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OUR OPINION

Our Opinion: Depravity lurks near

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The discovery that a 9-year-old boy allegedly was forced to live outdoors inside a dog kennel, as the Winston-Salem Journal’s John Hinton reported last week, is shocking. It’s so difficult to believe it could have happened — that any adult, let alone the child’s guardians, would have treated him this way.

It’s difficult to believe that this has been the situation since April, as the boy told an investigator.

But it’s a sign, perhaps, that for all of our technological and social advances, some serious degree of ignorance, depravity or evil still exists in our very state. And it’s a warning for the rest of us that similar situations may exist within our scope of vision and influence.

The boy was rescued last Wednesday from outside a 1,400 square-foot Davidson County house — one in which three adults and four other children lived — following an anonymous call to the sheriff’s office. The boy apparently had been told there wasn’t enough room inside for him.

He was found wearing a T-shirt, jeans and no shoes, despite the 28-degree temperature the night before he was rescued and frost on the ground that morning.

He was treated at Brenner Children’s Hospital. A warrant says he suffered a serious mental or emotional injury. That’s no surprise.

His father and stepmother, Jonathan Scott Starr and Sarah Lynette Starr, were arrested and are being charged with felony child abuse, misdemeanor child abuse and false imprisonment. Sarah Starr’s aunt, Shelly Lucille Barnes, who owns the house, was arrested and is being charged with felony child abuse, misdemeanor child abuse and false imprisonment, as well as possession of a firearm by a felon and maintaining a dwelling place for controlled substances, the sheriff’s office said.

Some of the details are still sketchy, but Sarah Starr did say that she and her husband were upset about the boy being held in the dog cage, the warrant said.

Were they helpless to do something about it? What kind of pathology is at work here?

The parties responsible for this torture should be properly punished. Severely punished. They’re scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 10.

In the meantime, every resource available should be provided to make sure the boy recovers from his ordeal — and that it’s not repeated.

As severe as this incident is, it’s not, unfortunately, the only example of child abuse in North Carolina. The Family Justice Center in Greensboro has reported 338 cases of child abuse or neglect since January versus 325 cases in all of 2021. It projects a total increase of 20-25% in such cases by the end of the year.

In Davidson County, more than 2,000 children were assessed in 2020 — 61.7 out of every 1,000. Statewide, more than 110,000 cases of child abuse were investigated in 2019.

Abuse doesn’t have to be physical; it can also be mental or emotional, with consequences just as serious and, in some cases, deadly. Bullying — in person and on social media — has led some vulnerable children to hurt themselves — there were 2,971 emergency room visits for self-harm in kids between the ages of 10 and 18 in North Carolina in 2020, according to NC Health News — or even to commit suicide. Societal expectations sometimes put them at risk.

LGBTQ kids are at even greater levels of risk from bullying and abuse.

A lack of access to proper food and medical care also puts children at risk — one more reason General Assembly leaders should get off their butts today and pass Medicaid expansion.

It should go without saying that all forms of bullying should be prohibited in our schools.

And then there are the guns. As we are writing, another school shooting, this time in a St. Louis high school, has claimed the lives of a teacher and a 16-year-old student.

And some parents lost their minds over masks.

This is unconscionable.

We like to think that childhood is a time of innocence, a time in which young people are allowed to make friends, follow their curiosity and young passions, learn how to be independent — while being protected from harm by their parents and guardians. They need nurture and support — both physical and emotional.

Too many of us have failed them. It’s past time to stop gate-keeping their access to resources like food and counseling. Fully fund schools, fully fund human and health services and vote for candidates who will treat children as if they matter.

And when you see a child possibly being abused — report it, for God’s sake.

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