05 December 2010

Child Abuse and FB Proselytizing

So there is this new movement on FB. Oddly enough, the movement started out in Europe over a month ago. I know this, b/c some of my classmates participated. But in Europe, it was just "let's take a fun walk down memory lane and post our favorite cartoon as a profile pic".

Then one month later, this movement made its way to the US* but with an annoying armchair-activist twist, as many things that get imported to the US are wont to do. Instead of just a fun walk down memory lane, it became, let's-do-this-to-show-your-stance-against-child-abuse-and-raise-child-abuse-awareness.

*(note to editor-type geeks: you will notice that I now write US instead of U.S. This is b/c the editors of the 16th edition of Chicago, much to my dismay, has decided that US, instead of U.S., is now the preferred way to abbreviate our country. After years and years of writing U.S., this is taking some getting used to, but I'm practicing this convention on my blog.)

If only it really did. Well, actually, it can, indirectly, b/c one of my FB friends is posting eye-opening statistics about child abuse on her status--like the fact that five children die from child abuse daily. And she is a counselor and special-education teacher actually doing something in her day-to-day life to raise awareness and prevent future occurrences. Another friend of mine said she prayed for these poor children.

But besides this, I'm not sure how effective such acts of so-called awareness are at actually helping the cause. I mean, change your profile pic and have fun with it, but please don't turn it into a non-cause.

I don't mean to belittle child abuse and suggest that it is not a worthy cause. Nor do I suggest that I am doing anything right now to help prevent child abuse. But the majority of people who are changing their profiles--well, I don't (be)friend indecent people, so I'm sure they are against child abuse. You don't really need to tell me this or make a point of posting this in your status update. However, I don't think people should change their profile pic from the comfort of their home, and feel good about this and call it a day. I think this sort of passive armchair activism is a disservice to the people who do actually do make a difference in people's lives. How many of these people actually know an abused child, I wonder.

And likewise, who are you to tell me to post this status update about some battalion in Afghanistan who lost people to show support or else I am a coward?

It is this sort of passive activism (and then people patting themselves on their back) that annoys me. Not to mention the annoying peer pressure. It feels so high school-ish. Except instead of being peer pressured into having uber-high 2-inch hair-sprayed bangs by 15-year-olds, now it is pressure to post status updates by middle-aged people. There's still the same name-calling (e.g. coward, if you don't post this update, etc.)

There are people who love our country so much that they are willing to put their lives on the line, so people like me can sit and bloviate in a blog post in safety and silly heads of states can wage wars that they will never have to fight themselves. Right now, I can't do much more than feel extremely thankful that there are such amazing, brave people. We (myself included) take these people too much for granted. I can't possibly imagine how big of a sacrifice these people make. I am very thankful for the freedom and rights that I have, but I personally can't imagine risking my life for them. So I am very thankful that there are people who will. It's not something I take lightly. And to think that one can show support and appreciation by just posting some status update? I know it's well-meant, but it almost seems like a cop-out.

You fight and die for my country, and I'll show you my appreciation by changing my FB status for an hour and browbeat others to do the same. How's that for a bargain?

And likewise with this silly child abuse awareness movement. I have friends (both FB and real) who are counselors and actually chose to make a living out of helping children or other victims of hate crimes and violence. I wish I were altruistic enough to make a living out of helping people. I wish I had the people skills and the commitment to become a teacher. But I don't. However, I don't pretend I'm making a difference by just posting a blog about it or FB status about it. When I'm financially able, I do contribute to causes and volunteer time and try to make some difference that way, but the reality is that most of us just aren't that dedicated. Yes we care. What decent human being wouldn't care about child abuse, battered women, dying soldiers, etc. But other than sending money, how many of my cartoon-profiled friends are willing to actually effect change and do something about it?

I'm sure a lot of people passively cared about and were aware of the Jewish people (and gay people and communists) who were sent off to concentration camps. But the point is that awareness wasn't enough.

There is the famous and powerful quote by Niemoeller:
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

My second point, and more of a question, is ok, I am aware of child abuse. Or at least the concept of it. But a) how do I become more actively aware of it, and b) short of changing careers, what else can I do that is less passive than sending money?

On my first question, I think that we will think it is easy to detect child abuse. Look for external signs--e.g. bruises in weird places, right?

