When Tressie Shaffer left for work one fateful morning, she didn’t expect to hear from her colleague about her baby had stopped breathing. What was even more shocking was to find out that her husband was abusing the children. But after the investigation, she had been sentenced to 18 months in state prison for “permitting child abuse”.
It is common to hear of parents receiving jail time because of direct abuse to children. But Tressie was jailed for failing to stop her husband’s actions. And this serves as a stern reminder to all parents and caregivers that not stopping abuse is as bad as committing the act itself.
From hearing that “baby killed by father”, to finding out she is still alive, and then being sentenced to jail
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Tressie was sentenced 18 months in jail on the grounds of her “failure to protect” her children from child abuse. In the trial held in October 2018, the prosecution pushed for a life sentence for Tressie for knowingly permitting child abuse. However, the length of her prison sentence was reduced upon the ruling.
Her 5-month-old child, identified in court as Z.R.S, was taken to hospital on December 28, 2016 when the baby was found to have stopped breathing. Doctors later reported that the baby suffered “extensive bleeding on her brain” and “significant retinal haemorrhages”. These horrific injuries meant the child would likely be blind and have to be fed through a feeding tube for the rest of her life.
Investigators concluded that the damage was inflicted by Jason Scott, Tressie’s partner, through violent shaking. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and is yet to be formally charged. Unemployed, he normally cared for their six children at their home in Oklahoma, United States.
Tressie was reportedly shocked, confused, and horrified at the allegations that the children’s father could have hurt their child in such a terrible manner.
“I could never, ever imagine him doing something like that to our daughter. But that’s what they keep saying over and over again.”
The “failure to protect” law means caregivers can be prosecuted who “knows or reasonably should know that the child will be placed at risk of abuse.” Being charged under this law can be punished with the same sanctions as people committing child abuse.
No such law currently exists in Singapore where a mother will be charged for a father’s actions.
What to do if you know a child is being abused?
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In Singapore, the definition of child abuse also considers failing to stop ongoing abuse as reasonable grounds for legal action to be taken. A case in 2016 where a mother was charged with “allowing her boyfriend to abuse her son” indicates that permitting child abuse is not tolerated in Singapore.
According to Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Development, their definition of child abuse is as follows:
“Child abuse is defined as any act of commission or omission by a parent or guardian which would endanger or impair the child’s physical or emotional well-being or that are judged by a mixture of community values and professionals to be inappropriate. “
Failure to stop abuse is as bad as committing the act itself, though not legally enforceable. By not intervening and informing the right authorities, terrible consequences may follow, such as a having a baby killed by its stepfather or leaving a child permanently injured for life.
Parents, if you think that your child is being abused in any way, the HPB advises you to first stay calm and reassure your child that you believe her and that what happened is not her fault. Then take your child to a healthcare professional or hospital right away for a health check. You may also want to make a police report.
You may also use the following information to contact the Ministry of Social and Family Development Child Protection and Welfare Service:
Phone: 1800-7770000 (Mon-Fri: 8.30am to 5.30pm)
Counter Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 8.30am to 5.30pm
Address: 512 Thomson Rd #10-00 MSF Building, S(298136)
Singapore baby left disabled for life after father hits him on the head while crying