this paper focuses on child abuse by burning,
it covers other areas of violence: children killing
their parents, teachers, schoolmates. The danger
signals that disturbed minds send and the anger
signs may not be recognized or taken seriously
by family members, friends, teachers, or neighbors,
until tragedy strikes.
Child abuse by
burning is one of the most difficult of injuries
to identify properly and to investigate. The search
for solutions has been varied, sometime haphazardly
and based on innate guesswork, unfounded preconceptions
and myths with little, if any, scientific input.
Of 1,356 cases
of suspected child abuse reported to the National
Burn Victim Foundation (NBVF) between 1975 and
1996, spontaneous acts of violence against children
were involved in 176 cases (14%). In 168 of those
cases (97%), the parent or guardian caring for
the child was known to have an aggressive response
behavior. In four cases, the perpetrator was identified
as passive. There were four cases of premeditated
acts of violence. Of the abusers, males totaled
79 (45%) and females 97 (55%). Two cases were
homicides by burning.
ignorance and/or willful neglect totaled 466 (35%)
of the 1,356 cases. It was determined that accidents
accounted for 712 (53%) of the suspicious burn
incidents. I could find no data to support the
opinion of some medical professionals that major
burn insults or the severity of the injury occurred
mostly in abuse incidents. Major, moderate and
minor burns occurred in all areas of abuse, neglect
and accident. Scalding burns totaled 952 (70%)
while hot surface contact burns totaled 253 (19%).
Other causes of skin irritation wrongfully identified
as burns were diarrhea (68), insect bites (39),
Ritter's disease (9) and allergies (35).
response person is generally reported to be preoccupied
with self, displays selfish behavior, and does
not give adequate attention to the needs of others.
That person displays a lack of concern for the
impact anger will have on the recipient. Violent,
aggressive response behavior includes verbal and
physical attacks on others, labeling others, putting
others down, teasing, humiliation of others and
sometimes blatant sarcasm. Seen as a person with
a short fuse, the aggressive response person may
possess not only a quick temper but also a nasty
disposition and may act impulsively. Any one or
combination of these traits is a "red flag"
when searching for a motive in cases of child
abuse by burning, or any act of physical violence.
On the other hand,
the passive person is aware of hostile anger but
keeps it down. If problems persist over time,
a blowup or emotional breakdown can be expected.
The passive behavior person may avoid the problem,
use the "silent treatment," display
apathy, use subtle sarcasm, forget things, and
does not give adequate attention to personal needs.
When there is
a mystery as to how a child was burned and there
appears to be no motive, that is the time to explore,
in depth, whether the person responsible for the
child at the time of the incident is known to
possess an aggressive response behavior. A common
error is to assume prematurely that the character
of the adult is impeccable. An articulate, glib
person is capable of covering up a quick temper;
that person can and does demonstrate remorse when
appropriate. During an investigation, friends,
family and associates generally will express an
opinion as to whether an adult has a quick temper.
If that is established, then a psychological profile
follows to identify the adults strengths and weaknesses
and determination of whether that individual fits
the mold of an aggressive, quick-tempered person.
The Bible addressed
"anger" in Proverbs 14, verse 17: "A
quick tempered man does foolish things."
Verse 18 says, "A hot tempered man stirs
up dissension." Proverbs 22, verse 24, says,
"Do not make friends with a hot tempered
man, do not associate with one easily angered."
The hot-tempered man (or woman) flying off at
the drop of a hat, was as socially unacceptable
then as he (or she) is today.
While the Bible
references "angry men," men today have
not cornered the market on anger--women can be
just as angry in today's violent society. Women,
in an act of anger, generally strike out at a
single person. Aggressive males can extend their
acts of anger and may vent their rage on a larger
scale of violence.
abuse, physical and emotional, in the United States
is like a "runaway train," whose engineer
fails to see the danger signals along the way.
Reports of child abuse are soaring to new heights
year after year. Education and training of physicians
and investigators in forensics is needed. The
need for higher standards of training is tremendous.
Violence seen in movies and on home television
is turning this countrys youth into believing
that aggressive, dangerous anger is an acceptable
social behavior. However, we know that aggressive
anger results in violent crime. Public service
television station have an opportunity to educate
their viewers on the subject of violence. We live
in a sensationalized society thirsting and bent
on sensationalism; it is sensationalism that sells
newspapers and draws record numbers of viewers
to movie theaters and television programs in which
violence is glorified.
is becoming a national crisis. Some sections of
the country are beginning to talk about martial
law and curfews on youth. Some areas enforce curfews.
Further, it seems children and teenagers have
no fear of consequences for bad behavior. Students
in grade school and high school are beating teachers,
stabbing and shooting fellow students and sneaking
guns into school. Surely we can anticipate more
future teenage violence and the "runaway
train" will continue to gain speed into the
next generations and beyond. Today's angry youth
are destined to become future child abusers. God
help us, we must stop that train, now!
