April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, as well as National Oral Health Month, March for Babies, National Occupational Therapy Month, Stress Awareness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month. Jazz Appreciation Month, National Car Care Month, Facial Protection Month, Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, Youth Sports Safety Month, Cancer Control Month, and National Autism Awareness Month.
So many causes. So many people whose lives have been touched in ways that lead them to dedicate their energies and financial resources toward making a difference (though I’m not sure how National Car Care Month fits into this).
Why have I chosen to become involved in the domestic violence movement rather than Stress Awareness Month or Train Safety Month?
I have been influenced by real people, women and men of courage who have shared the pain of having been beaten as children. Women who have been raped, fondled by someone they knew. I have heard women and men speak of the lifelong effects of child sexual abuse, usually by a trusted uncle or priest, a father even. They have pictures of themselves taken before the abuse, their eyes sparkling with energy, smiles wide and engaging; pictures from afterward, eyes lusterless, shoulders slumped. I fear for my grandchildren and every child I meet who still trusts adults and loves life.
In 1999 United Church Press published a book I edited: Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse. One of the contributors, Marian (Et Al in the book), wrote about having been physically and sexually abused in childhood by her father. She told of the shame she felt, the vulnerability that led her to seek the counsel of her priest, who also abused her sexually. She became dissociative; that is she did not allow herself to feel the pain, the betrayal of trust. Several times she was admitted into psych wards of hospitals, the diagnosis being multiple personality disorder. Her career as a social worker was short-lived because of her fear that she might do harm to others.
Marian and I stayed in touch after the book came out. Six or seven years ago she wrote that her only close friend, Darrell, had died. A year or so after that I was among several people who received a letter from her telling us she planned to take her own life. Without Darrell, she no longer had the energy it took to keep her different personalities under control. She was tired.
Like other friends I tried to offer her reasons to live. But one day a letter was returned to me stamped, “deceased.”
Among my possessions are a small jar of sand Marian sent me from a trip to the Holy Land, a tea cup with the inscribed words, “You never know how strong a woman is until she’s in hot water,” and a photo of her as a little girl, a cheerful looking little girl with energetic eyes. On the back is written, “Before the abuse.”
Marian is one reason why I am committed to the cause of preventing child abuse and the sexual assault of women.
Nancy, thanks for your witness and ministry!
Ditto: Thanks for YOUR witness and ministry.
What a painful story, and loss of a good women who almost survived. I treated clients who had been or were being abused as a psychotherapist. Empowering them to find their voice–empathizing with them when they cannot–is one of the most powerful gifts you can give. Good for you. And for all the grown children whose paths you cross.
Thanks too, for the work you do, Jenny. There’s so much need out there. One of these days I’ll blog about the class my husband and I are teaching at the nearby women’s prison on building healthy relationships and preventing abuse. Several of the women committed crimes as they sought numbness through drugs.
Thanks Nancy for this great article. I posted an article today on Domestic Violence and the church in the Association of Lutheran Resource Centers (ALRC) blog. I’m currently working as the Manager of the Regional Media Center for the United Methodist Church headquartered in Des Moines, WA. I’m planning a domestic violence conference to take place this weekend in Bothell for the United Methodist Church and ecumenical partners. Sorry I don’t have the link to the ELCA blog but perhaps it can be Googled under Loaves and Fishes newsletter. I remember you from my work at FaithTrust Institute from 1994-2006. We referred to your publications in our bibliography. Great to hear from you via PASCH. I mentioned PASCH and RAVE in my blog. The title of the article is Safety or Faith: Must I Choose Between the Two? Hopefully you can find it on the internet.
Ellen, I tried to find it but couldn’t ( a quick check). I’ll try again when I have more time. I’m glad you’re still working on the DV issue, even though your job description has changed. I hope the conference is successful. So may church people don’t want to know about DV.
Thank you, Nancy. There are many sexually abused children out there – boys and girls. Some show remarkable recovery and resiliance. Most do not. They all have a tough journey and need understanding and support. The community needs to be educated. Your prison work sounds productive.
I understand that the population you work with–children with physical and/or emotional disabilities–is particularly vulnerable to abuse.