Sexual abuse is any form of sexual violence, including rape, child molestation, incest, and similar forms of non-consensual sexual contact. Most sexual abuse experts agree sexual abuse is never only aboutsex. Instead, it is often an attempt to gainpowerover others.
Immediate crisis assistance after sexual assault can prove invaluable and even save lives. A person can report sexual assault by calling local police. Survivors may also wish to get a physical exam at a hospital.
Therapycan also be helpful for those who experienced sexual abuse in the past. Some therapists specialize in addressing the trauma of sexual assault. Long-term assistance may be beneficial to some survivors of sexual abuse.
TYPES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSE
Sexual abuse is common, particularly forwomenand girls. Ninety percent of all rapes are committed against women. One in six women in America have experienced rape. One in five girls and one in 20 boys experience childhood sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse and sexual assault are umbrella terms used to refer to multiple crimes. These crimes include:
Rape: Forced sexual contact with someone who does not or cannot consent. Forcing sex upon someone who does not want it, who is intoxicated, or who is not legally old enough to give consent all count as rape.Date rapeis sexual assualt that occurs between people with an established relationship. A handful of states limit their definition of rape to forcible sexual intercourse. Yet any form of forcible sexual contact can have long-lasting effects on a person. Most states now recognize forced oral sex and similar forms of assault as rape.
Child molestation: Child molestation is any sexual contact with a child. Many children who are molested are too young to know what is happening and may not fight back. Some abusers use the child’s cooperation in these cases as “evidence” that no one was harmed. Examples of child molestation might include fondling or demanding sexual favors from a child.
Incest:Incestdescribes sexual contact between family members who are too closely related to marry. While incestuous sexual activity may occur between consenting adults, this is not common. Most reported incest occurs as child abuse. Over a third of American sexual assault survivors under the age of 18 are abused by a family member, according to latest statistics. However, incest is an underreported crime, so the actual number of incest survivors may be higher.
Non-consensual sexual contact: This category includes any unwanted sexual touching, such as groping or pinching. Attempted rape can also fall into this category.
Non-contact sexual abuse: Not all sexual abuse fits neatly into common legal or psychological definitions. For instance, parents who have sex in front of their children or who make sexually inappropriate comments to their children are engaging in sexual abuse. So-called revengepornographysites, which publish nude photos of people without their consent, are another form of sexual abuse.
The laws governing sexual abuse are constantly changing. For this reason, most professionals who work with sexual abuse survivors rely on the person’s feelings, not the law, when determining whether a sexual assault has occurred. For example, marital rape can be deeply traumatic, especially in an otherwise abusive relationship. Yet marital rape did not become a crime anywhere until the 1970s. It is still a challenging crime to prosecute.
SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN THE MILITARY
Sexual violence occurs in the U.S.militaryin high numbers. According to a 2014 report:
Nearly 5% of all women and 1% of all men on active duty reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact.
Nearly half of reports from women involved penetrative sexual assault (rape or penetration with an object). This rate was 35% for men.
Due to the gender ratios in the military, more men experience sexual violence than women. A man in the military is 10 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than a civilian man.
Most perpetrators commit these crimes out of a desire for domination. Offenders often wish to establish control over their “inferiors.” Sexual attraction is rarely the motivating factor.
Sexual violence among service members is an under-reported crime. Studies suggest only one in four survivors of military sexual assault report their attacks. Among male survivors, an estimated 81% never report their attacks.
People who report their assaults often face retaliation. In 2014, 62% of female reporters said they faced retaliation. Many were shunned by colleagues or blamed for the assault. Survivors of both genders may face consequences in their professional lives. Some are even discharged from the military.
Reporters may also face barriers to mental health treatment. Research suggests the military has falsely diagnosed many sexual assault reporters with personality disruptions as an excuse to discharge them. The Department of Veterans Affairs classifies personality disruptions as a pre-existing condition. Thus, it rarely covers the expense of survivors’ mental health treatment.
MALE VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSE
Menwho experience sexual assault can face severestigma. U.S. culture promotes astereotypethat men always want sex. Many people believe men cannot possibly be victims of rape.
When men report sexual assault, they often face doubt and ridicule. Others may blame the abuse on the man’s “weakness” or alleged homosexuality.Victim-blamingis especially likely when a man accuses a woman of sexual abuse.
Due to stigma, male survivors can be reluctant to label their experiences as rape or abuse. Some may not mention the event at all. However, a reluctance to disclose can prevent men from getting treatment. Without professional help, some men resort to substance abuse orself-harmto cope with trauma.
SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSE IN THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY
The rates of sexual assault forhomosexualandbisexualindividuals are comparable or higher than the rates forheterosexualpeople. Hate crimes account for many sexual assaults againstLGBTQ+people.
Among cisgender women, the lifetime prevalence rates for rape are:
46% for bisexual women.
13% for lesbian women.
17% for heterosexual women.
Rape statistics among cisgender men are limited. The lifetime prevalence rates for sexual assaults other than rape are:
47% for bisexual men.
40% for gay men.
21% of heterosexual men.
Around 64% oftransgenderpeople will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. This statistic includes transgender people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Transgender youth are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. In a 2011 survey, 12% of trans youth said peers or educational staff had sexually assaulted them in a school setting.
Sexual crimes in the LGBTQ+ community are often not reported. Survivors may fear revealing their gender identity or sexual orientation to others. They may not trust the legal system to protect them. Survivors could also fear inciting further violence.
Like other survivors, LGBTQ+ people often encounter stigma after they report sexual violence.Discriminationin the health care system may prevent survivors from getting care. Friends and family may believe stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people and blame the victim. In cases of domestic violence, members of the local LGBTQ+ community may refuse to believe the survivor or hold the offender accountable.
LGBTQ+ survivors of sexual assault canget help from a therapist. Mental health professionals cannot disclose one’s personal information to others. Therapy is a confidential place where one can find support without judgment.
RACE/ETHNICITY AND SEXUAL ASSAULT
In the U.S., certain races andethnicitiesare more likely to experience sexual assault. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), the lifetime prevalence rates for rape are:
9.5% of Asian or Pacific Islander women
15.0% of Hispanic women
19.9% of white women
20.7% of black women
28.9% of American Indian or Alaskan Native women
31.8% for multiracial women
The report in question did not include data on male survivors.
Racismcan place racial/ethnic minorities at higher risk of sexual assault. Many people of color are fetishized as “exotic,” hypersexual beings. As such, survivors are more likely to be labeled “willing” participants. Sexual assaults on white people are often punished more harshly than assaults on people of color.
As such, people of color are much less likely to report their sexual assaults. Some people may not trust the legal system to treat them fairly. Others may fear “betraying” their community by disclosing personal information. In some cases, cultural values create extra stigma for people who report. These factors can also prevent survivors from seeking mental health treatment.
CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE
The sexual abuse ofchildrencan take many forms. It may involve a stranger or someone as close as a parent. A child doesn’t need to be touched to be sexually abused.Voyeuristic actions, such as watching a child undress or shower, count as sexual abuse. Adults who expose their genitalia to children are also committing abuse.
An adult who sexually abuses children may, in some cases, have asexual attraction to children. Yet sexual attraction is not necessary to commit abuse. Often, a perpetrator abuses a child to gain power over them.
Childhood sexual abuse is common. In the United States:
44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18.
Children are most vulnerable to childhood sexual assault between 7 and 13 years old.
10% of American children are abused before the age of 18.
Among children who are sexually abused, 20% experience sexual abuse before age 8.
Despite being common, children who experience abuse do not always report it right away. This may be partly due to power the offender has over the child.
Up to 93% of children who have been sexually abused know their attackers well. An offender will often threaten or manipulate the child to prevent them from disclosing the abuse.
Over a third of abusers are part of the child’s family.
73% of child targets do not disclose the abuse for a year or more.
45% of child targets do not disclose abuse until at least five years have passed.
Although sexual abuse in children can be difficult to recognize, detection is possible. If a child shows the following warning signs, there may be cause for concern:
Sexual behaviors or knowledge that are not age-appropriate
The above signs are not necessarily proof a child is being sexually abused. Children may show these behaviors due to another issue. However, one does not need proof to report child abuse. Finding proof is the job ofChild Protective Services. To report abuse, one only needs “reasonable suspicion” that abuse is taking place.
Reporting sexual abuse may prevent a child from having mental health concerns in adulthood. People who experienced sexual abuse as children are at greater risk of substance abuse or eating and food issues. They are also more likely to be sexually abused as adults.
If you think a child is being abused, you can call your state’s Child Protective Services to investigate. You can also call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Sexual harassment often falls under the umbrella of sexual assault. While the definitions of both sexual assault and sexual harassment include non-consensual sexual contact, there are some distinct differences.
