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Throughout the story of Push by Sapphire, the author writes about a teenage girl who is involved in psychological, sexual, and physical abuse. Clareece Precious Jones experiences these three forms of maltreatment throughout the book from her parents. Not only is she a victim of maltreatment but also suffers from social injustice because of her socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity. Furthermore, we can apply Brofenbrenner’s model to Precious’ story and see how influential her surrounding are. Precious is a twelve years old African American female who experiences physical, sexual, and psychological abuse from her parents and social injustice from certain characters throughout Push.
Child sexual maltreatment can be defined as when an adult inappropriately touches a child or involves them in any sexual activity (Hines, Malley-Morrison, & Dutton, 2013). There are many negative effects in both short term and long term outcomes whenever a child is sexually maltreated. The short term outcomes can affect a child’s interpersonal, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral health (Hines et al., 2013) Furthermore, those child are more likely to become anxious, suicidal, depressed, and aggressive in comparison to those who are not a victim of child sexual maltreatment. We see in the story that Precious that she is a victim of child sexual maltreatment from both of her parents. Her mother sexually assaults her when she is sleeping by touching her inappropriately as she is pleasuring herself while her father sexually assaults her by impregnating her the second time at the age of twelve (Sapphire, 1996). Since Precious is twelve years old, her brain has not been fully developed yet. According to Van der Kolk (2013), a child who is traumatized of sexual assault at a young age can possibly develop eating disorders, substance abuse, and lack of trust because her brain has not been fully developed yet. As a result, the child will have an underdeveloped brain.
There are many risk factors across the ecological systems that contribute to child sexual maltreatment. The macrosystem includes unemployment and low socioeconomic status while the exosystem consists of living in a rural area (Hines et al., 2013). One of the reasons why living in a rural area heightens the risk of child sexual maltreatment is because the family is socially isolated in comparison to families who live in urban area and experience more socialization. The microsystem includes gender, age, living with a nonbiological parent, dysfunctional family, lack of intimacy between parents, an emotionally unavailable mother, or a mother with a drinking problem. According to Hines et al. (2013), those who are ages seven through twelve and are female have a higher risk of sexual maltreatment. Furthermore, girls who live with their stepfather or does not have the emotionally attention of their mother are at a risk as well because it leaves them emotionally deprived and defenseless against sexual predators. Finally, dysfunctional families are at a risk because they are an unorganized family that leaves the child vulnerable due to the lack of closeness, flexibility, and cohesiveness (Hines et al., 2013). This results in them being passive, needy, quiet, and socially isolated, making them more appealing to sexual predators.
Child physical abuse can be defined as when an adult physically kicks, punches, throws, or even pushes a child (Hines et al., 2013). Additionally, there are also both short term and long term consequences. The short term include lacerations, burns, bruises, and bites while the long term include problems with martial, emotional, social, financial, and behavioral problems (Hines et al., 2013). In Precious’ story, we also see that her parents victimize her through child physical maltreatment. When her father was raping Precious, he commanded her not to scream or else she would endure another beating (Sapphire, 1996). However, her mom is the main offender of physical maltreatment whenever she was abused. She ordered Precious to do whatever she asks and beats her if she refuses (Sapphire, 1996). For example, her mother struck Precious with a skillet and forced her into labor when her mother found out about the pregnancy.
Many risk factors can contribute to why a child can be a victim of physical maltreatment. The macrosystem includes low income while the exosystem consists of poor neighborhood quality (Hines et al., 2013). One of the reasons why unemployment and poor neighborhood quality contributes to child physical maltreatment is because poor neighborhoods tend to have single parent families and may be unstable while low income families are not happy with their situation and take out their frustration on their children. The microsystem includes chaotic home environment as well as younger children. According to Hines et al. (2013), younger children are more at risk to physical abuse but that risk begins to decline as the children grow older. Furthermore, chaotic home environment can contribute to child physical maltreatment because they usually are not cohesive and do not communicate well with each other (Van der Put & Ruiter, 2016). They tend to not communicate nor work together, resulting in limited cohesion as a family. As a result, younger children who come from lower socioeconomic status in a chaotic home environment have the greatest risk of child physical maltreatment.
