There are millions of cases of suspected child abuse in the United States every year. It is a depressing record, but authorities believe the number of unreported cases is most likely much higher.
Before the mid-1970s, statistics on violence, including child abuse in the United States, were compiled based on reports made to the child welfare agencies and law enforcement, added with data collected by emergency room staff.
No matter how accurate the final information was year after year, the statistics could not possibly represent the actual number of abusive incidents in American families—mandated and permissive reporter laws can only improve the situation to a limited extent because most child abuse occurs behind closed doors, where concerned neighbors cannot see and therefore report it.
In the case of Sylvia Likens, no one – neither neighbor nor anybody from school – was concerned enough.
Sylvia was subjected to near-constant physical and emotional abuse and ultimately killed by Gertrude Baniszewski and her children and their friends.
After months of enduring unbearable torture, she was found dead with 150 wounds all over her severely emaciated body.
Several neighbors who knew about the abuse made no report at all. Sylvia was only 16-year-old at the time of her death in 1965.
10 /10 Parents' Unstable Marriage
Sylvia Marie Likens was born on January 3, 1949, to Betty and Lester Likens, carnival concession workers. Her sister Jenny was born in 1951.
The parents were separated, often including one time when Betty was jailed for shoplifting in 1965. The family also moved quite frequently due to the couple’s works in the carnival circuit.
The couple reconciled upon her release and planned to get back to work together again. Since they could not stay home with the daughters, Lester came up with an arrangement for the care of Sylvia and Jenny.
9 /10 $20 Per Week
Enter Gertrude Baniszewski, a 31-year-old divorced mother of seven. Her whole life up to that point could be described as sad and challenging but not in any way a criminal.
She had been married and divorced to two men and had lived with a third; all three were abusive to her. Gertrude had been pregnant thirteen times, resulting in seven live births and six miscarriages.
This woman had to raise seven children with only periodic support payments from any of the three men. Beginning in July 1965, Gertrude agreed to board Sylvia and Jenny for $20 a week.