Did you all enjoy NOT hearing about my schoolwork? I hope so, because I HAVE enjoyed not bitching about certain classes and papers that I really didn't want to write. Of course, these were for the 'required' classes not pertaining to my social work major and it would only be natural for me to complain about those. I will say though, that when I return to campus in a couple weeks, I'll be TRYING to refrain from giving my (former) Government professor a glare for giving me the only B grade of my last semester - it was a damned B-PLUS, he couldn't have let me have the A-minus???? Hmmmph.
I promise, although this blog has SOME (really, just a little bit) to do with what I'll be taking in my spring semester, it's going to be more focused on a bigger problem I'm noticing and realizing that we have in today's world. Perhaps this is the main reason for me not being able to, for the life of me, come up with a good title for this blog entry. It's just...something has been on my mind for the last couple of days, and it's really messing with my ability to come up with something more inviting to put down as a title. What I'm about to discuss has left me mentally speechless in some ways. I'll try to make as much sense as possible, though, so, bear with me, please.
My Intro to Child Welfare class's (the one 8am class that I have this semester) syllabus was released over the weekend. Now, you'd think that since I still have just under two weeks' vacation remaining, I'd only glance at it and get an idea of what textbooks I'll need, or that I'd MAYBE get a head start on some of the reading, but no. I've already read through the instructions for the two papers that I'll be expected to write, and it's already been (jokingly, but sadly, also accurately) suggested that I might be FINISHED with these papers before the class even starts on the 21st. (Go ahead and chuckle. I did.)
Anyway, my Child Welfare professor has already released all of the supplemental readings needed - the articles that we won't be finding in our textbooks and that we'll be discussing in class. I opened up the document and started reading. It was a compilation of child abuse cases that, sad to say, did not yield a happy ending for the dozen or so children written about. The articles are nothing short of heartbreaking, and his intent, I want to say, is to demonstrate that there are cases that do indeed fall through the cracks, and that there are certainly flaws in the child welfare system, and there have been, for a very, VERY long time. There have been WAY too many losses, and WAY too many children have fallen victim to it. The system is in dire need of rectifying, but this is truly a process and requires for a LOT of corrections along the way, re-writing of policies and all of that fun stuff I'm still only beginning to learn about.
One story in particular, I remember very clearly from 1987 - I was eight, at the time. The story of little Lisa Steinberg, a six-year-old forever-angel who was beaten into a coma by her (illegally!) adoptive father, Joel Steinberg, who was at the time, a defense attorney. In a rage, he beat Lisa to a bloodied pulp, to include dealing a traumatic blow to her head, and left her bleeding and bruised and alone before going to some kind of social event. Steinberg's common law wife, Hedda Nussbaum, found Lisa unresponsive, but alive, the NEXT FUCKING MORNING, and called 911. Nussbaum claimed she was also abused regularly by Joel, and that her crime was neglecting to report the abuse of Lisa, who, after this particular beating, was in a coma for three days before being taken off life support. Fifteen minutes after being disconnected, Lisa gained her wings, and the only consolation to the millions who would grieve a child they'd never met, was that her suffering had ended.
This was one of the nation's WORST cases of child abuse. It was a MAJOR news story that I remember watching, seeing the headlines and even crying for Lisa, who was only a couple years younger than me. Just a little girl, just like me. And her father had killed her. I was able to identify the piece-of-shit's face without seeing his name - as soon as I read about what he'd done, his face was permanently etched into memory. I remember being more appreciative of MY father, who had NEVER raised a hand to me in anger. I remember thinking, this never happened to me - I wasn't abused. LISA was abused. Child abuse meant beatings, it meant being forced to eat their own feces, it meant being locked in closets, it meant being tied to radiators, it meant starvation. It meant one or both of the child's parents had harmed them terribly, and had put them either in the hospital or in coffins. This wasn't something I'd experienced, so I felt, for lack of a better explanation, unable to fully empathize with Lisa and what she might have gone through at the hands of her adoptive parents. There was always a sadness in me, though, from when I first heard her tragic story - perhaps I understood her pain in a different way, but at the time, I couldn't make any connections.
