Littlest victims: Kate Belus didn't run from the beatings
Prevalence of child abuse in Lubbock County has consistently been about twice the state's average
By Sarah Rafique
Kate Belus didn’t run from the beatings that lasted until the wooden dowels broke.
She didn’t run for food so she could finally eat for the day.
She didn’t run toward help.
She was simply running — for hours — in circles outside her two-story home in Round Rock because she was scared of what would happen if she didn’t.
“We had a figure-8 track in the backyard between two big trees and we had a triangular track in the front yard between three trees,” said Belus, 31, who now lives in Lubbock after graduating from Texas Tech. “We literally would run around them for hours on end; that’s hard after you just took a beating to your feet.”
Belus, who was homeschooled and spent all day with her parents, didn’t complain about the punishments, which sometimes led to broken toes hidden beneath her shoes and invisible to strangers.
She never talked back.
“I tried to do it as fast as I could, as right as I could the first time,” Belus said. “Whatever it was they asked, I tried to do it.”
Lubbock rates double state average
The prevalence of child abuse in Lubbock County has consistently been about twice the state’s average for at least 10 years, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
The state agency completed 2,426 child abuse and neglect investigations in Lubbock County last year. Those investigations resulted in 1,354 confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect — between three and four new victims daily.
“I've heard people in the community say the reason ours is high is because we have a high rate of reporting. We don't have a high rate of reporting. ... Texas doesn't have a good process of reporting,” said Carla Olson, executive director of the Parenting Cottage in Lubbock. “When you try to report it online, that's not the quickest system and when you try to call in, if you're not very, very, very patient, you'll hang up and forget about it.”
Last year, three Lubbock County children never got the benefit of an investigation; they died of child abuse and neglect before it was ever reported.
Factors that could contribute to the high rate of child abuse in Lubbock County include a teen pregnancy rate that exceeds the state average, children growing up in poverty, and lack of funding for prevention programs, Olson said.
“By far, one of the biggest driving forces is poverty. We have one in four children living in poverty, and poverty is an extremely high-risk factor for child abuse and neglect,” Olson said. “The poverty in and of itself creates that; (parents) can’t provide for the child, which turns them into a CPS case.”
Signs of physical abuse include a child who may have frequent injuries and bruises or cuts and burns in unusual places, Olson said.
Children who flinch could be suffering from internal injuries, while a child who lacks reaction to pain, such as hitting or kicking, could have become immune to abuse.
“They’ll go totally the other way and be passive or withdrawn emotionally (and) hide under a chair or under a table,” Olson said. “They’re looking for a safe place.”
Emotional abuse, such as belittling, lack of affection and being locked in a closet, are harder to detect unless a person witnesses it, Olson said. Neglect is also difficult to detect, but some signs include malnutrition, stealing food or an unkempt child who hasn’t bathed in a few days.
And, since certain parts of a child’s body aren’t seen in the normal course of a day, Olson said sexual abuse may be the most difficult to detect. But, there are some warning signs.
“If you see a young child that comes up to you and they’re holding their private areas and they’re saying it hurts, then that’s obviously something that you’d want to look at,” Olson said. “Or if you see a child that displays sexual behavior that’s way beyond what a 2-year-old or a 3-year-old should be doing, those are signs.”
Enduring physical, mental abuse
Belus’ adopted brother slept on a mattress in their parents’ closet.
He usually got the brunt of the physical abuse, followed by their adopted sister.
“They called them spankings but they weren’t. Those dowel rods that you get from the hardware store, they would cut those in half and that’s what they’d hit us with, until they would break,” Belus said. “They told (my adopted brother) that he had a demon inside of him. They had to get it out and they would literally try to beat it out of him.”
She said her parents also refused to believe her adopted sister had epilepsy and in addition to trying to “beat the demon” out of her, they didn’t give her medicine to treat the disorder.
Now, she will never leave state care.
She suffered from too much brain damage caused by the lack of medical care. The broken bones from the physical abuse make it hard to function.
When she wasn’t subjected to physical abuse and neglect, Belus said emotional abuse also left her broken with no self-esteem.
“(They said) that I was never going to be anybody. I would never get married. I’d never go to college. I’d never have a career. I’d never have kids,” Belus said. “That my entire job in life was to take care of my biological mom and siblings and that’s it. That’s all I was supposed to do. That’s my goal, is to prove them wrong.”
Belus doesn’t remember much of her childhood before her parents, Christine and Richard Dodson, adopted two of her four siblings.
“I personally think that it was (so) bad and I just don’t want to know,” she said.
What has been scarred in her memory, though, is the abuse the five children suffered together.
By the time she was 9 years old, Belus said she played a motherly role, getting up at 6 a.m. to do her school work and chores before waking her siblings up and helping them with theirs.
“If they did something wrong, I got in trouble because I was the oldest and I was supposed to be keeping tabs on them,” Belus said. “It was my responsibility to do basically everything but pay the bills. I kept the house clean. I fed them when we were allowed to eat. ... It just wasn’t a normal family by any means. It’s taken me a long time to kind of see what a real family is supposed to be like.”
Belus and her half-siblings always got at least one meal a day. There were days, however, that her adopted siblings weren’t allowed to eat at all.
When they did, it was dry cereal for breakfast and bologna or peanut butter sandwiches for lunch or dinner.
Meals were always timed and seldom did they get three meals a day.
As the malnourished children scarfed down their food, Belus said her parents — and even their dog — feasted on lavish meals.
“I remember always wondering why the dog got treated better than I did,” she said. “He got fed every day and he got love, he got hugs.”
There were moments when the abuse ceased in the two-story, suburban home.
Child Protective Services knocked on the door of their four-bedroom, 2½-bath stone house to conduct sporadic investigations of the adopted children, who often suffered broken bones.
Each time, things were different.
“All of a sudden we would have food in the fridge,” Belus said. “We’d start doing things as a family. We’d go to Fredericksburg, or we’d go to Sea World or we would do things that we didn’t do normally. ... The times I remember going out were in correlation with someone visiting, like a relative visiting, which didn’t happen very often, or CPS was investigating.”
The investigators asked Belus and her siblings questions.
It wasn’t often that the homeschooled children had an outlet to speak up about their abuse.
When they did, they were terrified.
“I told everybody that everything was fine and that there’s nothing to worry about,” Belus said. “That they’re good parents.”
The investigators believed them and drove away.