Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Beyond Cartoons and Caricatures: a Vignette in Realism About Child Abuse.

Clear fluid, quickly filled the test tubes. The nurse performing the procedure cooed soothing comments: "You're doing great," she said. "We're almost done, just a bit more."
Lisa, a pseudonym for the very real, at-risk, teen-aged girl and victim of child abuse with whom I worked years ago, seemed to barely notice any part of the ordeal, wincing only slightly, as if a fly had landed on her. She arched her back away from the prick of the syringe.
"Owe!" Lisa whined in irritation, squinting one eye and slouching toward her side. She quickly surrendered to the pain, resigned to the invasive needle.
A "cutter," Lisa bore fresh and healed razor marks, like delicate cob web bracelets at her wrist pulse points. Normally hidden, the marks were exposed as she lifted her blond hair up and out of the way of the nurse performing the spinal tap.
"Okay! We're all done," the nurse said, cheerfully. 
Lisa's hand, the one holding up her hair, flopped like that of a mannequin down to her side. Her other arm reached around her back, to rub and sooth the tender spot on her back.
"Who is we?" Lisa grumbled under her breath toward the nurse who had turned to a work table, and was placing stickers with Lisa's name on vials still warm with the freshly harvested spinal fluid. "I'm the one getting poked, bitch," Lisa growled.
She cut her eyes, pursed her lips, and exhaled through her nose. She straightened her chocolate brown, velour sweatshirt and slid down from the examining table. Walking slowly, her legs almost shuffling as if bound by shackles, she moved to and though the doorway of the hospital examination room. Her face was expressionless and eyes cast far-off and glazed over. This was her usual cadence, and her usual expression. Somewhat off-putting at first, Lisa's demeanor was dramatic. She seemed almost catatonic. Her face remained fixed and motionless, with sleepy blue-eyes to with which few things seemed to register.
Pain was not unfamiliar to Lisa. Being beaten up, and other abuse was as frequent and routine a part of her childhood as taking out the trash, washing dishes or walking the family dog was to other children. Victimized and beaten for years, Lisa was now on prescription drugs for the psychological damages of the unrelenting torment. Symptoms included hearing voices, attempting suicide and self-mutilating behaviors, like cutting.


On this day, Lisa sat perched at the dining room table in a chair pitched backward on its two, hind legs. Slowly, repetitively, but forcefully enough to be heard in the next room, she had spent considerable time pounding the back of her head against the wall in the group home's common dinning area. She said she did it to "stop the voices." 
Her equilibrium had failed to re-calibrate after this, leaving her prone to spontaneously loosing her balance, falling over and to the ground. Lisa was being seen and treated by physicians at Children's Hospital of Orange County for symptoms including vertigo. She had broken the skin on her scalp, so there was blood, and of course, a very severe headache, perhaps a mild concussion. Lisa was admitted for observation and testing.
As a children, Lisa and her sister, had often been lifted by their golden locks and thrown like rag dolls about their family home by their physically assaulting father during drunken binges and sober fetes, that left the two girls battered, bruised, and with the calloused demeanor of war-weary soldiers.
For them, such frequent hostility was an inconvenience against which they had developed resistance and resilience. To them such violence was real. They were neither cartoons, nor were the incidences of violence perpetrated against then conducted by caricatures in any sort of slapstick buffoonery.
Rather, cartoons were a stark contrast to Lisa's reality.
In further contrast, the use of cartoons and their whimsy was perhaps intended to conjure up thoughts of carefree childhoods and fun memories, a device for a viral campaign begun on Facebook to raise awareness of Child Abuse that ran through the weekend of Dec. 4, 2010. 
Conducted via the social media Internet site, it's participants were asked to replace their profile pictures with images of carton characters. The broader, collective effort aimed to eliminate all human faces on the site through Dec. 6, 2010. 
Arguably, the effort fell short of its mark.
In my personal cluster of Facebook friends and acquaintances alone, there were many who failed to supplant their cheesing mugshots for cartoon caricatures. But alternately, the campaign did achieve a fait accompli in raising awareness and bringing the issue to top-of-mind -- and their status pages -- for the hundreds, perhaps even thousands of Facebook users and aficionados who participated through the weekend.
Even the Los Angeles Times' dedicated a bit of its coveted, cyber-column space to the effort many panned a hoax:
The lack of a "call to action" that went beyond the cosmetic, or request for a donation to support research or other charitable work, drew criticism for the effort which seemed nothing more than a fun, nostalgic wax and wane.
Myriad posts, lacked any sort revelatory insight about the very real, very deadly issue that, in the U.S. alone, claims the lives of about five children a day, according to data from, a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of child abuse and neglect. But the Facebook campaign didn't point out such statistics.
Instead, what the effort did do -- at least for me -- was open the door and dialogue for more.
For me, the effort motivated a search not only on 70's cartoon icons,  but it also led me to search for current data, statistics and information about similar issues and associated organizations. It led me to sources like: and called to mind many of the girls in the therapeutic treatment facility in which I worked for nearly a decade.
Despite all she had been through, Lisa was a sharp, bright and tough-as-nails young woman, who had a fearless streak that ran a mile wide. She was very likeable and very capable.
The Facebook Campaign and the statistics it sparked me to research brought to mind so many other, faceless children who hadn't made it, those killed by myriad forms of abuse. The viral campaign worked for me. I "got" it. Did it 'work' for you? Click and post your "comment" below.


Thierry said...

Very interesting story! I like the connection between the Facebook campaign and the realities of the therapeutic treatment center.

Valerie Williams-Sanchez said...

As for pedophiles being the originators of the effort, here's more insight -