She stood in the kitchen warming up dinner when she heard a knock at the door. She hesitated before opening it, wondering who would stop by unannounced in the middle of the week. Her eyes grew wide as she took in the sight on her front porch. Moments later she was in handcuffs and taken away, charged with child endangerment.
Marissa Scott*, 38, had been married to Lincoln* for 12 years. Before she met him, she had given birth to two daughters when she was barely a teenager herself. Lincoln stepped in and helped her raise her two daughters, adding two sons of their own to the family. The family progressed together, moving to a better neighborhood as they supported their four children through school.
A month before the police came to take Marissa away, she faced them in the most unexpected way. Her eldest daughter had been a witness to a crime and was detained along with the perpetrators. After being questioned by the police her daughter was given a general mental health background questionnaire where she revealed that she had been molested by her stepfather, Lincoln.
The school reported the abuse and Lincoln willingly admitted that he had done it. He was arrested and given a no contact order for the children. What may surprise some is the fact that Marissa knew all along that her daughter had been molested by her husband yet she didn’t contact the police.
Instead, she opted to receive counseling from her pastor. The church officials met with her entire family on a weekly basis to counsel them through the ordeal as her husband saved money to move out. Marissa did not know that she was required to report the abuse to the police or that she would eventually be arrested for child endangerment and lose custody of all of her because of it.
“There are very strict laws in place to protect children from abuse,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building A Better Bond with Your Child. www.DrFranWalfish.com “The law is written such that if there is reasonable suspicion of child abuse the mandated reporter MUST report to the local CPS or Child Protective Services.”
The law is for ‘mandated reporters’ including psychologists, social workers, teachers, pediatricians and all physicians. Parents are not technically mandated reporters, however, it is implied and assumed that if the child tells the non-abuser parent of a single or repeated episode of abuse it is the duty of the parent to protect the child and provide a safe living environment.
“The mother should have reported her husband,” Walfish states. “I think this mom’s church failed her. The church clergy and other professionals should have been trained in mandated reporting of child abuse. They should have counseled the family and helped them make a report. Once a report is filed, a CPS social worker would be assigned to visit the child and parents in their home and make a determination about the safety or danger to the child.”
Walfish believes that it is important for the mother to report the incident not only to protect the mother from criminal charges but to protect the child from further occurrences of abuse to this child or the other children who live in the home.
“The psychological and physical impact on the child is extremely complicated,” Walfish shares. “Each child could feel slightly different. Most kids will feel conflicting emotions at the same time including relief, guilt for ‘telling’ and hurting the abuser whom they both hate and love, anxiety and fear because often the abuser threatens his victims if they tell. Also, here is the most complex issue of all. The child has been sexualized and aroused at too young an age and so there is both pleasure and guilt at the same time. This conflict leaves the child feeling self-loathing and low self-esteem.”
If the mother chooses to deal with the incident of abuse herself, Walfish says, she risks more occurrences of abuse to the child, as well as the child growing up to blame the mother for colluding and silently allowing her husband to act-out and hurt the child. The mother becomes the abuser’s silent colluding partner and is accountable for not protecting her child.
If the child is a minor under 18 years of age, the mother reports by calling Child Protective Services (CPS).
*Marissa and Lincoln Scott’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.Follow OneLessSecret