I don't think any of you live in Rochester, NY, but the funny thing is that everyone seems to know someone in Rochester NY. So any and all efforts to publicize this event through facebook, twitter, etc., will be greatly appreciated and may bear fantastic results.
WhereHochstein School of Music and Dance 50 N. Plymouth Avenue- free parking (map)
Description A day long, free event, dedicated to “speaking out” against all forms of childhood abuse, incest, rape and domestic violence. Any and all stories, poetry, prose, testimony, music, dance, art and any other expression created from surviving abuse or fighting against it will be shared and appreciated. Help break the cycle of secretiveness and misconceptions the way only survivors and allies can. To register, contact Melanie Blow, firstname.lastname@example.org or at (585) 315-6480 This educational and artistic event is funded on a strictly volunteer basis. No Childcare Provided
Thank you all, my friends and family, for the enthuiasiam you have shown in the last 14 hours with the three news stories I posted recently. If any of you are curious, here's a blog the organization I volunteer for wrote about my recent testimony before the Assembly Codes Committee, and at the bottom of it is a link to my full testimony.
First, let me take a minute to thank you all for all the cards and kind notes I’ve received around the holidays.I deeply appreciate it.
Second, I want to share what’s going on with me, and some of the ways you can help me with it. I’m sure you’ve all read about the Penn State child sexual abuse scandal, Care2 has covered it extensively, and the Syracuse University scandal that broke a few weeks later. Well, I live about an hour and a half from Syracuse, NY, so this case is both geographically and emotionally close to home for me. The ridiculousness of NY’s statute has been the subject of national attention. So you’d think politicians would be jumping all over themselves to eliminate the statute, and I’d be able to put my feet up, write my next book and watch cute cat videos between passages. But alas, there is strong opposition to this bill in the NYS senate, which means I’m doing a lot of education and legislative work. Prevent Child Abuse NY, the organization I volunteer for, is looking of another sponsor for the bill. A slightly sad note- Republican Roy McDonald, who had indicated interest in it early in June, cast the deciding vote in favor of marriage equity in NY- he famously said to the legislator “f__k it, let the gays get married”, making him the hero of many but a traitor to the Republican party. An expert analyst who’s opinion I trust said he’s now very unlikely to break party ranks and sponsor the Child Victims Act. So I’m making office visits, phone calls and generally keeping myself busier than usual, trying to get this sponsored and passed.
The other children’s issue that is going to drink up plenty of my time, soon, is the expected funding cut/elimination for Healthy Families NY, an evidence-based, exceptionally effective child abuse prevention program (for more information about how child abuse prevention programs work and what they are, check out http://www.healthyfamiliesnewyork.org ). Last year the program was slated for elimination in the governor’s budget, and after a long fight its funding was restored. This year, we’re expecting a cut, and are less optimistic about the restoration. And here’s where you guys come in- I’ll probably post an article in the Albany Times-Union in Care2, and send you folks a frantic message asking you to read it and comment on it. Hopefully, if enough people pay attention to the article, some of the Care2 bloggers may, as well, and we can get some real attention focused on this. And if anyone has had any success with getting articles up AND READ on Care2, please PM me. Most likely, a few days after the funding cut is announced, I’ll send out a link to Prevent Child Abuse NY’s advocacy page, where you can feel free to email the governor, saying this is a bad idea. As always, it doesn’t matter if you’re a NY resident, or even a US resident. I actually think it makes a bigger impression on politicians if they get pleas from far away- it shows them that their transgression cannot be easily swept under the rug, and that the whole world is watching. And then, if I’m really motivated, I’ll put up some cute pictures of my pets and a picture of the lovely snowy owl who’s wintering a few miles north of my house, as a thank you for putting up with me
Once again, I wish a new year full of blessings and the best life has to offer to each and every one of you.
Am I the only the only one who gets emails waxing poetic about how much better the United States was in days of yore, when the only people whose rights mattered were healthy, white, adult males? I am? Let me add one detail- these emails are supposed to be jokes.
I love jokes, both because I love to laugh and because sometimes they reveal a cultural truth too awkward to reveal any other way. Jokes only work if the audience and the teller understand something the same way. The truth they reveal may not be a literal one- there are no penguins in North America, and they certainly don’t walk into bars and talk with the bartender- but American’s have a certain understanding of what penguins are like, and the humor in the punch line relies on this shared understanding. With these email “jokes”, the humor relies on the understanding that hitting, beating, and hurting children is good for them and our society, as are many subtle things to make non-white, non-male, non-healthy people feel like second-class citizens. And the punch line is that our society started to slide downhill when we changed our minds about this.
