Tag Archives: Sexual Abuse

The Nearly Impossible Journey of a Long-Term Survivor

An Inuit youth pulls an infant on a sled along a snow-covered street in Inuvik in Canada’'s Northwest Territories on April 3, 1974. The round building looming in the background is a Catholic church. (AP Photo)

On June 24, 1972, three boys decided to leave their residential school in Canada’s Northwest Territories and walk from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk (“Tuk”), in a bid to avoid punishment for stealing a pack of cigarettes from their dorm supervisor. Without a highway connecting Inuvik to Tuk, the boys had no idea they were undertaking an impossible journey of 90 miles over boggy tundra. At Granta, Nadim Roberts tells the story of Dennis, Jack, and Bernard — just one example of the horrific toll residential schools have exacted on Inuits, the Inuit community, and their traditional ways of life.

From the pond, the boys walked in the direction of the highest hill, where they could see power lines unspooling to the north-east. The 69,000-volt transmission lines had been strung the previous month. ‘These lines go all the way to Tuk,’ Dennis told his friends. He and Bernard were from Tuktoyaktuk, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. If they followed the power lines, they’d be home in a few hours, Dennis said. School would be over soon anyway, and if they left now, they could avoid getting in trouble.

Residential schools had existed in Canada since 1831, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that a significant number of them operated in the north. These government-sponsored religious schools were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture by ripping them away from their families and communities. When Western European colonization and evangelization finally arrived in the Arctic, what had been a relatively unscathed Inuit culture began to change rapidly. Bernard’s biological parents had been part of the first generation of Inuit that passed through these schools. It was in such an institution that they first met and fell in love.

Before 1955, fewer than 15 per cent of school-aged Inuit were enrolled in residential schools. Most children still lived on the land with their families, learning traditional skills and knowledge. Rather than teaching students how to hunt, skin game, and build igloos and kayaks, residential schools taught a curriculum used for white children in Alberta.

By 1964, more than 75 per cent of Inuit children attended residential schools. Their values, language and customs were supplanted overnight by a culture that saw itself as benevolent and superior, and saw the Inuit as primitive beings in need of sophistication. The young Inuit who went through the residential school system experienced an assault on their traditional identities that had shattering consequences: they are often referred to as the ‘lost generation’.

Read the story

We’re Going Through Hell, and Men Need to Join Us There

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

I know what you’re thinking: Not another sexual harassment post. Bear with me.

I’ve spoken to many women over the past few weeks who feel exhausted by the current news cycle, I count myself among them: the endless onslaught of horrific stories, interspersed with the occasional, extremely bad non-apology.

I know it’s tempting to look away, and it’s fine if you have to; please take care of yourself. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad feminist. But it’s important the stories keep coming out, that the issue remains in the public discourse. It feels like we are in a moment of momentum, working our way towards something better, however clumsy, messy, and painful the process can be. It’s a little cheesy, but I keep thinking of the quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” This momentum feels like hell, and we have to keep going.

Read more…

Widespread Abuse in Kids’ Sports Shows How Institutions Enable Predators

(Getty Images)

Sexual harassment and abuse existed in our institutions long before recent allegations against men in power like Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and Roy Price came to light. How do institutions protect and enable these predators, and say things like, “Honestly, it was not on my radar,” when abuse surfaces? This is the question Alexandra Starr tackles in her Harper’s Magazine story examining how the U.S. Olympic Committee inadequately addressed sexual abuse in youth athletics. Institutions like the U.S.O.C. have often turned a blind eye to allegations of abuse until they’re forced to address them in court:

Marci Hamilton — the head of Child U.S.A., an organization that works to prevent child abuse and neglect — travels the country drafting legislation and testifying in statehouses on behalf of sexual assault survivors. She told me that, beyond money for therapy, window provisions help provide victims with recognition from the state that a wrong has occurred. “It is validating,” she said. “It can quiet the voices in their heads telling them they were somehow at fault.” For others reticent to come forward, watching people publicly hold their perpetrator accountable is key.

Hamilton has observed that child abuse at the Catholic Church has generated the most attention, but she finds youth athletics to be no less hazardous. “We have reports of abuse in every possible sports organization — whether peewee or little league or high school,” she said. “The extreme power imbalance between a coach and an athlete — not just an adult and child but a coach and an athlete — creates conditions for keeping secrets. And so long as secrets are kept, the perpetrators are protected.” Lawsuits, she added, “are the only way to force these institutions to disclose what’s in their files.” When SafeSport launched, she wrote that “the U.S.O.C. has moved at a glacial pace,” grappling with allegations of assault over the past fifteen years; “its actions have more often protected problematic coaches than children.” She told me, “What always comes out in the end is that the institution knew more about abuse than just about anybody else. They are also the ones most dedicated to silence.”

