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What Happens in This House Stays in This House: The Secret Lives of Abused African American Children

Author Khalei Suol

Children are a byproduct of adult decisions. Contrary to what has been depicted in movies and story books children are not delivered via stork and thrusted on unprepared couples. We have all been created in moments of lust, love, or convenance and expected to navigate the world once we’re here. We cannot discuss the African American family without addressing the generational trauma this demographic has experienced. Previously, African Americans have been forced to deal with oppression and violence from white supremacist and greeted with violent acts daily, in turn, leading to the normalization of aggression and violent tendencies.

Maltreatment refers to abuse or neglect involving physical, emotional, or sexual action or inaction which severally or chronically results in harm or injury. Similarly, abuse refers to behavior stemming from violent, cruel, invasive actions toward another; while neglect speaks to failure to provide the basic needs to live and can be material, emotional, or service oriented. Evidence provided by the Children’s Bureau (2021) reflects that in 2019:

- 1,840 children died with injuries related to neglect

- Girls are abused at higher rates than their male counter parts (51.4%> 48.3%) and

- Boys die at a higher rate than girls from maltreatment

It is important to note that this data is comprised of reported cases of maltreatment and do not include data from missing or exploited children. Of these reported cases 43.5% are White, 23.5% are Hispanic, and 20.9% are African American. Thus, although African American children fall victim to maltreatment more than their counter parts, their abuse is less likely to be reported. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services 2020 report found that 618,399 children in America suffered from maltreatment and 504 of said children died because of it; this translates to 34.9% of child deaths for that year being related to abuse. Evidence also suggest that African American children are more likely to experience physical/emotional neglect and less likely to be classified as victims of emotional injury (Moore & Florsheim, 2008).

As noted in Data Table 1 children under the age of one have a higher probability of being abused with a steady decline as child age progresses (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2020).

77.5% of abusers are the child’s parents (Childrens Bureau, 2021) this places the likelihood of a child being abused at rates higher than an animal being battered by its owner, both being completely unnecessary. In a study conducted by Moore and Florsheim (2008) it was discovered that physical aggression between partners prior to childbirth was related to higher experiences of punitive parenting from fathers specifically. Thus, it is apparent that when an intimate partner relationship is violent the child will find themselves reaping the same treatment from their father. Moreover, physical abuse was found to be more prevalent in families with both parents, in urban populations, in which the mother is employed fulltime.

This begs the question “Why are parents abusing their children?”. Unfortunately, the research targeting this problem is deficient. Substance abuse, learned behavior, lack of education, and lack of emotional control all make up some of the reasons why children are abused. Additionally, when an individual has grown up in an environment being abused it is apparent that this behavior is normalized and forwarded from generation to generation. As a whole African Americans find themselves battling violent historic learned behavior. As a population, Black fathers were beaten, raped, and tortured in public spaces for their families to view and for the sadistic viewing pleasure of White oppressors. These atrocities were also carried out on Black mothers, all while White supremacists severed family ties by selling children, from one plantation to another.

As important as it is to understand the aftereffects of being an enslaved people, this learned behavior is not an excuse to forward the abuse and neglect of our own children. There are secrets, hidden in deep and dark spaces, within the Black community. One could say that these secrets identify yet another "me to" movement. Stepfathers who molest children, uncles and aunts who touch, grope, and assault; fathers and mothers who use children as ways to express their own self-hate, friends of family who take liberties out of connivence, and incest stemming from learned traits of abuse. Although the reason behind this abuse goes unaddressed the aftereffects of the abuse are evident within the African American community.

According to the Childrens Bureau (2021) Children who are abused become adults who suffer from a number of concerns, including but not limited to:

- Attachment and Social Difficulties

- Post-Traumatic Stress

- Diminished Executive Functioning

- Lessoned Cognitive Skills

- Poor Emotional and Mental Health

- Substance Abuse

- Drug Dependency

- Adult Criminality

- Engagement in Sexually Risky Behavior

- Migraine Headaches

- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

- High Blood Pressure

- Arthritis and

- Cancer

According to Statista’s 2020 data report biological mothers abused their children more than biological fathers. Mothers who abused their children totaled 221,372 while fathers reflected 138,803. Additionally, children are 40 times more likely to suffer from maltreatment when a parent is in a relationship, or dating, someone other than their child’s relative parent.

There is no question that the family structure of African Americans is ever fluctuating. It has become rare for families to consist of two parents and even more so both biological parents. Although adults are engaging in their right to be free giving with their bodies, it isn’t them who are suffering -but their children. In an effort to not be lonely, doors are opened by allowing just anyone into one’s home leading to the heightened probability of a child’s victimization. Likewise, mothers and fathers become the bases for their child’s trauma when they should be their defender. Our children are suffering in silence and later becoming adults who suffer in secret and so on and so on. Barriers to care, the normalization of abuse, lack of reporting, and broken homes are all factors that African American children find themselves greeted with, more so than their counter parts. Thus, this population finds themselves depressed, self-medicating, and living unfulfilled grief stricken lives because of unaddressed family based trauma.

As a parent the most important thing you can do is unlearn the abusive normalized behavior forwarded in your childhood home and make an effort to shift the narrative in the lives of your children. To put it simply, if you didn’t want it done to you -don’t do it to your children. Remember how your parents/parental figures treated you and purpose to be better. Additionally, when you make a mistake talk to your child about it and allow them to understand that you’re still growing and learning. Create an environment which allows your child to express themselves, respectfully, and let them feel heard. Be mindful of how your child acts when people are around. Pay attention to when they don’t want to leave your side or go to a specific place or be around a specific person. More importantly, heal before you create children and practice safe sex practices in an effort to lessen the likelihood that you will create life with someone you don’t plan to stay with. Our children deserve more than to be the product of a “good” time.

Check the Sources

Moore, D. R., & Florsheim, P. (2008). Interpartner conflict and child abuse risk among african american and latino adolescent parenting couples. Child Abuse & Neglect, 32(4), 463–463.

Department of Justice, (2020). Violence Against Black Children: Current Knowledge and Future Needs. Retrieved from

Chidrens Bureau, (2021). Child Maltreatment 2019: Summary of Key Findings.

Department of Health and Human Services, (2020). Child Maltreatment 2020.

Statista, (2022). Number of Child Abuse Victims in 2020.


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