There are volumes upon volumes of evidence demonstrating that spanking kids- non-abusively- is bad for them (hitting them abusively is much worse, that’s also proven). The fact that corporal punishment doesn’t work is one of the most abundantly demonstrated facts in child development and psychology. Corporal punishment provides the parent practicing it with a release, so they feel better, and it causes the child to discontinue the behavior they were engaged in before they were hit. So the parent feels better, the child is no longer doing what they shouldn’t be doing, and a lesson is learned, right? Well, no, that’s where the breakdown happens, the child hasn’t necessarily learned what the parent intended to teach them.
But let’s pretend they have. For argument’s sake, let’s say that enough punishment can give you a perfect child. And in fact, that’s pretty much my parents’ experience. And I offer this story up to demonstrate that a perfect child isn’t a perfect daughter or son.
When I was about seven years old, my father herded me into his bedroom, loaded a gun in front of me, put it to my head and pulled the trigger. It was punishment for some wrongdoing I’ve long ago forgotten. Obviously, the safety was engaged, and I was physically unharmed by the experience. But in the span of a few minutes, I learned I was completely value-less to my father, and by extension, my mother, too, as children see both of their parents as omnipotent. I learned that all the “I love you’s” didn’t really mean anything. And I learned that any slight wrong-doing would put my life in danger. I wasn’t entirely conscious that I had learned those lessons. But when I look back on it, I realize I learned them, nonetheless.
While my parents would argue otherwise, I was pretty much a perfect kid. With great work and much anxiety, I became a straight A student. I never participated in sports or music (this was before it was common for suburban parents to prep toddlers for the Olympics or philharmonic, but by middle school, most of my peers participated in one or the other), for fear of not having enough time to devote to school work. I was extremely obedient. I learned what my parents liked, what they didn’t, and how to avoid presenting them with situations they wouldn’t like. To this day, I can read my father better than either my mother or my sister. This doesn’t mean I never did anything they didn’t like, but I chose my battles and calculated my risks with care. My parents were opposed to all the trappings of youth culture- fashion, entertainment, you name it. Not being allowed to listen to the music that was breaking into mainstream during that era- grunge, punk, industrial, and everything else “alternative”- was too much. So I kept my Nine Inch Nails cassette tape in a Celine Dion box, and I had friends dub Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili peppers onto blank cassettes for me. I lived in constant fear of them catching me with this contraband, but I was fairly confident in my hiding and sneaking skills. I was a kid, but I was still a good one. By the time I graduated high school, I had never smoked a cigarette, or anything else, had a drink of alcohol (that’s not 100% true- I had my last drink at the age of seven), or had sexual intercourse. I was a straight A student, I got accepted into an ivy-league college and two ivy-league level colleges. I went to the most affordable one.
Pleasing my parents was important. I was always a bit heavy as a child, and when my father told me that my weight had gotten completely unacceptable, I lost weight. Fast. I developed exercise bulimia with restrictions, which is probably the most socially acceptable eating disorder. What it means is I restricted my calories severely, in the weird, superstitious, idiosyncratic way of the eating disordered, while exercising excessively and compulsively, with the occasional binge. I never disgraced them by becoming skeletally skinny. To a casual observer, I looked like a teenager who cared about diet and exercise, but the casual observer can’t look inside someone’s head.Each of my parents always told me to keep secrets from the other. I always obeyed. My mother always told me to tell her if my father sexually abused me. But when he lost his job, she lost most of her sanity. And when he did sexually abuse me, I knew the right thing to do was not to burden her. About a year later, an uncle of mine came out of the woodwork and started visiting me frequently, and within a few visits he was sexually abusing me. One night, he was talking about our relationship in front of my parents, and then started badgering me for intercourse in front of them. The next day, my mother asked me if my uncle’s boasting was true, and I said it was. She told me not to tell anyone, and for years and years, I obeyed her.
The more dysfunctional a family is, the bigger the role it plays in the lives of its members. When I went to college, it felt like I was leaving huge parts of myself behind. But I learned that the self is incredibly regenerative. For the first time in my life, I could draw some boundaries between me and my parents, and I was surrounded by people my own age who had always done so. I almost flunked out of college- I was learning so much about becoming healthy, but unfortunately becoming healthy wasn’t something I was being graded on. But I managed to stick with it and graduate in four years. I was cohabitating with a boyfriend, and after graduation, we both got minimum wage jobs. We kept getting better and better jobs, and soon we were playing the roles of working adults. Once again, I didn’t feel I knew how to play that role, so I did some field observation of my co-workers. I noticed my co-workers seemed to have casual, friendly relationships with their families of origin, and I decided I wanted one, too. I worked Tuesday through Saturday evenings, and Monday nights I would talk to my mother. We would have casual conversations, about pets and recipes, and we were both happy. Then my little sister started asking me about being sexually abused by our father, because she was starting to feel the effects of her past abuse. Within a year it became very obvious that my father was molesting other little girls. And after that, I could not make myself talk with my mother about pets and recipes every week.
