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Carl Langley: Abuse Mindset Seems a Twisted Dilemma

web posted November 5, 2007
GUEST COLUMN – The stepmother thought the three children were sneaking snacks, therefore to punish them she beat them. She beat them with a wooden stake, the type used to mark the corners of property boundaries, before resorting to a belt after a warning from an Aiken County Family Court judge.

“The judge said she couldn’t beat us with the piece of wood anymore,” the young woman said.

While the beatings went on, the biological father of the children stood by and did nothing, an all-too-often response, some social workers say about a new parent moving in the household and starting to discipline inherited children.

The young woman agreed to talk to me if her name was not used. She feared doing harm to her father. Her relationship with her dad had been improving in recent months, but, she said, “we still have a long ways to go.”

The children’s troubles, according to social services documents and records provided by a family member, started early in their lives.

The biological mother abandoned the family when her twins - a boy and a girl - were less than a year old. She also left behind another girl, older by two years, who later fled the home in search of calmer surroundings.

“She thought we were coming home and having snacks after school,” said the stepdaughter, now the mother of her own set of twins, about the events that started the beatings.

The stepmother would lock the children out of the house until she and the husband came home from work, usually late in the afternoon or in early evening. It was a practice followed, rain or shine, at the whim of the stepmother.

The young mother, who endured numerous beatings for several years before leaving the home for good at the age of 16, reacts to punishment with the same strange rationalization shown by other abuse victims in domestic violence.

She weighs her own guilt before condemning the stepmother for the beatings she took. She wonders what things she could have done to be beaten with a wooden stake, and she admits she “wasn’t a Little Miss Muffet.”

Now married, raising a family of her own and out of the reach of the stepmother, the young mother worries about her father’s health and state of mind although they rarely see each other.

“I am afraid she is going to kill my daddy with her behavior,” she said.

“My real mother walked out on us when I was 11 months old,” she said. “She deserted us several times, and he (her father) was afraid if my mother got custody she would leave us with someone else.”

The young woman said her father, after several years of attempting to raise three children alone, remarried. That’s when the real trouble began for the siblings She recalls the beatings started shortly after her father brought his new bride into the home. The violence went on for nearly six years, despite numerous court hearings and DSS investigations.

“We (she and her brother) ran away and ended up at Helping Hands, and I ran away again after that,” she recalled. “We just got tired of the beatings.” Finally, at the age of 16, she left for good.

The young woman remembers one time when she ran away. Her sister had left, her brother was in a foster home and she had to face the stepmother’s wrath alone. She took to the road, got as far as a county store, had a flat tire on her bike and called a relative.

“My aunt said she couldn’t come get because my stepmother probably would sue her, so she called the law,” the young woman said. “I don’t blame my aunt because she (the stepmother) is always threatening people with lawsuits.

“The law came out and called my father and stepmother, but wouldn’t come get me. They said I had run away, and I could get back home the best way I could.”

The young woman said that during the years at home she and her brother would get accused of all kinds of things, and when we did them we would admit them. That was when the beatings would start. But the beatings came even if they professed innocence.

“Once I asked her why she beat me like she did, but she hit me over the head with a wooden stake,” the young woman said. “I had bruises and broken skin. My father allowed this. He didn’t do anything to stop it. Then the judge told her not to beat us with the wooden stake anymore.”

The young woman said she still loves her father, but she doesn’t go to his home if at all possible. “I see her (the stepmother) only if I have to,” she remarked sadly.

Family Court papers and Department of Social Services documents obtained by the young woman, who allowed me to read them, are an awful reminder of the bad things that can happen to some children.

An Aiken DSS case worker, the first one assigned to the children’s case, wrote a warning that went unheeded in a report he filed when the twins were 13. In summation of his report, the case worker said, “The minors cannot be protected in this environment.”

The case worker’s findings supported the young woman’s story. He said an investigation revealed that all three children had been abused, and the agency met with resistance from the stepmother and father while trying to intervene and help the children.

The case worker said the oldest child was the first to flee and did so because of the “harm she was receiving from her stepmother.”

The DSS staffer’s report also noted:

“The children have been forced to sit on their front porch from the time they get home from school until their parents return home from work around 5 p.m.

“About two days ago they were allowed to enter the home after school, but when their parents returned home both minors were beaten because the stepmother thought some peanut butter was missing.”

The young woman told me she was getting over what happened to her and her sister and brother, and she deals with her painful memories by showering affection on her children.

“I don’t ever intend to allow them to be treated that way,” she remarked about her children.

(Editor’s note: The above story is one of a selection taken from Carl Langley’s first book)


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