One child, many needs

T.A. Barnhart

I lived in Corvallis when Brooke Wilberger was abducted on May 24, 2004. The circumstances of her disappearance, gone in just a few moments with no trace, her flip-flops on the street, was shocking to the community. In a small town like Corvallis, crimes of this sort are incredibly rare and, as a result, have a tremendous impact on the entire area. People were doing all the things that people do in such circumstances: posters, billboards, PSAs, messages from the pulpit to pray for the Wilberger family, and so on. In the face of such a tragedy, a young woman disappearing in literally seconds, people fight the horror with whatever actions they can. No one wants to believe what was, from the moment she was abducted, the inevitable truth: that it’s already too late.

I recall thinking during the weeks following her disappearance, however, that people’s focus was on the wrong thing. Kidnappings of that sort are rare, not just in Corvallis but in general. Abductions by strangers do happen, but not very often. What does happen on a daily basis, and we do not experience then same shock and pain as when Wilberger was abducted, is the abuse, rape and torture of women, girls and children. I do not mean to diminish the horror and pain felt by the Wilberger family, Kyron Horman’s family, or others who suffer through such ordeals. The rarity of these incidents in some ways increases the shock; it’s the nightmare no parent truly believes can ever strike their family.

Rather, I am speaking to the surrounding community. I have read so many statements online about how awful the disappearance of Kyron is and how badly people feel about it. I recall in 2004 similar statements about Brooke’s disappearance. What I didn't hear then or now are reminders to the community to be aware of the daily, mundane abuse of children right in our neighborhoods. Few children will disappear as Kyron did, but in the Portland area, hundreds, perhaps thousands, will be abused and mistreated by adults in terrible ways - every single day. There is almost nothing any of us can do for Kyron; either the police will crack the case, his body will be found at some point, or a huge bit of luck may lead to him being found alive. Raising awareness is important, and it’s good people are doing that, but beyond that - well, none of us are going to solve this case.

But we can care for the children who are not brought into the public spotlight in such dramatic fashion. We are surrounded by children who suffer in the shadows, perhaps next door, perhaps in our child’s classroom. There are ways for a community to recognize and deal with the abuse of children. There are things that can be done to fight the sexual mistreatment and exploitation of women. These are things we can do every day, working with law enforcement and others. Don’t expect the Oregonian or tv news teams to participate in this; their job is to report the stories that will sell advertising.

This a job for citizens, not the media. A citizen pays attention at home, does what he or she can today, here and now. I cannot find Kyron any more than I was going to find Brooke, but there are children and women I can help. Please, if the disappearance of this little boy has caused you to share his family’s anguish, do something for the children who have not disappeared but are in desperate need of your help. Organizations exist to do just this, and I hope representatives or volunteers will post contact information. Get in touch with one, and, in the name of Kyron, do something for a child who won’t make the headlines but needs your intervention.

Don’t limit yourself to feeling bad about one little boy who is beyond your reach; do something for the children who are within your reach. Channel your grief, fear and anger into making their lives better.

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