The term “sexual harassment” is often used in a legal context. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment includes:
Unwanted sexual advances or contact
Harassing a person on the basis of their sex
Making offensive comments or jokes about a particular sex
Pressure to go on a date or perform sexual favors
Sexual harassment can occur anywhere, but many of the laws that protect people who may experience sexual harassment refer to harassment in the workplace. The broader definition of sexual harassment can include cat-calling, making sexual gestures or comments toward a person, staring, referring to someone using demeaning language such as “babe” or “hunk,” and giving unwanted or personal gifts.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES RESULTING FROM SEXUAL ASSAULT
After sexual assault, survivors may feel their bodies are not really their own. Survivors often report feelings such asshame, terror, andguilt. Many blame themselves for the assault.
Due to the trauma and negative emotions linked to sexual abuse, survivors may be at risk for mental health conditions. Survivors of sexual abuse may develop:
Depression: The loss of bodily autonomy is often difficult to cope with. It can create feelings of hopelessness or despair. It may also reduce one’s sense of self-worth. Depressive feelings may be mild and fleeting, or they can be intense and long-lasting.
Anxiety: The loss of bodily autonomy can also cause severe anxiety. Survivors may fear the attack could happen again. Some may experience panic attacks. Others may develop agoraphobia and become afraid to leave their homes. In some cases, a survivor may develop a chronic fear of the type of person who harmed them. Someone who was raped by a tall, fair-haired man with blue eyes may instinctively dislike, mistrust, or fear all men who match that description.
Posttraumatic stress (PTSD): Someone who survived sexual assault may experience intense memories of the abuse. In some cases, flashbacks may be so disruptive they cause a survivor to lose track of surroundings. A person may also develop a related condition called complex posttraumatic stress (C-PTSD). C-PTSD yields a chronic fear of abandonment in addition to symptoms of traditional PTSD. Some people with C-PTSD also experience personality disruptions.
Personality disruptions: Sexual abuse can sometimes result in personality disruptions such as borderline personality. The behavior linked with personality disruptions could actually be an adaption to abuse. For instance, a characteristic of borderline personality is a fear of abandonment. That fear might not be adaptive in adulthood. Yet avoiding abandonment might have protected someone from sexual abuse as a child.
Attachment issues: Survivors may find it challenging to form healthy attachments with others. This is especially true among children who have been abused. Adults who were abused as children may have insecure attachment patterns. They could struggle with intimacy or be too eager to form close attachments.
Addiction: Research suggests abuse survivors are 26 times more likely to use drugs. Drugs and alcohol can help numb the pain of abuse. Yet substance abuse often leads to the development of different concerns.
Sexual abuse does not only leave psychological scars. It can also have long-lasting health consequences.
A person who is assaulted may sustain bruises and cuts. They could also have more severe injuries such as knife wounds, broken bones, and damaged genitals. Others may developchronic painwithout an obvious physical cause.
Some survivors experience sexual dysfunction andfertility issues. Others may develop sexually transmitted infections. Contrary to myth, it is possible for a sexual assault to result in pregnancy. In cases where a child becomes pregnant, giving birth may be physically dangerous.
COUNSELING AFTER SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSE
Many survivors develop mental health conditions after sexual assault. Having a mental health concern does not make you “weak” or “broken.” People cope with trauma in different ways.
Child sexual abuse statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.d2l.org/site/c.4dICIJOkGcISE/b.6143427/k.38C5/Child_Sexual_Abuse_Statistics.htm
Child sexual abuse statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics
Incidents of rape in military much higher than previously reported. (2014, December 5).Military Times. Retrieved from http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2014/12/04/pentagon-rand-sexual-assault-reports/19883155
Marital rape. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/public-policy/sexual-assault-issues/marital-rape
NISVCS: An overview of 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. (n.d.) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/cdc_nisvs_victimization_final-a.pdf
Paulk, L. (2014, April 30). Sexual Assault in the LGBT Community. Retrieved from http://www.nclrights.org/sexual-assault-in-the-lgbt-community
Rape and sexual assault. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=317
Recognizing child abuse. (n.d.). Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. Retrieved from http://www.pa-fsa.org/Mandated-Reporters/Recognizing-Child-Abuse-Neglect/Recognizing-Child-Abuse
Reporting rates. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates
Sexual Assault & LGBT Survivors. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://sapac.umich.edu/article/58
Sexual Assault: The Numbers | Responding to Transgender Victims of Sexual Assault. (2014, June 1). Retrieved from http://www.ovc.gov/pubs/forge/sexual_numbers.html
Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics. (2000). Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf
Sexual harassment. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm
“Son, Men Don’t Get Raped.” (2014).GQ.Retrieved from http://www.gq.com/long-form/male-military-rape
Van der Kolk, B. (2014).The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma(1st ed.). New York, NY: Viking.
