A disadvantage of youth:
According to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which is currently what our standards of child abuse and neglect are federally based on, “The term ‘child abuse and neglect’ means, at a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”
That’s the US definition and we stand by it. It’s law, and we are a nation of law and order.
Except we aren’t.
There’s a program called Children’s Protective Services (or something of that nature depending on the state). This program is responsible for keeping children safe by monitoring and sometimes removing them from abusive homes… with the general intent to put them back in that situation when it’s “fixed”.
If you’re a minor in the US who’s being abused, your options are limited. And when I say limited, I mean completely imaginary.
Let’s say you’ve been abused since your early years. How would you know it’s abuse? Doesn’t every parent hit their kid and throw them down the stairs occasionally? This is your entire life.
Okay, so it’s abuse. That’s clear. Want to call the police? They’ll check up on you. They’ll talk to your “caretaker”. No bruises? Nothing broken? They’ll probably leave you there, or pick you up overnight because you’re assumed to be the guilty one. After all, kids will be kids, especially if you’re adolescent.
Actually, let’s say you were an adolescent when this all started. Some traumatic event happened to your parent. A divorce, a death in the family, an economic strain; something that puts pressure on them beyond what they’re used to. They lash out at you.
It’s your fault. You’re going through a phase and they need to discipline you, and you’re a big kid now, so what does it matter if they hit you? Corporal punishment is legal, and what’s the difference between that and a sucker punch? Nothing. Just how their hand is positioned.
Ready to break yet? About half of teens in the US have an emancipation process available to them. Oh, except, in Alabama you have to be eighteen to apply. And in several states your parent can ask the court to deny your attempt. Oh, and since minors aren’t citizens you can’t sue, even if you could afford a lawyer, which you can’t since you can’t own property until you’re eighteen.
So when you can’t take it anymore, what do you do? Make a run for it, maybe?
Most teens have nowhere to go. You end up in a shelter. By the way, you’re a delinquent now, if not a missing person. The police are suddenly concerned about your welfare and want to find you. You might get caught and eventually sent home. (Although if you’re lucky they might believe you about the abuse now). You might escape. Now you’re a fugitive. Now you’re homeless. You’re safer than you were before, but are you really?
Forget getting an education. Forget getting a good job. Forget all your friends and the people in your family that you still love. You’re on your own now, and you’re almost certainly in an unfamiliar city with no story and no hope.
You might fight your way back. Except that the second you’re safe, you realize how fucking broken you are. You can’t fall asleep without having nightmares. The thought of living with someone makes you feel sort of sick. Having a family of your own is a risk too big to take.
Oh, and by the way, if you manage to get a case opened, the fact that your parents go to church could get them off of charges. “Religious Freedom” can include things like extreme punishments (spare the rod, spoil the child), faith healing, exorcisms (because those are still a thing, somehow, although if a kid dies the parent can be charged), and mental abuse. “Conversion therapy” is now banned but that is controversial because parents have a constitutional right to harm their children.
April is National Child Abuse Awareness month. So, in case you weren’t aware, child abuse is still legal.