Psychological child abuse is described as denying emotional responsiveness, isolation, and verbal abuse (Hines et. al, 2013). The result from this child abuse includes lack of impulsive control, distractibility, negative emotions, low self-esteem, displaying angry behavior, and difficultly learning and solving problems, causing the child to have physical aggression. Precious is also a victim of psychological child abuse because her mother orally insults her by using degrading words such as cunt, nigger, slut, bitch, and other offensive language. People think that psychological maltreatment is the least concerning neglect, but it is actually more harmful than physical and sexual maltreatment (Hines et al., 2013). Psychological child maltreatment has a long lasting effect that can lead into adulthood. We see this in Precious’ story because she has trouble learning and reading. Rather than attending school, she is put into an alternative learning facility. Precious’ difficulty in learning shows that she may have been psychological abused, explaining why it is so hard for her to learn and why she gets angry quickly.
There are many risk factors in why a child becomes psychologically abused. The macrosystem includes poverty while the exosystem includes deprived relationship with extended families and social isolation (Hines et al., 2013). These risk factors contribute to psychological child abuse because families living in poverty may not have the time or energy to help their children. The parents may expend all of their time and energy working countless hours, leaving the child alone. In addition, families with low socioeconomic prestige, homes that earn less than fifteen thousand a year, alcohol and drug problems, and living in countryside area are at risk. Additionally, parents that are not working and do not have a higher degrees are more likely to neglect their children (Hines et al., 2013). Parents who are dependent on alcohol and drugs can psychological neglect their child due to being high or drunk all the time. Furthermore, poor families with children are at a higher risk because the pressure of providing for the family can result in the denial of emotional awareness and oral maltreatment.
According to the World Health Organization (2016), violence is defined as the deliberate or threatened use of physical strength against someone may or may not end in fatality, injury, psychological damage, deprivation, or maldevelopment. The story of Precious is a prime example of the World Health Organization’s definition of violence because she was a victim of violence. Both of Precious’ parents used physical strength to injure her as she was growing up. Her mother would hit her if she ever refused a command and her father threatened to beat her if she refused sex. According to the Brofenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, there are four different systems called the macrosystem, exosystem, mesosystem, and the microsystem (Krase, 2015). Precious is involved with all four ecological systems in the book Push. Under the macrosystem, Precious is affected because she is living in poverty throughout her story. She has two babies and is under welfare but the checks go straight to her mom. On her first day of alternative school, she did not have enough money to eat so she had to steal fried chicken on the way to school. Furthermore, her classmate bought her chips that were fifty cents because she could not afford them. Under the exosystem, Precious is affected because of her poor neighborhood quality. Evidence of a poor neighborhood includes single parents and insufficient social resources. Under the mesosystem, Precious has built relationships with multiple people at school throughout her story. They include her alternative school teacher Blue Rain and her close friend Rita. Under the microsystem, her mother directly influences Precious. Her mother does nothing at home except for watching television and collecting her welfare checks. Furthermore, she commands Precious to make her food or else it will result in a beating. The three spheres of violence includes interpersonal, institutional, and structural (Contreras & Cano, 2016). Precious is also a part of these three spheres of violence because of her parents. Under the interpersonal sphere of violence, her mother and father commits sexual violence against her. Under the institutional sphere of violence, her mother continually beats her whenever she does not listen. Under the structural sphere of violence, Precious tries to stand up to her mother’s hierarchy but is always beat into submission until she finally moves away.
There are many deterrence policies in place today to address child maltreatment. The main goal is to stop the violence and keep families together rather than just removing the child from the household. Some of the strategy in preventing child maltreatment and abuse include providing better economic support, develop positive parenting to foster healthy children growth, and providing excellent care and learning early in life (Altafim & Linhares, 2015). In order to provide better economic support, the approach is to start by bolstering family economic security with family-friendly job policies. Developing positive parenting to foster healthy children growth requires approaching and teaching family different parenting skills so they learn how to raise children. Providing excellent care and learning for children early in life involves the family engaging in preschool development and improving the quality of children care by accreditation and licensing. Formal systems today, such as the child protective service, are designed to respond by first investigating a report submitted by a person (Milani, Vianello, Cantoni, Agostoni, Fossali, 2016). They then send a caseworker that interviews family members and those involved to gather information to make a disposition. Once completed, the disposition can include reason to believe that abuse or neglect has happened, rule out abuse or neglect, unable to compete the investigation because the family could not be located, unable to determine, and administrative closure because the information is unwarranted (Milani et al., 2016). Furthermore, if the caseworker decides that the child is safe, the case is then closed. If he or she finds any threats, then the family will have the opportunity to fix it before they step in. However, if the caseworker finds it unsafe due to significant safety issues, he or she can file a petition to protect the child.