Read the story

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Michele Filgate | Longreads | October 2017 | 10 minutes (2,501 words)

Lacuna: an unfilled space or interval; a gap.

Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them. To know what it was like to have one place where we belonged. Where we fit.

My mother is hard to know. Or rather, I know her and don’t know her at the same time. I can imagine her long, grayish-brown hair that she refuses to chop off, the vodka and ice in her hand. But if I try to conjure her face, I’m met instead by her laugh, a fake laugh, the kind of laugh that is trying to prove something, a forced happiness.

Several times a week, she posts tempting photos of food on her Facebook page. Achiote pork tacos with pickled red onions, strips of beef jerky just out of the smoker, slabs of steak that she serves with steamed vegetables. These are the meals of my childhood; sometimes ambitious and sometimes practical. But these meals, for me, call to mind my stepfather; the red of his face, the red of the blood pooled on the plate. He uses a dishtowel to wipe the sweat from his cheeks; his work boots are coated in sawdust. His words puncture me; tines of a fork stuck in a half-deflated balloon.

You are the one causing problems in my marriage, he says.
 You fucking bitch, he says. 
I’ll slam you, he says. And I’m afraid he will, I’m afraid he’ll press himself on top of me on my bed until the mattress opens up and swallows me whole.
 Now, my mother saves all of her cooking skills for her husband. Now, she serves him food at their farmhouse in the country and their condo in the city. Now, my mother no longer cooks for me.

Read more…

Writing the Monsignor

Illustration by Nicole Rifkin

Mary O’Connell | Longreads | September 2017 | 18 minutes (4,609 words)

 

How we loved his very name: Monsignor Thomas O’Brien. The elevated French titlethat magnificent silent “g” — coupled with his sturdy Irish name, which, imbued with our cultural bias, suggested all good things. Monsignor O’Brien can tell a joke like nobody’s business! Monsignor O’Brien loves Jameson shots and telling stories late into the smoky night! Monsignor O’Brien always carries Tootsie Rolls to give to children! Monsignor doesn’t stand on ceremony, no sir! Did you hear him mumble “Holy Shit” when his sleeve brushed the altar candle and caught fire?

Now Monsignor O’Brien belongs to a lost age, our personal Pompeii. Excavate us from the lava ash and see us in our innocence: our voluminous eighties hair and hoop earrings, our hands clutching cassettes tapes, The Go-Go’s, A Flock of Seagulls, LL Cool J. See the random fortune that shaped our days and gave us our bold, laughing profiles, the lowered eyes and caved shoulders of a different experience. It was a time when “monsignor” or “priest” was spoken without the slightest wince, without the explicit worry — uh-oh — before the saddest of the sad trombones replaced the golden crash of church bells at Midnight Mass, before the newspaper stories and the movie and the documentaries told a truth more devastating and inconvenient to the faithful than anything Al Gore could conjure, before Sinead O’Connor ripped up a photo of John Paul II on Saturday Night Live. (Note to my outraged 24-year-old self: Go ahead and proclaim Sinead a delusional attention whore, for that will amp up your moral vigor and you will feel ever so righteous, ever so wholesome! But she knows things.)

Back then, we believed the Monsignor was a holy man, but he also walked among us as a totally regular guy, so we pitied him his natural yearnings stemmed by sacrifice. We mourned with him when he gave a Mother’s Day homily about missing his own mother. We spied him driving through McDonald’s with nobody in the passenger seat, nobody in the backseat. The lonely subtext: Having a family of his own to sit down to dinner with was pretty much off the table.

Yet we imagined that loneliness as sublime. It was the waxen sweetness of ivory altar candles and spent wedding roses, the scrape and rasp of his black wing-tips on the icy church steps at dawn, a dinner taken by himself, something hearty, we imagined, something priestly: Shepherds pie chased with Folgers coffee in an earthenware mug stamped with a chunky Celtic cross. Later, if he craved a treat and if it wasn’t Lent, Monsignor O’Brien might eat an off-brand sandwich cookie leftover from a funeral luncheon while he watched the Chiefs on the small TV in the rectory. Later still, he might lay in bed with a notebook, laboring over his upcoming homily.

