The role of literature plays in raising awareness of child maltreatment – a guest post by Robert Eggleton

Charles Dickens may not have been the first novelist to address the evils of child victimization in fiction, but his work has certainly made an impact on all our consciousness. Every Christmas, Tiny Tim pulls at our heart strings, now by cable and satellite, and stirs the emotions of masses. In another Dickens novel, after finally getting adopted into a loving home, as millions of today’s homeless children also dream about, Oliver eventually made it to Broadway well over a century later. Oliver Twist may be the best example of Dickens’ belief that a novel should do much more than merely entertain (but entertain it did, very well).

Following are my views about and reactions to a few books I know of that included child victimization as an element. I considered these approaches by authors as I outlined my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow, a social science fiction story filled with tragedy, comedy, and satire.

In 1995, A Child called “It” by David Pelzer, was released. He had also written autobiographical and self-help books. By employing a memoir style, this novel again called attention to the social problem of childhood abuse.

By 1995, I’d heard the stories of hundreds of maltreated kids through my work as a child advocate — twenty years under my belt. I felt the power of frank disclosure in Pelzer’s fiction. I recognized the opportunity that the style afforded to increase awareness by readers. So, I also incorporated some of this element into Rarity. A prominent book reviewer described my novel as: “…written as a diary-based autobiography by a young girl and the banal stems from the limits of her environment, the extraordinary from her megalomania… a chilling, engaging verisimilitude that deftly feeds on both the utter absurdity of the characters’ motivations and on the progression of the plot.” (Bryan Zepp Jamieson, A Universe on the Edge).

About the same time, in superhero fashion, Batman joined the fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation: Batman: The Ultimate Evil by Andrew Vachss, an attorney involved in child abuse cases and an author of crime novels. Vachss focused this adventure the murder of Batman’s parents which led to the child sex tourism trade in Thailand and advocated for the real-life boycott of trade with that country. Lacy Dawn, my protagonist, didn’t have a name yet, and the concepts were still merging, but I knew that Lacy Dawn would have to be a superhero, as well.

Push was the debut 1996 novel by Sapphire (Ramona Lofton). It was a horrific story of incest, sexual abuse and maltreatment suffered during the lifetime of a sixteen-year-old mother. Oprah Winfrey caught wind of the story and the well-known film, Precious, was produced. This was great work.

Another crime novel that involved the sexual abuse of a child was released in 2002: Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult. It brought the issue from Thailand and back to America at a time when The Boston Globe was covering the prosecution of five Roman Catholic priests who had been charged with the sexual abuse of minors. Picoult’s story included the issue of motherhood, duty and its conflicts, the feelings associated with your child having been victimized. Abuse perpetrated by a person occupying a position of trust certainly was not news to me because of my work with traumatized children. I knew complexity in relationships well. I decided to incorporate subcultural values on the harsh punishment of a child into my story: “spare the rod and spoil the child.”

Also in 2002, there was an interesting development with respect to child victimization in fiction. Little Chicago by Adam Rapp was released as a novel for Young Adults. It featured an eleven-year-old victim of sexual abuse and neglect. As a novel for children as young as twelve years old, its reception appeared to have been mixed in that the nature of the content was mature but the targeted readership was not. A year later, A Boy from the Basement by Susan Shaw was released. It is also a Young Adult novel and unlike Little Chicago that also targeted young adults, there appeared to be no controversy about its rating because the scenes were less vivid. The manuscript for Rarity from the Hollow became a children’s story for adult, without vivid scenes.

In 2004, I am David by Ann Holm was released (originally published in Denmark with a different title). David is a twelve-year-old boy who starts out his life living in a concentration camp. The novel targeted a readership of grade-school-age kids, a children’s book. The School Library Journal, the largest review organization for school librarians in the world called it, “The single finest novel ever written for children of about ages 9 to 13.” Since my manuscript of Rarity had already incorporated political satire, I was not even tempted to back up and try to write the second finest novel for kids. Maybe I will some day.

In 2005, a year before the outline of Rarity was finalized, Happy Baby by Stephen Elliot was released. It’s the story of a child who grew up in institutions, begins in adulthood and takes the reader back in time to a very challenging childhood – a semiautobiographical memoir-type of narrative. This is an adult story as it includes sadomasochism, drugs, prostitution, among others. Before its release, a comprehensive book review was published by Book Sluts (Emily Cook, 2004). While I knew that my novel had become one that was not for the prudish, faint-of-heart, or easily offended reader, Happy Baby was a bit much for me.

