Carolyn Hax: Deciding when to call the police/CPS; Seeing abuser again; socializing with abusive spouse of a friend

Carolyn Hax has a good response for a common problem:

I realize there is a sense of crossing a Rubicon when calling the police or child-protective services on a parent — of putting them in “the system,” of possibly doing more harm than good. I also understand why this sense is often enough to keep people from making the call.

At the same time, if these kids are in crisis, then it’s every witness’s duty to speak up.

Read her response here.

In my own case, I knew someone who works “in the system,” so I asked her for advice.  But if you can’t do that, Carolyn has some good ideas.  Another thing you can do is to ask Social Services/CPS for advice before making an official report.

I especially like Pace1’s comment:

Please do not talk yourself out of what your instincts are telling you about the likelihood that this woman’s kids are likely experiencing at least emotional abuse at the hands of their mother. You cited two instances of red flag behavior.

Please also don’t think you’ll get more clarity “talking” to the kids. Kids in abusive homes are often very good at keeping the “family secret” of abuse. They may display a lot of love toward their abusive parent because kids will attach at any cost in order to survive.

Kids are often convinced the treatment they receive is deserved because they are bad–a belief often reinforced by the abuser because abusers are unlikely to take responsibility for their behavior. Please err on the side of protecting the kids. A call will most likely initiate an investigation, not an immediate removal….

In another thread of the comments, someone asked,

I have a question: if you were sure, absolutely sure, that you knew someone who had abused a spouse or a child, could you “forget” that enough to socialize with them in other contexts?

Maybe its just me (and I would need to be absolutely sure of the abuse part), but if I *knew* that someone had committed physical, verbal or emotional abuse against a family member, that would make them someone I would ~ based on my own morals ~ not want to socialize with.

The general answer: NO.

Exactly.  That’s why I could not easily socialize with Tracy and resented being forced to.

I also like this comment farther down:

Someone I hurt owes me nothing. I owe them. And the first thing I owe them is the right to assert enough control over themselves and their choices to go forward. I can be ashamed of my own conduct; but I don’t get angry or hurt if someone exercises their God-given right for self-determination and chooses to avoid me.

But abusers do: abusers get *angry* and *offended* when people don’t let them be dominant. They convince themselves that they are entitled to be/act the way they are/do. And because there is no real guilt, no remorse, the pattern endures.

The mere fact that Grandpa is still in the middle of the drama shows that he hasn’t changed. And if he can’t hit with his fist or his belt, he can mindfrick her with his presence and the gaslighting of pretending that nothing is wrong and she’s making a big deal about everything.

You can decide to forgive a rattlesnake for being a rattlesnake, I guess. But you don’t let it get within striking distance of you, that’s for sure.

Several people in this thread “get” why abuse victims do not want to even be in the same room with their abusers, how the abusers try to maintain power over them, and just being in his presence can trigger the cycle.

This cycle, and abusers trying to maintain power by forcing their presence on me where they could continue to psychologically abuse me, is on display in the e-mail my abusers sent me last year.

 

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Sentencing of Madison Mother Who Starved Her Child

The stepmother of a 15-year-old girl who ran away from home starved and vastly underweight was sentenced Friday to five years in prison on reckless endangerment and mental harm convictions.

Melinda Drabek-Chritton, 43, of Madison, had a role in the neglect of a girl who badly needed professional help to cope with lifelong emotional issues.

But although she initially tried, those issues were not addressed between 2008 and Feb. 6, 2012, when the girl ran away from home barefoot and dressed in pajamas and was found by a passer-by who called police.

……Genovese said that Drabek-Chritton and the girl’s father, Chad Chritton, initially did try to help the girl when they brought her to Wisconsin from Texas in 2006, where she had been living with her birth mother and her mother’s husband, who was a sex offender.

The girl initially claimed that the man had sexually abused her, then denied it, but Dane County Human Services investigators found there was ample evidence to show that she had been sexually abused.

After the girl’s last medical appointment in 2008, Genovese said, Chritton and Drabek-Chritton decided that they “didn’t want to be bothered with her problems and gave up.”

When the girl was found she weighed only 68 pounds. She told police that she had been confined to the basement of the family home, starved and was not allowed to use the bathroom upstairs.

She said Drabek-Chritton abused her and encouraged the girl’s younger half-brothers to treat her badly as well.

Chad Chritton, 42, was convicted in March of felony child neglect but a jury deadlocked on other charges. Prosecutors will re-try him in November.

