Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What makes a survivor instead of a victim?

I was assigned a sexual abuse case where the girl was doing well in a foster home in a small Texas town. She and her dad both agreed he had only touched her breast once. She had an older sister, better endowed. Reported untouched. She had younger brothers.

She was a young teenager when the abuse occurred. Laws were different then. She was removed from the home. She seldom saw her mother, who stuck with her husband. He was placed on deferred adjudication and forced to attend an abusers' group each week. He hated it.

This was back in the '90s.This girl''s father was not bright, nor capable of enlightenment. Periodically, he would show up at the police station with a few pair of tighty whiteys and a toothbrush and toothpaste in a paper sack, and say "I can't stand it anymore! Send me to jail!"

And the police and I would chuckle. Comic relief, right?

The girl wasn't comic She was tragic. It took her years just to be alone in the same room with any man, years to start wearing clothes even approximately her size. In a town as small as she was in, boys and girls got engaged, even married, before graduation. Not her. And her grades were exceptional.

We had her all set up with a scholarship, a career that would pay well, that she said she wanted. And months before graduation, she threw it all over to go with a married man with abuse flags all over the place, but no accusations, and she was 18. We could do nothing.

Now we come to last week's story of the woman missing so many years, who has lived a horrible life for 18 years and has two children by her abuser. Apparently, she was so submissive she has stayed voluntarily, even as an adult. Stockholm syndrome? People tend to think that when something like this happens, the victim is inevitably broken beyond repair.

But there are exceptions.

Several years ago, I went to a foster home to interview another girl with good potential ( how I came to dread that phrase) who was a teenager. And her foster mother, young, with two small children and a loving husband, told me she had been kidnapped at age 9. Because I thought the information was private at the time, I did not keep notes.

The young woman's family had just moved here from out of state when she was snatched. She didn't know anything about Texas, and she was kidnapped from her bed and taken to a shack in the wilderness where she had no landmarks she recognized. She was miles from her family. At first she didn't try to escape because she had no idea which way to run if she did get away. So she was isolated and abused for three years. Finally she saw her chance. She ran. She waved down a man in a car on the road and asked to go to the police. Needless to say, they were pretty disbelieving at first. But she persisted, and she came back to her loving but astonished family who thought her dead. They had taught her independence and decision making from birth. They were strong people, and apparently did a great job of teaching her to be, also. They loved her deeply.

She not only survived, she flourished.

Then she decided to try to help kids who had been abused but didn't have the family resources she had. She was a strong advocate. Most of her foster girls finished high school, and a number went on to college. Because when "her girls" said recovery was "too hard," she could look them in the eye and say, "I did it. And you can too." And she put her whole being into helping them do it.

What makes the difference? I don't know. I do think individual character is a part. I think a stable, loving home is a part. I think teaching your kids how to think and believe in themselves is a part--and there's not enough of it out there. But there's a good bit.

And that's good to know.


clairz said...

Oh, thank you for sharing this story, especially at this time when we've all been reading about that terrible kidnapping and wondering how a person gets through something like that. I am so glad that you have these experiences to draw on and can remember the hopeful ones.

Jess said...

Remaining a victim means that the control you were under is never relinquished. I think some victims are left with so little, they can never let go of the only thing they have left - as horrible as it may be.

charlotte g said...

I didn't realize till now I had comments. Jess, if you check back, I want to say I honor and understand those who cannot move on. I have great joy for those who can. And I'm not sure it's our choice. Some of it is the character we were born with, and some of it is family. And yes, I grieve for those who cannot.