Perhaps he would rise and pace for a bit; the business of inspiration and enlightenment was surely stressful, the word of the Lord so far-off, so starry and oblique. In his endearing humility, Monsignor O’Brien would never quite feel up to the task of interpreting God for the rest of us. Did he console himself by thinking that the valor was in the effort, not the accomplishment? Did he click off his bedside lamp and listen to jazz on his AM/FM clock radio as his eyelids fluttered shut? Did Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman take him to his rest? Goodnight, Monsignor O’Brien. Goodnight, Jesus. Goodnight to all those saints and angels who have sung your praises throughout the years.

Read more…

Weight Loss Does Not Cure Depression: How the World’s Heaviest Man Lost it All

Photo by amenclinicsphotos ac (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At GQ, Justin Heckert profiles Paul Mason, who ballooned to 980 lbs. eating to forget childhood abuse and horrific loneliness. Mason lost 700 lbs. after bariatric surgery and discovers that, despite the experiences now available to him with newfound mobility, happiness remains elusive; dramatic weight loss does nothing to treat the underlying depression and emotional trauma that caused him to eat to excess in the first place.

His father, Roy, was overweight and contracted diabetes at age 29. “I remember one Sunday mum cooking salad,” Mason said. “Mum had prepared a salad for all of us with some cold meat. We weren’t allowed to sit at the table until dad sat down. He sat down and looked at the plate, and said, ‘What’s this rabbit food?’ She said, ‘I thought we’d have a change.’ He slammed his plate across the table and said, ‘I want my roast. Now go in the kitchen and cook it.’ She just started crying. He would force us to eat the same size plates as he did. He was quite barbaric.”

That’s when he began to indulge in the comforts of food, which briefly lifted his spirits every time he tasted it. “It hit the back of your throat, and you’ve got that endorphin that’s released in your brain and that makes you feel good. I began to be just like a drunk. I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself.”

His new life was full of wonder, and yet defined by all his old burdens. He still needed huge amounts of medical care. He didn’t have a car. He didn’t have a driver’s license. He didn’t have a social security number. He didn’t have a job. He said that he received $197 a week in pension from the U.K., which is how he afforded his $125 a week rent and the money he spent on groceries from Walmart, where he zipped around on a scooter. When I asked him what he did with himself, how he spent his days, he said “Walmart.” When I asked him how he got around, he said he waited on the bus sometimes, out there on the concrete stoop near the road, and other times he asked either neighbors or worshippers at his local Salvation Army church to take him where he needed to go. When I asked if he had friends, he demurred and then said, “Yeah, a couple.”

Read the story

Eve Ensler on Abusive Fathers and the Culture That Protects Them

In a short essay for Time, playwright and activist Eve Ensler writes about simultaneously understanding many women’s difficulty calling out abusive fathers—like her own and alleged rapist Bill Cosby—and being frustrated with a culture that protects beloved, powerful patriarchs while vilifying and portraying as liars the women who speak out against them:

I think of my own silence early on, and maybe it was disbelief that stopped my outrage. Or protection of a daddy I desperately needed. Or fear of exclusion, exile, loss. Or the horror and heartbreak of experiencing the death of the hero. My hero. Or making a decision early on that the rare moment of love was worth the nightmares….

… could my mother or I, both dependent on my father for money and resources, speak out against his terror? More than forty women have now described their experiences with Bill Cosby, allegedly coaxed into his drug lair early in their careers. How could they speak out and smear and embarrass the moral cuddly king of television, be the slayers of our collective fantasy, and what would that have done to their fledgling careers and lives?…

…It is up to everyone to call out the behavior of perpetrators whether they be famous or not. We must, regardless of their status or fame or wealth or talent hold them to the same standards. We must, as a community, break through our own fear and need to sustain and protect our daddy heroes while we sacrifice our women.

Read the essay

The secret history of sexual abuse inside New York’s Horace Mann School:

Speaking calmly and staring into the flames, he told us that when he was in eighth grade, Wright sexually assaulted him. ‘And not just me,’ he added. ‘There were others.’ First Wright befriended him, he said. Then he molested him. Then he pretended nothing happened.

“No one knew what to say, at least at first. But then slowly, the rest of us started telling stories, too. One of the guys talked about a teacher who took him on a field trip, and then invited him into his bed in the hotel room they were sharing. (My friend fled, walking in the rain for hours until the coast seemed clear.) Another told a story about a teacher who got him drunk and naked; that time, no one fled. We talked about the steakhouse dinner, which was a far cry from abuse, but an example of how easy it can be for boundaries to blur and how hard it can be, in the moment, for students to get their bearings. Finally, we all went to sleep.

“Prep-School Predators.” — Amos Kamil, New York Times

More longreads