What is sexual harassment? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/whatissh.pdf
Who are the victims? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims
Women of color and sexual assault. (n.d.) Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Retrieved from https://endsexualviolencect.org/resources/get-the-facts/woc-stats
Nick Lloyd’s Supreme Court Trial brought with it some great attention. Although the Trial had been disbanded, many Old Boys (past BBC Students) have had their emotions effected. It’s typical for any of this such news to rekindle angst, that had remained hidden for decades. As families should understand what effects may be had, it’s suitable that Counselling is arranged.
If you need immediate support, 24-hour telephone assistance is available through: (from NationalRedress.gov.au)
A former Jehovah’s Witness is using stolen documents to expose allegations that the religion has kept hidden for decades.
In March 1997, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses, sent a letter to each of its 10,883 U.S. congregations, and to many more congregations worldwide. The organization was concerned about the legal risk posed by possible child molesters within its ranks. The letter laid out instructions on how to deal with a known predator: Write a detailed report answering 12 questions—Was this a onetime occurrence, or did the accused have a history of child molestation? How is the accused viewed within the community? Does anyone else know about the abuse?—and mail it to Watchtower’s headquarters in a special blue envelope. Keep a copy of the report in your congregation’s confidential file, the instructions continued, and do not share it with anyone.
Thus did the Jehovah’s Witnesses build what might be the world’s largest database of undocumented child molesters: at least two decades’ worth of names and addresses—likely numbering in the tens of thousands—and detailed acts of alleged abuse, most of which have never been shared with law enforcement, all scanned and searchable in a Microsoft SharePoint file. In recent decades, much of the world’s attention to allegations of abuse has focused on the Catholic Church and other religious groups. Less notice has been paid to the abuse among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian sect with more than 8.5 million members. Yet all this time, Watchtower has refused to comply with multiple court orders to release the information contained in its database and has paid millions of dollars over the years to keep it secret, even from the survivors whose stories are contained within.
That effort has been remarkably successful—until recently.
A white Priority Mail box filled with manila envelopes sits on the floor of Mark O’Donnell’s wood-paneled home office, on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. Mark, 51, is the owner of an exercise-equipment repair business and a longtime Jehovah’s Witness who quietly left the religion in late 2013. Soon after, he became known to ex–Jehovah’s Witnesses as John Redwood, an activist and a blogger who reports on the various controversies, including cases of child abuse, surrounding Watchtower. (Recently, he has begun using his own name.)
When I first met Mark, in May of last year, he appeared at the front door of his modest home in the same outfit he nearly always wears: khaki cargo shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, white sneakers, and sweat socks pulled up over his calves. He invited me into his densely furnished office, where a fan barely dispelled the wafting smell of cat food. He pulled an envelope from the Priority Mail box and passed me its contents, a mixture of typed and handwritten letters discussing various sins allegedly committed by members of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Massachusetts. All the letters in the box had been stolen by an anonymous source inside the religion and shared with Mark. The sins described in the letters ranged from the mundane—smoking pot, marital infidelity, drunkenness—to the horrifying. Slowly, over the past couple of years, Mark has been leaking the most damning contents of the box, much of which is still secret.
Mark’s eyebrows are permanently arched, and when he makes an important point, he peers out above his rimless glasses, eyes widened, which lends him a conspiratorial air.
“Start with these,” he said.
Among the papers Mark showed me that day was a series of letters about a man from Springfield, Massachusetts, who had been disfellowshipped—a form of excommunication—three times. When the man was once again reinstated, in 2008, someone working in a division of Watchtower wrote to his congregation, noting that in 1989 he was said to have “allowed his 11-year-old stepdaughter to touch his penis … on at least two occasions.”
I was struck by the oddness of the language. It insinuated that the man had agreed to, rather than initiated, the sexual contact with his stepdaughter.
After I left Mark’s house, I tracked down the stepdaughter, now 40. In fact, she told me, she had been only 8 when her stepfather had molested her. “He was the adult and I was the kid, so I thought I didn’t have any choice,” she said. She was terrified, she told me. “It took me two years to go to my mom about it.”
Her mother immediately went to the congregation’s elders, who later called the girl and her stepfather in to pray with them. She remembers it as a humiliating experience.
