Bloggers Unite - Human Rights
May 15, 2008
Bloggers Unite is an initiative designed to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place. By challenging bloggers to blog about a particular social cause on a single day, a single voice can be joined with thousands of others to help make a real positive difference; from raising awareness for cancer, to an effort to better education systems or support 3rd world countries. Read More

Bloggers UniteI wasn't even sure I was going to participate in Bloggers Unite - I write often enough about various human rights issues as the muse - or the news - strikes me. However, when I read SSB's post at My Thoughts, I knew I was going to have to chime in.

Do children have a voice? If you saw a child being abused would you do anything or nothing? If a child told you things at home would get worse would you listen?

I've spoken about childhood abuse issues before, most recently with the story of the Fritzls in Austria. I've written and illustrated one person's story at Mud-Walker in comic book form. I've talked about some of my own story here and continued it here.

Every year a local radio station does a "roof-sit" against child abuse. The first few years I heard the program, I applauded their ideals - but I could not listen to any of it. Not because the stories were too difficult for me to hear - but because hearing the stories filled me with, to be perfectly candid, rage and jealousy. Very misplaced rage, but rage nonetheless.

No one had saved me and it took me until I was 19 to save myself. I was so incredibly jealous of these kids who had been beaten, belittled, raped, neglected and treated like dirt - because someone had stepped in and tried to prevent those things from happening to them anymore.

Abuse by a master manipulator is something that is incredibly difficult for someone who has not experienced it to understand. It starts very slowly and insidiously with comments that all of us have made at some time or another. "Oh, you're not going to wear that are you?" It's a subtle picking at your core self, undermining your decision-making ability. And when you get to the point where you're doubting yourself, the isolation begins. At first it might be because the abuser doesn't like your friends. It might be because your friends think there's something wrong with your abuser - and you feel like you have to defend that person. After all, that person is your "other half" and only wants what's best for you, for both of you.

Think for a moment about those days when you want to please your other half. Not do something totally out of character for yourself - but if wearing the green shirt instead of the red one makes him or her happier, and it doesn't really matter to you, why not do it? It's just a nice gesture, no big deal.

And the problem is this is exactly how it can start. With those little things which aren't a big deal - taking advantage of your kind and nice nature. Soon, these requests will turn into bigger requests and a pouty face or sad face -- or outright anger and accusation that you don't want your other half to be happy.

It's so easy to see through the manipulation when it's written down like these pixels on the screen. It's so very easy to tell yourself you could never fall for that.

In my case, my father used these methods on my mother for years. She was sure she could not be anything other than a housewife. She is Catholic and divorce was not much of an option anyway. She struggled to keep her head above water ....

... and at the same time began the survivor's lies. It's not so bad. Other people have it worse. But he provides well for us. All women/men are like this.

And most damaging to everyone: "my spouse may hurt me, but would never hurt the children. The children are loved."

You see, when you feel trapped by your circumstances and you are in an intolerable situation - the brain "fixes" the situation for you. In other words, if you can't or won't act - your brain will do the acting for you. If you have been so manipulated as to believe that you cannot leave (or, in Elisabeth Fritzl's case as well as others, you literally cannot leave), your brain begins to lie to you, weaving a fantasy cloak of denial which will render virtually invisible all those tell-tale clues you should have noticed and acted upon.

In cases of father-daughter incest, often the mother has been sexually assaulted by the husband. Often she has been manipulated and her self-esteem slowly ground away to nothing. Her brain begins weaving the invisibility cloak and she may very honestly have no idea what he is doing to their children.

It is easy to explain the blood on the sheets as yet another in a long series of intense night-time nosebleeds. It is easy to explain the child's suddenly quieter nature as a product of growing up and learning how to behave properly. It is easy to simply be grateful to wake up in the middle of the night and find that he is not in bed with you. After all, if you go looking for him, he might just find you. Remember, your spouse loves the children - there's no way he'd harm them.

Of course, there are a myriad of other ways that childhood - and spousal - abuse play out, but so often I hear "How could the mother not know" and even sometimes, "How could the father have no idea?"

The truth is that it's easy to get away with it if you know how to manipulate your family. If you start slowly enough with the spouse and slowly enough with the child. Starting young helps, too. The younger they are, the easier they are to manipulate. After all, their parents are their whole world, the shapers of everything they know.

In situations like this, children have no voice. Depending on how they were manipulated, what threats and methodologies were used, they may literally not be able to speak or write down what has happened. Thinking about speaking may very well cause a kind of paralysis and selective mutism where they literally can't speak about the topic.

And if by some miracle, they do find a physical voice to speak - who will believe them? Nearly all abused children are told that "no one will believe you, even if you do tell." So if they do manage to utter the words, the slightest look or sound of doubt on another's face can cause them to quickly recant everything.

It's far easier to compartmentalize everything, storing all the details in different areas of the brain, splitting a single memory into a series of fragments, running them through a mental shredder and then storing the shredded pieces in different areas.

It's been popular since the early 90s at least to disbelieve tales of abuse and nearly every reason is a good reason to disbelieve those stories. We don't wish to confront evil like that. Children sometimes tell wild stories. Parents sometimes plant harmful stories in their kids' heads about the other parent in order to gain custody of their kids.

The problem is that if we do not openly and honestly investigate these stories, we're denying children their voice. We know the system sometimes takes kids wrongly. The system is far from perfect. But by not attempting to better that system, to pay the social workers enough to keep them from burning out - to pay the social services enough so they can hire more social workers - we are closing our ears to the children who need us most.

In my particular case, honestly, the manipulation began so early and I was such a good li'l actor, I'm not sure that there were enough clues for the adults around my family to hear what I could not say.

To this day, I've no idea how to give voice to kids who are like I was.

But I no longer feel the rage and jealousy - quite so much anyway - when I hear the roof-sit program against child abuse. I've spent the last few years working quite hard at looking at just how the abusive family dynamic plays out. I've absolved myself and my mother of a lot of responsibility for "causing" the abuse and for not stopping it.

I can only hope that by talking about the issues and complications, some person will read this and discover their own voice. That they will suddenly feel a portion of their brain stir and re-assemble some memories and help them to speak and to escape into the light.

Posted by Red Monkey at May 15, 2008 10:13 AM | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Shirley Bowling said:

I used to spend hours in my room daydreaming of a real daddy. I no longer wish that. I just wish for children to have a voice.

May 15, 2008 12:10 PM


cooper said:

Are there any organizations nation wide which advocate for children in this way?

May 15, 2008 1:26 PM


Claire said:

Every time you write something like this my little monkey friend, I admire you even more.

Nobody could write something like this, because nobody can see it through your eyes, so thank you for writing it.

May 15, 2008 8:00 PM


RecycleCindy said:

A powerful post! By sharing your thoughts and struggles, you do give a voice to children. By talking about these issues, it will help someone who may need be out there just waiting for a post of encouragement such as your post.

May 16, 2008 6:37 PM
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