Drabek-Chritton’s son, Joshua Drabek, 19, is scheduled to stand trial in February on sexual assault and child abuse charges. –Ed Treleven, Stepmom of girl in abuse case Sentenced to five years in prison

This statement from the above article is one reason why I fear the system may fail Richard and Tracy‘s kids (another is the slap on the wrist he got for choking his kid, and other cases I’ve read about in our state in the past several years, of kids being killed after CPS did not do its job):

But he said there is lots of blame to go around. Despite near-constant intervention with the family by Dane County Human Services, nobody helped the girl. “This case is a system failure,” Ozanne said.

CPS was called seven times on the Chrittons, but kept closing the cases as “unsubstantiated.”  Even probation agents didn’t catch it.

Reading about this case is also when I first came across this information about food hoarding.

This raised new red flags about Richard and Tracy, because they once told me their kids were hoarding lunchmeat.

Since by now we already knew about the abuse and Richard choking one of the children, my husband and I both wondered if there was more going on than we knew about.

This isn’t about kids sneaking away snack food because their parents don’t want them to have it.  This is squirreling away things like lunchmeat and other foods because you don’t know when your next meal will be:

“She said the girl’s behavior in the hospital was consistent with that of a persistently starved person. The girl ordered as many items from the menu as she could, then hoarded the food and tucked some away for later, Knox testified.” —Judge orders trial in Wisconsin starved-teen case

 

So why does a child hoard food? Often food hoarding is directly connected to significant neglect that the child has experienced in consistently having their basic needs for life sustaining food denied or inadequately met.

As a result, the child is forced to become prematurely self-reliant in meeting their own basic needs. –Charley Joyce, Child Neglect and Hoarding Food

 

Cracker crumbs found under a pillow.  Moldy food rotting under the bed. A stash of food hidden in a backpack. A child who sits at a table and eats – and eats – and eats, until you are afraid their stomach can handle no more.  Sound familiar?

…Children communicate needs through behavior. On a deeper level, this issue is not about food but about control. The child is not yet ready to trust the adults in his or her life to provide a secure, safe environment.

That trust cannot be won by threats, punishments or shaming behaviors.  This behavior does not come out of a vacuum. Rather, it is an adaptive response to deprivation. It often stems from years of food insecurity. –Lisa Dickson, The Power of Food: Tips for Handling Hoarding

 

Incidences of food maintenance syndrome have been linked to acute stress, particularly from personal traumas such as abuse or maltreatment.

In many cases, children with food maintenance syndrome have undergone periods of neglect where they did not have access to adequate amounts of food.

The child then develops a heightened survival instinct related to food; whenever the child has an opportunity to consume food, he or she does so in excess and hoards any remaining food.

In situations where food is not consistently available to meet basic needs, overeating and food hoarding are natural reactions to fight off potential future starvation.

However, these habits can continue even when food has become readily available thus causing food maintenance syndrome. The characteristics of this disorder are a sign that the person afflicted still feels insecure about whether his/her basic needs will be met….

Food maintenance syndrome is rare in the general population but there are certain demographics where it is very common.  In particular, foster children are prone to food maintenance syndrome.

Abused or neglected children who are not in foster care also frequently display symptoms of food maintenance syndrome. —Food Maintenance Syndrome

LYING, STEALING, AND HOARDING FOOD: Survival techniques gone wrong

Read more about this case here.

 

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More details of Tracy’s abuse of her children

I’ve described the squalor they lived in.  This is no way for kids to live.

Shortly before April 15, 2009, she and Richard spent the afternoon in the state capitol, getting the TEA Party started.  Richard didn’t tell me what they were doing right away, just hinted about possibly doing something “illegal” or getting arrested.  But nobody was arrested.

Anyway, they left the kids with me.  When they returned and picked them up, just minutes later, Tracy screamed at her children at the top of her lungs!

I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill yelling, but Exorcist-like screaming! 

It was so loud and hysterical that I heard her from my door as they pulled out of the parking lot!

And this was just minutes after picking up the children!  After an afternoon of being separated from them!  How on earth could anyone get so flustered so fast by even the naughtiest of children?

This was shortly after I received the e-mail in the above section, so I heard for myself what Richard complained about.  I felt bad for the kids, and wondered what the neighbors must think.

Early in 2010, I saw Tracy–right in front of me–pop her tiny three-year-old in the back of the head so hard the girl’s tongue flew out.  I go into more detail about this below.

In June 2010, I sat on the couch watching the two oldest girls dancing in the living room.  They did absolutely nothing wrong, and looked sweet and happy.

But all of a sudden, Tracy went from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds, flew over, and began screaming and whacking fury at them.  

I had no idea what on earth the kids could have done wrong.

They didn’t say a word or fight back, just seemed to go limp.  Even their faces were blank.

