Imagine this horrific scenario: A woman is terrified as she watches her husband repeatedly kick their five-year-old son in the stomach. Any move she tries to intervene and she is also pummeled with fists and kicks. Rather than call 911—which in the past has only made his anger flare even more—she waits and hope his temper will recede. That he will return to his senses once his anger has dissipated.
A few hours later, her partner indeed has calmed down. He has even changed your five-year-old into pajamas, placed a band-aid on his forehead, and tucked him into bed.
Except your son is groaning, clutching him tummy. He’s inanimate and a bit delirious. And just a few hours later… he’s dead. The cause? Physical abuse.
The father is charged and hauled to jail. Just as you’re mourning the loss of your child and perhaps relief from finally being free of your husband, authorities have come to convict you as well.
The charge? Not protecting your child.
This was the story of Latricia Chance, along with a few other abused mothers charged and in prison for not protecting their children against an abusive partner.
Unfortunately, they’re not alone—many more women and children live in this environment every day. And while the men are rightfully charged, some wonder whether the mother—abused herself—also deserves to be in jail.
Do they deserve that sentence?
Though never abused, I can see the difficult of being in an abusive relationship. Katie McLaughlin explains why it’s never as easy as just leaving. That it affects your mentality and corrupts your perceptions. So when I hear about a woman’s plight and struggles as an abuse victim, I empathize.
Except in this case, my initial reaction wasn’t empathy. As a mom, it was easy for me to say, Yes, she deserves some sort of punishment. I wanted her to protect her child, just as I would’ve done if I were in her shoes.
But I wasn’t, and that’s the thing. If she had been sane or healthy like you and me, she wouldn’t succumb to her husband’s whims and abuse. She wouldn’t fear for her life or fail to trust others. She wouldn’t rely on him physically, financially, emotionally.
If she were like you and me, she would’ve gotten herself and her kids out of that house. She wouldn’t even be in an abusive relationship in the first place.
So it’s so easy for us to say we would’ve done different, because of course we would’ve—we’re not in her shoes.
After I read that Buzzfeed article (with details I couldn’t even read through without crying or my stomach tying up in knots), I realized just how brain-altering being abused can be. Just as a person suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, anorexia or depression can view the world with a warped perception, so too do abused victims.
An abused mom isn’t fit to protect herself, much less her kids. And while some moms escape—just as some addicts overcome their addictions—many also can’t.
It took a lot out of me to see the justification of not punishing the mother for not protecting her kids. When I hear about a woman abused, I defend her. Yet when this woman is a mother with a job to protect her children, I almost hold it against her for failing to do so. Only in seeing the mother as a victim herself—and not someone very capable of protecting herself or her children—could I see the flaw of punishing and incarcerating her as well.
What’s the solution then?
Judge Kenneth Watson had a change of mind when he heard the story of Victoria Phanthtaranth. Once he realized that she too, was a victim of abuse, he repealed his decision and set her free from prison. She now works as a cash register.
If placing abused mothers behind bars doesn’t solve the problem, what can be done? Clearly we can’t stop people from having children.
Perhaps better law enforcement is needed. Better protection. A common complaint is a failing trust in the law, as many of the mothers have said that calling the police has not only made their partners’ tempers worsen, but has done little to actually enforce any rules or help them escape.
More importantly, women like Victoria and Latricia need help long before they’re in the position to be abused. They need an education and a job since many abused women lack both (and therefore rely on their partners for a roof over their heads). She needs confidence and support so that she won’t invite further abuse from potential future partners.
An abuse victim should also be monitored to see how she’s doing and whether she is placing herself (or any other remaining children) in danger. If need be, her remaining children should be placed in different care, such as with grandparents or another stable home.
And then maybe she will have transformed herself so that she can make a suitable life possible—one where she won’t place herself or any of her kids into abusive hands again.
Your turn: What do you think about this situation? Are abused moms just as culpable in not protecting their children from abuse as the abuser? Let me know in the comments!
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