What would you do

If you haven’t watched the new show Person of Interest on CBS, it’s worth the watch.  The basic premise is a team with special tools and skills help people who are about to be involved in a bad situation.  At the risk of spoiling part of the plot, the focus of this episode is a woman who hunts down the sexual predator who raped her sister.  The trauma of the event eventually led to her suicide.  The sister comes up with a foolproof plan to dispense with her sister’s attacker.

Most people have entertained thoughts of taking justice into their own hands when someone they love is hurt but few actually go through with it.  Part of it comes down to becoming a version of the monster you want to destroy.   Most people with even a slight degree of conscious can’t go all the way, or at least there is a chance they can be turned around with a reality check.  It is one of those things that can eat away at you if you let it.  Everyone needs to find a way to move on.  The clip below is from the end of the episode.   It doesn’t provide any answers, but it does make you think about what type of person you are when faced with this type of challenge.

The Economics of Abuse

We would all like to think that when something bad happens to someone that the justice system is just sitting there waiting to respond at a moment’s notice.  Well this isn’t the fire department.   And if you think that Special Victim’s Unit wrapping up a case on 60 minutes has any bearing on reality, you would be disappointed.  The crimes may be the same, but the timelines are quite a bit different.  At one point the time for a child sexual assault case to come to trial in New Haven Connecticut was 10 years.  I suppose we should consider ourselves fortunate with only 4 years.

The reality is that courts are over capacity and in today’s economy, there just isn’t enough money to prosecute.  One of the things we found was that 5 of the courts in Connecticut did not have victims advocates despite being mandated by state statutes.  When we pushed the issue we were told by the Office of Victim Services that unless we could prove that our civil rights were being violated, they could’t do anything about it.  We eventually got one after about a year and a half, but this is just one of the ways economics affects the abuse process.

In the normal course of budget shortfalls you will routinely see positions go unfilled for as long as people can stand the inconvenience.  With today’s economy, things are a little different.   In Topeka Kansas the county has elected to no longer prosecute misdemeanor crime.  4th degree child sexual assault and risk of injury of a minor generally fall into this area.  In addition to pushing these cases off the books the city council is considering “repealing the part of the code that bans domestic abuse” .  What an easier way to reduce the cost of fighting crime.   Eliminate the activity as a crime and then you don’t have to prosecute it.

In Hartford, CT the schools started asking children if they had been sexually abused.  The system couldn’t handle the number of cases.  So what did they do?  They stopped asking the question.   Several years ago I spoke before a state senate panel regarding child sexual abuse.  During the session I directed a question to the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families and was told “if the child is safe in their home, we can’t help you”.  I’m paraphrasing, and I don’t mean for it to sound cold, it’s just how things are setup.  And I actually worked for the Department of Children and Families at the time.  Organizationally, if you aren’t arrested or in foster care your service choices are limited.

So where does that leave us in a time when state and local budgets are being cut back to the bare bones?  First advocate for your child in whatever systems you have available to you.  Second educate yourself to help your child through whatever challenges they are likely to face in their lifetime.   And third try to find a success path for your child that is not dependent on government services or the outcome of a trial.  The cavalry isn’t always going to come to the rescue.   Even when they do, that isn’t always the key to long term success.  Ultimately the tools are within you and your child.  You just need to find them and figure out the right path.  And what’s the cost of that…priceless!

Boundaries

boundaries are strange things.  We generally don’t give it them a second thought.  Sexual abuse brings them to the forefront though.  Victims tend to see the world as a series of boundaries.  Be conscious of how your child looks at boundaries.

It may just be his or her room.  Does the door need to be open or closed?  Do they create barriers that make it difficult to get in and out their rooms?  These are all considerations when you look at the boundaries in your life.

What about sports or games?  Are they open ended and broad, or are they   contained and do they have specific elements of boundaries in them?  Now this is true of most sports, but there seems to be an attraction to sports where the boundaries are a prominent aspect of the game.  Some examples are volleyball, tennis, and golf.  Hockey, baseball, and basketball still have a defined playing area, but going out of bounds is not a penalty.

Spacial relationships about where you live are often a  similar consideration.  Is the area wide open, or enclosed?  Look at the situations where your child may be uncomfortable and see if any of these aspects come into play.  Everyone has their own preferences in life and some of them come as the result of circumstances such as this.  Try to look at where boundary issues impact your child’s life.  Once you know what makes them comfortable in the world,  you can try to make changes accordingly.

Past the breaking point

The challenges of being a parent who’s child has been sexually abused go on for a very, very, very long time.  Clothing sizes and hair color are likely to change in the process.  You’ve probably said “I can’t do this anymore” on more than one occasion.  But then you wake up the next day and deal with the next batch of challenges.  Chances are that you haven’t hit the breaking point yet.

One of my favorite movies is “The Count of Monte Cristo”.  There is a scene where the priest tunnels into Edward’s cell for the first time.   Edward hasn’t seen another human in years and has started to lose his mind.   In an awkward introduction, he simply states that the number of stones in his cell and that he has counted them many times.  To which the priest replies, “Yes – but have you named them yet?”.   Edward breaks down at this point and begins his transformation.

Several years ago I met several of the Iran hostages.  One of the men said he got in the habit of talking to his watch.  His captors were convinced they had radios of some sort.  He did this to try and screw with them.  Instead he realized that the cameras that were pointed at them around the clock weren’t actually working.   On a regular basis the hostages were taken into a freezer, stripped, and forcefully interrogated.   One day one of the men had enough and told his captors to simply kill him and he wasn’t going to answer any more questions.  They didn’t kill him and that was the last time anyone was taken to the freezer.

