If you suspect it, report it
The phrase “battered child syndrome” entered our language in 1962. It was the title of an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association whose authors wrote they coined it “to characterize a clinical condition in young children who have received serious physical abuse, generally from a parent or foster parent.”
It’s a gut-wrenching collection of words — and a sad thought that we need such a phrase — but it gave medical examiners a succinct and clinical way to describe how 15-month-old Malaya Heun died Jan. 21. They could just as accurately have said she was beaten to death.
An autopsy listed the ultimate cause of Malaya’s death as “septic shock due to complications of inflicted blunt force trauma to the abdomen.” But the report also said the toddler had suffered abuse over time — authorities say at least a month — and that some injuries, including broken ribs, had already begun healing.
After a deliberate investigation, Kannapolis police say they know who killed Malaya. On Monday, they charged her aunt, Alisha Carlisle, and Carlisle’s boyfriend, John Turner, with first-degree murder. Though not parents or foster parents, Chief Woody Chavis said they were Malaya’s “sole caretakers.”
But how could no one else have known? Malaya’s mother, Christy Heun, told investigators that her sister, Carlisle, called her at work the night the toddler was hospitalized. Had she not noticed previous injuries? Had neighbors not heard Malaya crying in pain?
More than 1,500 children die every year in the U.S as a result of abuse. Across North Carolina in 2012, 28 children died at the hands of people who were supposed to be taking care of them. Some, like Malaya, were too young to tell anyone. Others were too scared.
Surely some of those deaths could have been prevented. Children who have been abused exhibit signs. Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina has a guide to recognizing those signs, and more information, on its website, www.preventchildabusenc.org. The National Child Abuse hotline has counselors available 24 hours a day at 1-800-422-4453.
And North Carolina law requires “any person or institution” who suspects child abuse to report it to local authorities. You’re not required to have proof, just “cause to suspect.” To report suspected abuse in Rowan County, call the Department of Social Services at 704-216-8498. After hours, call 911.
Malaya’s suffering is over. But it continues for many more children. Too many, even if it’s just one. And you may know that one. You may be that child’s best hope for survival.