Pick up a phone. Dial the hotline number. Report suspected child abuse. And you can do it anonymously.
"It's that simple," said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. "If you suspect a child is being abused and you act by calling that hotline, you could save a life."
Tragically, on an average day in America, five children die due to abuse or neglect. No other nation in the industrialized world has a worst abuse-related death rate, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.If someone had just called a hotline, so many children would still be alive today. That sad truth was emphasized throughout a news conference held Monday, April 15 at the Jackson County Courthouse. County officials joined with Operation Breakthrough co-founder Sister Berta Sailer to raise awareness about what the Department of Health & Human Services calls America's child abuse epidemic. (April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.)
"These children should all be alive today," stated Sister Berta, standing at a podium surrounded by pink and blue wooden tombstones symbolizing more than 70 innocent lives lost in Jackson County during the last 10 to 15 years.
A Survivor Speaking For His Murdered Brothers
One tombstone bore the name of Gary Bass and the one next to it Larry Bass. The two triplets died in 1999, having suffered severe burns from being dunked in scalding water while each was slowly being starved. At eight years old, Larry weighed less than 30 pounds.
Their older brother, Nathan Ross, survived that horror story -- among the most notorious abuse cases in Kansas City during the last two decades.
"Two of my brothers were murdered because nobody reported what happened," said Ross. "No one spoke up. Because of the neglect of people who could have done something I don't have two of my brothers now."
In 1999, Ross, the third Bass triplet, and their then 12-year-old sister were placed in foster care. Their mother, Mary Bass, was eventually convicted on 12 counts, including two charges of second-degree murder.
As the Chicago Tribune reported in 1999, the "condition of the Bass children came to the attention of the police for the first time" when Mary Bass called 911 after finding Larry unconscious and being unable to revive him.
'More Energy Into Saving Children'
County Executive Mike Sanders noted that abused children themselves are too young and traumatized to know whom to contact for help.
"It sadly becomes normal to them to be the victims of abuse," he said. "The reality is it's up to us to intercede. Any society is judged by the way we protect those who can not protect themselves."
Sister Berta pointed out, "As a society, we save pop cans. Perhaps we should put a little more energy into saving children."Sanders and Peters Baker both stressed that people should report any suspicions of abuse. They need not know for certain that abuse is occurring.
"We have examples of children's lives being saved by the heroes who anonymously called the hotline," Peters Baker said. "They reported what they saw. They reported what they knew. They reported what they suspected. Then an investigation ensued."
Ross was baffled how so many people "can get caught up" in the relationships of celebrities -- "wanting to know who is dating who" -- while turning a blind eye to child abuse: "When it comes to important things like abuse and neglect, they say, 'That's not our place. Who am I to judge what is going on in someone else's home?'
"These are the children in our community. You have the right and you have an obligation to stand up and fight for them. If you won't do that, who else will?"