"Stop the abuse. Pretty Please"
This was a cry for help on a meme a Facebook page that claims to represent all military kids.
It’s called “Military parents abuse their children.”
Their mission is to highlight what they say is a proven link between military enlistment and child abuse.
Since the page popped up a few weeks ago - as you can imagine – it quickly caused a firestorm of outrage online.
“It`s a slap in the face because I know how much I pride myself in being a good military father,” says Lieutenant Tyree Barnes.
Its military dads like Barnes who are the target of this page.
“That’s when I came home early from deployment,” Barnes says, showing us a picture of him and his son. “So that was my first time seeing him after he was born.”
Barnes says his time as the father of a two and a half year old boy has not been easy. For most of his son's first year he was deployed.
“It’s really hard to be a father in the military,” he says.
Barnes' struggle is a familiar one for many in the armed forces, that according to the creators of the Facebook page makes them all child abusers.
One post demanded a law where military parents would be kicked out of the service and their kids put in foster care.
“It’s tasteless,” he says. “It’s trying to pick the nerves of military members.”
And picking at the nerves of family members like Jessica Hart, a Navy wife who previously served as a sailor and is pregnant with her first child.
“I had that feel where it drops to the pit of your stomach and you just can’t believe that you’re reading this,” Hart says.
Another provocative meme on the page suggests military deployment turns daughters into promiscuous strippers. However, as outrageous as their claims seemed, Hampton Roads has seen its share of military child abuse cases.
In 2013,Virginia Beach sailor Micah Patterson sexually abused and murdered his girlfriend’s baby. Also in 2013, sailor Daniel Lunsford brutally beat to death his girlfriend’s baby.
Experts say military child abuse only accounts for a small fraction of local cases.
“Child abuse is found in all neighborhoods, all socioeconomic backgrounds and all professions, so it’s not just in the military,” says Betty Wade Coyle, former director of Champions For Children.
Coyle says our region has one of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect deaths in the Commonwealth, and for more than 20 years she has asked why. It turns out that military service is not a factor.
“There’s really not a link between deaths in the military and deaths in the civilian population,” she says. “Their percentages are about the same for their percentages in the population.”
So who created this page, and why?
NewsChannel 3 took action to find out.
The creators would only identify themselves as "a staff of men and women who tired of turning a blind eye to military child abuse."
Since the page went up more than 3,300 people signed a petition to remove it from Facebook and other Facebook groups were born, also calling to take it down.
Those behind the offensive page seemed to be unfazed, posting: “we’re going to be here a long time.”
However, a long time turned out to only be a few days. The administrators told us last week they received numerous death threats.
The next day the page was gone.
A hoax or not, Coyle says the Facebook page did accomplish something.
“In some ways it gets people thinking," she says. "It’s always a good thing to keep child abuse issues in the forefront.”
Whether you’re serving in the military or serving fries at a drive thru, LT Barnes says there’s no doubt being a parent is the hardest job out there.
“It definitely gets very stressful at times, but it’s worth it to me,” he says.
Navy officials did not want to comment on this Facebook page, saying there was no validity to the site. However, officials did provide a list of resources for Navy families:
The Navy provides many support services for Navy Sailors and their families at Fleet and Family Support Centers. Located on naval bases throughout the Hampton Roads area, the FFSC provides family readiness, counseling, assistance and other forms of military support. Examples of parenting classes include all stages of childhood from prenatal and new parent support programs, to toddler, young child and teenager.
Other resources/classes include stress management, parenting in a military family, single parenting in the military, enhancing step families, building healthy relationships, etc.
Outside of the military, Coyle says another resource for families is KidsPriorityOne.