As the first wave of accusations came against my father, my boyfriend was going through his first major bout of depression and round after round of suicide attempts. Had I been communicating much with my mother, I wouldn’t have discussed that- I simply didn’t have a clue how to. Eventually, my boyfriend lost his job, and I married him to save money on medical expenses. Within a few weeks of the wedding, my husband applied for Social Security Disability benefits. As we waited almost four years for the judge to decide on his case, we defaulted on all of our loans except our mortgage and car payment. I needed a car to get to work, and we needed a roof over our heads. Moving back in with my parents wasn’t an option, and moving in with either of my husband’s parents would mean relocating to a town where I’d have great trouble finding a job. Our third pre-SSD winter we went through a stretch where we simply didn’t heat the house until I got unlimited overtime at my job. I’d go nine-month stretches without calling my parents, then call to beg for money, celebrate Christmas with them, say hi once, and start the nine-month cycle again. Life got dramatically better after my husband won his SSD case, but somehow I had no desire to change my relationship with my parents. In time, I caught wind of two more girls my father was molesting, and I swore that I would maintain enough of a relationship with my parents so that I could provide law enforcement with useful data. And that’s where it stands today.
I’m sure some of you are reading this blankly now, not seeing any connection between spanking a child and performing a mock execution on them. The two acts really differ only in degree. In both examples, fear is used to motivate the child to change their behavior. Corporal punishment doesn’t work unless the child is afraid of the adult, it’s that simple. I’ve known some extremely good, mindful parents who never intended to spank, and then one day, when they were absolutely frustrated, they lost control and spanked. And the child laughed. These children had already spent the first 24-36 months of their life viewing mommy as nothing but a source of comfort and love. They couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of mommy being something else. Yes, she was doing something strange, but it didn’t really hurt, so it must have been some kind of a game. In fact, such children usually drop everything and hit their mommy on the same part of her anatomy she hit them on, giggling all the while. If there’s no fear, it’s a game.
And the flip side is that ultimately, parents want to be able to influence their children’s behavior without fear. Children, boys especially, often grow bigger than their parents, making corporal punishment difficult at best. They become more and more independent, needing less and less from their parents, and giving parents fewer things they can take from them in order to influence their behavior. And this is also the age when parents become aware of some really frightening aspects of youth culture. Yes, sex, drugs, alcohol and violence have been a part of the teenage experience for a long time, but have they always been such a big part? This is the time when the parent relies on their bond with their child in order to influence their child’s choices. The parent hopes the child respects them enough to believe they have some perspective and wisdom. They hope the child cares enough about them to not inflict emotional hurt upon them, and if the parent has played their cards right, the child realizes that hurting themselves hurts their parents deeply. If that bond isn’t there, neither is the parent’s leverage.
If someone wanted to argue with me, they could bring up all the good that must have come from my parents’ choices. After all, I am a law-abiding taxpayer who is married, healthy and literate enough to blast her parents on the world-wide web. True enough. So let’s look at the perks- I graduated high school without ever smoking, drinking or using any other mind-altering drug. And as an adult, I’m still a teetotaler. So my strict upbringing spared me the pain of drug addiction, right? Well, maybe, but statistically it’s normal for American teenagers to partake of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana while in high school. Most of them don’t become addicted. Interestingly, sobriety wasn’t something my parents demanded from me. My father, an alcoholic, always encouraged me to drink alcohol. He said he believed that teaching kids to drink responsibly at home was beneficial, which is a common, albeit discredited, line of thought. I also know addicts often want to surround themselves with other addicts to normalize their behavior, and I have noticed my father has this tendency with many of his pathologies.
