Soldier Jeanie Ditty and her boyfriend.
Most often I am compelled to write about the ways in which we need to honor our veterans and military families. This compulsion is the result of growing up a Gold Star daughter during the height of the Vietnam War. I wrote After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow) for the very purpose of setting the record straight about those who served, and how they and their families were mistreated as a result of simply doing what their country required of them. I knew my father to be a more honorable man than the crazed soldiers depicted in all those Vietnam war flicks that Hollywood was cranking out. Most soldiers I’ve come into contact with over the years have been honorable people. They don’t seek the limelight. They don’t consider themselves heroes. They go out of their way to serve others. And most importantly, they are there for each other.
Wearing a uniform, especially in today’s society, may earn a person more respect than they deserve. This is exactly why candidates running for office sometimes lie about having served in the military. It’s why some men will don a uniform that is not their’s and head to the Mall or out-to-dinner, expecting others to give them discounts and free meals, as a thank you for the duty they never fulfilled.
The term used for such behavior – the one who lies about his or her military service – is Stolen Valor. The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was designed specifically to hold accountable the people who falsely misrepresent their military service, or lack thereof.
But what about the active duty soldiers or retired soldiers who behave in abhorrent manners? What term should we ascribe to them?
In the past 48 hours, I have learned of two situations whereby a female soldier – one active duty and one retired – has beaten a child.
The first case I heard about involved a former National Guard soldier who served in Afghanistan. The girl grew up a stone’s throw from here. She did her tours without any problem that I am aware of, but her personal life has been nothing but one bad decision after another. She made poor choices before she joined the military and she’s made even poorer choices since she left the military.
She was recently arrested for beating a 5-year-old boy – her live-in’s child – reportedly for wetting himself. Neither she nor the child’s father reported the abuse. It was reported to authorities by a teacher. A mandatory reporter.
This veteran is looking at a prison sentence of up to five years.
Then there’s the case of Macy, a two-year old from Spring Hill, N.C. who died from injuries reportedly inflicted upon her by her 23-year old mother, an active-duty soldier at Fort Bragg.
Some of you may recall that I worked as an oped writer for the Fayetteville Observer, which serves the Fort Bragg community.
Macy died in December but her mother reportedly remained on active duty with the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade (irony of ironies) while an investigation was conducted. On March 23, the medical examiner ruled Macy’s death a homicide. Fayetteville police charged Ditty and her boyfriend with first-degree murder and child negligence inflicting serious bodily harm. Macy was reported to have bruises all over her body.
“It’s a tough case, you know this child did not die of natural causes, ” said District Attorney Billy West. “And it’s heart-wrenching to think that this could happen to a young child this way and we are going to do everything we can to see that justice is done in this case.”
What, pray tell, does justice look like when a two-year old has been abused to death?
We knew when I was at the Fayetteville Observer that child abuse among military families was alarmingly high.
Child abuse and neglect (not sure why neglect gets its own category since neglect is the leading form of abuse) increased by 10 percent in ONE year among military families according to a report in the Washington Post.
In fiscal year 2014, officials tracking family violence within the military confirmed 7,676 cases of child abuse or neglect, an increase of 10 percent from the previous year, according to annual statistics on child abuse and domestic violence. Confirmed cases of neglect – which excludes physical and sexual abuse – rose by 14 percent, military officials said. (Washington Post, Sept. 2, 2015).
The issue of child abuse among our military families has been of concern to Pentagon and Department of Defense folks for some time. Numerous studies and reports have confirmed what military mucky-muckies have feared – that children are more likely to be abused during those first six months after a soldier returns home from deployment, and the more a soldier is deployed, the more likely it is that such abuse will occur.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. I don’t want you to just stew about these women, but I do want you to get involved.
Mothers commit more child abuse then men.
Child abuse death is on the rise.
Neglect is the primary form of child abuse and can lead to death.
You don’t have to have proof to make a report of child abuse.
It is the job of the investigators to discover whether child abuse is occurring.
Every adult should be considered a mandatory reporter.
You should not stop with one phone call to Human Services.
You should call your local Childrens Advocacy Center and report any suspected abuse and/or neglect.
To find your local Childrens Advocacy Center go to this link: http://www.nationalcac.org/locator.html
You can become a Court Appointed Advocate on behalf of children. Check it out: http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5301295/k.BE9A/Home.htm
If a child tells you they are being abused, believe them. Help them.
Most children will never tell an adult.
Most abusers pick on children ages 4 and under simply because they aren’t capable of reporting abuse. Or because they are too scared to tell.
Most child abuse deaths occur in children ages 4 and under.
On average, five children a day die in the US as a result of child abuse.
Those who survive rarely talk about it.
Your best friend may be a child abuse survivor.
That soldier that you thanked yesterday for her service?
She went home and beat her child to death last night.
Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of Karly Sheehan: The True Crime Story behind Karly’s Law.