A few months ago I was speaking to a local community organization on the subject of child sexual abuse. The President of the organization had invited both my husband and myself to dinner for their weekly meeting and I had been excited about another way to reach the community regarding the seriousness of child sexual abuse, a problem the Centers for Disease Control are calling an epidemic.
The Verde Valley area where I live is rampant with child sexual abuse keeping the local Child Protective Services with their hands full. It is also an area where drugs, especially meth, are a huge problem. Almost every week our local paper screams headlines about yet another murder, more arrests, more drug problems and especially domestic violence problems.Whoever I speak with about the problems, whether it is a neighbor, someone from church, my hairdresser or local residents, are adamant about how child sexual abuse and domestic violence are two of the largest problems in the area I felt on solid ground in speaking about this problem with some of the local people.
As I began my talk I noticed that little by little the other members averted their faces from me. To my surprise, one of the members stood up, turned his chair around and spent the entire talk with his back turned to me.During my hour presentation the only person who was actually watching while I spoke was the President who had invited me. After several minutes I became frustrated and changed the direction of my talk, saying:
“I know this is an unpleasant topic for you to have to listen to and I apologize if I have offended anyone. If you went home tonight to discover you had been robbed and that your television, your computer and your jewels were gone, would you call the police? Would you tell your family and friends? Would you tell your neighbors? Would you be angry and feel that you had been violated? Of course you would. Then why, if someone violated your daughter or your grandchild or your niece, would you not be equally outraged, in fact even more outraged. Televisions and computers and jewels can be replaced but the life of a sexually molested grandchild is ruined.
This story underlines the biggest problem in trying to stop child sexual abuse. No one wants to hear about it.After my youngest daughter was raped at gunpoint when she was 17, she called her Dad to tell him what happened. He immediately asked her if she’d seen the latest television series. She was angry and hurt as she should have been. Then she went over to visit some friends of her brother’s that were close to her. She told them what happened. They turned the television on and began talking about subjects not even related to what had happened to her. She came home in tears. Do we really think we’re going to make any headway on a subject that no one wants to talk about? Unfortunately, the main way we can make this subject a topic to be discussed with comfort is to “normalize” it. That means tell your story, tell it without shame, Stand Up and Be Counted (on my blog at www.thelamplighters.org), start a Lamplighter chapter in your area, reach out to those who have been abused and treat them with compassion and understanding. Most people don’t understand what a huge problem it is and the deadly impact it has on the life of the victim. This was illustrated by a phone conversation I had recently with a dear friend of mine. When I proudly told her that we now had 48 chapters in six countries, she said, “Isn’t it nice that you have a hobby.”
Even people who are aware of the problem and know what I’m trying to do are reluctant to give it a name. It would mean talking about the dreaded words, “childhood sexual abuse.” Pictures flicker in to our brains at those words, pictures we don’t want to look at. If you are someone struggling with the aftermath of being sexually molested yourself that is understandable. But remember that until we identify and RECOGNIZE (the first stage in my REPAIR program) what has happened to us we can go no further in turning our life around.
I’ve heard people whose past is littered with sexual affairs, failed relationships, suicide attempts, domestic violence and addictions insist that they had a happy childhood. While there may be a small percent of people with this kind of past that did actually have a happy childhood, they are the exception, not the rule. The biggest percent had some kind of abuse in their childhood and John Bradshaw, the guru of sexual abuse healing, says if you have secrets in your family you can bet they are about sex.
I spent decades telling people about the “happy Catholic family I came from. I blithely described the joy of growing up in the Midwest: ice skating on rivers, climbing trees, Christmas Caroling, baking cookies, sitting together wrapped around a radio that told us stories of suspense and mystery while we munched on buttered popcorn, packages from grandparents and aunts and uncles hidden in my parent’s closets at Christmas time, nighttime prayers said as we knelt in a circle around my mother as my father watched benevolently. The list of joys in my childhood was endless. I talked about my father as if he were a god. I spoke in glowing terms about his talent on the piano, his wealth of knowledge about every topic, his affection with the Finnish kiss, the Eskimo kiss and the Scottish kiss, how handsome he was, how intelligent he was.I even asked him one time why he wasn’t President of the United States. Surely we were the luckiest children in the world to have a father we idolized, following my mother’s lead whose motto about him was “Even when he’s wrong, he’s right.”
I didn’t speak about the day my mother pulled up my Solemn Communion dress to show him my nylons and garter belt, my underpants and my budding sexuality. The look in my father’s eye changed towards me from that point on. I didn’t speak about the night he entered my bedroom where I slept with a rosary under my pillow and raped me. I didn’t speak about the horror of the night my mother drilled my father in an attempt to find out what he was doing during his middle of the night raids. I didn’t speak about how I was awakened by my father to walk into the living room and endure my mother’s interrogations. I didn’t speak about the belt my mother had my father beat me with until I confessed that it was my fault, not daddy’s. I didn’t speak about the next five years of abuse that was so bad that after a beating that almost killed me I ran away from home. No, I was too busy talking about my happy Catholic family.