Sometimes you should think the worst

*trigger warning – this post discusses violence to children*

Another day, another child dies – and in the grand scheme of things not very noticeable given that 16,000 children die (on average) each day around the globe each day.  This child however was fortunate and was born in a Westernised nation (Australia), had survived bone cancer (losing a leg and perhaps her hearing – the media is unclear as to whether she was hearing impaired before cancer or not), and moved with her dad to the US when he remarried.

What is currently known is that she is missing, presumed dead and her step-mother has been listed as a person of interest in her disappearance/death.  The report in The Age quotes relatives and neighbours and their statements do not paint a pretty picture.

Relatives of a missing 10-year-old Australian girl, missing feared murdered in the US state of North Carolina, have described the child’s life as miserable, saying she was locked in her room for most of the day and was punished over little things.

“I just think this was something for a long time that we knew was going to happen, everybody that was close to the family,” relative Brittany Bentley said on CBS’ Early Show on Tuesday.

Bentley, who is married to Elisa Baker’s nephew, said she would have Zahra over for weekends and the girl would get mad when it was time to return home.

Zahra “was locked in her room, allowed five minutes out a day to eat, that was it”, Bentley said.

“She was beat almost every time I was over there for just the smallest things. Elisa would get mad, she would take it out on Zahra, things the kid didn’t deserve. She just had a horrible home life.”

“There were warning signs along the way, but you never want to think the worst,” said former neighbour Kayla Rotenberry.

Rotenberry, the former neighbour, said she and her fiance were good friends with the Bakers when they lived in the nearby town of Sawmills. About six months ago she noticed that Elisa Baker’s hand was swollen, Rotenberry said.

“She told me that she was trying to spank Zahra, but hit her on her prosthetic leg,” she said.

Another former neighbour, Brandy Stapleton, 22, of Lenoir, said that Elisa Baker told her the same story about how she injured her hand.

“She wasn’t the person everyone thought she was.”

I understand, generally, people’s unwillingness to get involved, the whole “not my problem” thing,  but in this case, had the neighbours or relatives who had witnessed or known about the abuse visited upon Zahra reported it to the authorities she may still be alive.  There have been numerous recent cases of children going missing, presumed dead where it is possible that someone reporting their concerns may have saved their life.  Overstretched child protection services do not help the problem – and governments need to move on providing well supported, trained and appropriate staff to assist vulnerable citizens.

This article really touched a nerve for me because my husband has shared his horror stories with me of physical abuse from his father that were known about by other family members and by neighbours, and no one did anything.  He was (relatively) lucky in that he survived his childhood and escaped.  But, he or his siblings might not have been so lucky through no fault of their own.

If you know or strongly suspect that a child is being abused, please report it to the relevant authorities.

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