Sunday, 27 March 2011

Collateral Damage just isn't good enough

To Anonymous – comment on “Commentaries on "The Bishop's Man": Reviews & Blogs

I wish that were true. An institution is only as good as the people who run it. When you focus on the people who run it, you are not criticizing the institution, you are criticizing the people. That is part of the problem - and part of what I am arguing in the numerous blogs that I have written on this book. See in particular "All the Usual Suspects" at http://www.sheilaredmond.com/2009/12/all-usual-suspects.html, which was meant to begin a larger dialogue on the issue of the institution. (I have not followed up with the rest of my comments on the book because my personal life took a major hit last year – I am, for the most part, giving myself about a year to integrate the loss of my mother from Alzheimer’s – a horrible way to die)
Part of the problem is that the book is not a very good indictment of the institution. I am well aware that socialization into an institution creates great difficulties - people seldom question their socialization. There is no one in this book that challenges the institution - I reiterate that if that was McIntyre's point, he failed there and with his characters, none of whom question the institution.
Collateral damage happens - isn't that the claim? If what happens to the characters in the novel is collateral damage, then you are reading a book about how the institution is not the problem, it is the "flawed people" who run it that is the problem, and they are the ones that cause the "collateral damage". Thus it is not a criticism of the institution; it is a criticism of the people who run it.
The real question is when is someone responsible for their actions or, in the case of the Bishop’s Man, their lack of action. To the end of the book, he does nothing to stand up and be counted. If he did kill the abuser (there seems to be some question about that), so what? Even there, he is unwilling to take responsibility for his actions. I have discussed other areas where I take issue with the structure of the book and its characters in previous blogs. Are you suggesting that because the Bishop’s Man had been damaged by the institution and, thus is collateral damage, he should be excused for his lack of moral fibre? He is a victim like Danny and that makes it all right that he didn’t do anything?
As I am writing this, I am struck by the fact that these characters are actually exactly what the Roman Catholic church is full of. McIntyre has said in an interview that he talked with priests who all said that this was a realistic portrayal of what it is like to be a priest. In that case, I will reiterate what I have said elsewhere – the sooner Roman Catholicism bites the dust and becomes a footnote to history, the better. If you read more of my blogs, there is a fairly decent critique of Roman Catholicism that is taking shape. It is the core of its belief system that is the problem, not the institution – the sooner people understand that, the better. Needless to say, I am not holding my breath waiting for that to happen – nor would I bet a plug nickel on it happening anytime in the near future. Christopher Hitchens may have an axe to grind but it is a righteous axe!
Since I am teaching WW2 right now, let me use that as an example. If the institution of the NSDAP government was all powerful (as I assume you might arguing that the institution of the Roman Catholic church is), then all those people who were damaged by the institution were "collateral damage" and that includes all of the members of the SS and the Waffen SS who ran the death camps and put millions and millions of people to death (and who brutally slaughtered Russian soldiers in their drive to destroy Russia). May I say, aw shucks and gee whillikers, those poor guys (please not the sarcasm). There were many resisters in Germany – not successful, but at least they tried – I cannot say the same for the Roman Catholics – priests or otherwise.
Over all of the years that I have been studying and writing about this issue, I have found a minuscule number of resisters to the Roman Catholic institution. There are more and more of them all the time, and I have highlighted a few of them in my blogs. Maybe, it would have been nice if McIntyre had showed the Bishop’s Man as just once trying to do the right thing – for example, telling the reporter the truth!
What the priests did (and continue to do) to sexually abused children is soul murder and all those people in the institution (many of whom you suggest are collateral damage) are accessories to that soul murder. To my way of thinking, McIntyre’s book lets them off the hook and ultimately, so do you, “anonymous”, if you consider “collateral damage” a viable excuse for doing nothing at the least and aiding and abetting at the most.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Christianity & Forgiveness from my dissertation

One of the concerns of the daughter is often the question of forgiving the abuser, of making some form of peace with him. Part of the reason for this is the need to find some external validation that the victim was not responsible for the abuse that she/he suffered or validation that it really happened the way she remembers it. This is seldom forthcoming and puts the victims in the position of having to find within themselves that validation. However, forgiving the perpetrator is not a necessity for recovery from sexual assault or any other form of child abuse. These fathers did not do the best that they could. They are not entitled to forgiveness, it has to be earned. Even then, the daughter should not feel obliged to forgive what may be for her, unforgivable and unredeemable. If she wants to forgive, it must be for herself not for the father, the family or her therapist. The daughter has another option. She can simply let go, a feat that is difficult for the daughter. When all of her anger is vented, when she truly understands what happened to her, she can let go of the resentment, rather than let that resentment and anger control the rest of her life." She has then become a survivor.

