Editor's note: What follows here is a deeply personal account of one woman's experience with sexual abuse and its lasting impact.
Editor's note: What follows here is a deeply personal account of one woman's experience with sexual abuse and its lasting impact. In light of the One Billion Rising event Friday (Feb. 14) on Taos Plaza to raise awareness of violence against women and children, this story is a timely and much needed reminder of what is at stake. If you have experienced sexual abuse or know of someone who has, there are people and organizations in Taos who can help.
On Sundays I receive a benediction and it guides me through the week. I'm experimenting with the possibility that there is something worth blessing in me.
But it was a few years ago when things became really bad that I started keeping a daily prayer altar. Then I journeyed back and forth to the Baja peninsula, Guatemala, El Salvador and the southern Mexico states of Yucatán, Campeche and Chiapas.
I visited sanctuaries, sacred sites in nature, street murals, Mayan ruins. I walked in the forests and swam in the waters, visiting with whales and dolphins, flamingos and shorebirds. I joined with others in prayer, lighting candles and doing ceremonies.
It wasn't always this way in my life, a daily surrender to the spiritual path. But I broke down to the bottom.
And for a few years I was on the outside of life. I was trying to breathe, to sleep and to do what I called "approximating human."
I was stuck in the underworld in a grief that seemed to have no end.
Now I am slowly rising back up into the light and into the fullness of my being.
A dark journey
My journey through darkness is like that of so many others who have lived through violence - raw, solitary and shockingly devastating.
I spent many long nights alone in remote places trying to coax myself to stay in the land of the living. I called up the beautiful faces of my sons and of the children that I had met, measuring out doses of pure love that we had exchanged, breathing in the sustenance until morning.
Throughout the world - and alarmingly so in our country - there is a swell of rage, a battling atmosphere, where all those who wish to continue wielding power by instilling fear are fighting like crazy to maintain control. I refer to this phenomenon as "violencers doing their violencing."
Fortunately, people everywhere are gaining momentum to speak out against violence and to insist on basic human rights.
There is a vast spectrum of violence that is perpetuated on children, ranging from neglect to abuse. My own story originates with sexual abuse within family systems, or incest, but my recovery and life work delves into finding and offering solace to children who are surviving all forms of violence.
Healing through helping
I work with young children in Taos, and in Mexico and Central America, most of whom are struggling with poverty and violence. I offer healing through the modalities of cranio-sacral therapy and vibrational sound medicine. I have also joined relief workers and local caregivers to deliver provisions of food, water, and medical and school supplies to children in crisis.
I have worked in Guatemala in the emergency shelters following the eruption of Volcan Fuego, with sick children on Nicaragua's Ometepe Island and in Antigua Guatemala in a hospital for malnourished babies. Recently I reached out to orphans and street kids in Chiapas. All of these young children negotiate violence every day - political and cultural violence, harsh climates, food scarcity and lack of sustaining resources. Most of them have also suffered neglect and abuse within their familial systems and in accordance with life in shelters and on the streets.
Taos County also has its share of poverty and domestic violence. We convince ourselves that we have systems in place to adequately monitor abusive situations and to safeguard children. Thankfully there are dedicated individuals and a few programs aimed at finding solutions, but we have a long way to go.
Being with children in their vulnerability is what has saved my own life.
Somehow unbelievable survival occurs regularly.
One example stands out to me.
When I worked in the Guatemalan shelters, I treated children who had just escaped the volcano that buried their communities. Most of them had lost their families and homes. Their futures were unknown. Beyond the natural disaster, needless suffering occurred due to the government's poor warning and emergency response systems, the restriction of outside aid help, the stockpiling rather than timely distribution of donations and the use of military force to contain the crisis.
Despite being traumatized and in shock, these children were incredibly playful and trusting. Our exchanges had an unexpected magical quality, with angels among us. Many of the kids that I treated were resilient and commanding of their own lives. They found ways to free themselves in the moment, something that I had forgotten how to do.
I noticed that wherever fear is palpable, hope makes its appearance, seemingly out of nowhere. This shift in energy could be called a miracle or a sign of a benevolent God. I experienced it as grace, as a repairing of my heart.
My account of violence is one voice with hundreds of other women's unheard voices layered within it.
Every week news about violent offenders is reported. We track the arrests, the trials, the sentencing. We celebrate justice.
However, for so many survivors of violence, speaking out is too dangerous. Child sexual abuse, in particular, rarely comes out into the open. When it is disclosed, it is difficult to prove. Traumatic memories are stored and revealed on their own time. Abusers often do not wield visible weapons.
It is good news when any one of us makes it. Speaking the truth disrupts the silence and it creates the potential for change and for justice.
Survivors cast out safety lines for others to grab onto.
Any one person's light can be the shine that keeps another from giving up.
In 25 years of working with women and children within the fields of social work, education, health and healing, I have witnessed the impact of what I can now only think of as violence in its myriad forms - grabs for power that destroy the human spirit. Countless young children's lives have been irrevocably damaged by violence. So many central nervous systems catapulted, so many brains that cannot flourish, so many tender hearts shut.