Her stepfather was eventually disfellowshipped for instances that involved “fornication,” “drunkenness,” and “lying,” according to the letters. But according to the stepdaughter, his alleged molestation of her resulted only in his being “privately reproved,” a closed-door reprimand that is usually accompanied by a temporary loss of privileges, such as not being allowed to offer comments during Bible study or lead a prayer. The letters make no reference to police being notified; the stepdaughter said her mother was encouraged to keep the matter private, and no attempt was made to keep the stepfather away from other children. (Calls to the congregation’s Kingdom Hall—the Witness version of a church—for comment went unanswered.)
By the time the letters were written, the man was attending a different congregation and had married another woman with children; he is still part of that family today. Near the end of the final letter in Mark’s possession is a question: “Is there any responsibility on the part of either body of elders … to inform his current wife of his past history of child molestation?”
Mark O’Donnell’s childhood was an isolated one. His parents, Jerry and Susan, had started attending Jehovah’s Witness meetings in the mid-1960s. Another couple from Baltimore had told them of Watchtower’s prediction that the world would end in 1975, bringing death to all non-Witnesses and transforming Earth into a paradise for the faithful. In 1968, just after Mark was born, Jerry and Susan were group-baptized in a swimming pool in Washington, D.C. Mark was an only child, and he inherited his father’s peculiar love of record-keeping. Mark would show up to meetings at the Kingdom Hall with a briefcase full of religious texts.
As in any religion, there’s some variation among Jehovah’s Witnesses in how strictly they interpret the teachings that govern their faith; Mark’s upbringing seems to have been especially stringent. As a child, he attended at least five meetings a week, plus several hours of private Bible study. On Saturday mornings, he joined his parents in “field service,” knocking on doors in search of converts. He was taught that most people outside the organization were corrupted by Satan and, given the chance, would try to steal from him, drug him, or rape him.Mainstream books and magazines were considered the work of Satan. If he broke any of the religion’s main rules, he could be disfellowshipped, meaning even his own family would have to shun him.
Throughout Mark’s childhood, he heard elders cite Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever holds back his rod hates his son.” Mark’s parents took the lesson to heart and beat him frequently. The religion forbids celebrating birthdays, voting, serving in the military, and accepting blood transfusions, even in life-and-death situations. Witnesses were encouraged to devote themselves to bringing more converts into the religion before the end of the world arrived. “Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property” to spend their last days proselytizing, said a Watchtower publication in 1974. “Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.” Some Witnesses stopped going to the doctor, quit their jobs, or ran up debt.
But piety, Mark noticed, did not always translate to morality. When he was 12, Mark became suspicious of a local Witness named Louis Ongsingco, a flight attendant who would bring home Toblerone bars for the local Witness kids and invite them to his apartment to act out religious plays. Mark noticed Ongsingco touching young girls in a way that made him uncomfortable. He told an elder about his concerns. But rather than take action against Ongsingco, the elder told him what Mark had said. Days later, Ongsingco pulled Mark aside and scolded him.
Mark’s instincts seem to have been right. In 2001, one of Mark’s childhood friends, Erin Michelle Shifflett, along with four other women, sued Ongsingco for sexual assault. The cases were settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Ongsingco died in 2016.
To Mark, the lesson was that for all the emphasis the elders placed on moral purity, there was no greater sin than speaking out against other Witnesses.
By the time Mark was in high school, in the early 1980s, 1975 had come and gone, but Watchtower had a new prediction for the apocalypse. It said that the world would end before the passing of the generation that was alive in 1914. At the time, the youngest members of that generation were 70, so the new prediction created a sense of urgency.
“My parents basically told me, ‘You’re not even going to live to graduate from college,’” Mark said. At 17, despite having a year of college credit and a guidance counselor imploring him to apply, he decided to settle for a high-school diploma. He was baptized and later started his exercise-equipment repair company. The business provided enough flexibility for him to perform 50 hours of field service for the Witnesses a month, which qualified him for the rank of auxiliary pioneer.
Though manyWitnesses left the religion after 1975, membership was on the upswing by the 1990s, and the organization was building new Kingdom Halls. Mark was installing a sound system in a new hall in Baltimore in the fall of 1997 when a young woman named Kimmy Weber asked to borrow his ladder.
At 20, Kimmy was putting in more than 90 hours of field service a month, making her a full-fledged pioneer. She had completed a two-year program at a community college on a scholarship, and would later get permission from the local elders to get her bachelor’s degree. Mark was drawn to her drive and intensity. He tracked down her email address; they flirted over AOL Instant Messenger and were married within eight months. They wanted to start a family, but decided to wait until after the arrival of paradise on Earth, when they, and their children, would be perfect. In the meantime, Kimmy began opening their home to abused and abandoned cats.
