ABUSE IN THE AGE OF A PANDEMIC

I’m sick of saying it, you’re sick of saying it, we are all sick of hearing it: “These are unprecedented times”.  Well, they are but frankly all of us are exhausted.  What happens when we are exhausted?  We tend to let our guard down, take our masks off and dismiss advice to distance ourselves from the people we care about, love and frankly miss dearly.  

This pandemic exhaustion can also lead to complacency in other aspects of our life.  It can lead us to make assumptions about our children’s behavior, because after all, they are exhausted too.  So, when we see a child anxious about school (virtual or in-person), sports, holidays or even small outside social events, it is natural to chalk it up to the repercussions of the pandemic.  Whether that be fear of getting ill, fear of others falling ill or simply being isolated from all things which make childhood joyous.  

Yes, many children are demonstrating anxious behaviors—some younger children are even regressing.  But as parents, as a community, we must not generalize or make easy assumptions about unusual or unexpected behavior.  It is easy, especially as we deal with our own anxieties and fears that we miss signs of abuse.  While media attention and frankly our preoccupations, may be concentrated on the rollercoaster which is COVID 19, we must not lose our vigilance when it comes to recognizing abuse.  Because of course, abuse doesn’t stop during a pandemic.  Predators don’t take a hiatus or go into hiding.  In fact, they can more easily stay under the radar.  Because of this, incidents of abuse have more likely increased because children have not been physically in school or attending extra-curricular activities where responsible adults can make sure they are OK.

To complicate a complex situation, we are entering into the winter months where under non-pandemic circumstances, we are “less visible” as we all tend to isolate from cold weather.  Specific to this year, the holidays will likely be even more stressful.  The economy has been uprooted, the pandemic is still raging, we are politically polarized and we are being urged to cancel holiday traditions and celebrations.  

All of this amounts to an extremely high risk set of circumstances for children.  As preoccupied as we are, we need to be MORE vigilant as we ride out what is predicted to be the worst of this pandemic. A virus that is not only directly killing hundreds of thousands of people but slowly chipping away at our psychological and emotional well-being.  

We all have a lot on our minds right now.  It is easy and understandable to get caught up in our own feelings and legitimate fears as we navigate unchartered territory.  But I plead with you to not assume questionable behavior is just a child’s way of dealing with the current crisis.  They very well may be having their own crisis; a crisis which will not be resolved until an adult speaks up and steps in.  Recognize the signs of abuse.  Speak up. Make that call.  Care.  Make sure you are an active part of protecting our most vulnerable population; not a bystander who refuses to equate complacency with enablement.  Pick up the phone.  Ask questions and report.  Trust your gut.  If you’re wrong, well now you are sure that child is safe.  If you are right, now you know that child WILL be safe.