The risks of speaking up
My own life has been threaded with violence, imbedded into family systems. My father sexually abused me as a child and he beat my brother with a belt.
I later married into a family where violence took the form of powerful, smart men using the church and the psychological arena to covet power, demand loyalty and to alledgedly practice ritualized sexual abuse passed onto young relatives.
Following a subpoena and my deposition against the alleged abusers I lost my birth family, many other relatives and friends, the sanctuary of my family life with my children and my place in the community. My health then plummeted as I negotiated unbearable pain.
The trajectory for those who speak out against child sexual abuse, especially incest passed on generationally, is predictable.
Victims and advocates are the recipients of spirit-killing responses by the world around them.
They are commonly dehumanized, marginalized, demonized and pathologized.
For example, a few of the things spoken to me:
"You're crazy, you have been brainwashed."
"You are too damaged to know what's right."
"You have ruined our family."
And threats by relatives to force my compliance:
"This is a battle, and if you're not with me, you're against me and I will take you down."
"You better do what's right or things are going to get very bad for you and you're going to lose your children."
Remarkably I maintained an enduring belief in the strength of the relationships I had with my sons, trusting that our deep connections could not be adversely impacted.
I was very wrong.
I couldn't fathom how cruel and calculating violent offenders can be once threatened with exposure. Then after the family systems rally together in solidarity behind the perpetrators, or "heros" as they have been called in my family, there isn't much left of life that feels livable.
The fallout of such abuse isn't unusual, according to Taos Mental Health counselor Kat Duff.
"Repeated incidents of sexual abuse in which the child is too frightened to tell, or family members refuse to believe him or her, often result in long-term problems including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, suicidality and chronic physical problems," Duff said.
Incarcerations, poverty and homelessness can be additional consequences, as well as soulless wandering.
We seldom hear the voices of survivors, the "approximately 3.7 million children who experience child sexual abuse each year in the United States," according to the Centers for Disease Control. Boys and girls alike are suffering from child sexual abuse that the Department of Health defines as " a complex life experience, not a diagnosis or a disorder."
It is these missing voices, so many of them the young girls whom I have met through my work, that I refer to as the disposable girls.
Occasionally a trial or a murder involving child sexual abuse makes the headlines. There is a temporary wave of concern, maybe a brief public outcry.
Really examining the epidemic would turn our society upside down, and we have been unwilling to do so. According to the CDC's report on gaps in child abuse prevention, "Little investment has been made in primary prevention, or preventing child sexual abuse before it occurs. Limited effective evidence-based strategies for proactively protecting children are available." One solution to prevention means "adults must take the steps needed to prevent child sexual abuse."
The seemingly simple solution of adults stepping up to keep kids safe is actually complex due to underreporting, limited funding and resources for education and advocacy - and fear.
It is easier to assume that we do not have a wide-scale problem here. If we are touched by this reality we give our trust over to investigators, mental health experts, lawyers or judges. Unfortunately, no part of the population has been spared. Our educational, medical, behavioral health and judicial systems are limited in their capacities to prevent, protect and prosecute. Sometimes those in trusted positions are part of the problem.
According to the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico, "Sexual violence has been perpetrated in our communities and we need to understand the epidemic if we intend to change it."
The nonprofit Darkness to Light, based in South Carolina, which has empowered 2 million adults in 76 countries over the past 20 years to prevent child sexual abuse through education and advocacy, reports that "child sexual abuse is the most prevalent health problem children face with the most serious array of consequences."
I have experienced patterns with violencing in my work and home life that are consistent with research findings regarding child sexual abuse:
• Most child sexual abuse is committed by men and perpetrated on young female relatives, according to the CDC.
• There is a split between the perpetrators' public and private personas. There is a group surrounding the perpetrator that insulates him with loyalty, enabling the abuse to continue.
• Abusers can be from any socioeconomic background.
• Poverty does not cause abuse. However, oppression and ongoing states of insecurity can lead to higher rates of rage and violence.
Based on statistics, we can assume that in every group of 25 kids in our community - a classroom, a sports team, a church congregation, a birthday party or a random group at the playground - several of the children are or will be experiencing sexual abuse.
How to help
When you suspect that a child is being abused here are some ways to respond.
• Pay attention, listen, believe, advocate, love.
This response will be the exact opposite of blaming, shaming, interrogating and silencing. The vast majority of the time the threat is not stranger danger, it is someone in familiar proximity.
• Find more ways to prevent child sexual abuse.
Let's demand that our community examine this epidemic by tackling the resistance, gathering the hard facts, researching solutions and widely distributing information regarding signs and symptoms.
• Pressure our government and institutions to prioritize this issue and to fund programs that are successful.
We can't get overwhelmed and give up before we've started.
Remember what is within our immediate grasp - for each of us to become beacons of light and sanctuary now.
If we have consensus that every child is sacred, then it becomes our responsibility to care for all of them as if they are our sons and daughters.
Carrie Moon runs Safe and Sound healing practice for children. She is writing a survival guidebook for the disposable girls. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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