Angelina Jolie’s latest Time Magazine op-ed is about vulnerable children in the time of coronavirus. In North America, the school year has been canceled almost everywhere. This means that kids have basically been stuck at home, isolating with parents or caretakers since March, and they’ll continue to be stuck there for months. Angelina wants to talk about the kids who are stuck with abusive parents and caretakers, either as victims of abuse or eyewitnesses of abuse. You can read the full Time op-ed here. Here’s part of it:
In America, an estimated 1 in 15 children is exposed to intimate partner violence each year — 90% of them as eyewitnesses to the violence. An average of 137 women across the world are killed by a partner or family member every day. We will never know in how many of these cases there is a child in the next room — or in the room itself. Isolating a victim from family and friends is a well-known tactic of control by abusers, meaning that the social distancing that is necessary to stop COVID-19 is one that will inadvertently fuel a direct rise in trauma and suffering for vulnerable children. There are already reports of a surge in domestic violence around the world, including violent killings.
It comes at a time when children are deprived of the very support networks that help them cope: from their trusted friends and teachers to after-school sports activities and visits to a beloved relative’s house that provide an escape from their abusive environment. COVID-19 has cut children off from their friends, their regular schooling and their freedom of movement. With well over a billion young people living under lockdown worldwide, there has been a lot of focus on how to prevent children missing out on their education, as well as how to lift their spirits and keep them joyful in isolation.
For millions of children and youth globally, schools are a lifeline of opportunity as well as a shield, offering protection — or at least a temporary reprieve — from violence, exploitation and other difficult circumstances, including sexual exploitation, forced marriage and child labor and domestic violence. It’s not just that children have lost support networks. Lockdown also means fewer adult eyes on their situation. In child abuse cases, Child Protective Services are most often called by third parties such as teachers, guidance counselors, after school program coordinators and coaches. All this poses the question: What are we doing now to step up to protect vulnerable children from suffering harm during the shutdown that will affect them for the rest of their lives?
We were underprepared for this moment because we have yet to take the protection of children seriously enough as a society. The profound, lasting health impacts of trauma on children are poorly understood and often minimized. Women who find the strength to tell somebody about their experiences are often shocked by the many people who choose not to believe them, make excuses for abusive behavior, or blame them. They are often not prepared for the risk of being failed by an under-resourced child welfare system, or encountering judges and other legal professionals who are not trained in trauma and controlling abuse and don’t take its effects on children seriously.
Jolie goes on to name-check California’s surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who has been outspoken about the cost of domestic violence long-term and the value of early-childhood intervention, often by third-party screenings. Jolie also suggests that we all check in with friends during the lockdown, especially if we have concerns about women and children in vulnerable homes.
Did anyone else feel a little catch in their throat about this? “We were underprepared for this moment because we have yet to take the protection of children seriously enough as a society. The profound, lasting health impacts of trauma on children are poorly understood and often minimized.” I feel like… Angelina is speaking from personal experience. Yes, she’s seen and advocated for vulnerable children around the world through her work with nonprofits and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. But she also spent several years trying to work through the American/Californian legal system and child-protection system when she left Brad Pitt in 2016. *Someone* called Child Protection Services and they launched an investigation into Brad’s actions on the plane (they later closed the investigation without any charges). I just feel like Angelina has an intimate, personal connection to this issue too, and she’s also had a front row seat to the limits of what these state agencies can do then and now.