At various times in the history of our country, there have arisen groups of individuals who were intent on ferreting out some dark truth while exposing lies. In some cases, these groups have changed the way we respond to issues and have obtained justice for those who didn’t have a voice and could have never found justice on their own.
Sometimes those who have risen up have been journalists trying to follow a story. Journalists who were determined to follow that story through to the bitter end.
I watched a movie a few nights ago about a group of journalists who began researching priests in the Boston area who were suspected of abusing children. Initially, they believed there were 13 priests in the area who had sexually abused children who were under their spiritual leadership. These journalists were outraged to find there were so many. To them, it was unthinkable. But as they kept digging, they found at least 89 – a number that stunned them. They became intent on exposing these priests for what they were and they were determined to bring them to justice. They were sickened by the depravity of those priests and agonized over the children that had been damaged as well as those who might still be in harms way. As a result of their efforts, a huge cover-up was exposed. The Catholic church was called into account and hundreds of priests were prosecuted.
Justice was served.
When I was a little girl, a little girl who was being molested, abused, preyed up, raped, fondled and used as a sex toy by my father, people didn’t talk about incest. People didn’t even whisper about such despicable things under cover of darkness or in the privacy of their homes. Fathers wouldn’t do this to daughters, or so it was believed. If a child was abused, it was physical, not sexual in nature. If it was sexual, a stranger had to be involved. Not a family member. Especially not a parent.
Even if I had gone to a newspaper, they wouldn’t have published my story. Because mine was a tale of a child who was indeed sexually abused by their father. Sexually abused in every way and manner that can be imagined.
All these years later, the outcry against incest has been much quieter than the protest against other types of abuse. The voice has been hushed. For the most part, those who speak about this atrocity have largely gone unheard and unacknowledged.
Incest is still a vile word that is rarely spoken.
This is extremely unfortunate because it has been proven that the most damaging form of childhood sexual abuse is that of a father sexually abusing a daughter. The damage goes deep. It rips apart the foundation of that child’s beliefs about life, others and self. If the child was brave enough, strong enough and healed enough to have shared their stories in hopes that someone would listen, they have been disappointed when their revelation was met with rejection and denial. At best.
There have been a few movies that attempted to depict the horror and long-lasting annihilation of those abused children. The fragmentation of their heart and soul. But for the most part, people have turned away from them, blamed the victim and refused to acknowledge the depravity of the abuser. Few have embraced the broken child, especially when that child became a broken adult.
Justice is not often served.
One of the barriers to obtaining justice is the statute of limitations. This statute determines the length of time that can pass once a crime is committed after which the perpetrator can be held accountable for their offense. It doesn’t matter how strong the case may be. If too many years have passed before the abused was able to speak of their pain and shame, nothing can be done. The offender effectively gets away with murdering the soul of their own child because the law gives them a “get out of jail free” card.
I reached out twice before it was too late. Not that it did any good.
When I was 13, I approached the pastor of the local Baptist church. I told him my father was sexually abusing me and that both of my parents were emotionally, physically and verbally abusive. I didn’t know all the right words to use – I had never heard the word incest at that time. But I told him what was happening to me. The sexual abuse started when I was around 5. I had survived a great deal, but I knew my ability to cope was slipping. This pastor calmly shut the door to his office, then forcefully told me to go home and to never, ever, ever lie about my parents again. The church offered no refuge or help, and in fact, made me feel even more strongly I was at fault.
The second time I reach out, I was 14. I tried to tell my favorite teacher, but she did not believe me either. After her rejection, I gave up. I realized my story was not one that people were willing to hear.
There were seasons in my life when I opened the door a crack and tried to reach out in an attempt to heal. I even forgave my parents, though I could never have a safe or genuine relationship with them. I read books…the few that were available at the time. I sought counseling, hoping a professional could help me put the pieces of myself back together again. But it is difficult to find your voice and tell your story as you try to heal when the people and events that significantly shaped you either cannot be revealed or the listener can’t or won’t hear.
I tried to release the pain by selectively speaking of what had happened to me. It was long past that magical line that the statute of limitations draws in the sand of time, so justice was not an option. Nor did I seek it. I didn’t want anyone to pay. I only sought wholeness. My desire was to experience a life that was worth living. But my shy and cautious attempts to tell my story led only to more rejection and isolation.
I got the message. My story was unspeakable. I was repulsive. I needed to keep my mouth shut and my story to myself.
I’m thankful there are brave individuals who have doggedly pursued those who have abused children. I’m thankful that in some cases, they have obtained justice for victims. But I can’t help but think about the children who, like me, will never obtain justice, who will never have their anguish validated, their shame expelled and whose hearts will never heal because they are forever required to hold within them the toxic and damaging events that fragmented their souls.
These children, these children who are like me, will never be able to speak because our words are swatted away and disregarded. We are rejected. Few are willing to listen to even the most basic generalities of our experiences. There is no one to act on our behalf or to set us free of our anguish and shame. There is no one to stand beside us, the broken, and help us rebuild all that has been lost, stolen and crushed.
There will be no justice. Not that justice is what we long to achieve. We would, in fact, be grateful if only someone would take the time to listen and hear our story. To connect. To care.
That is all the justice we require.