My parents put tremendous pressure on me to be a straight-A student, and ultimately I was. They always insisted that I spent a lot of time after school doing homework. I didn’t realize until I got to college that I had learned to do my work very slowly. I struggled greatly with spelling and penmanship both before and after my mock execution. The only real difference was after the mock execution, I was terrified of tests and report cards. Ultimately, I learned that I could get an acceptable grade on spelling tests if I studied the day before. I never retained what I learned, and to this day I’m a terrible speller. My penmanship is terrible, and it always will be. But as I got older, I had more opportunities to use computers to type (and check my atrocious spelling), and I got graded on more things besides spelling and penmanship. I always did well in math, I loved to write (once we got the penmanship issue ironed out), and I was good at history and science. It’s very hard for me to imagine myself not excelling at those- they are things I truly love learning about. Statistically, child abuse survivors are more likely to fail in school than their non-abused peers, but there is a subset who find school, their studies, and the successes that come from school to be a haven. To them, academics become the one thing in life they can control, and this is indeed a better coping mechanism than many. I think I would have been in that subset, no matter how much pressure was put on me to succeed.
What good does being a straight-A student do after high school? It did get me into a good college. I almost flunked out because, emotionally, I was so unprepared. I couldn’t have made it into grad school right after graduation on account of my grades. Theoretically, I could have cherry-picked some classes after graduation, built my GPA back up and then thought about grad school. But that would have meant working part-time, not full-time, and to survive on that little money I would have needed to move back home. I met a man who I loved and who loved me in college. When I was 20, I wanted to marry him and start a family. I didn’t want a high-paying job, just enough for the two of us to survive. The comfort I got from that relationship meant more to me than any kind of an impressive career in my future. I was very lucky that I landed a “good enough” job shortly after college, and I hold it to this day. But I work alongside people who weren’t straight A students, and who collect paychecks identical to mine.
Life isn’t exactly fair, but it is a lot more fair in the long-term than it can appear in the short term. I live a good, happy, healthy life full of adventure and accomplishment. I have a few adventurous road trips each year, I’ve published a book, I’ve influenced the New York State legislature, and I really believed I’ve helped a lot of people in a lot of ways. My mother is too entrapped in her broken body to be able to move very much, she mostly sits around the house and bellows at people to do things for her. She is too paralyzed by fear to go someplace she has never been before. As far as I can tell, she spends every waking minute when she’s not at work watching TV or playing computer games. I talk with her perhaps twice a month, some months less. She doesn’t know that I’ve written a book, she rarely knows when I’m on an adventure, and she couldn’t name the organization I volunteer for. I try as hard as possible to avoid all contact with my father, other than knowing his general whereabouts, and I give him as few windows into my life as possible. Somehow, I have a feeling this isn’t what my parents envisioned when they decided to become parents. Denial is as important to my mother’s survival as food and air, but sometimes I wonder if her denial is strong enough to believe that she and I have a healthy relationship. I know I’m not a very good daughter. And I’m comfortable with that.
For me, the discovery that every significant thing my parents ever told me was wrong has been absolutely delightful. Sometimes that joy is interrupted by the realization that they should have provided me with something I don’t have, leaving me to decide how valuable and acquirable what I’m missing actually is. When I was driving home from my sister-in-law’s baby shower, my now-husband was talking about the importance of dressing little girls in pink and ribbons. I was listening to him, and something wasn’t computing inside me. I almost said “I can’t understand how someone can love a little girl that much”, but I had a feeling that uttering those words to a man I wanted to marry would focus his attention on scars that, back then, I was intent on hiding. That was nine years ago. I have watched my niece grow, I have gotten pregnant and I have come close to adopting a teenage girl, so I do understand how someone can love a girl so much (although I still don’t get the pink and ribbon obsessions). While I wonder how scarred my heart is, most of the time I think I could successfully parent if my biology were to cooperate. I have learned, again and again, that the world is a more beautiful, wondrous, loving place than I was raised to believe it was. With every breath I take, I am grateful for that revelation. As I meet more survivors, I see that not all of them have been gifted with that knowledge. And they are the ones who motivate me to keep trying to change this world, to make sure that children are always treated with decency and kindness. And as I go about this, I can’t help but be upset by the pervasive current of thought that children simply aren’t entitled to that. Even if it is ”only a joke”- it’s disguised as a joke because, upon closer inspection, it really is too unpalatable for most of us.
