April is normally a time when I look forward to the gloomy clouds of winter being replaced with the brilliant sunshine and bright flowers of spring, but this April looks very different from the past. While we are usually united in our battles against allergies and pollen, this year we are all battling something new, disruptive and deadly.
Families are fighting to protect their most vulnerable loved ones, health-care providers are fighting for basic needs to take care of themselves and their patients, small businesses are fighting to stay afloat, recently laid-off workers are fighting to find income, and as always, our first responders are fearlessly fighting on the front lines against this new and invisible foe.
Every day it is on the front of our minds and the top of the news. My husband and I have our 21-month-old daughter and his 88-year-old mom at home, so like many of you, we aren't taking any unnecessary chances.
So why am I telling you something you already know? Because I want to challenge you to think about what you don't know or don't want to know. April is child abuse awareness month, but again, this April is very different.
So I ask you: Who is fighting for the children? The kids who may be sheltered at home but are not sheltered from abuse. Think about the children whose only daily comfort has been in a classroom or on a big yellow bus with a responsible adult. The principals, teachers, counselors and bus drivers are usually the first to notice when something is off with one of their kids, and they report it immediately. My heart breaks and my blood boils when I think about those precious children who don't get to interact with their guardian angels every day.
I wish every child grew up in a loving home as I did, and that every parent would love their child as much as I love mine, but that simply is not the case. My heart is heavy for those victims. The recipe for abuse is currently ripe with toxic ingredients: unemployment, financial and emotional stress, close confinement, and the rambunctious boredom of innocent kids that can unintentionally spark the fury of evil.
Child abuse is way too prevalent in the Natural State. In Arkansas, there are more than 9,000 cases of physical or sexual abuse against a child every year, and the Centers for Disease Control estimates that only one out of 10 child abuse cases are even reported. And with so many dangerous adults being secluded at home with children all day and night who are cut off from their protectors, how many more victims will we have?
Arkansans, you are the neighbor, the relative, or the family friend that could be the saving grace to an abused child. Keep an open eye and attentive ear for something that might seem off or doesn't "seem quite right," and if you see something, say something! The Special Agents at the Attorney General's Office, local law enforcement and the Arkansas State Police are working and ready to respond.
Our responsibility is greater than ever during this unusual time to be the voice for the voiceless. If you suspect child abuse, report it to the Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 482-5964 and save a child's life.
Leslie Rutledge is attorney general of the state of Arkansas.
Editorial on 04/30/2020