Children need legally codified rights in Virginia and across the country.
“You’re lucky your mother is pro-life,” said the voice off-screen on Claudia Conway’s TikTok video posted on January 19th, which appeared to be a compilation of video clips where Kellyanne Conway verbally and physically abuses her 16-year-old daughter. Those words chilled me. I’ve heard them before, from conservative Christian parents I encountered in my past. It’s always said as a joke, but why say it at all if there’s not some truth behind it, some genuine anger that is burning out of control behind those words?
The saga of Kellyanne’s hostile, regularly erupting-on-social media relationship with her daughter Claudia has been ongoing this year, ranging from accusations of abuse to pleas for help getting herself emancipated to griping about her mother bringing home Covid from the office to share it with the family. I’ve been following it with trepidation, recognizing the signs of parental abuse that I and my siblings experienced at various points in our own childhoods and worried that Claudia might fall into more grave danger by her airing of the violence in public.
Claudia Might Not Be Okay
This past week, it appeared that Kellyanne posted a topless photo of Claudia in a Fleet on Twitter. It was quickly deleted, but followers screenshotted the fleet and shared it with Claudia on TikTok. She posted a video in response, clearly upset, confirming that the photo was of her and saying that no one should have had access to that photo and she has no idea how her mom got hold of it unless she’d opened it on Claudia’s phone and taken a photo of it with her own.
There’s been an investigation into this allegation by Twitter and the local authorities (technically this would be considered revenge porn and distribution of child porn), but the only update we’ve had on the situation is a video by Claudia tweeted out by her father, George Conway, stating that she is fine and wants to be left alone, and that she and her mother love each other–and that the video was being created and shared voluntarily. She glances off-screen a few times during this video, her body language contradicting her words.
Claudia might not be okay. She might experience worse before she gets out or turns 18, whichever comes first. She has had a countdown of days until her 18th birthday as her TikTok bio for a long while–today it’s something else (a link to a McSweeney’s piece about Trump), but earlier in this week it read in the mid-600s. But her situation is indicative of a larger issue, one that we should be concerned about the longer kids are kept at home and out of schools, especially in Virginia.
Who’s Looking Into Child Abuse Now?
Child abuse rates during the pandemic aren’t well-quantified yet, but reporting by mandatory reporters (people like school teachers) has dropped and there is indication that job loss exacerbates the potential for maltreatment of children by unemployed parents. Without daily in-person interactions with mandatory reporters, children are much more vulnerable to prolonged abuse at the hands of caregivers. And in Virginia, children have little to no recourse to protect themselves against abusive parents, thanks to the parental rights movement (a conservative Christian-led movement founded by Mike Farris of Alliance Defending Freedom, a SPLC designated hate-group, in reaction to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child) which passed a parental rights provision onto the Code of Virginia in 2013.
Home educated minors in Virginia have even fewer protections than those in public and private schools. Virginia allows for a “religious exemption” for homeschoolers educating their children at home for religious reasons that eliminates the minimal benchmark testing and reporting requirements that other homeschooling families have to meet to document adequate educational progress.
CPS might visit Claudia and deem her family safe and is providing adequate care for her–there’s some indications that they already did a home visit and no action was taken toward her parents. Child abuse rates among higher-income families doesn’t vary from the rates at which it is occurs in lower-income families, but is reported less often. Also, BIPOC and lower income families are more closely surveilled if allegations of abuse come to light. Parents like George and Kellyanne Conway are more likely to be given a pass by authorities to discipline their children as they please because of their class and race status.
Children Need Legally Codified Rights
I certainly saw this at home myself, when my father’s actions toward my siblings escalated from emotional abuse to more physical encounters. My sister’s best friend’s mother once called the police on my father because she overheard him hit my sister to the floor during a phone call–and the officer who responded to the call sided with my father, saying that his actions were well within his rights as a parent. If my father, with nine white kids in the home living off of a lower-middle class single income, wasn’t held accountable for alleged abuse, why would the Conways face any real consequences?
Without legally codified children’s rights at the state or federal level, and without regular contact with mandatory reporters, children like Claudia are going to remain vulnerable to maltreatment from caregivers. There’s very little that can be done to protect them as it stands. However, educating yourself on the signs of abuse and neglect can be a good first step to making yourself a resource to support those in need. Children need consistency and compassion from the adults in their lives, and even if that’s not coming from their parents, it can make a difference in their future welfare and long-term stability.