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     Volume 6 Issue 16 | April 27, 2007 |

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Straight Talk

Behind Closed Doors

Most parents do not seem to be aware of, or even realise when they cease being individuals and suddenly transform into people whose world revolves around their offspring. Without any prior warning, they find that all their activities are centred around these little people. Whether it is nap times, feeding times, school runs, homework, exams etc. parents try and arrange their lives to fit in with their children's lives. Being a parent myself, I know for a fact that most of us would walk through fire if we had to, to make sure our children were happy and safe. So it is unimaginable to us when we hear or read about people who inflict cruelty on children and even more so when it is the parents who are the perpetrators of physical, mental or sexual abuse.

Just the other day, I read an article in the paper about a mother who forced her two-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to fight each other while her mother and sisters looked on and goaded the children to inflict violence on each other. Not only that, they filmed the entire episode. The video tape was subsequently found by someone who then notified Social Services. The repugnant seven to eight minute fight was filmed at a house on a council estate in Plymouth, Devon. According to the police, everyone who saw the footage was "shocked and stunned". The film shows the little boy wearing a nappy. During the fight, the toddlers are encouraged to hit and punch each other over and over again by their relatives who seem to find it amusing and are heard to be laughing in the background. At one point, when the little boy starts crying after being punched in the face, his grandmother taunts him and hurls verbal abuse at him and tells him not to be "a wimp" and to hit his sister back. Then when the boy tries to escape the fight and climb into an armchair to hide from his sister, the women shout at the little girl to punch him again. When she hits him, the boy is urged to fight back but tearfully says that he does not want to. On one occasion when the girl is on the floor the women tell the boy to kick her while she is down. To add to that, the children were even given a hairbrush and magazine to use as weapons to apply against each other. Just reading the story made me feel sick to the stomach.

The mother of the children pleaded guilty to “causing or procuring the children to be ill-treated in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury” while the other three jointly admitted to “inciting the ill-treatment of children”. They were given a suspended prison sentence with a given number of hours of community service. In my opinion, that is merely a slap on the wrist and not a fitting punishment for the inexcusable behaviour of the women in question. One of the women even had the audacity to tell the police that she thought it would be character building and toughen the children.

To be honest this example of cruelty to children is one of the less horrific and shocking incidents. Some of the stories we come across are so ghastly that it makes you wonder what kind of people can cause that amount of pain and suffering to a child.

Another story I came across at the same time as the toddler incident was one where a foster mother, Eunice Spry, 62, from Gloucestershire, regularly beat, abused and starved at least three children in her care over a 19-year period. The judge presiding over the case, passed a 14 year jail sentence and was quoted to have said: "It's difficult for anyone to understand how any human being could have even contemplated what you did, let alone with the regularity and premeditation you employed." The things she did to punish the children was so vile that it was actually hard to read let alone envisage.

The various punishments Spry meted out to the children for their misbehaviour was to beat the children on the soles of their feet, force them to drink washing-up liquid and bleach even going to the extent of sometimes forcing sticks down their throats or making them eat their own vomit or rat excrement. How any human being reaches that level of depravity is beyond my comprehension. The only reason this abuse was finally discovered was when a Jehovah's Witness was able to secretly confront one of the victims about some marks found on the victims head, caused when her foster mother rubbed sandpaper over her face. The reason Spry managed to get away with this kind of abuse is because the children did not go to school and were taught at home. The children were not allowed to be examined on their own by doctors or dentists thereby ensuring that they would not be able to inform anyone of the abuse they were receiving at the hands of their carer. It also said in one paper (The Guardian) that Spry had needed protection in prison after her convictions and it was a "particularly unpleasant" place for her. Somehow I just cannot get myself to feel even remotely sorry for her.

What is really tragic is that every day children suffer at the hands of people who are supposed to look after and protect them. It should not then be surprising to us when these children grow up and find it difficult to integrate into society and lead a normal life. As we know, the seeds we sow today are at some time in our lives going to come to fruition and if we have instilled a child with fear and violence during their formative years then the chances of the violence being perpetuated by them is more than likely. Violence only begets violence. It is our responsibility not only as parents but as individuals to ensure the safety and well being of any child...

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