In the story of Precious, we see that the child maltreatment system did not work well. When she was living with her mother, no one noticed that she was living in an abusive household. Additionally, when she left the hospital with her second child, she had no choice but to stay at a homeless shelter with a newborn child (Sapphire, 1996). In today’s society, if someone saw a young teenager walking around breastfeeding her child, there is no doubt that someone would call social services or any type of program that would help them. In addition, police officers, school officials, and medical personnel are now trained to spot and respond to any suspicion of child abuse (Jud, Fergert, Finkelhor, 2016). This is a step up in their policy in comparison to Precious’ time. However, Precious was living in the 1980s, which means that racism at the time may also be extremely high. One reason to why no one helped Precious could be because she was a poor, young African American woman, especially when she asked the nurses at the hospital for help. Instead of helping their patient, they directed her to a homeless shelter (Sapphire, 1996). This shows that racism might have played a major role in Precious not receiving the help she needed until later.
Precious has been in contact with many people throughout her story. They include her parents, teachers, nurses, classmates, and government workers. Nurse Butters, also known as Lenore Harrison, did not respond to Precious’ cry for help (Sapphire, 1996). After Precious gave birth to Abdul, she explained her situation to Lenore and asked for her help, yet she told Precious she is going off duty and needs to pick up her daughter, leaving her with another nurse. Her teachers, Mrs. Lichenstein and Blue Rain, both responded positively to Precious. Mrs. Lichenstein took time out of her day to talk to Precious at her home about an alternative school (Sapphire, 1996). In addition, Blue Rain worked hard and never gave up on teaching Precious her education. Blue taught Precious the basics of reading and writing by using a notebook and writing in it everyday (Sapphire, 1996). Some of the social attitudes that contributed to the failure of neighbors, medical and school personnel and welfare to spot abuse and act to defend Precious may have been racism. For school officials, Precious’ school seems like a school with disruptive children because students would interrupt class whenever Precious was trying to learn. Furthermore, the school was located in a poor minority neighborhood, which may have contributed to why only a few teachers and school officials cared about the students. Additionally, they may not have helped Precious because they saw her as a poor ethnic minority child (Hines et al., 2013). However, there are people in Precious’ story that actually helped her. They include Blue Rain, her teacher, and a few of her classmates. Blue was always there for Precious and never gave up on her even when she scored very low on the test scores. Rita, one of her closest classmates, also cared for Precious and treated her out to coffee and hot chocolate and brought her to anonymous meetings (Sapphires, 1996).
Precious’ life finally begins to turn around when people begin to care for her. She is not abused, not homeless, is earning an education, and receiving support from multiple people instead of harassment from her mother. For example, when Blue found out that Precious was homeless with a newborn child, she responded by finding her a new home (Sapphire, 1996). This can relate to the protective factors for family violence because Precious is now not socially isolated. Before going to the alternative school, she was socially isolated because she was only spending time with her abusive mother. Now she is spending time interacting with her classmates and teacher. Informal systems can definitely respond more effectively to suspected abuse because formal systems such as the child protective services cannot be everywhere at once. The only way suspected abuse could be noticed are those who are interacting with the victim. For example, a child protective service worker has no way of knowing which child is being abused. However, the abused child’s friends and those he or she is interacting with may have the possibility of noticing things such as physical abuse marks. They can become the eyes and ears for the child protective service.
Clareece Precious Jones is a twelve year old African American female that was physically, psychologically, and sexually abused by her parents. As Precious continues her story, she experiences social injustice due to her social economic status and ethnicity. However, her life begins to change due to informal systems and protective factors. For example, her classmate becomes her closest friend and her teacher teaches her how to read and write and focuses on higher education. Precious’ teacher and friends show that informal systems and protective factors help protect abused children from abusive families.
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