This is Beth. In the video from which this still is taken, she's six and a half.
***This post gets a little bit graphic and a lot horrible, though it does have a positive ending. Click through to read the rest if you wish.***
Beth routinely sticks pins in her brother and the family pets. Her parents lock her door at night so she can't wander into her brother's room and punch him in the stomach. This is a good choice: as she points out to her therapist who is interviewing her, if she had her way, she would stab her parents and her brother at night time, "'Cause I don't like them seeing me do it, but they can feel me do it."
She's already collected some paring knives from the kitchen. When warned that she shouldn't touch a nest of baby birds she found, she later removes the birds from the nest and squeezes them so hard she breaks their necks.
Beth was profiled in the HBO documentary "Child of Rage" in the early 1990s. The documentary is short - under 30 minutes - and well worth watching if you're interested in this kind of thing.
Beth is a victim of horrifying abuse at the hands of her biological father, who starved and neglected her and her younger brother. He also raped Beth. Since her first adoptive parents got her when she was 19 months old, all this happened when she was still a baby.
The documentary details how Beth, diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), sees the world. It's a powerful record of the legacy of abuse because much of the material it presents is through Beth's voice, which is minimally supplemented with narration, interactions with her therapist, and short interviews with her parents.
Because she lacked a primary bond with a caregiver, and because her dad was a monster in human form, she lacks empathy and remorse. She receives therapy and goes to live with a woman who specializes in dealing with and essentially reparenting children with RAD. (The woman, unnamed in the documentary, is Nancy Thomas, who it seems ended up adopting Beth.)
I have children that have killed numerous times. Cold blooded, family members, neighbour children, killed them. And they can do it. It makes my blood run cold just thinking of it. Nine years old. People don't think a nine year old is capable of cold-blooded murder but they are. That attachment break does severe damage to the heart, the ability to care and the ability to love. They don't care and they don't love, they're capable of anything.The therapy is about taking complete control over the child's every move. They have to ask permission to do anything - from getting a glass of water to going to the bathroom. They do chores. If they do them successfully, they receive praise for a job well done, which eventually allows the therapist to build in a sense of right and wrong. Basically, they built Beth a new conscience from scratch.
(On a perhaps inappropriate side note, this process is really similar to what my dog trainer explained to me she does with a dog that is aggressive or has ceased to listen to its owner - essentially she attaches the dog's leash to her waist and the dog accompanies her all day. Taking away choice is a powerful tool for healing, I think, although obviously it has got to be done ethically.)
RAD symptoms closely resemble psychopathy. Psychopaths also lack conscience, often kill or harm siblings and pets, and express no remorse. The difference, according to Doctor of Psychology Kelly McAleer, is there is no necessary connection between psychopathy and early abuse. By her definition, RAD sufferers resemble sociopaths.
Beth is a success story. She wrote a book about healing from RAD.
As a writer of dark fiction, I'm interested in this story because of the way it seems evil has a life of its own, jumping from person to person and generation to generation. So powerful is the aftereffect of abuse, it completely took over this tiny vessel. Fortunately there were people who were strong enough to help her.