(I'm gonna come back to this....because now there's another thought forming....just wanna finish up on this, first...)
A lot of time has gone by. Eventually little Lisa's story had faded, but I'd never forgotten about this little girl - ever. And when I opened this article and saw Joel Steinberg's monstrous face, along with his wife's negligent bit*h-face, (I'm sorry, she's just as guilty as he, if you ask me - she testified against her husband, I think, mainly so she could avoid severe punishment for her negligence!) it all came flooding back. I probed deeper, and did more reading (on my own) on this case - to refresh my memory. In doing so, I learned that Steinberg was released from prison in the early 2000's and is now a free man, living in New York City. What the fuck????? HOW does a monster like this survive a stint in prison after murdering a little girl?? HOW has he not been knifed down in the middle of Times Square? HOW? I know this was a lifetime ago. People forget, people probably WANTED to forget, and as soon as he was put away, (for 29 years? Does that even seem fair?) they considered justice for Lisa served. Life went on, more and different horror stories have emerged, and that face I'd memorized - became DIFFERENT faces. I also have to consider that the Lisa Steinberg case is probably one that most of my classmates don't remember, as it occurred long before any of them were born. I remember it, though, and I remember Lisa. It is my hope, though, that when my classmates hear her story for the first time, that they, too, recognize just HOW flawed the child welfare system is - just HOW unnecessary it was for these beautiful children to die, and that we're just going to have to do better, to keep MORE children from being hurt or worse.
And now the other thought...I did tell you I'd get to it....
When I was still young, (maybe 10ish?) I remember the Oompa watching One Life to Live. I may be wrong on the name, but I knew that it was a cheesy soap that, I think, is still being aired today, despite said cheesiness. For some reason, I was home from school - and was sitting in the living room with my mother while she watched her soap.
There was a rape - on the show. I remember the man pinning the woman to the bed, and the woman fighting him. The man also struck her a couple of times. I asked my mother what was happening, and she said, 'he raped her.'
"What does that mean?" I asked her.
"It means the man forced the woman to have sex with him."
"Oh," I said. I probably went back to whatever I was doing, but do recall that graphic scene on television bothering me. Not to the point where it was triggering anything, but it is something I STILL remember. Perhaps it is because I'd have an experience a few years later and I'd mentally come back to it, but, who knows?
That was the day that I learned what rape was, by my mother's definition. Granted, I don't think a child my age would have been able to handle elaboration on what ELSE rape was, but for the moment, I knew what it looked like. I was able to recognize my own sexual assault at 17 as a rape - based on my mother's definition. The man who did this to me - forced me to have sex with him. It wasn't verbatim with what happened on the soap opera, but it involved force and it involved violence. My own situation - there was no question about. My perpetrator hit me, pinned me and I fought for as long as I was able to. He had sex with me, and I didn't want it or ask for it or give my permission. That was rape. There was no question in my mind about that.
Following so far...?
Ok, good. Moving on.
I now had my definitions of what child abuse and what rape were, without expanded understanding of the more serious, the more silent/unseen and potentially, the more deadly forms of both abuses. It's the same with Domestic Violence. I'd always thought that it meant one spouse was physically abusing the other - and gave no second thought to the gaslighting, the mental, the verbal and the emotional abuse my own husband was dishing out - that, I thought was because I was a miserable wife, I was too damaged to be what he wanted me to be. I wasn't even considering that one isolated incident during the end-stages of our marriage, when divorce was already in progress, when he'd had sex with me AFTER my telling him that our physical relationship was over. In my mind, it was more helpful to consider it a 'last hurrah,' and that we WERE still legally married at the time, so....what's one more time with the father of my children? This wasn't rape - it didn't happen like it did in the soap opera, it didn't happen like it did when I was 17. This didn't count.
Yes, it does. It counts.