Children are the
victims of adult anger, not adult inability to
control anger, but their unwillingness to change
poor behavior. Behavior is changeable. The innocent,
trusting infant or small child often becomes a
target when there is a domestic disagreement or
an outside threatening situation. Some adults'
expectations of children are far beyond a childs
ability to respond. When the child acts according
to his/her age and does not respond to the aggressive
adults' expectations, a spontaneous act of violence
may occur. In the 172 cases previously mentioned,
the child was alone with an abusive adult when
burned. Child abusers know that what they are
doing to an infant or child is wrong and do not
want any witnesses to their bad behavior.
Many child protection
programs have failed to identify the basic root
of child abuse. Now children are being told to
report their parents or guardians to their teachers
if they believe they are being abused. Parents
from all life styles are now being threatened
by their children when they attempt to correct
their childrens attitude or behavior. Children
are not small adults - they are different, physiologically,
biologically and psychologically. Can children
really ascertain the difference between abuse
and appropriate parental discipline? Remember,
Hitler invaded the minds of children, twisting
their minds and turning the children against their
parents, and he was successful. Could the unthinkable
happen in America? It already has. Many parents
today hesitate to discipline their child for fear
of being accused of child abuse.
Is all anger bad?
No, anger is a feeling, and adults and children
need to deal with feelings. It is reasonable to
be angry when aroused by injustice or something
unworthy. The assertive person thinks rationally,
acts prudently, feels constructively and stands
up firmly for personal convictions in a manner
that respects anothers dignity (see Andrew
Savicky's, Ph.D. 1990 publication, A
World Without Tears). Fortunately, most
parents are able to recognize the potential danger
in a situation and take steps to remedy it. Most
parents have tales to tell of times when they
could have crossed the line and harmed a child.
If the equation had been weighted with more negative
factors, had the incident been just right, the
outcome could well have been different.
Violence is not
new in our society; however, violence against
children when the parent(s) is/are under emotionally
stressful circumstances can be identified with
a measure of predictability. Most parents are
able to exhibit restraint, to walk away when they
are angry, or to stop short of striking the child,
thus sparing the child from becoming an innocent
target for violence.
Certain risk factors
that appear in abused children when one or both
parents have aggressive/passive personalities
include the following: unwanted pregnancy, premature
birth, failure of the infant to thrive, disappointment
to parent(s) (e.g., sex, birth defect, appearance),
hyperactive behavior, a "difficult"
child, difficult to nurture, special care needed
for the "sickly" child, economic burden,
It is rare that
the first act of violence on a child is a thermal
insult. The abused, burned child has experienced
other acts of violence: excessive slapping, pinching,
belt strap and/or buckle on lower legs, arms and
back and/or chest areas, hair yanking, pin sticks
and then the ultimate most
painful - burning.
While the configuration
of the burn injury and the thermal source are
important when investigating suspicious burns,
the history of how the incident occurred is equally
important. A forensically supported conclusion
must be attained prior to judgement on the suspects
receive little (if any) training in medical school
to render a professional opinion in a case of
child abuse by burning. The physicians in hospital
emergency departments or in burn units are often
too pressed by time and workload to make a judgement
as to whether a burned child was abused, neglected
or the victim of an accident. They rarely if ever
have all the facts needed to render a professional
judgement. Further, during the emergency stage,
they are subject to emotionally-packed stories,
some second and third hand. Once a doctor states
"abuse" or "suspicious," rarely
is this opinion challenged.
or nurse is expected to know the answer and thus
render an innate opinion or the popular word "suspicious"
is used - a term which implies a factor of guilt.
During the initial treatment of a burn, many times
a wrong decision is made that has far-reaching
repercussions and devastating results. Families
can become torn apart, with the familys lifestyle
disrupted and some times damaged beyond repair.
The cost of investigating
reported suspicious incidents of child abuse/neglect,
social services, foster care for children, and
subsequent legal matters involving prosecutors,
public defenders, private attorneys, and the whole
process of a trial runs into hundreds of millions
of dollars annually. No price can be placed on
a person wrongfully stigmatized, falsely charged
and tried as a child abuser. Even if found innocent
they will always be suspect in the minds of others.
Children in growing
numbers are threatening to report their parents
as child abusers when a parent attempts to impose
proper discipline. A staff physician tells how
his 8-year-old son was watching too much television
and his room was a mess. The father instructed
his son, "No TV and I want to see your room
straightened up when I come home tonight."
When the father arrived home, the son was watching
TV and the room was still a mess. As he began
to scold his son loudly, the 8-year-old jumped
off the chair, pointed his finger at his father
and said, "Dad, if you continue to holler
at me, I will tell my teacher, and she will call
the police to arrest you for child abuse."