Hey friends and spectators, I just wanted to give a few updates. First, I am alive, well and having a great summer, and I hope you all are, too. Second, I want to say that my care2 petition to extend the statute of limitations for the prosecution of child sex abuse in NY is still gathering signatures, here as well as a carbon-copy petition on change.org. New York State legislators will be coming back from their summer recess (vacation) shortly- I believe next week some time. The Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse NY and I will have a conversation about how, exactly, we present these to Senator McDonald, but I'm leaning toward the old fashoned way- print and hand it over. No, not terribly green, but... I think we can be forgiven. Hopefully I will be able to deliver it in person, and put my own spin on it... I'll keep you posted. There's some interesting discussions happening on Aiyana's Group-her voice will be heard (I hope I got that right- I might have messed the name up a little, but a search under child abuse groups will get you there). I encourage any of you who have even the slightest interst in children's issues to join... it seems to be one of the most active child abuse groups here. And lastly, my book is still for sale at either http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/efforts-to-save-the-meat-rabbits/15831526 or http://www.healingthroughcreativity.org/index.php?page=shop.browse&category=&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1 If you're in the mood to buy, I recommend the second link, as Healing through Creativity is a not-for-profit that does lots of good work and will be supported with each copy of my book purchased from its site. At some point in the future, I expect to do a reading on Stage Left, an internet radio program for authors and musicians who want their work to help make a difference in this world. And that's me. When I get a time, I'll share with you folks. Until then, peace.
PS- in an attempt to make this seem a little warmer and fuzzier, I plan on posting some pictures of my warm fuzzies, my dogs and cats, soon.
I don't watch TV, except when I'm at someone else's house or the laundromat. Lately, every single time I've gone to the laundromat, the Casie Anthony trial has been on, and the place has been abuzz with discussion of the case. I think any single thing that can get the laundromat crowd talking is probably worth blogging about. I remember when the case broke, and I've been follwoing the trial minimally. I most vividly remember people saying "I can't imagine how someone could be partying when their little girl is missing". Every time I hear someone say "I can't imagine how someone could ___", and that blank is either an act of child abuse or a failure to respond to an act of child abuse, I want to say "great, I'm glad you can't imagine it! That means you probably bonded with your children, or can conceive of bonding with children you may have some day". Bonding is the psychological term for that visceral love and connection that happens between a new parent and the shrieking, pooping, uber-fragile and needy creature they have just brought into the world. If bonding didn't happen, parents would dispense themselves of newborn babies after the burdens of noise, poop, etc., became apparent. Bonding doesn't always happen, for a variety of reasons. It's pretty easy to predict when a parent is going to have trouble bonding with a child, and it's pretty easy to spot when they actually are having trouble. And there are very good programs that parents can enroll in where the obstacles to bonding are removed from the parent's life, they are taught about child care, and usually, like magic, the magic that is bonding happens. These programs, which usually are conducted in a parent's home by a nurse or other professional, have the ingenious name of home-visiting programs, and they are the cornerstone of child abuse prevention. So, does child abuse prevention work? The answer is yes, it does, beyond all shadow of a doubt. We've known this for the last 35 years or so. So why is there still child abuse? Well, there are several answers to that question, but the biggest one is that states decided that preventing child abuse simply wasn't worth the money, and the federal government thought that was OK.
I studied the history of child abuse, its prevention and the laws surrounding it when I was in college, between biochemistry courses. The most salient lesson I learned is that all the abuse and misery I endured as a child was preventable. College was my first chance to be spatially and emotionally separated from my parents, and started dealing with my abuse. Learning that it could have been prevented was like being re-victimized. It was easy for me to believe that people simply didn't care about abused children. I've been volunteering for an organization that works to prevent child abuse for almost eleven years now. I realize that my first instinct wasn't exactly right- people can care, under particular circumstances, about abused children. We obsess with sordid details- I think it makes parents feel better about their parenting ability. We hate sexual abuse, and are willing to push the limits of our constitution in order to prosecute and prevent it. And we love taking vengeance on horrific abusers, which is why the death penalty was put on the table in the Casie Anthony case. But we don't want to educate ourselves about child abuse, we don't want to see past the vengeance, and we don't want to make preventing the pain a priority or a policy. The last two years, I've submitted testimony to the New York State Joint Committee on Human Services about why child abuse is bad, why preventing it is good, and why, no matter how bad the economy is, you don't fix it by cutting money that prevents child abuse. One of the things I try to do is to remind the politicians that, with the stroke of a pen, they can sentence thousands of children to either be abused or not to be. Of those who get abused, some will die from their injuries. Some will die from suicide, murder and accidents related to high-risk behavior as teenagers. Some will die from cancer, diabetes and heart disease as the get older, and some will be murdered by their intimate partners. Child abuse survivors are more likely to die, at any age, from the leading causes of death for people in their age bracket. This means that child abuse survivors are likely to live pain-filled lives from cradle to grave, and their march from one to the other is likely to be short.