And even though I was never beaten by my parents, there was still child abuse...there was abuse by someone else, and potentially my mother's relationship with denial, that left no visible marks. There was abuse of my mind, also leaving no marks visible to the naked eye. At least, nothing ever was confirmed, on account of my having no memory of anything that could be submitted as evidence that it was truly CSA that happened to me. The CSA, I felt existed solely because of my behaviors as a child - a child who wasn't exposed to sex or sexual activity at a young age likely would NOT have behaved in the same way. There is plenty written about my story in previous blog entries, so if you'd like elaboration on this or on the rest of it, feel free to look for the blog entry titled "Installment One: The Formative Years.'
Even though there were no beatings from my husband, there was still domestic violence. I was still afraid of him, but not because of what he would physically do - more so what he'd say, how he'd manage to make me feel two inches tall using just his words. I'm no longer married to him and no longer live with him, but he STILL holds an element of power and control over me, where he needs only make one statement, and over and over again, the things I want to and have said, are reduced to mere whispers that no one can hear over his higher-than-thou opinion. He's always right, I'm always wrong, even though we're not having to make joint decisions on things having nothing to do with the kids we share.
Friends - we as a society, are in trouble. If 'trouble' isn't the best word, then at the very least, we have a very serious problem. I told myself a long time ago, (okay, it was perhaps not that long ago, as my own realizations manifested and sunk in only a few short years ago) that I wouldn't lie to myself anymore, and that I was going to do the best I could in encouraging others to not discount, dismiss or make light of any of their experiences, because - they all count. ANYTHING that has made us feel badly about ourselves - counts.
We MUST take a few minutes to re-define what all is involved in this trifecta of abuses. Every day, there are survivors questioning themselves and their experiences, even invalidating themselves when it's, in all honesty, not fair to themselves to be doing so. Perhaps you've also been told what something was - your definitions were obtained without elaboration on what ELSE it could pass for, and you've had to take someone's word for what child abuse, sexual abuse, or domestic violence truly was. It leaves WAY too much room for misinterpretation and self-doubt and that is, I believe, what makes it MORE tragic.
Maybe our abusers, themselves, forced a definition onto us from an early age? (For example, CSA doesn't always physically hurt - sometimes it doesn't go beyond fondling and inappropriate touch, and this child might have been told 'if I'm not hurting you, how can this be bad?,' or 'this is how I show you love.')
See what a clusterfuck that can cause in one's mind??? And furthermore, what damage it can continue to do, should we allow ourselves to believe the definitions that others want us to believe?
Rape isn't always violent. Sometimes it's silent, sometimes the word 'no' is NOT even uttered. Sometimes it's done as a result of coercion, so that one doesn't have to deal with confrontation or with making their assailant angry or hurt their feelings. Oftentimes, rape is committed because we simply don't fight it....and for whatever reason we choose not to fight, we MUST know that there was a deep, meaningful, VALID reason for it and that it doesn't, in any way, make it okay! If it wasn't wanted, if it wasn't one THOUSAND percent agreed to with an emphatic 'YES,' then it was wrong. And, this is a new one for me - but even within a marriage, mutual consent should always be given. If crystal clear, conscious, SOBER consent was not given, we should ALL be allowed to consider that it was the wrong thing. PLEASE remember all of this. PLEASE expand your definitions, friends, because your feelings DO MATTER.
CSA doesn't always hurt. Child abuse goes beyond beatings or starvings. We can't always see child abuse, whether we've experienced it ourselves and suffered no physical pain - or we know someone else who has experienced it. The system continues to fail SO many beautiful, innocent, PERFECT children. Consider the ways the system has failed YOU - because it has. It's failed me, too. I'm sorry to all of my friends who were failed as children - this, I understand all too well. Tell yourselves that it doesn't necessarily have to hurt, and that this was NOT love, even though someone you trusted may have told you otherwise. That's a truth you deserve to know, too, and a truth you're ALLOWED to recognize and adopt as your own.