As Mark’s business grew, he brought on employees, mostly other Witnesses. When he and Kimmy had saved enough money to buy the house across the street as a rental property, they filled its three units with other Witnesses. There were ski vacations, softball games, dinner parties, and game nights—always with friends who shared their faith.
But as much as Mark enjoyed his friends’ company, he started to chafe at the insularity of their social life. It felt less like intimacy and more like a self-imposed bubble. These frustrations eventually grew into suspicions about Watchtower itself. He’d heard rumors that the organization was covering up cases of pedophilia and child abuse. But Watchtower always dismissed such criticism as “apostate-driven lies.”
A few years after he and Kimmy married, he saw a protester outside a Witness convention holding a sign that reada jw elder molested me. “I looked at that sign,” Mark told me, “and I locked it in my brain. I’ll never forget it. I said to myself,There’s no way he’s lying. Nobody would stand out there and hold a sign that saysan elder molested meunless it really happened. No way. He’s telling the truth.”
Watchtower adjusted its estimates for the apocalypse several more times. In 2010, it introduced the Overlapping Generations theory, which claims that the end will come before the death of everyone who was alive at the same time as anyone who was alive in 1914. Mark found these revised predictions difficult to accept.
In late 2013, Mark had an extreme reaction to an antibiotic and was confined to his couch for several weeks, away from the meetings and Bible studies. Left alone with his thoughts, he began to admit to himself that he no longer believed Armageddon was imminent. The Jehovah’s Witnesses he knew were no more deserving of God’s mercy than the nonbelievers he’d met. And here he was, 45 years old and facing a health crisis. How much more of his life was he willing to waste inside the bubble?
That November, as he and Kimmy were preparing to spend the weekend at a friend’s house, Mark suddenly stopped packing and told Kimmy he couldn’t maintain the facade anymore. He never attended another meeting.
With the anticipation, similar to days before birth of a first child, another form of publication will soon be released. From our smaller presence in earlier days of the 5 yr Child Abuse Royal Commission (CARC), the need to ‘join the dots’ began to call out. Hopefully, with the increased-global visitors of our RCbbc Blog, we’re now able to Share another media: Newsletters! eNews are becoming a greater extension of the 247 work-cycle, allowing wider varieties of audio, visual, text & combinations of media to be exchanged. A business plan is still being developed, yet many feel that these swapping of ideas is helpful.
Fractured? No, curiously Ifeelfractured but I see myself in the mirror and I’m whole, standing still like a house. The mirror may be fractured, but my eyes still swivel like windows in this head, guided by a nose that acts as a weather vane. I open and close my mouth like a door and my ears sit like unoiled hinges. But I don’t feel like a house. I feel like a room: a room divided against itself.
Whole Not Hole
If I am whole, how come there are holes in my experience? Not holes; they justfeellike holes. They’re no more holes than my forgetting what I had for breakfast last Tuesday is a hole. If I decide, out of my indecision comes a need to follow a trail of breadcrumbs, walking backwards in flip-flop sandals: Shameday, Shatterday, Frightday, Thugsday, Whensday, Chewsday: vegetarian bacon that tasted like cardboard soaked in lapsang souchong.
Broken. Like a wine glass washed in a lapse of concentration, snapped stem in the sink? No, I justfeelbroken. I’m no more broken than my daydream in the bubbles is a symptom of a broken mind. I just went travelling for a second and broke a glass, not my hip.
A Name for Now
No fractures, no holes. Not broken, nor split. I am a house of rooms, not a room divided. The room I’m in is ordered, organised, geometric wallpaper, square like Kant; catalogued like a library run by a nunnery. My lamp has a name and a function. My telephone first rang in ’76. My sofa has a history, and I remember my happiness the day I bought it; how angry I was when I spilled wine on it; how annoyed at the bit of chocolate that fell between the cushions. I feel my weight on it. Feel the cold in my fingers. I am here. It is now. I am here and I am now.
The hall. A place for uninvited guests. I ran down it when I was 5, I’m-alive, scurried into the cupboard and was never seen again. The hall connects me to the rest of the house I have forgotten, but more importantly to the front door, which leads out into the garden; into the world. I never know if it’s locked. Instead of checking, I forget that it’s a hall, save the ticking of an old clock that I forget to hear whilst listening to the fizz of my ginger beer, age 7, pray to heaven. Instead I convince myself that the livingroom I’m in is all there is. Then, by switching off the light and locking the door, forget myself and my convincing. Until I need to pee, or eat. And then I find myself sock-sliding down the hall like a uterine ghost, so focussed on my empty belly or full bladder I forget to remember that I opened the door; forgetting which room I was in, until I am in the other room, floorboards creaking with the slightest shift in weight.
