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Voices: Beating a child bloody is not 'cultural'

September 22, 2014 · 

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 Marisol Bello, USA TODAY1:18 p.m. EDT September 21, 2014

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson talks along the sidelines during the game with the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium on Aug. 8. (Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn, USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson talks along the sidelines during the game with the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium on Aug. 8.
(Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn, USA TODAY Sports)

 

 

 

his is what I know about being disciplined with a switch:

I was at a local park with my biological father in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan, where we lived. He’d given me  instructions to stay within a specific area, where he could see me while he played ball. But I didn’t listen.

 So he grabbed a branch from a tree and used it to teach me a lesson. The lashes left bloody tracks that wrapped around my legs and buttocks,  identical to the ones in the photos of NFL player Adrian Peterson’s 4-year-old son.

I was 3.

When we got home that night, I was so scared that I didn’t tell my mother. But I was sick and feverish, and when she went to bathe me, she  saw the evidence of what had happened.

His answer to her questions: He was going to teach me to obey, and he’d do it again until I did. That’s how they did it in his native Dominican  Republic.

It was a similar rationale to the argument that Peterson, who has been charged with child abuse, and those who defend him have used: That’s  how you raise children; that’s our culture. “I’m from the South,” NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said on CBS’ The NFL Today. “Whipping  — we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

 

 

RELATED: Vikings’ Adrian Peterson indicted for child abuse

But just because it was always done that way doesn’t make it right. As a friend of mine pointed out, children used to ride in cars without seat belts, and women used to smoke and drink while pregnant. Now we know better.

This isn’t about disciplining a child. This is about violence.

RELATED: Is powerful NFL at a crossroads?

If there is one sliver of “good” that has come out of the outrage over the Peterson and Ray Rice cases, it is that women are opening up about the cycles of violence in their families.

I’ve heard from friends and colleagues. I’ve heard stories of cousins murdered by exes in front of relatives. I’ve heard about women who stayed and women who left.

And that can be empowering. Those living with abuse should know that just because that’s how your parents disciplined children, or that’s how your dad treated your mom, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can get out.

People need to understand how often it happens. It happens to the famous, like broadcaster Meredith Vieira, and the anonymous, like your neighbor, your cubicle mate, the person who makes your latte in the morning.

That’s why it’s so important to share our stories.

The photos showing the bruises and cuts on Peterson’s son stirred fear, anger and sadness in me. I was looking at myself when I saw those photos. The images of me in my underwear, with deep welts and cuts across my legs, are ones I’ve never forgotten.

Those experiences have lasting effects. To this day, when I hear yelling directed at me or someone else — no matter how trivial the reason — I have an intense fight-or-flight reaction.

That “whipping” wasn’t the first time my biological father had acted against my mother and me. Several times he tried to hit my mom. And yet she didn’t leave, underscoring the complexity of domestic abuse.

She had a full-time job. She had the means to get away. But fear, she told me later, had paralyzed her.

Then my bloody whipping took place, and she knew that if she didn’t get out, he’d kill her — or he’d kill me.

We stayed that night, huddled together in my twin bed in a back room. She formed her escape plan. The next day, she waited until he left for work, even following him to make sure he got on the subway. Then a friend and a relative helped her move. She took a bag of clothes for her and me and my bed.

She turned her back on seven years of her life and fled.

Bello is a breaking news reporter for USA TODAY.

 
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/09/21/adrian-peterson-whipping-switch-voices/15822407/
 

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