Myls Dobson was a four year old staying in a luxury tower in Midtown with a female friend of his incarcerated father when his beatings and burnings began the day after Christmas. He's dead now, and police have charged Kryzie King, his father's female friend, with assault and reckless endangerment. The New York Times reported on Jan. 9 that King insists the injuries to the child resulted when Myls Dobson "tumbled from a bathroom counter into an empty tub."
Cigarette burn marks, cuts, bruises and a missing tooth tell a different story, according to Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. They speak of abuse of a little boy who was first neglected by his mother before being given to his father after removal from her home.
Georgia resident Johnnetta McSwain endured horrendous abuse at the hands of those closest to her as a child, and so did her sister and a male cousin. She told the Atlanta Crime Examiner that the abuse started when the children were between 5 and 6 years old each.
"Rising Above the Scars" tells the biographical story of McSwain's abuse, but I must warn potential readers that the first chapter in the book is the hardest, with newspaper and court room accounts of child abuse paling in comparison to the terrible story of incest within these pages. Yet the book is a must read anyway, as everyone needs to hear how three children in the ghetto managed to survive their horrific verbal, physical and sexual abuse--and how one of them refused to let it kill her joy, hopes or dreams.
If Myls Dobson's story is the terrible tale of how a child slips through a complicated child protective services system and ends up dead in a luxury apartment at the Ritz Plaza, then McSwain's story is truly a "Breaking the Cycle, Beating the Odds" inspirational message, as she did not just overcome child incest and abuse, she also overcame poverty and being a high school dropout.
The inspirational speaker also overcame the anger and depression that still eats at her sister, who was a year older than Johnnetta when the abuse started, and who sought to shield her younger sister from much of what they endured, at times putting herself in harms way to do it. It was a sacrifice her sister chose to make, but she still pays dearly for the pain and suffering she endured.
For her part, Johnnetta would go on to try and start a life after her abuse, to seek to recapture the joy of living, and for her that came in the form of obtaining an education. First it was a GED while still living in her hometown in Alabama. But later, after gaining the courage to move from her abusive past, she would set out for Georgia and obtain a bachelor's degree from Kennesaw State University, where she would be named KSU Siegle Institute's "Phenomenal Woman of the Year" in 2009 as a result of her refusal to quit life.
And if that were not enough, she went on to obtain a master's degree in social work from Clark Atlanta as well, and then began work on her doctorate degree there. And other than completing her dissertation, McSwain has all but accomplished that academic goal, too.
Four years ago Jane Fonda narrated Johnnetta's heartbreaking child abuse story in a documentary for Georgia Public Broadcasting called "The Road Beyond Abuse." And Fonda told America's viewers that as many as one million children like Johnnetta suffer such a plight each year in this nation, and at a cost to society that numbers a billion dollars. But what of the high cost to the children who experience such trauma, like Myls Dobson? That suffering knows no price tag.
Fortunately, some abuse victims do survive horrific attacks and abuse. And some manage to not let those memories and horrible experiences rob them of their future and a life of joy. Georgia's Johnnetta McSwain is one of those people. And she has been pounding the pavement by appearing at schools and other arenas in order to tell her abuse story to teens and adults. But don't think that doesn't take a personal toll on her. It does. But she hopes her speaking engagements will create greater awareness in teachers and those in authority about abuse signs, since no one noticed her or her sister's or cousin's suffering when they were in school. So she feels the cost to her is a small price to pay to help someone else.
McSwain also desires to give potential victims in her audience the hope they need in order to speak up about their abuse, and to not let it rob them of their future and hopes. And a post on her Facebook page shows she is having success in that regard too, with one young woman having this to say about her:
After hearing you speak, I went home and told the first person I have ever told about my sexual abuse...Your strength and resilience inspired me to begin to rise above and heal. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
A 12-step program geared to showing women how they can "beat the odds" and move out of their abusive and destructive lifestyles was also developed by Johnnetta, with the help of her mentor, a social work professor from Clark Atlanta. It is but another tool in which this child abuse survivor is using to help others heal from abuse and move into more productive and joyful lifestyles.
It is just a shame that 4-year-old Myls Dobson didn't have a Johnnetta McSwain in his life to help him survive the cigarette burns, cuts and bruises that preceded his death after Christmas.
Atlanta Top News Examiner Radell Smith has a degree in criminal justice and behavioral forensics. She also has experience as a foster child abuse investigator in the state of Georgia.