Another room, another name, another door, another age. Age 6, pick up sticks. Other shadow, other feeling. Cooling, cooler, cold and colder. The familiar unfamiliar. No lightbulb in, no switch to fumble for. In this room I forget to remember and remember to forget. Boxes stacked on boxes, dust and cobwebs. I pick a box in disarray and ginger ale my way in beneath the lifting lid. It contains hundreds of fizzing photographs, sepia toned, disorganised, random, full of Leica moments hastily shuffled away, forgetting to remember; each snap the snap of a twig in a dark damp wood; the snap of a little finger; the snap, crackle and pop of a nice crisp morning in December, and then a dread-filled evening; and all with felt feelings, felt, falling. The sea swell of a gut without words; the electric surge of anxious malady rising in my spine. Shapes without outlines. Tone without form. Colour without texture. Chaos without order. Things that happened before I had words to describe them.
I find myself in a drawer inside a mood inside a box inside a room. Another lapse. Like driving from the house to the store and realising I wasn’t conscious of driving at all. At all. At all. New room, new mood, new name, new world. A ball of string, a roll of tape, some false teeth, a paperclip, an old birthday card from a forgotten friend, a rubber band and some tic-tacs. There are reasons I don’t come in here. It’s a mess: deformed, unfinished. I’ve no energy for this: to clean it out, tidy it up, organise it. Too many memories. One day. Some day. Just not now.
The Unseen Tree
Hallway. Like the drive to the store I didn’t notice, or the tree I ignored on the street I’ve walked for a decade and suddenly appears out of nowhere one day, when the light hits its leaves and I awaken to its colours and the breeze, warm like Frankincense whispering through its branches, and my feet in my soft shoes, so soft I forget my feet. I want to say sorry to that tree. Sorry to my feet and to my shoes. Sorry I neglected you. A three hundred year old tree growing through twelve hundred seasons, existing for everyone else but me.
My hallway stays forgotten; conduit to my wholeness; pipeline to the world. Invisible as I close my eyes. It connects my rooms, my fears: it is the forgotten centre of my house: the house I forget to remember to forget. I prefer the known knowing of organised places to the unknown knawing of my silent spaces. Sunlight comes in through the south window, hot coffee in a comforting cup five inches from the table’s edge, precarious, but no spinning head. Here, I know my name, I have words for things and things for words, and syntax and paragraphs. I know my here and now, I know my differentiated place, I know my own familiar face. It is the face of a house of rooms, and rooms of boxes. Some are ordered, stacked and indexed, comprehendible by their stories, hand-written and clear as etched metal. Some are filled with a confusion of shadows, wordlessness, uncertainty, memories, darkness and a child’s trembling. Still the trembling, still the heart.
I am still like a house. But I feel like a room.
Photo credit: wikimedia commons
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“…He [Christ] spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’…So he went and washed, and came back seeing” (John 9: 6-7).
The miracle of the blind man is recorded in the Bible to teach us that infirmity is not necessarily the consequence of sin.
Certainly, as the victims of child abuse, we did not, ourselves, sin. Trauma, however, lefts its mark on us. Among its scars is the tendency we have to seek out and return to dysfunctional relationships.
What Christ’s love does for abuse victims is heal (or reduce) those scars, and cause the scales to fall from our eyes. We can see the world more clearly, undistorted by the lies we were told by predators about the nature of love and our own supposed lack of value.
Christ’ love for victims is tender. “A bruised reed He will not break…” (Isaiah 42: 3). Rather than inflict pain on us, He grieves over the pain we have endured. That tenderness restores our self-worth, eliminating the need we feel to return to toxic relationships, and making us again whole.
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1990s thrillerBasic Instinct, Michael Douglas plays a troubled homicide detective who becomes involved with a female serial killer. Despite this woman’s overt sexuality, others can see that she is dangerous. The detective is blind to that. He believes he has found true love and redemption.
What motivates the detective is not, however, love. It is a deep sense of guilt over a shooting incident that occurred while he was high on cocaine. He has, in effect, a death wish.
This is not to say that abuse victims have a death wish, when we return to toxic relationships. Love can though be a minefield for us.
We are all too easily blinded by our childhood experience – experience that was tainted by abuse. We frequently mistake dysfunctional relationships for love, and fail to recognize real love when we actually encounter it.
