Donna VanLiere, Guest Blogger12:23 AM
As we finish out the month of April I thought this was especially appropriate. I'd like to thank Donna for being my guest today.
When Will We Do Away with this National Recognition?
By Donna VanLiere,
Author of Finding Grace: A True Story About Losing Your Way in Life . . . And Finding It Again
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. We take one day to remember mothers and fathers, those who gave their lives for this country, the signing of The Declaration of Independence, a man who gave his life in the name of civil rights, and the day Christ was born. I have often wondered how many children have had to be neglected, slapped around or sexually violated in order to designate an entire month to prevention. What does it say about a society that is more concerned with its economic checkbook than the abuse of its children? Are they somehow related? I don't have the answers but only more questions like, How did this happen? And, What can we do to eradicate it completely so April can be designated National Something Else Month?
The focus for the month is on children but I wonder how many grown children of abuse are remembered? They are the silent victims who have stuffed down or sucked up the memories because it's the best they could do. It's estimated there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the U.S. Do they take part in the activities of National Child Abuse Prevention Month? I know I don't.
In Finding Grace (St. Martin's Press, March 2009) I relate briefly (I did not want the book to be heavy with abuse so it's relegated to the first chapter) my sexual molestation by a neighbor when I was five or six years old. No one rushed through the door to save me, the walls didn't fall on or the floor swallow up what was happening in the bedroom of that dilapidated farmhouse. It just happened. Period. I knew that what had happened to me was wrong and that I should never talk about it. So I didn't. Ever. There's just never a good time to bring up abuse. Who wants to drop that egg on a dinner party? I didn't set out to hold secrets but shame is a great motivator. For years I thought that what happened was my fault: I shouldn't have been playing hide-n-go-seek in the house, I never should have gone upstairs, I should have fought harder or screamed louder. Round and round I went until I convinced myself that I was the one in the wrong.
As I began to write more frequently I began to get requests for speaking engagements. In small gatherings I would talk about the abuse as part of my journey. This continued for a couple of years and then I was invited to speak at a conference with 14,000 people in attendance. "Will you talk about the abuse?" My husband asked weeks before the scheduled event. I assured him that I wouldn't bring it up.
"There will be too many people," I said. "Nobody wants to hear about that."
"I think you're wrong," he said. "Don't you think the percentage of people at that conference who have been molested is pretty high?" I shrugged, which seemed like a perfectly good answer to me. "That's not an answer he said."
On the day I was flying out I took the kids' to my in-laws house across town. I came home and threw my books, notes and computer in my backpack and realized I had thirty minutes to kill before leaving. Since everything was packed and the house was clean I turned on the television in the middle of the day (a rare feat for the parents of little ones. Usually I can catch every tenth word or so and have to call a friend to fill in the rest. "What'd Dr. Oz say about poop?") The Oprah Show was halfway through and she was interviewing a young girl in Africa who had been repeatedly raped by her father. According to The World Bank, a sex crime happens every twenty seconds in Africa. Does Africa have national child abuse prevention month? If they did, would it make a difference? In this country alone in 2006, 6 million cases of child abuse were reported to Child Protective Services. How many cases weren't reported?
Tears poured down the girls face on the TV and my eyes filled. I don't recall the exact words but Oprah said something like, "Why are you crying?" The girl couldn't answer. "Do you think this was your fault?" Oprah asked. The girl nodded and tears streamed over her cheeks. My heart sank. God can be very pushy at times. First my husband and now Oprah! I got out my computer and began to type.
When it was time to leave for the airport my husband asked, "What are you doing? We need to leave."
"Changing my talk," I said. I shut the computer and put it inside my backpack, throwing it over my shoulder. "I'm talking about the molestation."
My husband grabbed a suitcase and followed after me. "What changed your mind?"
"Oprah," I said, walking out the door.
"Oprah!?" he yelled, after me. "Since when do you talk to her?"
In that short fifteen-minute segment I reworked my entire talk and presented it in front of those 14,000 people and that young girl increased my motivation in writing Finding Grace. When I finished speaking that day people ran up to me in the corridors. They all looked different but their comments were the same: "That happened to me." They were silent victims who'd held their secrets long enough. One young mother said her daughter had been molested but she didn't know what to say or do.
"Tell her it's not her fault," I said. "Then tell her again because she won't believe you. And then tell her again because she still won't believe you."
I recently met a sixty-year-old woman who had read Finding Grace. She grabbed me and whispered, "I am your chapter one." She had never said a word about her abuse for over fifty years so no one ever had the chance to tell her it wasn't her fault.
In this National Child Abuse Prevention Month I say to all the grown silent victims: It was not your fault. It is not your shame to bear. You did nothing wrong. It took me a long time to realize that. Maybe if more of us realize it we can use our voices in prevention and to promote healing. And maybe someday April will be National Chocolate Chip Cookie Month instead. Let's hope.
©2009 Donna VanLiere, author of Finding Grace: A True Story About Losing Your Way in Life . . . And Finding It Again
Donna Vanliere, author of Finding Grace: A True Story About Losing Your Way in Life . . . And Finding It Again, is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Christmas Hope series and Angels of Morgan Hill. She lives in Franklin, Tennessee with her husband and three children.
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