Prosecuting the person who abused you doesn't fix this. Especially if the victim is dead. I always have trouble understanding what justice is supposed to mean in the context of child abuse. As I talked about in my last share, I think "damage control", arresting someone who is likely to abuse more children, is very important. I don't think Casie Anthony is likely to do this. Does part of me want to see her hurt more, if she really is the one who killed her daughter? Yes, but I also know it won't change anything. And I believe vengeance is a muscle that is best left to atrophy, in myself and our society. I believe prevention is where we need to invest our money and emotional energy, as boring as it may be. And I do believe that it should be easier to arrest child sex offenders, who are likely to abuse again and again (refer to my last share for all you could ever want to learn about that topic). And if you agree with my on that, signing the petition below gives you a chance to make New York State a little better for sexual abuse survivors. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/support-a5488-the-assemblys-child-victim-act/
When I was in my early 20’s, there weren’t nearly the on-line resources for CSA survivors that there are today. And I was much, much too ashamed and guilty to tell a word about the abuse to a real, live human being who could possibly make eye contact with me. I kept finding websites telling stories like this- “I was sexually abused by my __, it was horrible, but I forgave him, we’re close now, and life is peachy”. For me, this meant that both forgiveness and closeness to the father who abused me (the uncle who also abused me was thankfully already dead) were prerequisites to mental health. I could not wrap my mind around the concept of ever being able to do either. I oscillated between believing my life was doomed to be full of the intense self-loathing, anger, grief and general misery I was experiencing, to believing if I could do something that seemed akin to a do-it-yourself lobotomy I would be alright. One day when the lobotomy fantasy wasn’t appealing, I looked up the statute of limitations on CSA in my home state of New York. By my 23rd birthday I would be unable to press civil or criminal charges on my father. And on that day, in the spirit of what I believed to be forgiveness, I breathed a deep breath, knowing that my parents would never be troubled by a policeman knocking at their door.
In the spirit of what I believed to be forgiveness, I tried to maintain an emotionally useful relationship with my parents. “Maintain” isn’t really the word, “start from scratch for the first time in my life” is more like it. And as I was having more contact with my mother than I had in years, she started telling me about finding child pornography on my father’s computer, again and again. And then there was the policeman knocking on the door- knocking on behalf of a little girl my father had “befriended”. I soon learned that having a child say that someone abused them doesn’t accomplish much. For an indictment to happen, you need a credible disclosure from the child, coupled with evidence (photographic or medical), a confession from the abuser or collaboration from another victim. Long gone are the days where a child’s tearful courtroom testimony was bound to lock someone up- the pendulum has swung so far away from where it was in the 1980’s. No police officer called me or sought information from me in any way.
Now I knew my father was on the prowl again, looking for new victims, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop him. Nothing came of the accusations from the little girl. I put enormous emotional distance between myself and my family of origin. Even though my mental health had improved, my life circumstances had deteriorated. I was minimally aware of what was going on under the roof I grew up under. Eventually, my life circumstances improved, I had more emotional energy, and I had become very committed to fighting for children’s issues. My role as a children’s advocate was extremely incompatible with the role of someone who was facilitating a pedophile, even in the slightest way. I made myself a few promises- I would stay close enough to my family of origin to keep tabs on my father, I would not allow myself to get wrapped up in any circumstances that could distract me from my mission, and I would keep in mind that nothing I was doing was going to undo what had been done to me. This wasn’t revenge, it was something more important.
Eventually I learned the name of a girl who had become a huge part of my father’s life. I called the police in the county the girl lived in. They told me to call the police in the county my father lived in. The same county I grew up in. Although I was dreading that phone call, and dreading someone who I graduated high school with picking up the phone, I made it. And as far as I know, nothing happened. You can’t arrest someone for spending time with a child. Even if the amount of time, and their devotion to this child is truly creepy.
Recently one of my cousins revealed that she was sexually abused by my father. She’s 21 now. She’s in the throes of mental illness, substance abuse and interpersonal crisis. She hasn’t told her parents about the abuse, and her parents and mine are very close. She loves my mother, and will be loath to hurt her. She is 21 years old. I hope that in the next two years, she will find the peace, strength and perspective to realize she has been wronged by someone who has similarly wronged others, and who is still wronging others. I hope she will see that she has a chance to stop the trail of destruction that he has made. I hope I’ll be able to communicate clearly to her, to help her understand this. And I also hope that the law will change, to give her time to heal and think as she decides what to do.
This year there is a chance the law will change. The bill A5488 has passed the NYS Assembly, and it needs a sponsor in the NYS Senate. A petition asking NYS Senator McDonald to sponsor it (Senator McDonald has indicated an interest in sponsoring it) is available for signing at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/support-a5488-the-assemblys-child-victim-act/.
