so damaged they are capable of hurting children this way?

Part of me hopes this isn’t the answer because it’s so hard, and I’m no good at it.

But part of me hopes this is right. Because moving forward in a different light, in any light, feels better than piling on to the very bad things that brought it all up in the first place.

4 thoughts on “The Path Out: Can Child Abuse Be Stopped without Revenge?

  1. As always, you pose another side of an arguement that I am neither able or willing to address. I read both of these articles and cannot see past my own fears, sadness for these children, and disgust at these caregivers. Compassion for the caregiver does not enter into my mind. It is beyond my comprehension that these 4 adults were not aware of the trauma and cruelty they caused for these children. My brain will not allow me to feel compassion for them because to me, that means accepting that they knew no other way or did not have the tools to make different decsions. Right or wrong,. I feel no person responsible for this level of neglect and toture should be spared the fullest punishment available to our courts sytems.

    • I really feel you. I’ve been over this and over this, and the only reason I wrote today was my own amazement that I had even a shred of another feeling. Please know, I understand. I am just exploring a new, unexpected take. Sometimes the absolute opposite of what I feel like doing turns out to be a better choice.

  2. I wonder about this frequently after reading news stories of horrific crimes, often committed against animals and/or children. I get that some people are just psychotic, but in many of these other instances I’m curious what these individuals experienced in their lives that make them think this is acceptable behavior, almost always against those that are unable to stand up for themselves. Is it a need for power they never experienced … have they never been loved or cared for? If their own family and immediate circle has failed them, have we too as a society? More hugs, less competitive sports/winning.

    • I just don’t know. I think most of it, not all but most of it, is connected to sustained personal damage. And that in NO WAY is an excuse, but it can be a reason.

      My church is spending several weeks working with our young people on the concept of compassion, and I know that even hearing those thoughts as an adult has had an impact on me. Compassion is not always being nicey nicey. It can be quite radical and counterintuitive. I’m very tuned in right now to how our culture supports the idea of punishment and revenge and “deserved” retribution almost as entertainment.

      We can keep showing up in the coliseum, or we can refuse to go there. Maybe.

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