Perhaps some of the novels that I mentioned were written in the spirit of Dickens – to expand social consciousness through fiction and possibly influence evolving the social policy on child welfare. But they targeted opposite audiences by age grouping. Could Rarity accomplish the same mission by combining, not the readerships, but the seductive styles? Similar to David, I wanted Lacy Dawn, the protagonist in Rarity, to be much more heart-warming than Theo, the main character in Happy Baby. I also wanted my work to be an honest and mature treatment of serious issues that adults have the greatest power to impact, similar to Happy Baby because the adults, not kids, control allocation of fiscal resources. It would take an investment of money if we are to get serious about addressing child maltreatment.

Child maltreatment is a worldwide phenomenon without clear definition. What one person believes to have been abusive, another may consider as an appropriate child discipline technique, and these views may be influenced by cultures, societal norms or religions. While prevalence rate is difficult to come up with, approximately one-quarter of all adults believes that they were maltreated as children – physically, sexually, or psychologically. Internationally, forty million children are abused each year.

Many jurisdictions have enacted laws to protect children and sanctions that punish offenders. “On an international level, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was formed in 1989, and (ironically) the U.S. and Somalia are the only two of the now 194 member countries that have failed to ratify the CRC’s treaty regarding children’s human rights internationally.” (source)

In today’s reality, the systems in place to help maltreated children are woefully inadequate. As a debut novelist aspiring to sensitize readers to the huge social problem of child maltreatment, and as a retired children’s psychotherapist with over forty years in child welfare, I had to settle for a more realistic goal that to save the children of the world. Half of author proceeds from Rarity from the Hollow have been donated to Children’s Home Society for its child abuse prevention programs. I used to work there in the early ‘80s and stand by its good works.


More about Children’s Home Society

Children’s Home Society of West Virginia is a nonprofit child welfare agency that was established in 1893 and now serves over 13,000 families and children each year.

– Birth to Adoption, including pregnancy counseling and assistance with legal services;
– Three, which assists suspected of having been maltreated can be interviewed in a supportive families care for children who exhibit developmental delays and strengthens the families’ abilities to care for their children at home;
– Comprehensive Assessment and Planning for children and families involved with child protective services to ensure the appropriateness of services and safety of the children;
– Child Advocacy Centers within which children environment by all involved parties (police, social workers, medical staff, defense, etc.), including video recordings, so as to prevent the children from further trauma by exposure adversarial courtroom proceedings;
– Parenting Education for parents involved in divorce proceedings;
– In-Home Child and Family Services to keep families intact when there is no imminent danger to the child but supportive services, such as case management or transportation is needed;
– Exceptional Youth Emergency shelters serving youth with disabilities;
– Foster Care in private family homes that sometimes adopt the children initially placed there if freed for adoption through legal proceedings;
– One mid-town youth center that focuses on after-school and summer academics, delinquency prevention, and parental development;
– Right from the Start which targets high-risk birth mothers and high-risk infants to ensure that proper medical, economic, and social service needs are met;
– Emergency Shelters (9) for youth in crisis (this was where Robert worked as the Director of Shelter Care – He started 5 of these family-like settings but the network has since expanded);
– We Can, a program that recruits volunteers to augment services provided by child protective services workers.


More about the book


Title: Rarity from the Hollow
Author: Robert Eggleton
Genre: Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy

* More about the book.
* More about the author.
* Purchase via Amazon

Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in The Hollow isn’t great. But Lacy has one advantage — she’s been befriended by a semi-organic, semi-robot who works with her to cure her parents. He wants something in exchange, though. It’s up to her to save the Universe.

Will Lacy Dawn’s predisposition, education, and magic be enough for her to save the Universe, Earth, and, most importantly, protect her own family?


More about the guest

Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Today, he is a recently retired children’s psychotherapist from a mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome physical and sexual abuse, and other mental health concerns.

Robert continues to write adult literary science fiction with new adventures based on a protagonist that is a composite character of children that he met when delivering group therapy services. The overall theme of his stories remains victimization to empowerment.

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Shealea

First of her name. Queen of millennials and the constantly caffeinated. Protector of books. Breaker of norms. Iskolar ng bayan.

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