The other night I watched Sunitha Krishnan’s TED India talk about her fight against sex slavery and Deliver us from evil: The Catholic Church lies, a documentary about clergy sexual abuse. As a note: both the talk and documentary carry trigger and adult content warnings. I’m not familiar with either of these forms of abuse, other than what I’ve read and seen through the media, but both of these clips affected me.
Sunitha talked with passion and courage when describing the horrific stories of some of the people she has rescued. To see the smiling photos of the children who had been used so badly by society that they died of HIV/AIDS before their 10th birthday… The main focus of her talk, was not to tell horrific stories, but rather to confront societies attitude towards the survivors that she and her organisation Prajwala have rescued. She was challenging our intolerance, judgments and the cruelty directed towards this group of survivors. Turning a blind eye to the abuse is not acceptable… Finding excuses not to employ these survivors is not acceptable… Society shuns these victims and ostracizes them to the fringes, making it difficult to find employment and develop a sense of self. Society refuses to open our minds and hearts to their plight…
Within my context, I know that my mental health issues would be treated with scorn, derision and skepticism amongst my co-workers. I know this, because I have seen how they have treated students who have mental health issues – with one being labeled a stalker! Because I had to take time off work after my ex-husband attacked me, everyone at work knew that I was a victim of domestic violence. In the months that followed, I got sympathy and understanding from some people, but I also heard domestic violence jokes from others. If this is the reaction within my small workplace to what is a relatively common occurrence, I’d hate to imagine how they would react to my full abuse history – would I hear child abuse or suicide jokes?
My situation cannot be compared to the situation of those rescued from sexual slavery. I live in a relatively wealthy farm based city where homelessness and drug problems are considered the greatest blight on our landscape. I will never know the horror of the sexual slave industry as experienced by those children; and looking at their stories of survival, I’ll never experience their strength. The context and extremity of the situations is worlds apart, yet there is still a general theme regarding a lack of acceptance by society. Both situations show how people can be stigmatised for being a victim…
The documentary, Deliver us from evil, affected me for several reasons – our family was asked not to return to the Catholic Church after the mother started using birth control, and we have been subjected to varying forms of odd Catholic based indoctrination by the father, youth groups and camps. But, the single thing that affected me the most about the documentary, was witnessing the father’s pain at knowing his daughter had been victimised by one of the priests. The priest was a man the family had welcomed into their home, and he had abused that trust on so many levels. The images of this grown man crying and distraught over the pain inflicted on his daughter and his inability to protect her were so confusing for us. Is this how an otherwise healthy family reacts to such an event? When I told the mother that I had been raped by three teenagers when I was 7 or 8, I don’t think she shed a tear. I know she told my oldest brother, but he hasn’t said anything to me about any of my abuse history… I compare this to when my sister was raped by her boyfriend when she was in her late teens, and both my brothers were willing to track him down and beat him up. They didn’t, but there was some emotional response. Am I so worthless that I don’t deserve such emotions? I don’t want anyone to be hurt because of what happened to me, but some sort of reaction would have helped me gain some form of validation that I am a person worthy of concern.
Again, I can’t compare what happened to me to those who suffered at the hands of the abusive clergy. There can be no generalisations made that those who were victims of the clergy were from otherwise healthy families or that all parents were as demonstrative in their grief over what had occurred to their children. The daughter of the man who was open with his grief had been abused for years, and the daughter had made a conscious decision not to tell about the abuse for fear of her father being sent to jail for killing the offending priest – basic questioning as a child had led her to believe this as being a very real possibility. So again, there are some similar general themes, but the context is totally different.
Sex slavery, sexual abuse by the clergy and my own situation should never be compared in regard to their severity; but there are similar themes which run through all incidents – societies acceptance and reaction to the victim seems to be the most common. Anger seems to be the another. Sunitha mentioned that she trained her survivors in male dominated trades because they have the courage and strength to push through and succeed in that area – she mentions anger as being one of the drivers. The survivors of the clergy abuse, openly and strongly voiced their anger. I’m just starting to realise that I might be angry about what happened to me, and more importantly how angry I am at those around me at the time – the mother suspected something but did nothing, while my sister would’ve been blind not to notice.
The question for all of us is, what do we do with that anger?