Opinion

Commentary: It takes a community to counter abuse

How many times can you read about children being tortured and killed in the light of day before growing numb?

Personally, I reached that point Tuesday. The bodies and suspects began piling up. The graphic details were many, the motives and solutions few.

It might seem we're experiencing a child abuse epidemic. But no. It's simply what can happen over the course of days.

There was Monday's discovery of 2-year-old twins shot to death in south Sacramento. Linked to that case is a 14-year-old who wrote pages in her journal about being abused by her stepfather.

Later Monday, a 17-year-old walked into a Tracy health club with a chain around his leg and wounds on his body. He appeared emaciated, disoriented. A Tracy couple are being held on suspicion of conspiracy, torture, kidnapping, beating and false imprisonment. The teen's aunt is being sought on similar charges.

On Tuesday, a Natomas woman was arrested for child endangerment in the death of her 3-year-old. The boy – his name was Manuel – suffered severe head trauma before dying Nov. 9. A man who lived with Manuel's mother has been arrested on suspicion of inflicting the fatal injuries.

You can't blame this latest spike on any one ethnic group – the suspects are Asian, white, Latino, black. The connective tissue that usually links such cases is isolation. The experts say that isolation can be a desperate feeling, fueled by fatigue, marital stress, financial duress, family fragmentation.

Under the best of circumstances, in the best of families, it would be so easy to abuse a child. We all know what can happen when the kid won't stop crying – won't stop pushing back, won't stop fighting every last thing you do or say.

Soon, your head is spinning, your heart is aching, you're tired, fed up. What stops you and me from acting on that frustration? A mixture of self-control and a support system that helps you keep your perspective.

What happens when that support system is missing? Then your neighbors are quoted in The Bee as being "shocked." How many times have you heard suspects described as "quiet and friendly"?

We can blame Child Protective Services for everything, but we know the problem is bigger than one agency. By the time CPS gets involved, the abuse has started.

"Any system that only mandates services after the harm has happened is fundamentally flawed," said Sheila Anderson of the Child Abuse Prevention Center.

Spending money on prevention is a crying need, but government alone can't cope with this.

If people are disconnected from their churches, their schools, their relatives, their friends, their co-workers – if their abuse is unseen and undetected – then all we can do is recover the bodies.

Evil happens in communities when there is the absence of community.

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