Thursday, September 3, 2015

No More Jeanettes, Please -- rerun blog from December 2009

I sat down in Barnes and Noble Cafe with my laptop, green tea and something chocolate to eat.  I thought I’d peruse The Oregonian and The New York Times online before working on a blog.  Well, I worked on a blog, this blog, but not the one I intended to work on.

As I scrolled down through the “Opinion” section of The Oregonian, I found a piece on Jeanette Maples.  She is the 15 year old girl who died at her home in Eugene, Oregon, on December 9, apparently tortured to death by her mother and step-father.

The abuse did not go unnoticed.  Jeanette’s mother sent her to Middle School in Eugene in ragged sweatpants and t-shirts.  Her classmates teased her, as Middle Schoolers are inclined to do to those who don’t fit in.  But for Jeanette school was a haven because it offered her a respite from her mother’s abuses.  Her friends noticed that Jeanette was always hungry and that she had injuries on her body.  They pushed her for the truth, and she confessed that her mother abused her.  One friend’s mother  reported the information her daughter gave her to the Department of Human Services (DHS) and was told that second hand reports were not sufficiently serious to investigate.

It was not enough, but it was too much for Jeanette’s mother, who took her daughter out of school and isolated her further.  When the step-grandmother visited her son and his family, she saw Jeanette.   She noticed that Jeanette was very thin and that she had a split lip.  She made two reports to DHS.

Nothing happened.

Then, on December 9, the grandmother got a worried call from her son and his wife.  Jeanette was cold and not breathing.

She screamed at them to call 911.

Later, after investigators removed bags of evidence from Jeanette’s family’s house, she had the responsibility of cleaning out the house.  

As The Oregonian reporter put it, “She found food padlocked in kitchen cupboards and a blood spattered bedroom.”

Investigators told her that Jeanette’s body was too horrible to look at.

I found myself crying in public as I read The Oregonian article.   I covered my face with my hands and sobbed as quietly as I could.  I prayed and told Jeanette in my heart that I loved her and was so sorry for her suffering.  The Walk Across Oregon to Stop Child Abuse passed through Eugene in September 2008.  We received wall to wall media coverage from one television station.  It wasn’t enough to save Jeanette.

How did this happen?  How come this sort of thing keeps happening?

Over and over.  I remember the headline cases in past years -- Lisa Steinberg and Hedda Nussbaum beaten to death in Lisa’s case and beaten to a living death in Hedda’s case -- by Joel Steinberg.  Then there are the cases of Miranda Gaddis and Ashley Ponds, both murdered, and in Ashley’s case, raped by Ward Weaver here in Oregon in 2002.  Accusations of abuse and rape against Ward Weaver dated back to 1981, but he remained free to abuse and rape more.  Both Ashley and Miranda had been sexually abused as children and were especially vulnerable to a murderous predator.  Ashley’s family, in particular, was not functional.  They could not protect their vulnerable daughter. 

These cases that received so much media attention are like the tips of icebergs peaking above the water.  So much more lies beneath.  So much abuse goes by, reported and unreported, and nothing ever happens.

On the Walk Across Oregon I have the opportunity to meet people involved in cases too small to make it into the media.  There was the man who was abandoned by his parents as a child but cared for by an uncle who sexually abused him and an aunt who physically abused him.  The abuse was obvious and got reported, but the uncle just picked up, moved and got another job in another town.  Years passed before the child was removed from the abusive home.  Now the grown man is homeless and struggling to overcome addictions.  In another part of Oregon a grandmother struggles to watch over her grandson.  Her son died before marrying his pregnant fiance.  The grandmother supported the mother every way she could, viewing her grandson as a precious gift from God.  Over the years she noticed the bruises and the broken bones.  She reported them.  Nothing happened.  She reported them again and again and again, each time more urgently.  She got told that she was the problem.  The mother cut off contact with her grandson.  The grandmother agonizes over what to do.  She knows her grandson is being emotionally abused every day and physically abused on a regular basis.  But there is so little she can do

There are two major causes of this as far as I can see.

Here in Oregon we have two tax measures coming up in a special election.  I hope people vote in favor of higher taxes because one of the major factors in nothing being done to help people being abused right now, is the lack of funding for adequate staffing of the government agencies designated to cope with these problems.  I am not mad at anyone at the Department of Human Services.  I know they have way too much work.

The other problem has a deeper cause -- it is us.  We all turn our faces away form abuse or even participate in milder forms of it -- like middle schoolers taunting not so popular classmates.  We are attracted to those people who appear strong and good looking and well dressed.  We want life to be easy.  We can’t find the capacity in ourselves to befriend the retarded girl or the boy with dyslexia.  The child who misbehaves may have a secret pain at home that causes him to misbehave, but we only see the misbehavior.  When a child is awkward enough to be teased, we join in the teasing rather than defending her and risk being teased ourselves.  What if that awkward child is being abused and we are simply perpetuating these abuses?

We can’t wait for the government or the Church to fix these deeper societal problems.  We have to do the work on ourselves.  We have to become more aware of the abuse happening around us, more sensitive to those being abused, and more vigilant in reporting these abuses.  We have to become more compassionate and kind in caring for the wounded.  We have to take risks that frighten us, whatever these risks may be. 

The best way to change the world is to change ourselves.   

Can we stop these abuses now, today?  Please, let us have no more Jeanettes!

Matthew 10:29 What is the price of two sparrows--one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
Luke 17:2  It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 

(c) 2009 Virginia Pickles

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