Thursday, March 21, 2013

Textbook omits important component of childhood abuse

Book cover: "Contemporary Women's Health" by Cheryl A. Kolander et alMy reading this week from Contemporary Women’s Health: Issues for Today and The Future (McGraw Hill, 2011) concerns the prevention of abuse. Authors Cheryl Kolander, Danny Ramsey Ballard and Cynthia Kay Chandler cite childhood abuse as “one of the most serious problems in our society (237).”

An important issue absent from their discussion is childhood peer abuse, more commonly referred to as bullying. They speak exclusively in terms of abuse perpetrated by adults.

As a survivor of childhood peer abuse, I consider this omission a serious one. In all other respects, they offer a comprehensive catalog of forms of childhood abuse

According to the authors, “One common result of childhood sexual and physical abuse is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” I would like to elaborate, incorporating information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
“Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard University suggests that a new diagnosis, Complex PTSD, is needed to describe the symptoms of long-term trauma ... During long-term traumas, the victim is generally held in a state of captivity, physically or emotionally, according to Dr. Herman. In these situations the victim is under the control of the perpetrator and unable to get away from the danger.
Imagine the dread of a child required to attend pre-game assemblies in which members of the student body are permitted to single out classmates for ridicule and abuse. Each week this child wonders if she will be one of those picked. Every week that she is not, grants relief that is only temporary.

Or imagine the ongoing stress of a child who is always chosen last for the team. Who is pushed in the hallway through a gauntlet of students all larger and far more powerful. Who is taunted on the bus or in the classroom.

This was my experience at Calistoga Elementary School and Calistoga Junior/Senior High School. Now imagine as constant backdrop to these incidents of abuse, my awareness that I had no friends. Even when a direct campaign of harassment was not in play, I remained an outcast.

Clearly the text should have acknowledged the severity of peer abuse.

I find much value in the authors’ suggestions for preventing abuse; many of their suggestions at personal and community levels for preventing abuse against women can similarly be applied toward preventing peer abuse.

In the spirit of one suggestion by the textbook authors for preventing abuse, educating girls and boys about the characteristics of healthy relationships (251), I could name several websites of organizations that promote respect. To select one, in an attempt to remain close to the word limit for this assignment:

Safe School Ambassadors, at, engages and mobilizes “socially-influential leaders” among the student population. These students receive training to “resolve conflicts, defuse incidents, and support isolated and excluded students.”

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