Every time I see something about extending or eliminating that statute of limitations against Child Sexual Abusers, the term “justice” is always bandied around. I have absolutely no conception of what “justice” would mean to me, in this context. My father twisted my mind and soul in directions souls and minds shouldn’t be twisted in. But I’m alive and healthy, and I live a life filled with peace and joy. A life that is beyond the comprehension of someone like my father. I can look back at my life and see some mistakes that I almost certainly wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t been sexually abused. But I can’t look at where I am and be too unhappy, either. What I want to see now is damage control. I want to see my father in prison simply because it is the only way I can be sure he won’t be molesting more children. And while I’m happy with my life, I also know I’m exceptionally lucky. And luck isn’t something that you can bet on when deciding which injustices need to be fixed when. Child sexual abuse is an enormous wrong, which is perpetuated by individuals, and often facilitated by families and institutions. The state has a chance to decide whose side it’s on with this piece of legislation, and if it chooses to be on the side of the perpetrators, truly, we have reached the point of moral bankruptcy.
I think most people whose lives have never been affected by child sexual abuse think it is rare. They think it will never happen to their children. They think they don't need to worry about it because they pay their school taxes, they obey the law, and… it just couldn’t’! And if, by some disastrous misfortune, it happens to their child, their child will tell them that day, they will scoop that child up in their arms, call the police, and eventually all will be well. Unfortunately, the truth is much uglier.
Many studies using several different sources of data conclude that 25% of girls and 15% of boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Well over 90% of them are sexually abused by someone they and/or their parents trust, and a significant percent of the time, that someone is the child's parent, step-parent or guardian. This is a statistic you see a lot, but I don’t think most people with no connection to the crime of child sexual abuse actually think about what it means. It means that this person who is so trusted by the child and their family is a big part of the child’s life. The child likely has intense, complex feelings towards this person. The offender has likely spent lots of time being very kind and indulgent to the child, and sometimes is the only person in that child’s life who has been. Just like batterers rarely beat a woman on their first date, a sex offender is rarely going to do anything sexual to a child they are “grooming” until they have had many, many contacts with them. Eventually, some of those contacts are likely to test how well a child keeps secrets. And some of them are likely to test a child’s response to the trappings of adult sexuality. Eventually, the adult sexually victimizes the child, once they are sure the child will keep their secret. They usually sexually victimize the child in a way that doesn’t cause any physical pain, but may cause arousal, which further confuses the child and reinforces to the offender that what they are doing is harmless and consensual. And throughout all of this, they maintain a relationship with the child that is still largely kind and indulgent. To keep the child’s silence, threats and manipulations may be thrown into the mix, but the relationship is still largely positive.
Maintaining the child’s silence often isn’t that hard. Very young children may not realize that there is anything wrong or abnormal about being sexually victimized, they may lack a vocabulary to describe it, and older children who do understand what is being done to them often are so ashamed of the victimization they want it kept a secret. In about ten percent of all cases of CSA, most often in incest, there is a non-offending adult who is aware of the abuse and choses to do nothing. There is also a percentage of non-offending adults who will do something, usually talk to the offender, tell them never to abuse again, but who don’t report the case to appropriate authorities. I’ve never seen a statistic about how common this is, especially since these aren’t the cases that get counted. In situations like these, the child has been shown that no one cares enough to help them, and telling more people about their victimization is only going to show how many people out there don’t care.
So now we have a slightly different understanding of the toll child sexual abuse takes on its victims- they usually are victimized more than once by the same person, a person who they have deep, complicated feelings for, a person who has been manipulating them, and they may have reason to believe that no one is going to believe or help them if they seek help. This is largely why 80-90% of children don’t reveal their sexual abuse until they reach adulthood.
Statistically speaking, adolescence and adulthood are pretty ugly for CSA survivors. CSA survivors are more likely to experience academic failure, to drop out of school, to suffer from mental illness, drug abuse, suicide attempts, obesity, sexual precociousness, STI’s and unintended pregnancy or parenthood than their non-abused peers. Think about what these facts mean- these survivors are likely to enter the adult world on very shaky foundation, one in which self-sufficiency is hard to reach. And the process of parenting an adolescent coping with mental illness, substance abuse, sexual precociousness, parenthood, or any combination thereof is not easy. We don't provide a lot of resources for parents in this culture, and we provide next to nothing for the parents of troubled teenagers. So this means your average young adult who has survived CSA is likely to be ill-equipped to survive on their own and is likely to have a strained relationship with their family of origin, even if their family of origin wasn’t directly involved in their abuse. And young adults with strained relationships with their family of origin but major obstacles to independence are often unlikely to do something that will stress or shatter that family, such as reveal their past sexual abuse. And the revelation usually does shake, if not shatter most families. No one wants to hear that their sibling, parent, etc., hurt their child. All the stereotypical tensions about the in-laws become magnified a thousand-fold. And if the young adult reveals that their parent’s spouse molested them, the situation becomes even more intense, and the non-offending parent’s decision to not believe the child, further hurting them, is even more appealing. But hopefully, the young adult survivor at some point accesses some help for some of the problems plaguing them, and at this point, they are likely to start confronting their victimization.
