This New Year’s offering marks a year and a half of blogging. Inspired by the courage of the women I love most, my daughter and my mother, I embarked on a voyage of my own. As my daughter traveled half way around the world and my mother prepared to leave this world for another, I catapulted myself into cyberspace and your lives.
Often my husband asks me “Julia, what’s the point. So you write these poems and stories. What is your purpose?” “My purpose,” I answer, “is always to tell.” I Sing a Song for the Abused Child, the One No One Wants to Hear, was the first poem, written in the wee hours of the morning of December 12, 1998. And so this writing started and never stopped. Perhaps you’ve noticed that every post is dated, timed and signed as a medical note, signifying each entry as a testimony to truth. We must each start by honoring our truths as best we know, never shunning our stories. This is what I do daily when I listen, when I write and when I paint. This is what you must do also.
I wrote this post in 2012 but delayed publication because of fear. My articles about sexual abuse get over one hundred hits in a single day. 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4 boys are searching for information, stories and answers about their sexual abuse. Surely, each of us is seeking solutions to stem the epidemic of sexual intrusion into children’s lives-both digital and physical. Hope, recreated with the birth of baby Jesus is renewed every Advent season. May you find both hope and healing in these words and images.
May your holidays be joyous and you and your loved ones safe,
I haven’t written for the blog recently because sometimes I get stuck. This time I am stuck because there are so many things I know I can not write. Secrets I have learned from patients and sometimes friends and family. There are things I have in my head that I would like to write about but I’m not allowed to disclose. It makes for a complicated life, spending your day listening to children tell secrets that often the whole world needs to know but that you can’t tell, because of confidentiality. Telling the parent instead, who usually doesn’t believe or if they do believe, can’t imagine their life going forward and so they deny. Here is something that’s happened once or twice or is that hundreds of times?
A young male, Terrance discloses sexual abuse by a female. The female adult, Jeanette, is a friend of the family and helps out with childcare and shopping. The parent listens and immediately starts accusing. “That’s a lie, you know that’s not true, you a liar, why you a liar?” Usually it’s the mother because most single parents seem to be women. And I sit there, listening to both accusers. My heart sinking partly because this is going to take a lot longer than the time allotted for a brief med evaluation, I’ll get behind again, way behind, and partly because it looks like the child is going to be held at fault once and over again.
The mother wants to know, if this happened months ago, why now? “Why didn’t you tell me last month when it happened? What are you telling now?” she screams in his face. And the child says, quietly and with dignity, “Because this is how I knew you would act. I knew you wouldn’t believe me and you would go crazy. I knew it would be huge deal.” And she yelled, “I’m going to tell, I’m going over there now and tell them the lie you giving us.” Screaming so loud that the childcare worker across the hall came running to see if we were alright.
Were we alright? Ever wonder why children don’t disclose? I don’t, not any more. I reach out and take this mother’s hand and gently ask her how she can possibly be so sure that her child is lying. And that’s when it happens, a crack in the anger, the hardened veneer that she uses to guide her through the fight she lives daily. Single mom, working below the poverty level to provide food and shelter for her family. She can’t absorb and organize any more information,especially if it involves more therapy, more treatment and last and least an unwanted social services investigation. But it’s too late because now she is crying, gripping my hand tightly, letting the knowledge seep in that of course her child is telling the truth. Of course it is possible that he is telling the truth. After all, he got sent home twice in the past few weeks for touching his peers on their bottoms, trying to get “up inside” their clothing. Is it ever an accident when a boy falls on a girl’s boobs walking backwards on the bus?
These stories grow, my children describing the multifaceted secrets of their lives as I listen. And the listening and especially the believing that I give them every week creates the tapestry of our relationship. I used to be angry when my patients were mistreated, neglected or ignored. Now i know, as I continue to reach across the desk, grasping the hand of the mother who just a few minutes ago was yelling at her son for being a liar, that this parent was a scared, abused child years ago, maybe still is. And so together we weave a treatment plan for gathering information and hopefully creating protection. A plan that includes listening to the parent’s grief in her new knowledge that her child is not a liar. That the sexual abuse that happened to her has now happened to him despite her vigilance and fears. Or maybe perhaps because of them. Who understands this desperate cycle of abuse that turns around and into and onto itself, this never ending gyration of sexual addiction and perpetration?
The following poem describes a story told by a parent many years ago. Her six year old daughter had a sexual relationship with the father for six years. Now the daughter was being admitted to our hospital because she was so wild, so aggressive, so angry and fearful that no home or school could hold her. The mother had walked in on the father while the infant daughter was being forced to suck his penis. She reported this to social services. The case was unfounded and as a result so was the little girl.
Did you ever rise to see the sun?
The beauty of God’s love, bright bursting with energy.
Bringing vision for a new start, fresh chance?
Did you ever see a tiny infant born?
The beauty of God’s love,
bright new, bursting with life and energy,
bringing vision and hope for a new start, fresh chance?
Did you ever awaken to see a man’s penis rising, large erect
bursting with life and energy
inserted into the infant’s mouth?
sucking, moaning, coming, choking
Do you hear the choking noises?
Do you hear the slow death, bludgeoning of God’s bright life and energy?
Do you die a bit when the vision dims for the child, this infant
born of God’s love and man’s destruction?
Do you hear the choking, gasping for breath?
Mother did. Did social services? Do you?
Six years later, she’s in my time out room
stripping and urinating on my shepherds, trying to wash herself clean,
because no one heard.
You can hear her now.
Not even three psychotropic medications can suppress the choking sounds now.
Julia W. Burns, MD