One class I had to take as a medical student was called “Sex Week” and consisted of three days of intensive exposure to human sexuality. While there were many, many things that we discussed and debated, one experience that stood out was a panel given by rape survivors. One of the panelists described her experience growing up as the victim of sexual abuse. She described how she was forced to have sex not only with her father, but with strangers brought into the home. She described how her mother never said a word about it and, when the issue was finally brought to the authorities, even implied that it was her fault for splitting the family apart. She talked about how her father was never convicted and even enjoyed a prominent place in his church until the end of his life. She spoke of how she bounced between various abusive relationships and how, after spending time with one Christian psychologist, she was seduced and abused by him as well. At the end of her sharing, she read this poem to us, which was written by Kee McFarlane on behalf of a different girl, 12-year-old Cindy. It serves as a disturbing and frustrating depiction of the failure of the system to defend and protect the very ones that have been victimized.
Promises, Promises—A Child’s View of Incest
I asked you for help and you told me you would if I told you the things my dad did o me. It was really hard for me to say all those things, but you told me to trust you—then you made me repeat them to 14 different strangers.
I asked you for privacy and you sent two policemen to my school in front of everyone, to “go downtown” for a talk in their black and white car—like I was the one being busted.
I asked for you to believe me, and you said that you did, then you connected me to a lie detector, and took me to court where lawyers put me on trial like I was a liar. I can’t help it I can’t remember times or dates or explain why I couldn’t tell my mom. Your questions got me confused—my confusion got you suspicious.
I asked you for help and you gave me a doctor with cold metal gadgets and cold hands… just like my father, who said it wouldn’t hurt, just like my father, who said not to cry. He said I look fine—good news for you. You said, bad news for my “case.”
I asked you for confidentiality and you let the newspaper get my story. What does it matter that they left out my name when they put in my father’s and our home address? Even my best friend’s mother won’t let her talk to me anymore.
I asked for protection and you gave me a social worker who patted my head and called me “Honey” (mostly because she could never remember my name). She sent me to live with strangers in another place, with a different school.
Do you know what it’s like to live where there’s a lock on the refrigerator, where you have to ask permission to use the shampoo, and where you can’t use the phone to call your friends? You get used to hearing, “Hi, I’m your new social worker, this is your new foster sister, dorm mother, group home.” You tiptoe around like a perpetual guest and don’t even get to see your own puppy grow up.
Do you know what it’s like to have more social workers than friends?
Do you know what it feels like to be the one that everyone blames for all the trouble? Even when they were speaking to me, all they talked about was lawyers, shrinks, fees and whether or not they’ll lose the mortgage. Do you know what it’s like when your sisters hate you, and your brother calls you a liar? It’s my word against my own father’s. I’m 12 years old and he’s the manager of a bank. You say you believe me—who cares, if nobody else does?
I asked you for help and you forced my mom to choose between us—she chose him, of course. She was scared and had a lot to lose. I had a lot to lose too—the difference was you never told me how much. I asked you to put an end to the abuse—you put an end to my whole family. You took away my nights of hell and gave me days of hell instead. You exchanged my private nightmare for a very public one.
My emotional response in the days following that session were mixed. In our discussion groups, we talked about the conflict between caring for the child and the abuser. I used to think that I could be rational and objective in treating members of the prison system competently, but at that moment I found it hard to imagine treating a child abuser without giving in to the urge to rip his testicles off in as painful a manner possible. My visceral reactions surprised me with the nature of their forceful and violent sentiments. I felt conflicted as my own Christian principles dictated that I should respond more kindly and with hope for change, but at the same time I felt that reacting gracefully to child and sexual abuse diminished the violence that had already been done and mocked the God who stood by and permitted it to take place.