“Confronting your victimization”- that’s a pretty big and abstract term, and can mean many different things to different people. But at some point it means coming to terms with the fact that someone with power over you betrayed you, hurt you and damaged you. It means casting off the shame of the sexual abuse, and seeing your role as a victim as a blameless one. Sometimes this comes in short epiphanies, sometimes it takes years. But after it happens, survivors are left with the question of what “what next?” both in terms of their abuser and their family of origin.
April is in it's last few hours here on the east coast, and with it, Child Abuse Awareness month. April 23 I hosted my sixth annual Speak Out Rochester, which is a day for survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence to tell their stories through all means of creativity imagianable. While the turnout wasn't what I wish it were, we sure did get every means of creativity imagianable- poetry, prose, music, dance, and visual art. The event takes a lot out of me, but I've never regreted doing it. Every year I meet interesting people, hear interesting voices, learn, feel and grow. And most years I get to feel like I'm making a difference, and that's not a trifiling feeling.
This year I got absolutely NO news coverage for the event. When I do get news coverage, it doesn't increase attendance much, but I think the fact I didn't get any is interesting in itself. People always say "we've got to do something about child abuse", but apparently whatever that "something" is, it isn't "think deeply". Stories about a specific instance of child abuse still shock and outrage us, and comentary about those cases always includes things like "someone needs to inflict some sort of torture on those parents". Never mind the fact that we've known how to prevent the majority of non-sexual child abuse for over 30 years, we simply choose not to do it. I think most people find the idea of child abuse being preventable hard to swallow, especially those people who refuse to think deeply about the subject. And to believe that we can prevent it, but don't, is a very unsettling idea. But it's absolutely true. It was a re-victimization for me to learn about it in college. For me, it was almost as powerful a realization as the night my uncle begged me for sex in front of my parents, and my parents did nothing to stop him. I was learning, again and again in different ways, that no one in our society cares enough to stop children from being hurt.
I've grown up a bit since then. I have surrounded myself with people who do care to do what can be done to prevent child abuse. And I've thrown myself at that work. I've seen a few good bils get passed, and I've seen programs that work be preserved through budget-years of record adversity. It's not entirely a lack of compassion or empathy, although there is some of that. It's mostly a lack of knowledge, of insight, and of belief that this can get better.
Two personal notes- somewhere on the petition site, I have a petition to make the damn Michigan senator who proposed forcing foster children to wear clothing from thrift stores to cut his own salary and make up the difference by purchasing suits at thrift stores. Obviously, I don't expect this to happen, but the petition also mentions that if foster kids are proving expensive for Michigan, Michigan had best invest money in primary prevention, which will keep kids out of foster care. If you want to sign it, publicize it or distribute it, please do! Also, my book is up for sale at a wonderful not-for-profit, and if anyone is interested in purchasing a copy, here it is
Healing through creativity is an organization dedicated to helping survivors succeed in their creative endevors. A portion of all sales proceeds I generate from their site goes back to them. I'm hoping that soon the organization I volunteer for will put my book up for sale on their site, and then they'll get a cut of sales. And I will write at least 30 blogs about children's issues as soon as I can. And after I finish with that, I'll write some more about children's issues, as well as whatever else strikes my fancy.
Let's face it. Most people are never going to be able to do something big and dramatic to help an abused child, and most of us will never take a huge, dramatic role in changing a law, starting a not-for-profit, rescuing a child, or anything worthy of a Oxygen-network made-for-TV movie. And that's OK. There's lot and lots that we can do to help end child sexual abuse, and non-sexual abuse for that matter. Things like learning the facts, voting, and empowering survivors make a huge difference, it's just that boundless change is harder for us to percieve. It's also bigger and, at the end of the day, more important.
If you want to learn almost everything there is to know about child sexual abuse, go to www.darkness2light.org, the best organization out there in terms of CSA education.
To learn from survivors, and support them a little financially, two excellent sites are
Here's a link to purchase the Stop Child Molestation Now book. If every American citizen read this, this nation would be an unrecognizably better place in ten years.
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