Tag Archives: violence towards children

The Power of Images

Drawing of a boy by BZTAT
Artwork by BZTAT

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, our collective senses have been rattled. Not only with the telling of the story of what happened, but also with the images that have been thrust into our view of frightened children, grief stricken parents, and other signs of intense pain.

And guns. Everywhere you turn – newspapers, TV news, online magazines – you see pictures of assault weapons. It is as if seeing the image of these machines that are designed to kill will somehow motivate us to some kind of action.

As we are gripped with the pain of this one tragedy, however, we tend to ignore the daily tragedy of harm that befalls other children daily.  An average of 5 children die every day as a result of child abuse in the United States. Nearly 6 million children are harmed in some way by domestic abuse each year according to reports, which likely underestimate the true number of abuses cases.

We have ugly pictures to go along with that too. Photos of sad, morose children wth dirty faces and black eyes evoke pity and implore us to do something. Again, it seems that the only way to motivate people to action is to assault them with images of awful things.

Another area of activism that tries to motivate with horrifying imagry is the pet rescue community. Images of bloody and emaciated animals creep their way into my Facebook newsfeed every day. Activists think that sharing these awful pictures of abused and neglected animals will motivate us to do something to stop animal abuse.

Artists often buy into this myth that scare tactics motivate people to action. They fill their artworks with macabre images that thrill the arts intelligencia, who analyze their expressiveness with egoistic verbosity.

But looking at the statistics on mass shootings, child abuse and animal abuse, these motivation tactics do not seem to be working. Children are still being harmed. Animals are still being harmed.  The two phenomena are deeply intertwined in their occurrence in our society.  And shocking us with imagry is not making a dent in creating change.

As an artist, I do not enjoy creating ugly things. I deplore violence towards children and animals, and I want to use my art to educate people about how these two issues are connected. I want to inspire and lead people towards meaningful change. But I cannot, and will not do it by perpetuating the ugliness.

All of my artwork has a positive and joyful quality. It is not by accident. I choose color and other artistic elements that bring about those qualities on purpose. It is not to ignore the less positive realities in life, but to articulate the more positive outcomes that we seek.

With my Okey’s Promise projects, I more purposefully challenge people to initiate a dialogue about the links between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence – a particularly ugly reality of human society. But even so, I do this by intriguing people with images of hope instead of creating images that make them want to turn away.

I don’t know if I will make a dent any more than those who resort to sensationalism tactics. I can’t go wrong with hope, though. What have I got to lose?



I am not Adam Lanza’s mother, but I could have been his counselor.

Self portrait by BZTATI never knew Nancy Lanza. I never heard of her or her son Adam until they both perished in a spray of bullets last week.

I have never met Lisa Long either. She is the courageous parent who wrote the I am Adam Lanza’s Mother article that has gone viral in cyberspace since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

I have known many women and men like them, however. They are decent parents and foster parents who have children with emotional disturbances. They do everything they can to get mental health and educational services to meet the needs of their kids, and yet it is never enough.

Some live in fear of their own children, or those with whom they are charged to care, because their children’s behaviors often spiral out of control. Irrevocable violence is always a heartbeat away with these families.

I have sat in emergency rooms with these parents following emotional meltdowns from their progenies. When a child has a psychiatric episode in Ohio, they are directed to an emergency room for evaluation. After about 5-6 hours, the child is either sent home because he or she has fallen asleep, or they get admitted to a psychiatric unit.

Often, an ambulance ride and full court press attention in an ER is just the ticket to make the raging beast settle down and look like an adorably cute cherub. The doctors say, “doesn’t look suicidal or homicidal to me,” and they act condescending towards the parents as if THEY are the problem.

If a child does get admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward, they are usually discharged in a few days after being placed on high doses of psychiatric medications that have not yet had time to take effect.

And then the parent and family counselor get back on the roller coaster.

Too many visits to the hospital in a short amount of time leads to the ER doctors telling you to call the juvenile justice authorities. To them, it is a behavior problem, not a medical or psychiatric issue.

