#Istayathome: danger for abused children

#Istayathome: danger for abused children

This month of April will be remembered as the month of quarantine, but it is also – worldwide – the month of raising awareness of child maltreatment. The two have a much stronger connection than one might think.

On social networks we are inundated with news, images and stories that show an alleged ideal quarantine. We cook, we train perhaps with a little yoga, we finally put the closets in order, while the children carry out an orderly routine of distance lessons, all together and in the family.

#iorestoacasa is the message / password that has spread all over the world to protect us from the epidemic and from ourselves. And there is no doubt that social distancing and isolation prevent a greater spread of the infection. On the other hand, that hashtag assumes that there is a house that welcomes and protects from external dangers. But many do not have a house and others, often children, experience situations of abuse within the home. For many, the danger does not lie only outside, and now they find themselves locked up by decree suffering without psychological, physical or sexual abuse, or they are helplessly witnessing episodes of violence between their parents.
We recall that in Italy 427 thousand children, only in the last five years, have been direct or indirect witnesses of the mistreatment at home of their mothers, almost always by the hand of man.

According to Save the Children, in Europe, one in ten children is physically abused in the family, three out of ten suffer from emotional abuse and two out of ten live in precarious physical conditions. Numbers that say that even if most adults refuse violence against children, in practice many people exercise it. It is a large generation that has been educated, and now educates in turn, according to a model based on violence: cries, threats, contempt, pulling of ears, tugging, physical punishment or isolation. They are somehow naturalized and justified actions by parents and educators who still think that “a slap every now and then does not hurt”.

In an emergency and tension situation, violence increases and the ability to help decreases. Today, all attention is in the virus and in prevention, the epidemic is the only real concern, the most dangerous for the health of all of us. Children experience this period with even greater stress, which can turn into a traumatic situation. Both new school and leisure needs, as well as environmental conditions for the whole family, are factors that increase the risk of domestic violence.

Many of the most fragile and exposed were left without help or refuge. Quarantine prevents external help and suddenly they are left alone. For children who are victims of some form of domestic abuse, school is not only a place to learn things but also an alternative and safe home. For some, staying indoors is tantamount to constant threat, like torture.
For all of them, having lost access to other spaces, including therapeutic ones, means no longer having environments that offer a different reality, a reassuring look. Therapy and psychological support are difficult things to carry out with a child: it becomes almost impossible to break the fear of revealing oneself, the game does not work and even more complicated to establish or maintain a relationship of trust. How can a child feel free to talk about the abuse of an adult who maybe sits a few steps away from him in the same room?
In these days the examples of these situations are multiplying: in one case, calling a small patient to find out how he was and helping him to organize school tasks, we confronted the mother, who exercises a strict “corrective discipline” on the child, who asked to put the call on speakerphone: with this type of control, confidential meeting is impossible.
Isolation risks worsening things in families where there is already a situation of violence. In others it can trigger new relationship conflicts. Anxiety, distress and uncertainty push the tension to the limit, and being closed in the house it is more difficult to postpone the moment of discharge. Forced coexistence is frustrating and increases aggression. Imagine parents who sometimes scold their son violently because it brings noise and disorder when they return from school: what happens if young and old are forced to stay indoors at home all day?

Distance learning is another potential source of problems. The children who have the greatest learning difficulties are those who most easily exacerbate their parents, who complain and attribute their fatigue to the child who “does not understand, is distracted, is not capable”. Thus, for some parents, this becomes the justification for outbursts of anger and inflicting severe, sometimes physical, punishment. It is difficult to denaturalise these attitudes, which are still socially accepted and not considered for what they are today: child abuse.

Children who are victims of mistreatment find themselves between two fires: on the one hand the need to understand and process, through their own vulnerability, the extraordinary situation that we are all experiencing and which for them means new ways of learning, playing and relating with the world. On the other hand, the obligation to continuously remain in a family context that generates tensions and fears: practically a time bomb.

Each crisis brings with it infinite possibilities for change. We must take advantage of this to promote greater awareness of the abuses to which children are exposed and to change the way we deal with them. Giving him as much visibility as possible during this health emergency will keep on minimizing and even denying the problem.
In a situation of violence, children are victims of adult abuse of power. A happy childhood, on the other hand, lasts for a lifetime, and can prevent problematic patterns from replicating.