On a warm summer night in July, 1994, 7-year-old Megan Nicole Kanka vanished after riding her bicycle with a friend in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. A neighbor who had just moved in across the street, Jesse Timmendequas, along with others in the community offered to search this small suburban neighborhood for Megan, a bubbly blonde girl who loved to chase fire flies. Within 24 hours, Timmendequas, a twice convicted pedophile lead searchers through knee-high weeds to Megan’s body, crammed in a toy box, and dumped in a county park. He had lured Megan to his home to see his new puppy, then raped and strangled her with a belt.
As a result of this crime, Megan’s Law was signed by President Clinton in 1996 requiring states to make information on registered sex offenders available to the public. The murderer lived across the street from them, but Megan’s family knew nothing about him.
Although Megan’s story and other high profile cases make the news, child abuse is far too common in the United States. Data recorded by child protective services (CPS) or other agencies estimates child abuse kills more than 3 children every day in the United States. Some believe the actual numbers may be much higher as many cases go unreported and unconfirmed. Often the abused child can’t or is afraid to speak about their abusers.
We might choose to believe child abuse is a modern day problem caused by a decline in family structure, family values, or the internet. Child abuse was around in the “good old days.” We just didn’t talk about abuse then. Newspapers seldom reported, and people pulled their shades and turned up the radio or television. What occurred in another family was not our business. We can still choose to believe there was little child abuse in that kinder gentler world– unless you were a victim still struggling to understand your hurt and anger as an adult.
Andrew Vachss, author, lawyer, and child advocate has several articles about child abuse on his site. In “What Are You Going to Do About Child Abuse?” he writes:
“Recently, my friend asked me, ‘Is child abuse increasing or decreasing?’…I told my friend he was asking the wrong question. What he should be asking is, ‘Who cares?’…After all, aren’t children ‘our No. 1 priority?’ Aren’t they ‘our greatest natural resource?’”
We should all care. Child abuse victims are among our family and friends. As adults, we need to protect the helpless child. As adults, we need to reach out to those– often silent friends– who suffered as children. As adults, we need to find a way to keep our children safe
Molly Brown, DMS