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OPINION | The day my brother was erased from the Book of Life

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HAGÅTÑA — With the closing of schools because of the pandemic, there has been a decline in the number of child abuse cases being reported.

This does not mean that things have gotten better for kids. The reason? The professionals on duty that tend to discover evidence of abuse no longer had day-to-day contact with their students. John Cheves notes, “In the USA, 20% of reports of abuse and neglect to child protective services are made by educational personnel, making educators the country's primary reporters.”

Some children are simply trapped with their abusers, notes Andrew Campbell in his report, An Increasing Risk of Family Violence During the Covid-19 Pandemic: “When Covid-19 related measures are lifted and society returns to ‘normal,' child abuse victim-serving professionals may find themselves completely buried in reports and unable to meet the needs of an overwhelming number of victims.”

As schools reopen, some students may prove challenging in view of their fears, anxieties, anger and depression due to their trauma, caused by abuse. Debi Ray-Rivers asks, in her article, Silent Epidemic Not to be Overlooked: “Can we blame children for lashing out? Why should an abused child trust any adult after their sense of power and control over their bodies was stolen from them?” More than ever, children of abuse will need understanding, compassion and guidance.

My brother did not get the help he needed when he experienced abuse. He was shunned, blamed, punished and bullied by frustrated adults in his life. I want to share what happened to him, as an object lesson of the type of behavior to avoid when dealing with victims of the silent pandemic of abuse in the time of Covid-19.

Julian had been acting out. He smoked cigarettes and even weed. He was defiant of authority and was beginning to hang out with members of the Young Sinners, a new gang in our barrio. Sometimes he would play hooky. Julian needed some type of intrusive intervention to get back on track. At wits' end, my mother fled to her Spanish-speaking pastor and begged him to counsel her “lost son.”

The pastor listened to my mother’s plea and assigned the delicate act of intercession to a trusted associate, who bore the tittle of elder. The elder was briefed and called my mother to bring her son to the church. He visibly displayed his displeasure at Julian’s inability to toe the line as he ushered him into his office.

He opened the membership ledger as he knew that Julian had been baptized and was recognized as a full member of the church. The elder asked him to come closer and witness a solemn act. “Here, I want you to see this.” He then proceeded to erase Julian’s name from the membership ledger. “You have now been erased from the Book of Life!” he declared.

That cruel act of religious abuse compounded the injuries in my brother’s psyche. Spiritual resources, our culture teaches, are a fountain of last resort for mercy, forgiveness and new beginnings. Passing judgment on the eternal destination of a soul is something that believers hold is only God’s prerogative, or so we had been taught.

After his pronounced eviction from the Book of Life, Julian never entered a church sanctuary to worship again! One stroke of profound rejection can have lifelong consequences.

When a child’s wiring gets messed up in their head by virtue of the consequences of child abuse, they will need culturally competent, mindful interventions. Julian did not get that. The medicine he received was worse than his disease.

Partnerships by faith-based leaders who are compassionate is essential. Social workers, health care professionals, law enforcement personnel, school counselors, teachers and youth advocates alongside mental health specialists, must be prepared.

We can encourage those who trust us with their pain, with empathetic feedback. We can believe them. We must provide healing that encourages resilience. Enhancing trauma-informed skills among victim-serving professionals, who may represent the only hope for children in crisis, is a vital challenge that our islands must embrace.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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