But it's not this straightforward. I recently discovered (via random google-stalking) that one of my former classmates was a victim of domestic violence. I went to school with her for 9? 10? years, and lived down the street from her, but never noticed. I mean, she was always put together, and didn't fit the "abused household" profile. I was friends with her for several years, and went to several birthday parties at her house, and played with her after school in my younger years, but never once suspected anything and she never once mentioned anything. And likewise for other friends who later tell me that they were abused (sexually, physically, etc.). These are all straight-A-honor students, defying the typical broken-home stereotype. Also, there are complications. At least one of my friends (and heck, me too), has been hit as a form of discipline. While I don't agree with this method of discipline, we both agreed that calling some social services agency and having the home broken up would not have been ideal. I realize that occasional corporeal punishment is a far cry from child abuse, but this brings me to my second point (and I speak, partly from experience, and partly from feedback from other friends)--that unless the abuse is blatant, sometimes, if it's a these-parents-use-corporeal-punishment-to-discipline-children case, I'm not sure it's in the best interest of the children to have the family split up. By all means intervene and educate, but I think the child, other siblings, and other parent should probably be consulted.

And on point b), when I found out about my friends and classmates being victims, the first thing I ask myself is, what should I have done differently to notice? Should I have asked? Probably. But this kind of information is very hard to get out of people. People are very good at hiding domestic problems. I know this firsthand. (And no, I was not a victim of child abuse, but there were other problems that I won't go into here.) So how do you reach out to someone who is witholding information, and genuinely show that you want to help? B/c I've been on the other side of the fence, and I've had child study teams harass my family, but I never shared anything with them, because well, other than one fifth grade teacher who really showed that he genuinely cared, I never got the sense from these counselors, child-study this-and-that people, that people actually gave a damn or truly understood. I mean, how can you, if you are not living 24-7 with whatever problem? Or at least, this is what I thought as a 17-year old. I realize now that this a bit of a fallacy--one can still be sympathetic and understand, without being subject to abuse, alcoholism, depression, whatever 24-7. But to return to my point--once I recognize this, what can I do to help? Are there other tangible things I can do that falls between passive awareness and devoting my career to helping these people?

So I don't mean to pooh-pooh a passive-but-well-meant cause, but simply changing ones profile picture to raise child abuse awareness doesn't answer the difficult questions I have.

I have always been aware. So were these neighbors of people who were wisked off to concentration camps. I am not changing my career, since I just spent an entire year studying to become a despotic ruler. So please tell me something concrete I can do to help this situation.


Linda - 2010 said...

You don't know me, but for some time I've kept your blog link on my own blog's favorites list, for friends & family to explore if interested.

I have finally decided though to send my first comment to you - regarding your Child Abuse & FB Proselytizing post because I also feel exactly the same way about armchair activism of any sort, but could not have stated it as well as you did in your post. I am glad I am not alone in feeling as you do.

I don't discuss my personal social actions or financial contributions relating to any cause either, and I don't wave a flag about it for anyone else to weigh my chosen social acts against their own ideas.

The funny part? I worked 16 years for a government childrens' protective agency & never got used to the negative, judgemental things said about our client families that I heard from co-workers in the office, especially compared to the great self pride in their voices every time they handed out business cards while proudly introducing themselves by their "worthy & admirable" job titles that inevitably brought forth the expected effusive raves complimenting them for "saving the children of the world".

But financial or toy drives for children within our own office? What a laugh. They never seemed to have any money to participate. Their full time jobs for abused children seemed to qualify as a justifiable contribution when compared to $$$$ expected from the ordinary working masses. Sad.

BTW - some years ago I also joined FB as a simple way to share videos/photos/posts of my travels, but hated it & bailed after only 8 months or so. Blogging is much more satisfying.

anzu said...

Thanks for visiting and for your thoughtful comments. I'm always flattered to learn that strangers link to my blog. :)

Your comment about the gov workers is eye-opening. Though I wonder too, if one can be judgmental about the families, b/c they link it to child abuse--meaning, they are still working w/ the child's best interest in mind, but for example, the child comes from a family involved in drugs, so they see the connection--e.g. drugs-->child abuse, and thus, they make disparaging comments, perhaps directed at the drug abuse, but it comes out in a way that it seems like they are being critical of the family, maybe?