“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
He is Everyman. You run into him several times every day. He delivers your mail, or writes prescriptions to help you feel better. He calculates your taxes; he answers the phone when you have questions about a bill you received. You have no way to know that he carries scars in his soul. That he has never been able to feel love or joy in the same fashion that you have.
Nothing seems odd about him. He may not even know that he has been seriously wounded. Maybe the abuse that he endured as a child was framed as good intentions. His abuser could have very well been a pillar of the community that he grew up in. His crippling influence often follows the victim as a shadow. The suffering boy remains in an adult body.
The stories that I hear are terrifying. Both because of the content of evil and because of how commonly they come up. In all social strata.
There was the middle-aged man who repeatedly turned down promotions at work. He avoided postgraduate studies, even though it was clear to me that he was very smart and articulate. During a long conversation one day he told me about the priest who had sex with him.
“He told me that I was the devil because I tempted him. That he did not want to do what he was doing to me; that I made him.”
Imagine the panic a child must feel when he finds out that he’s a malignant human being; that no matter how hard he tries he’ll never make it to Heaven because by his very nature he cannot get in there. What are the chances that he’ll report the abuse? How ashamed must he have been every day; every minute of his existence?
There was the one whose mother insisted on bathing him; she also forced him to report every bowel movement so that she could wipe his anus. Well into adolescence. When it became obvious that he had reached puberty he protested. She paid no attention to his complaint. At this time she began to masturbate him, while telling him that he’d never be able to find another woman that would treat him as well as she did. Little wonder that he had trouble functioning sexually; he also was unable to defecate when he was away from home.
There was the one who grew up in a low income neighborhood. One of the gang members that plagued the street that he lived on used him as his own prostitute. He feared for his life if he complained.
The outstanding student who wanted to be an artist, but whose father browbeat into a career in medicine. He hated every minute that he spent in an exam room. Or the lawyer whose mother left him in charge of his two younger siblings beginning at age eight. Some days she would be gone since early in the morning. She left no food for them to eat.
I thought about all of these people when the Hastert case hit the newspapers a couple of days ago. One of the recurrent comments that the journalists felt compelled to make was that this man was third in line for the presidency. As if this made a difference; as if being powerful and reasonably accomplished was an antidote against abuse.
We make this mistake. We think that these horrible things only happen in ghettos or Third World nations. Only to alcoholic parents. Only when the neighbors are all horrible parents, so nobody feels the peer pressure to report mistreatment.
It happens in your neck of the woods. Probably every day.
There’s a lot written on the circumstances that lead to abuse. Certainly poverty and substance abuse are major precipitating factors. I read something very interesting, though, about the underlying psychology behind abuse. There are authorities who believe that many cultures fail to accept that children are individuals who have rights.
This statement hit a nerve.
“Children are made to be seen…”
“Don’t spare the rod…”
Many times I’ve heard patients who bring their children to the office threaten them with physical violence. This is deemed acceptable.
Then I thought about the story in the Bible, where Abraham was told that he had to murder his only son… and he accepted!
Maybe we need to change our way of thinking. Children are not possessions. Because we talk about “my son” maybe we take this to mean that this boy is ours in the same order that a house or a car is. Maybe we need to begin to think of children as small nuggets of gold that we have on loan. It is our duty to help them grow, but we should always keep in mind that they don’t belong to us.
Maybe if every parent had a constant reminder that they must and will be set free…
A solution to the issue of child abuse is long overdue. We cannot call ourselves civilized when the most conservative estimate says that 10% of our kids are not getting the love they need. If only we forced our legislators to divert one tenth of what goes into weapon production to do research and treatment on this cancer!
It’s there; it’s real. Will we have the courage to face the facts and try to act?