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So many knew…

It makes me physically sick and angry when I read about a child abuse story in the newspaper or hear about a child who was rescued from an abusive home on our local news.  But my anger isn’t towards the parents, or Child Protective Services; it is towards the neighbor that they always seem to interview that says, “Well we heard stuff and noticed something wasn’t right, but just didn’t want to get involved,” or “We just didn’t think it was that bad.”

When my book, Why Me, became famous, I was approached by a lot of publishers who wanted to buy the rights to my story.  And because of some author who went on Oprah with his child abuse story and was later found out to be a liar, understandably, the publishers wanted some sort of proof that I truly was abused and that my story was true.  So I had to get legal affidavits from family members, old neighbors, old high school friends, and other people to prove that I wasn’t a liar and that I indeed, suffered all of the abuse and more that I described so vividly in my book.

At first, I didn’t really think anything of it.  I asked my mother’s sister, my cousins, some old high school friends, and some other people from my past to just send me something about anything that they could remember about me from my childhood.  But as the affidavits started rolling in and I began to read them; my heart broke.  So many knew that something was wrong, so many knew that I was being hurt, and for whatever reason, chose to do nothing.

The worst affidavits came from my mother’s own family; the same people who refused to take me in as a child when I was sitting in a DCFS office begging to be taken out of my home.  The same people who knew my mother better than I did and knew what she was capable of.  Some of the things they wrote about I didn’t even realize happened to me.  One cousin wrote of a time Mom chased me around with a knife when I was three years old because I didn’t know how to button up my sweater.  Another cousin wrote of a time she had to hide me in a closet because Mom was trying to find and kill me because I had left the porch light on. And my aunt wrote about the time she had to take me to the emergency room when I was two because Mom had punched me so hard in the face my eye was black and my skull had a hairline fracture.

I got affidavits from old high school friends who knew something was going on, but they just couldn’t put their finger on it.  I got affidavits from old neighbors who had heard my screams, but just didn’t want to get involved.  And the more I read, the sadder and angrier I got.  I cannot for the life of me fathom how a family member or a neighbor can see abuse or hear abuse of a child and not “want to get involved.”

I am an extremely kind and forgiving person and I tried to put myself in the shoes of my family members and old friends.  I can understand how my peers were hesitant or unsure on what to do when they saw my bruises or witnessed Mom hitting me; they were kids, they didn’t know any better and didn’t have the resources to really do anything.  But the adults; I’m sorry but I still have a tough time fully forgiving them.  I don’t understand why when my aunt took me to the hospital when I was two with a fractured skull, she didn’t take me into her home immediately and why she went along with Mom’s story that I had “fallen”.

I don’t understand why neighbors who lived next door to me heard my screams and didn’t even knock or pull me aside as I walked by their house to school the next day to see if I was OK.  Were they scared of my Mom, afraid that she would hit them or make their lives miserable?

When did one person’s life become more important than another’s and why were adults so afraid to help a child?  Only they know that answer, but I am left with the pain of feeling completely alone and isolated as a child, thinking no one around me thought enough to try and help me.

So now, as an adult, I read child abuse stories and I read the comments from the neighbors, and my heart breaks.  Still, after all of this time, adults are too afraid to pick up the phone and make that call to Child Protective Services, too afraid to knock on the door and see if that child is OK, and too afraid to get involved.  I’m here to implore you, beg you; if you see, hear, or suspect child abuse, please do something.  You can make anonymous calls, you can give that child a hug the next day, you can call the police if you hear screams at night, and you can be that child’s hero.  An adult who beats a child is weaker than you think, don’t be afraid.  If your gut is telling you something is wrong, you are probably right.

So many knew…

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2015). So many knew…. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Jul 2015
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