For three days now I have been – what is the best way to put this? – inundated by messages about girls being sexually abused. Hearing stories. Reading stories. Thinking of these stories. Reading about the healing power of forgiveness and wondering how anyone can forgive at this level of cruelty. Questioning what and how I teach young women. Disturbing others by mentioning – nonspecifically – a student who has been raped. Having the very image of motherhood shattered. I wonder if I will be able to let go of the images in my head – and if I can’t, never having had anything like this happen to me personally, how can I hope for others to let go?
The statistics are gruesome. Globally one in three – 1 in 3 – girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. For boys it is one in five. It is a silent epidemic – only 10% of girls ever speak of their experiences. I try to apply this to the people I know and it is difficult to believe that this statistic holds true – I suspect what happens is that the abuse is more concentrated in areas where there is extreme poverty, or when it is more of a cultural norm (i.e. Pakistan). Not that I am naïve to the fact that it occurs in Haddonfield – but I know it is happening with great frequency in Camden.
Somehow I can deal with it better when it is a father, uncle, brother forcing himself on his daughter, niece, sister – though it still turns my stomach and makes my heart ache. But I have heard stories of mothers holding their daughters down during the act and my heart begins to scream. Mothers selling their daughters in crack houses for drugs. Daughters being passed around for $20 and a six pack of beer (heard that one on NPR, no lie). Will I ever look at Mother’s Day the same way again?
How do I stress the importance of safe sex to a group of girls when some of them may have already been forced to have unprotected sex? Am I not just increasing their anxiety? Do I name the possibility of this having already occurred when I teach this subject?
What has pushed me over the edge enough to dare to write this (though why not write? There should be no shame, no hesitancy to uncover the brutal truth) is the powerful article in today’s New York Times Magazine about victims of child pornography:
I know this is just awful to read. It has been awful for me to hear and to write. But it is worse when we turn a blind eye to what is occurring so close to us. To think for a moment that there is nothing we can do about it. I don’t believe that for a minute. UrbanPromise provides stability and a safe place to express oneself. Some don’t express themselves until years after graduation, but when they are ready to process their childhoods they return to the people who were always there for them. And now with the advent of behavioral health services becoming accessible, I have hope that youth will be able to tell their stories earlier and thus begin the journey of healing sooner. Experiences like this will always be a part of who someone is, but it doesn’t have to define her (or him). I hope we can empower youth to know this in their hearts.
Come Holy Spirit come and heal us all.