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Justice Denied

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Screen shot 2014-01-27 at 9.36.07 AMWhy I’m not going to be calling my father for a confession like this.

I hope that by now, anyone who’s going to read this has seen the video below.

I usually start current-events blogs by talking about my first reaction to the event. In this case, I can’t articulate everything I thought and felt as I watched this.

The narrator, Jamie, says, after the call ends, that she’s shaking like a leaf. I was, too.

The headlines a day or two after the video aired show some justice was done.  The teacher resigned, and the cops are interviewing Jamie, presumably to see if they can find a loop-hole in her case which makes her eligible for justice. The teacher’s name, phone number, past employer and current-until-the-video-hit employer are now well-known.

For a fleeting moment, I wondered if I should try something like this. Then I decided against it, and second-guessed and twenty-second-guessed myself about it. And I think it’s worth talking about that.

Even when you’re an adult, no matter how much more physical strength you may have than your abuser, no matter how much more status, no matter how irrational it is, you fear them.

One of my friends is terrified of her sexually-abusive father learning that she’s speaking out. Never mind the fact she knows he’s serving a life sentence. If someone’s fear of their abuser is limiting the quality of their life, a confrontation with their abuser could be as triumphant as sky-diving for someone who’s afraid of heights. The problem is that gravity is perfectly predictable, abusers are not. I’ve never heard of a survivor being hurt or killed after confronting their abuser, but I also don’t think the abuser, who would have the option of framing the story, would likely frame it that way.

The thing most terrifying to me, and to many survivors, about confronting our abusers is hearing them deny their crime. Denial is an important coping mechanism for children experiencing regular sexual abuse.

There are 24 hours in a day, and for most children experiencing sexual abuse, the abuse is a small part of their day. By pushing the pain, confusion, torment, shame and other negative emotions out of their mind, they’re able to get on with their lives when the abuse isn’t occurring.

As adults trying to heal, you need to un-do that process. And it usually doesn’t all happen at once. The denial gets mixed with shame about “why didn’t I fight back? I could have stopped it, etc.”

When I was in my early 20’s and started participating in support groups, I thought I had experienced the mildest sexual abuse of anyone on the planet, and I had so much shame associated with all the struggles I was having. It’s taken me a long time to realize how enormously wrong and damaging the abuse I suffered was. It’s taken me a long time to figure out the role it’s played in my life. No matter how completely I know this, I still know that if I confronted my father, and he denied it, I’d feel part of myself implode.

Some of that shame, some of that doubt, some of that conflict… I fear it would be back, demanding my attention and energy.

My father would never admit to what he did to me. But after my sexually abusive uncle died, my mother mentioned the abuse in front of me. It was haunting. All the denial I was still using to protect myself from the pain (I was 19 at the time and his last contact with me was when I was 18), was firmly in place before that moment. Five years of abuse… that really happened. Witnesses- they were really there. They just didn’t care to stop it. That hurt more than anything, and there it was. Part of the reason I’ve never sought a confrontation with my family is because I know how painful it would be for any of them to admit any part of it.

Being around your abuser is scary. Living like an orphan isn’t pleasant either. 

Family and close friends are the only people we normally maintain ties with throughout our lives in our modern, mobile society. And family is where about half of all sexual abuse occurs. Incest survivors need to be able to control who in their family they have contact with, and how much contact they have with them, without being told that all hope of recovery is dependent on some black-and-white paradigm. Being around your abuser is scary. Living like an orphan isn’t pleasant either. Being able to make a choice, evaluate how well it’s working, then make another choice, and if needed another one still, can be very healing. It remains to be seen what the woman in this video is going to think about her confrontation in a week, a month or a year. But I do hope that any apparent catharsis or healing she experiences doesn’t prompt anyone to think this is the only way they can heal, or that some immediate dose of health will be granted to them the moment they do this. It isn’t that simple.

The best thing about this video is that Jamie probably did interrupt the abusing “career” of her abuser.

Melanie Blow is on the Board of Directors for Prevent Child Abuse NY and the New York Coalition to Protect Children. She leads the Stop Abuse Campaign’s campaign to eliminate Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, and sits on the Rochester Area Coalition Against Human Trafficking. She blogs for the Stop Abuse Campaign and Prevent Child Abuse NY, has written for survivor magazines, parenting columns, and has had blogs and editorials published in local and national venues. She regularly testifies before the New York State legislator for children’s issues, and regularly provides educational talks about child sex abuse laws, child sex abuse prevention, and human trafficking.

Melanie Blow is on the Board of Directors for Prevent Child Abuse NY and the New York Coalition to Protect Children. She leads the Stop Abuse Campaign’s campaign to eliminate Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, and sits on the Rochester Area Coalition Against Human Trafficking. She blogs for the Stop Abuse Campaign and Prevent Child Abuse NY, has written for survivor magazines, parenting columns, and has had blogs and editorials published in local and national venues. She regularly testifies before the New York State legislator for children’s issues, and regularly provides educational talks about child sex abuse laws, child sex abuse prevention, and human trafficking.

I don’t know a good way of describing what it’s like to know that the person who sexually abused you is still abusing kids – “unbearable” isn’t a strong enough word, and I don’t think the English language contains one. When you’re in that situation, anything, particularly anything legal, that will expose your abuser or spare even one child starts to look very good. I’m not going to say informal channels are useless for this, either- I’ve used them. But it’s a card you can only play so many times. And when a survivor publicly names their abuser, they risk being sued for liable and slander (I’ve been told this is a small risk, but I’ve also heard of survivors getting “cease and desist” letters from their abuser’s lawyer).

After I stopped shaking, as I digested this video a little, what struck me is how sad it is that this is the best strategy Jamie has at her disposal to confront her abuser, and to protect children.

She shouldn’t be in this situation. Nor should I. Every day I have to look at myself in the mirror and ask if I believe I’m doing everything I can to protect kids from my father. For good or bad, I can live with the answer of “there’s nothing more I can do”, because right now it’s true. So right now I’m trying to fix broken laws.

Right now I’m trying to make the world one where a viral video isn’t an adult’s best hope for justice, nor a child’s best hope for safety.

Click here to sign our petition to pass the Child Victims Act in New York State so the rapists of children will face their day in court.

 

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