Op-Ed

Child abuse should never be used to make a political attack

I’m an Appalachian American and proud of it. In fact, my T-shirt boldly declares me as such in bright white lettering against navy cotton. “Ain’t,” “reckon” and “yonder” are as common in my daily conversation as an iron skillet is in my kitchen.

For me, there’s never been any shame associated with my ol’ Kentucky home.

Until now.

For the last few weeks, educators from various counties, including my own, and workers from across the state have lobbied, protested and made their voices heard against a tax reform bill and budget under Gov. Matt Bevin.

School systems have closed due to mass teacher call-ins as a response to the matter at hand. Even some parents have kept their children home in support of teachers and their position.

Needless to say, emotions ran high on both sides. But it was not the intensity of the rallies that left me speechless. It was not picket signs or Facebook arguments that left a bitter taste in my mouth.

The shame that now shadows my heart is caused by the governor’s utterly unethical statement made Friday outside the Capitol.

“Children were harmed — some physically, some sexually, some were introduced to drugs for the first time — because they were vulnerable and left alone,” he said about the teacher protests.

His accusations and horrific predictions broke me as I sat next to my soon-to-be kindergartener. I am appalled by his insensitivity to the issues he so carelessly tossed around.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau “Child Maltreatment 2015” report released in 2017, 19 out of every 1,000 children were victims of child abuse.

If you break that number down, that’s roughly two out of every 100 children in the state suffering. An even sadder statistic from the same study revealed 16 children became not only a victim, but a fatality. These findings are shocking, sickening and unacceptable.

Moreover, these findings should not be used in any way, shape, form or fashion to persuade in a political manner and should never be used somehow as a form of leverage for meeting an agenda.

How can the suffering of innocent children connect to budgeting, pension reform or closing of school districts? It can’t, certainly not as some sort of guilt-inducing tactic meant to weigh on the hearts and minds of both school workers peacefully protesting as well as parents taking care of their children.

The governor has lost sight of appropriate points of discussion. He seems to have lost sight of reality, which is not a pretty one.

While my son is safe and well provided for, this is not always the case for many children. Statistically, at least one child my son will share the cafeteria with this fall will endure some type of abuse.

It could be his new best friend. It could be the pretty blonde he chases on the playground. It could be the child sitting silent in the back of class who jumps when the drums are played in the band room next door. I have no way of knowing.

Neither does Bevin.

Herein lies the problem. A teenager he may never lay eyes could have heard his statement and forced tears from his eyes. A Head Start student in my county could have been hiding in the backyard because it’s Friday night and a parent drank too much. An educator could have felt a stomach churn remembering a bruise from last week as regret sinks in for calling in sick.

The governor’s words are far worse than careless. His remarks are irreversible, unacceptable and unsupportable.

Making light of a very real problem facing the Bluegrass State is reprehensible, even more so considering it was done in a manipulative and self-serving manner.

If change is to take place and children are to be protected, the mind-set of those leading our state must be revised. I vote we start with Bevin.

Evidently, it is not just the taxes and budget that needing reform.

Beth Pugh is a writer who lives in Pikeville.

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