I struggle with news of institutional child abuse. Every time I hear a story of priests, teachers, coaches being ‘caught’ for this heinous crime, I rejoice that they have been unmasked. These public perpetrators are parental figures. All abuse of children is unforgivable. Anyone who touches a child in any inappropriate way is a criminal. It is good that the public is outraged by this, outraged that a person in a position of authority should use this power in this way. It is good that the law and the courts take this so seriously and that finally, finally, the catholic church is doing some more evident soul searching.
Those victimized are receiving public concern and compassion. I applaud this. Some, who have been institutionally victimized, have received public apologies and monetary compensation. This advances us as a humane society.
But I am also torn in the direction of ‘what about us?’
We, incest survivors, have not been abused by parental figures; we have been abused by our parents. We are legion by comparison. Our abuse statistically starts at a much earlier age and lasts longer. Our perpetrators have easier access to us.
Those of us who are incest survivors need to speak more. Yes, just the word incest makes people squirm with discomfort. Nobody wants to hear a story about incestuous abuse. The fact that incest is taboo makes talk about it uncomfortable and hearing about it impossible. Telling our own stories causes disbelief and sometimes blame. So #letstalkaboutincest.
As a society, we have still more soul-searching to do. Let’s get out from behind the denial. We need to question our patriarchal roots. We need to plumb the depths of child abuse and the depths are us. We need to start looking inward, into our smallest institution, the family.
IMAGINE THIS: up to 20% of all fathersi are removed from the family unit and placed in detention to receive the best possible therapy at state expense. But, is our society willing to give the families extra support in terms of childcare, give them free access to mental health care and financial assistance? Hasn’t it been simpler to let it be, to let it remain a family matter? Doesn’t it cost less, both financially and emotionally, to be in denial?ii
In fact the current cost is much higher: a significant segment of our population evidencing their pain with drug abuse, eating disorders, homelessness and who are also prone to suicide and prostitution. Eventually we pay the price and if we don’t stop this crime the cycle continues.
When Donald Trump was watching his 16-year-old daughter Ivanka host the 1997 Miss Teen USA pageant, he turned to the then-Miss Universe and asked: “Don’t you think my daughter’s hot? She’s hot, right?” In the almost 20 years since, Mr Trump has called his eldest daughter “voluptuous”. He’s said it’s OK to describe her as “a piece of ass”, though she is a senior executive in his business empire. And he’s said that, if she wasn’t his daughter, “perhaps [he’d] be dating her”. iii
When a man voted into such a high office can joke, ‘old boy’ style, about incest, how do we trust any of our elected officials to make the laws, make the changes, needed to end incestuous abuse?
i. For current research see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4010601/
ii See this article https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/america-has-an-incest-problem/272459/