Yet Tracy grew madder and madder, screamed louder and louder, yanked their arms around, and whacked spanks every which way! 

Like a human tornado, striking without reason or cause or humane feeling.

It wasn’t even at me, yet it left me nervous and scared of her for the rest of the evening!  I go into more detail about this and Tracy’s various other abuses that evening, in chapter 7.

I felt gaslit because if Richard told me she was abusing the kids or him a certain way, or that she was screaming at them all the time, he’d acknowledge it as abuse.

But if I saw with my own eyes what she was doing to him and the kids, he’d tell me everything was fine and she was being nice to him and slapping your kid on the back of the head is fine and screaming keeps them from being spoiled etc. etc.

Another way I felt gaslit: Tracy did these things right in front of me, as if daring me to call Child Protective Services.  It was truly bizarre.

Since Jeff wasn’t around or wasn’t looking, I began to wonder if it was on purpose, so I wouldn’t have a witness to back me up.

But when we visited, Jeff did hate walking into yelling.  He says our son was afraid of her, and that always ticked him off.

I heard her picking fights, and screaming at Richard (in my house) in louder and louder tones, while not listening to a word he said, while he tried very hard not to argue back.  

I saw her smack him on the arm in fury and give him intimidating looks.  

I heard her pick at her kids for petty things and make them feel like idiots, sometimes screaming at and belittling them for little things.

Several times, I heard her belittling and humiliating the eldest child.  One time I remember was in 2010, when she started ridiculing the poor girl one evening.  I remember feeling indignant, that it was blatant verbal abuse.  She called the girl stupid!

Around that same time, when the third child was 3 or maybe 4, Jeff and I saw her sucking her thumb.  We thought it was cute and smiled; Jeff said, “Did you get that from [our son]?”

Then Tracy started screaming her head off at the poor toddler, saying, “Are you a baby?” and not to do that.  It was so ferocious and belittling that the girl began to cry.  It infuriated me.

When the middle child was 3 and potty training while living in my house, Tracy threatened to spank her if she peed her pants!  I believe the child had only just started potty training in the past couple of months, yet Tracy accused her of doing it on purpose!

It’s only natural for young children to have accidents.  Even my son’s 4K teacher requested every child bring a spare pair of underpants to school, because it is so common.

I recall Tracy chewing out the oldest for sulking for “not getting her way”; are you so sure the sulking wasn’t actually anger over being treated like crap by her mother?

Proper discipline requires the parent to act like an adult and be in control of herself, not act like a child!  If the girl sulks, ignore her!  When the girls are good, praise them!  They do what brings them attention, whether good or bad attention.

Once, in 2010, Tracy started tickling the middle child–not ordinarily an abusive act–but she kept going and going despite the child’s screams to stop.

Everyone kept laughing–except me: I heard fear and pain in the girl’s voice. 

When Tracy stopped, the poor child ran into the bathroom to cry.  

But somehow, I was the only one in the house who saw this as wrong, while everybody else laughed.

This horrified me, so the next morning as I walked my son to school, I reminded him of what happened, and told him to never laugh at someone like that.

How on earth can you like a woman who constantly verbally abuses little children right in front of you?  How on earth can you get beyond simple pleasantries and become besties?

Was I supposed to become a fake, two-faced friend?  Would that please her?

(My college friend Catherine has her own version of a Tracy, whom she tolerates because she’s friends with her “Tracy’s” husband.  But her friend apologizes to Catherine for his wife’s behavior!  Wouldn’t that have been nice from Richard, instead of constantly looking the other way when she pulled crap, and treating me like the problem was all mine!)

She chewed out her husband in front of me time and again for little things–I don’t want to see your domestic disputes!

It was so bad that Richard often joked, “I love her, but wanna kill her!”  I knew he didn’t mean it literally, but it wasn’t funny: It was a symptom of how bad things were.  She also joked that she’d never divorce him: She’d kill him instead (making him not want to drink the coffee she just made for him).

Richard said he needed to be around to protect the children from Tracy’s rages, to keep the abuse under control.  This article echoes him:

Some men stay because they believe they’re protecting their children from abuse or acting as an ‘abuse buffer.’

According to state law, he is obligated to stop the abuse or be subject to prosecution himself, to remove the children from his abusing spouse and notify authorities.

I keep hoping he will do just that, because there’s only so much I myself can do, especially since they didn’t listen to me and I’m no longer around them.  I have no way of finding out what CPS might have done about it[This section was written before July 2011, when I discovered Richard was also dangerous to his children.]

Richard also said that the middle child was very sensitive, and would try to comfort the others.