And how about that wife whose husband tells her (you may place me in this category) that if she's not having the shit beat out of her on a regular basis, then she has no reason to complain? She has everything she needs - a roof over her head, a spouse that provides, what's she got to complain about? When in reality, she has a lot indeed to be upset about, that initial definition of domestic violence, that definition that doesn't quite apply, is blocking any and all rational thought beyond what you've already defined. If this is you, and you're also that person dealing with a verbally abusive spouse, please know that you're in JUST as much danger as you would be if your spouse is throwing punches - and you don't deserve that shit! You DON'T, no matter how much they may make you feel that you do.
I'm also realizing as I embark further onto this journey into the helping profession that there is so much anger within me - that this line of work I've chosen is either going to make or break me. On one hand, I'm not going to be able to become too emotionally invested in any one child's (or survivor's of rape, domestic violence, etc) case - but on the other, I'm going to see and hear a whole lot that pisses me off and I'm going to be finding myself increasingly disgusted with our broken system and frustrated that I'm just one piddly cog within the whole of it. And because I have experience with pretty much every form of abuse under the sun, I'm going to have a deeper understanding of why things are second-guessed, why there are suspected 'gray areas' (and I'm not saying they're there - I'd rather say they DON'T exist because to say there is one, allows for more room for self-doubt) and why certain things are a constant, continuous struggle and why healing seems so complicated at times.
I know this Child Welfare class, once in full swing, is going to take a toll on my emotional state, mainly because I'm going to be reading about actual cases of abused children and in learning more about the variety of ways they were failed where they could have been HELPED, where they could have been SAVED, I'm going to hurt. Over and over, I'm going to find myself either crying for them or wanting their abusers to pay a bigger price for their crimes. If these pieces of shit are not on death row, scheduled to be executed, then they're not paying and they'll NEVER truly pay for the innocent life they've destroyed, but that's just my opinion. NO ONE who hurts a child, or abuses another person in ANY WAY, deserves a mere slap on the wrist or to be walking free...but that is not my jurisdiction nor my choice to make. This, like many other things, is out of my hands.
My primary focus will be on helping those who HAVE suffered abuse at the hands of another - be it physical, mental, verbal, emotional, medical, elder, or sexual - and capitalizing on how I can help them to heal from these wounds. It's my goal to show them that none of these marks, be they visible ones or otherwise, are their fault and that there is NO justifying abuse of any kind. There's NO excuse for any of it. My mission is to keep reminding others of that. Every day for the rest of my life, if need be. One man, woman, child, day, email, phone call, blog post at a time, in hopes that those cogs that surround me that are still grinding and stuck, will eventually begin to turn again, and that this system that is so fucking miserably broken will start to work as it should.
I'm sorry this blog entry was a bit on the deeper side, tonight - I just didn't expect to be re-acquainted with Lisa, and those children with stories like Lisa's, so soon. Or maybe I did. I AM going into social work, after all - did I really think this was going to be easy? I guess I just need to brace myself because I am starting to see a whole lot of ugly that could have been prevented and need to be prepared to have these horror stories repeatedly thrown in my face. Shit's getting real, and I'm hoping I made the right choice. I can tell that this is just one of many future rants I may make on broken systems and perpetrators who deserve to die.
In closing, a little advice for those of you who have been reading up until this point...(thank you, by the way!)
Don't doubt yourself. If it feels wrong, it was wrong. Don't minimize, or allow anyone else to tell you that what you've experienced was 'no big deal,' 'small,' or 'insignificant,' because that's NOT true. Take a minute (or a few) to self-validate, to re-define, to tell yourself (repeatedly if needed) that your trauma was 100 percent real and that you deserve to be believed. You deserve for your voice to be heard, no matter your age.
I know I said I was starting my 2020 eat-healthier plan this week, but that's going out the window; at least, for tonight. I barely touched my dinner earlier, and now that I've purged all of the thoughts of the last couple of nights onto this page, I'm wanting to comfort-eat - and so, I shall. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to sleep tonight - it's been a battle with the tossy-turnies all week. While I'm tired, I'm still not sleeping as well as I should be. At this rate, going back to school could be easier to adapt to - or harder. We'll see.
On that note, I'm wishing you all a good day/evening - depending on what part of the globe you're tuning in from. My love and hugs to you all!