Monday, March 22, 2010

More on Child Abuse: Pecking-Order Abuse

When I first moved out of my parents' home 30 years ago, I moved to an apartment of my own on the first floor of a residence at the intersection of Penn and Overington Streets in the Frankford section of Philadelphia.

A husband, a wife, and a little girl, about six years of age, lived in the apartment above. Every few nights it was the same routine. The husband would scream at and hit the wife, and then he would go to work. After the husband's departure for work, the wife would then engage in pecking-order abuse, screaming at and hitting the little girl.

I heard the slapping through the floor.

The little girl would show up with black eyes and black and blue marks. When the wife screamed at the little girl, she screamed like a banshee. It was unearthly, in its quality. I could believe that the screaming did more damage to the little girl's personality than the slapping and punching.

Back then, I was stupid. I believed in minding my own business. It did not even occur to me to be afraid of retribution if I called the authorities. I just wasn't interested in calling the authorities.

In the course of the events described in the previous article on child abuse, it occurred to me, later, that when the wife, Trang, agreed in advance to Thanh's use of a fiberglass rod to whip their daughter, it was pecking-order abuse. It was worse than what I used to hear coming from the apartment above my head on Penn Street. This time, it didn't just happen for no reason at all. The little girl was whipped with a fiberglass rod for being good !!!

It also had some bad, evil structure to it, in another way.

Once Trang called from her cell phone for help. We ran over to the house, and found her on the floor, curled-up in the fetal position, wild-eyed, shaking, shaking, shaking. Thanh was walking back and forth in the hall, like a robot, head tilted to one side, smiling oddly, eyes open but not seeing. To this day I don't think that he understood that I was there. I picked Trang up, carried her out, and handed her over to my wife, to be brought to our house, where she and their daughter stayed for about a week.

When Trang recovered, she told me how Thanh had grabbed her by her hair and held her down in front of the bedroom mirror and screamed at her, for 5 or 6 hours, total, "until I smiled like a good Vietnamese wife should smile."

Last year, after their separation, Thanh had visitation with their daughter, one day, over at his sister's house.

I went over to the house to discuss something with the sister, unaware that Thanh and Trang's daughter was there. Outside the front door, I heard moaning. I thought, "The sister is punishing her child." I knocked with my "shave-and-a-haircut" knock. Inside the moaning voice said, "Come in, Mr. Peter." I thought, "WHAT! IT'S THANH'S DAUGHTER!" I went in, and there she was, all alone in the house, kneeling straight-up-and-down on the wood floor, crying from the pain of kneeling a long time on wood. I said, "What are you doing??? This is crazy!!!"

She answered, through her tears, "Mr. Peter, my dad says that I can't get up off this wood floor to stop the pain until I start smiling like a good Vietnamese daughter should! If I get caught getting up before I am smiling in front of my dad, my aunt or my grandmom, I will be punished even worse!"

I thought, "He is doing the same thing, now, to his daughter!"

But it wasn't just the dad, Thanh, who engaged in the abuse. Once, when I called the daughter or she called me -- I forget which -- last year, after her mother's separation and divorce, I heard a very, very odd sound in the background, in her house.

I thought, "What the Helll???..." So, I said to the little girl, "What is that strange sound I hear on your end???"

The little girl answered happily, "Oh, it's okay, Mr. Peter. My mom does that all of the time. That's what my mom sounds like as she is screaming, screaming, screaming at me. She is careful to never let you hear that screaming. She just doesn't know that I am on the phone, right now, so you get to hear it!"

Just then, I remembered the unearthly screaming of the mother, screaming, screaming, screaming at her little daughter, who lived in the apartment above me, 3 decades ago.

It was the same.

Parents, stop destroying your little ones.

Just love them!



  1. I wonder, how much is this 'culter' and how much of it is 'culture clash'.

    Culture - its passed down from generation to generation. The man must ultimately rule the house. There is NO ROOM for inefficiencies of a person caring for themselves.
    No room for ego in the female. Just do as the male says, and SMILE!

    A few quick 'rod' lessons and the higher lesson (smile, do as you are asked or face a painful penalty) is quickly learned (to be passed down again next generation).

    Culture clash, everything your befriended little girl learns from the Western culture is that its all about ME. That would directly clash with 'do exactly as the alpha male in the family says. Result is a longer extended time of learning the lesson.

    Now as for your frankford neighbors upstairs, you didn't mention any particular nationality.

    so, you wonder, then, is this deeper than culture? Is it in-bread into our species?

    Or, is it seems, just an insane male thats going to have it his way?


    The Trahn walking about with his head cocked to the side, eyes open but not seeing, well, thats another matter. Insane, perhaps reliving in some form, abuses given to him as a child . . .
    They always say its handed down.

    We'll see how your little friend forms as she has and raises kids

  2. Hi, Tom.

    The folks upstairs from the Penn Street apartment were non-ethnics -- just Americans.

    Re Thanh's odd behavior -- walking back and forth in the hallway, smiling, head tilted to one side, I always maintained that he had Tourette's Syndrome. Thanh and Trang laughed at me when I afterwards show them how his behavior conformed to web-based lists of Tourette's symptoms.

    (1) Tourette's people engage in "robotic" behavior. The walking back-and-forth in the hallway with a smile, after screaming at Trang for 5 or 6 hours, looked robotic.

    (2) Tourette's people engage in long tirades of angry obscene talk. Thanh used to spend hours yelling "F--- my mother-in-law! F--- my mother's uncle!" To keep their daughter from seeing this, and to keep him from terrorizing Trang, I took him on hour-long walks until he had gotten the onscenity out of his system.

    (3) Tourette's people have facial tics. Thanh had two distinct tics.

    In one analysis I read, the psychologist author opined that the behavior in (1) and (2) were just additional tics in the brain.


    In Thanh's case, the Tourette's symptoms were joined to abusive controling behavior and alcoholism.