Never mind that showing dysregulated behavior is how a child often manifests emotional distress.

In the wake of Sandy Hook and the long list of previous mass shootings, you hear the cry, “Why didn’t someone see the signs and do something?” I can tell you that I have seen the signs with some very volatile youth. I have tried to do something. And I have been chastised and bitterly rebuked for trying to go around the usual barriers to getting kids help.

Thankfully, none of my clients ever got to the point that Adam Lanza did. But I have seen some close calls.

Our mental health system is broken. We must do something about how we deal with individuals with emotional disorders if we ever want to see things improve. But fixing the mental health system alone is not sufficient in ending senseless violence with our children.

  • We must do everything possible to get high powered weaponry out of the reach of those with no need for it, especially those likely to demonstrate instability. As long as assault weapons are available to the masses, troubled people will get their hands on them and use them.
  • We must find a way to reduce the amount of violent stimuli in our culture, including virulent music, violent movies and TV shows, and video games.
  • We must sufficiently fund daycare and after school programs so that youth are properly supervised.
  • We must provide trauma based interventions to every youth affected by domestic violence, community violence, abuse, neglect, disaster, or other types of trauma.
  • We must start responding in a way that meets individuals and communities’ needs, instead of simply responding in the cheapest method possible.
  • We must get off of our political high horses and acknowledge that social programs, such as those most at risk in the fiscal cliff debate are the very things that we need to keep our kids safe. 

I left the mental health profession a year ago because I no longer felt effective. After spending 20 years working with high risk youth and families, I was no longer able to make the personal sacrifices and risks to my own well-being that it took to go to work each day. It is sad to me that it happened, but I had to stop.

The saddest part is that it does not have to be this way.

The majority of people experiencing emotional disorders are non-violent and low risk. They are no harm to anyone, and yet they too suffer from the complete inadequacy of our mental health treatment system.

If you ask me, that is just wrong.

Will we really do something to change it all?

As they say, it takes a village. It is up to all of us to change priorities and purposes. I am hopeful, but wary.

Please, surprise me world.







Our children are counting on us.

Boy  on sidewalk digital drawing by BZTAT
Digital drawing by BZTAT

We can all agree on the problem – too many innocent lives cut down needlessly in mass shootings with unprovoked displays of violence.

Coming to a consensus solution to the problem, however, seems farther away than ever.

My Facebook newsfeed has become an all out verbal war of opinions and admonitions since the story of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre first broke.

Some cry out for gun control. Others cry out for improved mental healthcare. Others decry the prevalence of virtual violence in games, movies and TV. Some just want us to shut up and grieve.

Who am I to argue with any of them? I feel as helpless as anyone in this.

As a counselor who worked with troubled youth for 20 years, I have more knowledge, expertise and relevant experience to bring forth in the conversation. Yet my skilled thoughts seem unwanted in this stream of impassioned discourse.

Certainly my political views come into play as I form my own clinically-based solutions. I could also argue that my expertise and experiences have guided my political perspective.

We cannot avoid a political discussion of the issues. Politics guide the formation of laws and public policy to address such concerns, and something has to be done. We can, however, be reasonable and sensible in our approach.

My suggestion is that we voice our concerns to our law and policy makers instead of admonishing our Facebook friends. Write or call your senators, representatives, governors, etc. Let THEM know what recourse YOU want them to take.

Violence against children is a pervasive problem in our society. Although it is not usually 20 cut down in a single incident in a matter of minutes, children die DAILY in sprays of bullets. Survivors live in terror, yet they rarely get their intense mental health needs addressed. Often they reenact their trauma through video games with realistic visual imagery.

Young survivors of trauma are at much greater risk of becoming violent offenders as they grow older.

Something needs to change in our society’s approach to children and violence. Will we take action and find true solutions to ALL the factors that come into play? Or will we succumb to blather and useless noisy rhetoric?

Time will tell. I hope we do right by our children. They are counting on us.