Little girls in
school are being told, "Dont sit on a mans
lap if you feel uncomfortable." What does
that mean? When a small childs father says, "Come,
sit on Daddys lap and Ill read you a story,"
how will she react? Will she make excuses again
and again and fear that some terrible thing will
happen to her if she sits on a mans lap? What
about grandad and Santa Claus, they are men. Children
have been lied to by adults; consider the Tooth
Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Wicked
Witch flying on a broomstick and many other adult
fantasies. As children mature they learn that
they have been lied to and lying becomes an acceptable
tool for them to use.
A single working
mother was having a problem with her 11-year-old
son. He was hanging out with older boys and using
vulgar language. She grounded him and hid their
portable TV. He failed to come home after school.
The mother was frantic waiting for him. Finally,
around 10:30 p.m. he arrived home in a car and
sneaked into the dark apartment. The mother started
to scold him. He responded by calling
her vulgar names. She took his pants down and
gave him two "whacks" with a belt and
sent him to bed. The next day two police officers
came to her place of work and placed her under
arrest. She was charged with child abuse and jailed.
A young father
hated to change his 3-month-old daughters diapers.
One morning while his wife was at work, as he
was removing the babys diaper, she began to cry.
The father put the baby in the kitchen sink and
turned on the hot water to wash off the babys
bottom. Knowing the water was too hot, he used
the sprayer located at the kitchen sink and burned
the babys buttocks and groin area. The baby received
deep second degree burns. The incident was termed
accidental according to attending physicians.
Eight years later, this father was suspected of
sexually abusing the same child. He was known
to have a violent temper. The case against him
for burning his baby daughter was re-opened and
he was found guilty of child abuse by burning.
data (from the National Child Abuse Protection
Agency) demonstrates the national annual reported
suspected child abuse cases:
1960 64,000 cases
of suspected child abuse reported in the U.S.
1970 72,000 cases
changed to protect accusers from civil suit.
cases reported, 15 times the number reported in
cases reported. 33 times the number reported in
cases reported. 42 times the number reported in
estimated cases (final number not available).
1997 It is estimated
that the number of reported cases of child abuse
will likely double by 1999.
Anger can cause
conflict and conflict is a normal part of close
relationships. Anger can provide an opportunity
for a better understanding of another person.
When someone cares enough to take the time to
resolve a conflict, that person demonstrates caring.
Conflicts can occur because of the differences
between individuals. Relationships do not have
to be destroyed because of those differences.
Rather, recognizing the differences and viewing
them in mature, responsible, positive ways instead
of being fearful or unwilling to work through
differences gives credence to the positive side
of anger. Every person must learn to recognize
the positive and negative effects of anger. Few
people take the time to observe their actions
when under stress or when their behavior is openly
challenged. Road rage is an example of an aggressive
person's spontaneous act of anger, to strike out
and assert dominance over another driver.
anger was a sense given to an individual as a
tool to condemn injustice and help build
relationships. In pure form, anger is
an emotional signal that alerts a person that
something needs to be changed. It obviously
was intended to be a positive motivator to be
used in giving one another feedback about how
life can be lived more productively. Bad behavior
must be understood and realized that it has consequences.
Bad behavior can be changed... it must be changed,
or there can be no hope for a more socially civilized
society in the future. To do nothing but complain
about "kids today" will surely leave
them unprepared to respond to the challenges the
future will bring.
The failure of
society, teaching institutions and government
leadership to aggressively address the "root"
cause of adult and youth violence will assure
the "runaway train" will continue on
its journey, leaving a trail of death, disfigurement
and emotional scars lasting a life-time.
Pre-teens on a
shooting spree kill classmates and a teacher.
A 12 year-old is charged with sexually assaulting
an 11 year-old girl in school. Children are threatening
to report their parent(s) as child abusers when
the parents attempt to appropriately discipline
them. Time is running out.
It is foreseeable
that violence by children on other children, teenage
violence on their parents, teachers, schoolmates
and even strangers will continue like the runaway
train in reporting child abuse, failing to heed
the children's cry for help. Societys
leadership has failed Americas children. Society
will pay a staggering price for its "failure
to lead" in teaching children that bad behavior
has consequences. It seems that no one today wants
to take responsibility for their acts and/or omission
of acts but blames the "system" or someone
else for their indiscretions.
programs, which offer assistance for habitually
angry adults, are becoming a growing resource
for adults who need treatment for aggressive personality
traits. Road rage drivers, male and female alike,
may receive tickets for being overly aggressive
with their vehicles. Instead of fines they will
have to attend Anger Management programs. This
is only a beginning but it focuses on adults already
addicted to bad behavior. Unfortunately, we are
a crisis response society and fall short on innovation
solutions of preventative methodologies to teach
children in schools, churches and in the home
that bad anger is an unacceptable trait in a civilized
by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic