Anelisse: A True Story of Child Abuse, by Adriana Bellini, tells the horrific true story of the authors’ experiences with child maltreatment. Anelisse, nicknamed Lissy, struggles to survive the abusive behavior done to her by her mother, Anna, and new stepfather Ed Adams. Lissy’s long time battle with abuse is covered from the early age of four until adulthood, as she learns to survive with her twin sister Maddie and younger brother David in her protection. While Lissy and her siblings mainly stay with their mother and Ed, they are also a constant stay at their Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s house, their grandmother and grandfather. Throughout the abuse, Lissy considers her grandparents’ house to be her real home. Child maltreatment is simply defined by McCoy and Keen (2014) as the mistreatment and/or negligence of children and can fall into two categories; child abuse is an act by a caregiver that harms or kills a child while child neglect is the failure of a parent to give a child what they essentially need (p.3). Through the eyes of Lissy, this paper will describe the characteristics of her maltreatment, the impact Lissy faces from her maltreatment, and if there were any opportunities for intervention.
Characteristics of Maltreatment
As McCoy and Keen (2014) state, child neglect is an act of not doing something that is necessary for their child’s well-being, and can be thought of as not meeting the minimal requirements needed for proper care (p. 90). One subtype of neglect is emotional neglect, which is defined by McCoy and Keen (2014) as the failure to meet a child’s needs emotionally (p.44). For example, Lissy’s mother Anna dismissed her children’s feeling for her own and made the decision to stay with her new husband Ed, even throughout his drunken tirades and abusive behavior towards her and her children. She told Lissy and Maddie to just get over it and dismissed their feelings, saying that they should be grateful that they even have a home to sleep in and food to eat. Another subtype of neglect is supervisory neglect, defined by McCoy and Keen (2014) as neglecting to supervise children properly or exposing them to various hazards or keeping them in the care of caregivers who do not have their best interests at heart (p. 105). Ed would be an example of an inappropriate caregiver, even more so because he bought a house for them that was in a secluded area away from any neighbors and had lone access to all of the children most hours of the day, as Anna worked many late shifts at work. Finally, McCoy and Keen (2014) discuss educational neglect, which is the lack of attention to various educational needs, requirements, and attendance issues (p. 111). Lissy eventually had to put school on hold because of her daily chores at home, including taking care of her baby brother David, finding ways to escape Ed’s physical abuse, and having to do repetitive chores at unreasonable hours of the night.
McCoy and Keen (2014) also talk about psychological maltreatment, which includes both psychological neglect and psychological abuse; psychological neglect being a parent failing to take care of their child’s emotional needs and psychological abuse being behaviors that a parent can do that harms their child’s mental state (p. 123). One of the subtypes of psychological maltreatment is spurning, which is defined as behaviors from caregivers that are aggressive towards and reject a child, and can include degrading and shaming behaviors (McCoy & Keen, 2014, p.218). For example, Ed would rip Lissy’s school books in front of her face, which he knew was her only form of escape. He would do this knowing that he would have to pay the school back for these books, but did so just to see Lissy in pain and to make himself feel more in charge. Ed’s behavior towards Lissy in general can be seen as spurning, as he calls her disgusting names on a regular basis and berates her every chance he can find, chipping away at her self-esteem bit by bit. Another subtype of psychological maltreatment is exploiting/corrupting, which Keen and McCoy (2014) defines as behavior that encourages children to engage in inappropriate behaviors, including acts that are inappropriate for the age of the child such as making the child become the parent of the household (p. 129). Anna’s demands became top priority in the house, and would wake Lissy up in the middle of the night and tell her to complete her chores, including re-hanging the laundry or re-folding the towels, even if they were already completed. This was a plan to stop Lissy from succeeding and to keep her from thinking too highly of herself.
The last type of child maltreatment discussed by McCoy and Keen (2014) is physical abuse, which is a conscious and purposeful act that results in injury or death to a child (p.63). Throughout her childhood, this is the type of child maltreatment that Lissy had to suffer through the most. From the young age of six, she experienced her first act of violence when she saw her mother and Ed in a domestic violence situation. When Lissy tried to stop Ed from beating up her mother, he grabbed her by her hair, ripped some of it out, and threw her to the floor. Later during her childhood, she was beat with a leather belt with red welts left behind, because of a practical joke she played on him. Finally, when Lissy was older and was checking on her younger brother David in the middle of the night, she accidentally woke up her mother and stepfather, for which he violently beat her, knocked her unconscious, and made her urinate herself. She woke up with lumps on her face, blood everyone, and her eyes almost swollen shut. This was the moment she realized that this cycle of violence was never going to stop unless she left that house.
McCoy and Keen (2014) define risk factors as a number of factors that increase the chance of a child being maltreated (p.23). There are a number of risk factors that play a role in child maltreatment, which can be broken down to family and community risk factors. An example of a family risk factor that played a role in Lissy maltreatment was the authority issues had between Lissy and Ed, as she felt that she did not have to listen to Ed, or at least when he spoke in a way she interpreted as disrespectful. Also, Ed was an alcoholic and could not control himself when he was drunk, no matter how much he believed otherwise. One of the community risk factors relating to Lissy’s maltreatment was the fact that the United States of America is very lax when it comes to the hitting of children. As McCoy and Keen (2014) state, children legally are the only people we are allowed to hit, and it comes from a historical thought that children are the property of parents (p. 38). This is mainly the reason why when they told their grandparents about the abuse, they brushed it off as corporal punishment and that Ed was just disciplining them for their negative behavior.
In Anelisse: A True Story of Child Abuse, Lissy has struggled throughout her entire childhood with a multitude of child maltreatment, and has her other siblings to protect on top of that. There are many types of maltreatment present in this novel, including neglect, psychological, and most profoundly, physical abuse. While some parts of the novel are heartbreaking and difficult to read, there are millions of children around the world who go through some of the same things that Lissy has went through, and is quite relatable to what we have studied in class and read in our required readings.
Impact of Maltreatment
According to Juby, Downs, and Rindles (2013), households where parental violence occurs is both unsafe for children because of the risk of abuse and the risk of the children witnessing the violence maltreating their own children (p.237). Juby, et al. (2014) also stated mothers who experienced violence by the other parent were more likely to abuse their own children when “multiple structural changes occurred in the household” (p. 244). This was the case in the Adams household, as Ed took over and was able to manipulate his wife into turning against her own children and commanding her to do whatever he wanted. Lissy developed a number of mental health issues, gained a drug addiction, and had an irrational fear of marriage for a good portion of her life because of what her parents put on display. The impact of maltreatment can be great, as it was for Lissy. She did not see this behavior as abnormal, and truly believed that she was a bad child because of what she was told all her life. She was forced to survive her environment, but was not truly living.
Intergenerational transmission is defined as passing down a trait from one generation to the next generation, and while being maltreated does increase the risk of one abusing their own children, the majority of maltreated children do not grow to become abusers themselves (McCoy & Keen, 2014, p.28). Lissy will likely not go on to abuse her own children, as she would not want them to experience the hardships that she herself faced. Also, she has proven this by taking care of her sister and younger brother, who in reality was the only true parent they had. Since this book did take the reader to Lissy’s adulthood, she explained that she suffers from a variety of mental health issues, including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and depression.
There are some factors that can be identified that are likely to lead a child to maltreat or face long-term issues as an adult. Because of her abusive home life, Lissy found herself in the realm of drug use to help her escape. As stated by Thornberry et al. (2014), involvement in behaviors such as marijuana use and alcoholism, is strongly related to maltreatment later in life (p.718). Thornberry et al. (2014) also states that youth who become teenage parents, live together, and live away from their caretakers are at a strong risk for maltreating children (p.718). At one point in her life, Lissy fit this description perfectly. She was young, felt in love with a boy, almost had his child, and they both wanted to start a life together. Like McCoy and Keen (2014) stated previously, Thornberry et al. (2014) also states that most people do not go on to maltreat.
McCoy and Keen define resiliency as “the ability to come through negative life events relatively unscathed or even to thrive in the face of adversity” (p. 230). Many children who have experienced some form of maltreatment are able to, almost like a slinky, bounce back into shape after being bent, thrown around, and put into compromising positions. Afifi and MacMillian (2011) found that not all maltreated children are negatively affected by their maltreatment, at least permanently (p. 266). Afifi and MacMillian (2011) claim that protective community factors can include peer relationships and non-family member support, which she had even though the majority of her own family did not support her or believe her. Osenia, Maggie, and others really gave her the support she needed, letting her stay in their homes, tending to her needs, and making her feel like she was loved, an emotion that her family, not including Maddie, could not provide for her.
The impact of maltreatment can be devastating for a child, especially for one in Lissy’s situation, who has experienced nothing but maltreatment her entire childhood. It can leave behind life-changing effects, and also behaviors that would better be kept in the past. For Lissy, she found it hard to trust people in her life, and had a negative view of marriage, because of the view her parents gave of it. Although she is at risk for maltreating her own children, the way she protected her own younger siblings throughout the maltreatment, and the fact that she was brave enough to leave the home and take her siblings with her says that she will probably not go on to maltreat her own children in the future. While she does suffer from a few mental health issues, such as depression and panic attacks, she will most likely use what she has learned from her own abusive childhood and make sure to never behave in such a manner with her own children.
Opportunities for Intervention
During Lissy’s journey of maltreatment, there were plenty opportunities for intervention. There were numerous people who could have done something, but either chose not to, or did not see the maltreatment as a serious enough issue. The heartbreaking part of this is that Lissy’s own family members even denied to speak up about Lissy’s maltreatment, and turned a blind eye to it, preferring to let these issues be private. Although in some instances, these opportunities for intervention were not direct, hints were given over time and a closer look could have revealed a lot more.
Lissy had a lot of contact with various professionals during her time of maltreatment, including the Child Study Team, her guidance counselor, and high school music teacher Mr. Miller who could have intervened and made a serious different in Lissy’s life. As staff members of a school, it was their job, specifically the Child Study Team and guidance counselor to probe Lissy to revealing what was going on at home. To be fair, Lissy kept to herself and did not reveal what was happening at home openly, but it seems as if the people who were there to assist her in these matters did not push the issue enough for her to want to speak. It seems as if they sensed that something was wrong, but did not know exactly what it was, especially with her teacher noticed her slacking grades and that she was not living up to her potential. In another example, the doctor that exaimed and questioned Lissy after her suicide attempt clearly noticed that something was wrong, as she made an attempt to kill herself. Although she said that nothing was wrong, and he did not believe her, the doctor did not even try to question what was wrong and sent her straight to treatment. Finally, Lissy’s own grandparents were the first people that she told about the abuse, but instead of taking Lissy’s complaint seriously, they brushed it off as a form of discipline, not knowing the reality of the situation.
In another argument, there was definitely mandated reports who failed to report. Like stated previously, her guidance counselor and child study team did not question Lissy’s failing grades or changing demeanor, all because she did not want to speak. Granted they probably did not have enough information to report to Child Protective Services, but more could have been done. Also, when Lissy was first admitted to the hospital, the nurse who worked on her instantly believed Lissy’s mom’s story and re-directed the conversation about her, even though Anna was one of the main reasons for her suicide attempt.
It took until the end of the memoir for police to intervene and prosecute her parents, even though Lissy did not want to press charges against either one of them. This was after the final incident that made Lissy realize she needed to leave the house, where Ed left her unconscious with shut eyes and blood all over her body. The police saw these injuries and decided to do something about it. The fact that it had to take years of this abuse, and that she was almost left for dead for someone to do something about it is shocking. In another example, Lissy actually intervening in her sister and brother’s abusive situations, as she took them in as her own and they lived together for a short period of time. Even through her abuse, she found the strength to help her family survive theirs.
During Lissy’s journey of maltreatment, there were plenty opportunities for intervention. There were numerous people who could have done something, but either chose not to, or did not see the maltreatment as a serious enough issue. Lissy had a lot of contact with various professionals during her time of maltreatment, including the Child Study Team, her guidance counselor, and high school music teacher Mr. Miller who could have intervened and made a serious different in Lissy’s life. There were mandated reports who failed to report, family members who failed to notice, and police who came into the picture too little, too late.
Anelisse: A True Story of Child Abuse tells the heartbreaking story of Lissy, and her siblings, as they survive a once loving home turned into a living nightmare. Lissy has struggled throughout her entire childhood with maltreatment, and has her other siblings to protect on top of that. There are many types of maltreatment present in this novel, including neglect, psychological, and most profoundly, physical abuse. While some parts of the novel are heartbreaking and difficult to read, there are millions of children around the world who go through some of the same things that Lissy has went through, and is quite relatable to what we have studied in class and read in our required readings.
The impact of maltreatment can be devastating for a child, especially for one in Lissy’s situation, who has experienced nothing but maltreatment her entire childhood. Although she is at risk for maltreating her own children, the way she protected her own younger siblings throughout the maltreatment, and the fact that she was brave enough to leave the home and take her siblings with her says that she will probably not go on to maltreat her own children in the future. Personally, I could never imagine someone harming children like that, but the truth is that there are plenty of parents and caregivers out there exactly like this. This memoir brings an important, but sometimes downplayed, topic rightfully to the light.