There is a moment between insanity and clarity where something breaks the cycle of your thoughts.  Your brain can reboot and things start working again.  I wish there was a magic formula for getting there.  Sadly facing death is a common element for many people.  It’s sort of a cliche but that which does not kill you does make you strong.

If you have simply given up, chances are that most of your tomorrows will be a reflection of today.   If instead you keep pushing ahead and challenging what is holding you back, you have a chance to break through.  It will probably be the hardest thing you do in your life.   But once you have dealt with an impossible situation, a world of possibilities open up to you.

When you can’t protect your kids

When you get married most people start off with a short list of things that you promise to do that usually ends with “til death do you part”.  It gets modified based on personal preference and believes but it is still a part of the standard contract.  Fatherhood has a set of rules as well, but they are often unspoken.  It’s part of the “Dad’s Code”.  If it were written down somewhere it would probably be something along the lines of “to do everything in your power to protect your child from harm, including sacrificing your own life for your child’s safety.”  Every year there are a couple Dads that find their way onto the front page of CNN by making this ultimate sacrifice.   Most of us never have to go that far, and even more of us aren’t in the right place to protect our children when something bad happens.  When that bad thing is sexual abuse, almost 20% of us fathers will experience not being there to protect our children.  And no one even wants to talk about it.

Finding out your child has been sexual abused leaves you questioning life, the universe and your responsibilities as a father.  There is no rulebook for this part of your life.  Chances are you don’t know anyone who is in your current situation and don’t know how you got to this place.  For some fathers feelings of guilt can be overwhelming.  Some people shut down, turn to an assortment of chemicals, or worse.  For the uneducated, the immediate response is that they let their child down and should have been able to prevent the abuse.  The truth is actually very different and much more complex than you would think.  If you are lucky enough to have access to a Child Advocacy Center (http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/), most of them have a 10-week class for non-offending parents.  It basically covers everything you never wanted to know about child sexual abuse.  During one of the first couple of classes the instructor explained to us how all children are molested.  It’s sort of like learning how magicians cut a woman in half, except you want to throw up.  It’s more than a little disheartening to find out how easily we can be manipulated by people we trust.  This will mess with your head, but you owe it to yourself and your child to educate yourself.  Education is your best tool to deal with this issue going forward.

Too many fathers take this crushing blow of primal failure as something to be covered up.   Things would be better if we just made it go away.  They don’t talk about it with other people, and all too often they shy away from legal action, and even getting therapy for their child.  As a short-term strategy, this actually tends to work for most people.  Long term, the damage becomes much more apparent.  Abuse victims are much more prone to future domestic abuse, mental illness, substance abuse, and a myriad of other problems.  Dealing with the problem when it happens will help rebuild the foundation of your child’s life.  It is important to be proactive and get your family the help they need.  We all stumble from time to time.  This is one of those times that fathers really need to be there for their kids.

Sexual abuse is probably the last of the topics that people don’t talk about.  Cancer, homosexuality, and mental illness are all topics that have become acceptable to discuss publicly within the last couple of decades.  Sexual abuse still isn’t there yet.  Quite frankly it scares the shit out of people that “the strangers” we have been warning children about for decades are not the offenders.  Roughly someone the child and the family knows and trusts commits 97% of all sexual abuse.  It is almost unimaginable to think that we are that poor judges of character.  In almost all cases it’s someone we know and trust.  If not a family member it is often a religious figure, teacher or other person who is active in your child’s life.  They tend to be active in their community and are known for being good with kids.  They are usually the last person you would suspect of doing something like this.  People will quickly take sides and you will find that your community, church and sometimes even your family becomes divided.  If you are wondering whom to believe, less than 3% of allegations of sexual abuse are made up.  And if your child is below the age when they should have knowledge of sex, the likelihood of this being made up is practically zero.

So whether you have lived through this, or hope that you never do, I would like to modify the “Dad Code” for you.   The reality is that this is just one of the bad things that can happen to children.  And much like car accidents, leukemia, and autism, it’s not something you actually have control over.  Most people will wrestle with this for a long time.  Unfortunately I don’t have one-size fits all cure for this guilt.  I will offer you this challenge though.  A father’s responsibility is not just to protect their children from harm when they can.  It is to do everything they can to help their children be successful regardless of what challenges the world might present them with.  We can’t always be there when they fall, but we can be there to help them get back up again.

 

Under Suspicion

On Saturday mornings I tend to browse Hulu.com for movies that look interesting that I might have missed in the theater.  This morning something with Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman jumped out at me.  I think I was pulled in by the mystery element and it’s tropical setting.  If it had said sex offender stalks children in Puerto Rico, I probably would have passed.   but anyway I got sucked into this who dun-it.

This remake of a French film follows a night of interrogation of a prominent lawyer accused of raping and murdering two young girls.  Anyone who has had their child molested will be a little uncomfortable watching this movie.  There are lots of twists and turns and the question of who is guilty and who is innocent isn’t addressed until the very end.  And even then the lines are blurry.    I hate to leave you with a cliff hanger, but I don’t want to spoil the movie for you.

It’s worth an hour and fifty one minutes of your life.  If for no other reason than to remind us that what we see in front of us is not always the truth.  A lot of parents spend too much time beating themselves up over what they didn’t see.   All your instincts and senses can tell you one thing, and you can still be wrong.  It just means we are only human.   Sometimes we just need a reminder.