It was announced last week that the government is considering whether to include "emotional cruelty" under child abuse laws. If it goes through, it will mean that parents who deny their children love and affection can be prosecuted.
There has been a certain amount of ridicule in the media over this topic, with one Telegraph columnist exclaiming, "lock me up, I once laughed at my son." Many have questioned how it could ever be measured or proved.
But these are the comments of people who are lucky enough to have never experienced what prolonged, persistent emotional cruelty looks like. Seriously, there are people out there who do unspeakable things to their children without ever touching them. And if they do touch them, they have already done enough groundwork with the emotional abuse, that the child knows what they can and can't say to others about what goes on at home. Careful placing of blows and fear of saying anything outside of the rules means that nothing is ever done.
I've written a lot about my own experience of an abusive relationship; I've written about finding out I was pregnant and being asked, "how do I know it's mine?" I've written out my birth story, from the day before S was born to the time her father walked out three weeks later, and about the day we registered S with his surname. I've written about the fear that has stalked me since cutting off all contact. I've written several posts on domestic abuse, and how it's not just physical; how someone can creep inside of your mind and make you question every single thought you have, make you question whether you're really who you thought you were. They don't need to hit you to make you do as you're told; emotional abuse is altogether more exacting and controlling than that.
What I haven't spoken much about though, is the way the children in that house were treated. When I left, there were 6 there. They ranged in age from 13 to 4. After I left, his new girlfriend added her 3 children to the mix. And the girl he got pregnant while I was still pregnant had two others as well as his baby. In all, that is 12 children.
When someone is abusive, that abuse is rarely limited to their partner. An abusive person will often target anyone they think they can control; many of them work in positions of trust; care work is a particular favourite as it's easy to wield control over someone who is relying on your for help or support.
While we're all questioning how the government could ever quantify or define emotional abuse, while people are joking about their own shortcomings as a parent... there are children out there who (with some luck) will be saved by this law. There are children out there who do not go to school with marks on their faces or bodies, but in their minds. Wide, gaping wounds that may never heal if the children are not removed from the situation. Making it against the law to be "emotionally cruel" can only be a good thing for these children.
There are children out there who are ignored for large stretches of the day
There are children out there who are not allowed into certain rooms of the house, even if they need the toilet or are hungry or upset or crying.
There are children out there who don't even have their own cupboard, their own belongings, their own underwear.
There are children out there who receive hugs so rarely, they flinch when you move toward them with your arms outstretched. They're more used to hands being raised in an entirely different way.
There are children out there who are called every name under the sun, not once when their parent was having a stressful day; not when they've drawn all over the walls with their felt tipped pens, but each and every day, for crimes so small as getting out of bed at the wrong time or clumsily falling on their parent as they crept past them.
...But because they turn up at school wearing the correct uniform and looking reasonably well put together, nothing can be done. Everyone knows it's not right; everyone knows something should really be done... but as far as the legislation goes, there's nothing that can be done.
This is what the charities are campaigning for; this is what real emotional cruelty looks like; this is what we want to stop. If this law stops this from happening to even one child, then it's bloody worth it, don't you think?
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