This article sounds like Tracy, from various sources: what I witnessed, what Richard told me, what others told me.  She did these things with me, with him, with others.

One form of “isolating behavior” listed here is to argue in front of others to make them uncomfortable around the two of you–which she did with Richard right in front of me, many times.

Because I saw Tracy–a large and tall woman–smack a tiny three-year-old girl–small for her age–on the back of her head…because I was shocked and appalled to find people on the Internet say that it’s not abuse to do that…

When researching this behavior, I specifically looked for information on the effects of smacking small children on the back of the head, or anywhere else on the head for that matter, such as the face.

(You have to be careful in research like this because “smack” means “spank” in many countries, and I’m not concerned about light, quick spanks to the well-padded butt.)

I’m less concerned about the effects on older children or teenagers (though I don’t condone that, either) because their heads are more developed and teenagers are practically fully-grown.

But smacking small children is especially risky because of their lack of physical development, small size, and the risk of sending them into a table, TV or other piece of furniture.  Toddlers have been killed this way (I found articles about this, but forgot to link them, and couldn’t find them again).

Here is an article about a toddler whose mother “slapped the child, causing him to fall and hit his head on the coffee table,” which then caused the child to suffer severe head injuries and permanent brain damage.

Here is an article about a man who slapped his toddler against a high chair repeatedly, killing her with traumatic brain injury.  Also see my blog posts on the subject:

Hitting kids upside the head is ABUSE (my 6th most popular post)
Child Abuse
Examples of child abuse
…Because slapping kids on the head is ABUSE!  STOP THE VIOLENCE!
Slapping kids upside the head causes traumatic brain injury (my 2nd most popular post)

Tracy and Richard also thought it wrong to even notice and praise a child for doing a chore, as if it would somehow spoil her (then wondered why they couldn’t get their kids to do chores).

I don’t want to describe what the children did on the Web, but a couple of incidents sounded like classic “acting out” behavior, which abused children often do.

Children act out what they see; their demonstration of violent behavior can be a manifestation of their exposure to domestic violence (The Silent Victims of Domestic Violence). –Jessie Brown, April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Acting-out behavior can also include bullying, drugs, risky sexual behavior, or shoplifting.

When children observe their HAP parent acting in an anti-social and aggressive manner over an extended period of time they often pick up on a number of these behaviours and over time, consider them to be socially acceptable.

Children are a product of their environment and do learn what they live. Children living under the influence of a hostile-aggressive parent may become themselves, selfish, self centred and have growing anger management difficulties as years pass on.

Children who are being physically abused or yelled at constantly by a HAP parent will begin to deal with their own problems in the same manner, often lashing verbally and physically at siblings or schoolmates.

Many of these negative behaviours are often observable at the child’s school. HAP behaviours picked up by a child from the HAP parent will, in many cases, seriously affect a child’s development and interfere with their ability to lead a normal and balanced life.

Some professionals may misdiagnose the child as having a conduct disorder and prescribe medication but, in reality, these professionals fail to realize that the child’s own parent is instilling these types of negative and anti-social behaviours into the child. —Hostile Aggressive Parenting

Tracy thought that if her children were happy, loved her, etc., she wasn’t abusing them.  But this isn’t a proper gauge:

In many cases, it is not unusual for a child to exhibit signs of affection and love towards a HAP parent at some times which can be very confusing to the occasional or untrained observer who may see the child showing affection to the HAP parent at some particular time.

Psychologists have recognized for years that even children living under the care of abusive caregivers, often will have deep seated loyalties to those who may be physically and emotionally abusing them.

Most children often long for the love and approval from their caregivers so it is not uncommon for a child who is being abused by an HAP parent to be seen showing affection at some times to their HAP parents. —Hostile Aggressive Parenting

Richard wasn’t blameless, however.  He had repented of past abuses, but didn’t acknowledge that he still condoned abusive behaviors.

Like for example, he refused to believe that screaming at children all the time was abusive.

He even told me you should let a husband lose his temper once in a while, that he and Tracy had been blurting things out and yelling at each other and it was somehow “good” for their marriage.  (More on this later.)

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

2. We share a house 

3. Tracy’s abuse turns on me 

4. More details about Tracy’s abuse of her husband and children 

5. My frustrations mount 

6. Sexual Harassment from some of Richard’s friends

7. Without warning or explanation, tensions build

 
8. The Incident

9. The fallout; a second chance?

10. Grief 

11. Struggle to regain normalcy

12. Musings on how Christians should treat each other

13. Conclusion 

13b. Thinking of celebrating the first anniversary

14. Updates on Richard’s Criminal Charges 

Sequel to this Story: Fighting the Darkness: Journey from Despair to Healing

 

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