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Feature Article - October 20, 2005

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Feature Article

October 20, 2005

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Speaking up for abused children

“I didn’t know that what was happening to me wasn’t normal,” says Deborah Rochon, now 20 years old. “I thought all kids were going through what I was because when I told people what was happening, nobody did anything, so I thought it must be okay.”

But what was happening to little Debbie was not okay.

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From the time Debbie was born, she suffered severe neglect because of her parents’ alcoholism. Although she wasn’t even old enough to attend school, Debbie’s parents left her alone overnight. There was never enough food at home so when Debbie started to attend functions at other peoples’ homes, and later at school, she began stealing food. As she got older, her parents’ drinking binges manifested into violent rages. Debbie shamefully wore the bruises, telltale signs of the physical violence she endured.

Debbie’s uncle suspected something wasn’t right when her mother would show up at family functions with dirty, ill-fitting clothing, and sometimes spoke about excessive physical punishments. Afraid of getting his brother in trouble, he, like the rest of the family, remained silent. It wasn’t until a neighbor called to say Debbie’s parents were fighting again and that they feared for six-year-old Debbie’s safety that he decided to take action.

That evening, Debbie was brought to her uncle’s home. When Debbie’s aunt saw the bruising on her niece’s frail body, she insisted Debbie stay with them. This time when Debbie spoke, they listened— closely.

After Debbie spent a week living in the safety of her aunt and uncle’s home, her father was scheduled to be released from jail and insisted Debbie come home. Without any other way to protect the little girl, her guardians knew they would have to contact the local Children’s Aid Society. Debbie’s uncle struggled with the knowledge that the family would not support his decision, but his wife was firm—Debbie needed help.

The decision to contact the Children’s Aid Society when abuse or neglect is suspected is one many residents of Ontario struggle with. A recent survey found that 85% of Ontarians would report child abuse if they were certain it had occurred.

Alarmingly, only 46% of Ontario respondents indicated they would report suspected signs of child abuse. These disappointing results indicate that there is still much to be done to raise the public’s consciousness of the seriousness of child abuse.

Starting this October, Children’s Aid Societies across Ontario will launch a new public awareness campaign named Use Your Voice. The goal of the campaign is to inform citizens of their responsibility to report both known and suspected signs of child abuse, including neglect.

“Each of us has a responsibility to ensure that our children and youth are safe and secure,” said Joe Aitchison, Board President, Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. “Abused children are often silent, powerless victims.”

The Use Your Voice campaign has special significance for survivors of child abuse like Debbie. “If I could say one thing to a person who thinks a kid is being abused,” advises Debbie, “Report it. No matter if you are sure, or not. Better to report it and nothing happen, than not report it and risk what could happen.”

Today Debbie is married, attends post secondary education classes and works part-time. She is optimistic about her future and credits this to the involvement of the Children’s Aid Society and her uncle’s bravery.

“When my uncle reported the abuse, it meant a lot that someone stuck out their neck for me...that someone cared about me. I know it was hard for him but I am so grateful to him for giving me my life back.”

For more information on the signs and indicators of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse including neglect, or how to contact your local Children’s Aid Society, visit www.useyourvoice.ca

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