Having been trained to tolerate abuse, we do not see the danger. We settle for what we had in the past. That feels “right”. That resonates with us, striking a profound chord, so “must” be love. Other relationships pale by comparison.
It does not occur to us we deserve better. Until we come to that realization, toxic relationships will continue to hold power for us.
This series will conclude next week.
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It’s the disorder that robs people of their ability to feel whole.
When it comes to the disorder that can splinter people into discrete and fractious personalities, it’s important to note that this complex disorder is not uncommon.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is often misdiagnosed. For the sufferer, the experience can be deeply confusing, with a distorted sense of self and long periods of time lost to dissociation.
Caused by childhood abuse, incest and neglect, the disorder often develops as a coping mechanism. It allows young kids to compartmentalize abuse so they can survive when caregivers or family members make them feel unsafe.
DID is described as a complex form of post-traumatic stress and dissociation, which causes a discontinuity in one’s self of self.
Professor Warwick Middleton is a leader in research and treatment on the disorder and has been working in the field for decades. Speaking to News.com.au, he recalls first writing a paper on the condition in 1991.
DID can be categorized as a developmental disorder, where a person’s personality fails to integrate as they develop.
It’s defined as an “identity disruption” and you may know it as “multiple personality disorder.” In some cultures, it may be identified as spiritual or demonic possession.
How do you identify dissociative identity disorder?
They have symptoms that you might have seen depicted in movies like “Sybil” or TV shows like “The United States of Tara.”
Sufferers of the disorder have a complex system of dissociation, which Middleton describes as “splitting off at different times into different identity states.”
“The individual might experience this as internal or external voices, which may argue and which may be associated with particular behaviors. Alternative handwritings. A whole spectrum of things,” he said.
What Middleton describes is a form of dissociation where the sufferer splits off into what appears to be a completely different “personalities.” Sufferers usually have at least two distinct personalities at some point in their life, some may have many more.
Middleton says that the majority of sufferers also fulfill criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and somatization, while many of them have eating disorders and social phobias.
“Typically they present in their thirties, having bounced around the system for quite a while,” he said. “Because they hear voices … they’re given antipsychotics. From our research, about 20 percent of them are diagnosed with bipolar disorder.”
“If you look a bit closer they don’t have bipolar. That was just someone identifying them switching between different personality states.”
Losing large periods of your life
People who suffer from DID often have trouble remembering things.
In the autobiographical memory of their life, there are gaps where they have no recollection of what happened or what they did — and not in a regularly reported way, like when you drive home and arrive at your door with little recall of your journey.
It’s about losing big parts of your life to your other “personalities” who take over, commandeering your consciousness. While it might sound like the stuff of movies, the disorder is very real.
From Middleton’s research, he suggests it occurs in about 1.1 percent of the adult population. He describes this as being a “relatively common” condition.
What are people with DID like?
“(People with DID) range in a spectrum — (there) are people who sort of live on the fringes of existence who are chronically mentally ill, bouncing around services to people who are very high achieving, who may work in mental health services themselves.”
Sufferers often report weeks or months of their life passing by them where they have no memory and feel no agency over what transpired in that period.”
In the early nineties, the disorder was not often diagnosed and hardly at all identified by mental health professionals. These days it is much more commonly diagnosed.
Treatment for the disorder
Middleton says his interest in the disorder developed because there was “very little clinical awareness” and it wasn’t a diagnosis routinely made.
The other problem was that the issue of family assault and “incest” wasn’t properly acknowledged within Australia, where he is based, at the time.
“We now know that incest is, unfortunately, very common,” Middleton said.
“Basically in every country in the world where systematic research is done into childhood trauma and the presence of dissociative disorders we get very similar patterns.”
He said with standard treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy, the outcomes are very poor for sufferers of this disorder.
Treatment options with good outcomes include phase-orientated treatment.
Middleton was the first person, along with his colleague Dr. Jeremy Butts to publish research linking childhood trauma with the presence of DID. This paper was published over 20 years ago in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
He’s been a long-term director of the Society for Trauma and Dissociation.
Their findings showed that across the world, almost all sufferers of DID had, during childhood, suffered from some form of abuse, be it physical, sexual or neglect.
WELCOME! If you’re familiar with my background, you might think this is the website of a lawyer. But I was a writer long before I ever became a lawyer. Before that, I was for years a victim of child molestation. That fact doesn’t define me. It’s just the springboard I’ve used to propel myself forward.…
— Read on avoicereclaimed.com/