Forgiveness of one's enemies, of anyone who has harmed you, is one of the 'prime directives' of Christianity. It is not just encouraged but regarded as necessary that a Christian adult survivor of incest should eventually, not just come to terms with her experience of sexual assault, but also forgive her abuser. It is argued that without forgiveness the survivor will always remain unhealed. Christianity with its emphasis on loving one's neighbour and turning the other cheek, forgiving seventy times seven or forever, gives divine sanction and authority to the repression of that anger. It is axiomatic for Christianity that one is always striving to be like Christ, the 'imago dei' is placed as the epitome for which Christians should strive. Christians must emulate Jesus, who forgave those who crucified him even while he was suffering on the cross. There is little material written on therapeutic spiritual intervention for the incest survivor in terms of Christianity. However, a fair amount of material for battered women in abusive domestic relationships is beginning to accumulate. With respect to battered wives, it is argued that forgiveness requires that the abusive husband undergo true metanoia or repentance. These men must turn their lives around and truly understand the evil which they have committed when they beat their wives. At the same time, however, women are told to look to their 'sin of silence' and pray for forgiveness from God. But if the daughter speaks up, she is often not believed. Chaos ensues, and often the family is broken apart. On the other hand, if she forgives her father, maybe everything will be all right.

Christianity, with its emphasis on forgiveness can give the daughter the idea that she must forgive her father even while he is abusing her. And even more distressing, she may feel that she must continue to let him keep abusing her. Letting go is a difficult option for the Christian daughter. Jesus forgave his murderers even while he was on the cross, Maria Goretti forgave Alessandro while she was dying. All the daughter's training propels her to forgiving her father - to the detriment of her recovery. For forgiveness can be premature and impede recovery. To force forgiveness means that the daughter will have to stifle her anger at her father and her anger at god. To make the process that much more difficult, how would she go about forgiving the father god for his failure to protect her after he had promised?

NOTE: I omitted the footnotes from this - people can click on the link to the dissertation if they want to see those.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Forgiveness: a few relevant verses

I just received a comment on one of my blogs on forgiveness.

It is a rather problematic issue but my basic position is that the Christian concept of forgiveness is unhealthy for healing and positive growth for survivors of abuse. I will post the section from my dissertation on the blog. I will expand on it in more depth in a few weeks. It will take more time than I can give it at present. In the meantime, here are some of the verses that underlie the Christian conception of forgiveness.

A few verses from the Christian testament:

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)

As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col. 3:13b)

But I say unto you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; (Matthew 5:39)

Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:21-22)

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven ... (Luke 6:37)

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. (Matthew 18:32-35)

Just another comment!

One should forgive one's enemies, but not before they are hanged. (Heinrich Heine 1797-1856)

Friday, 4 February 2011

'Bout Time I Started Blogging Again

I just received an e-mail from someone who found my dissertation on the blog and asked me some questions concerning a radio broadcast that he had heard. (KPCC: http://www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2010/01/25/child-sexual-abuse-trauma-or-myth/) One of the things that he wondered was why Dr. Gail Wyatt was so upset, as well as what did I think about Dr. Susan Clancy's position as she discussed her book The Trauma Myth.

I haven't read Dr. Clancy's book but will probably send for it via inter-library loan during the spring after I finish teaching just to say I've read it. So the blog will be based on impressions from the radio show based on my own expertise.

My first comment would be God Save Us from Dilettantes!! I suspect that that is what Dr. Wyatt was also feeling.

What Dr. Clancy is saying is well known by any of us who are in the field. There are some people for whom the sexual abuse in childhood was a minimal event but, and its a big but, everything depends on what happened, and on the child's experiences up to that moment. The flasher can cause some children to giggle, for others it can cause trauma. Since most sexual abuse is caused by someone close to the child, the event is always accompanied by some trauma - confusion is trauma - children need to assign meaning to events and any "age-inappropriate sexual activity" requires meaning that a child does not have the experience to be able to find. The more traumatic the sexual activity is, the more likely the child is to block it at some level.

I have real suspicions that Dr. Clancy did not do her homework. She doesn't know Dr. Wyatt's work on child sexual abuse? (See the bibliography of my dissertation for Dr. Wyatt's early work) But that is being nice. I am more suspicious that she needed to be in the limelight again - alien abductees can only take you so far. Note the title of her book The Trauma Myth - makes for good copy in the media. Guaranteed to get her on those wonderful talk shows!

Dr. Clancy was talking about how the problem is that these people who are not "traumatized" still feel guilty. These means that she is deliberately avoiding what guilt does to a person - it can eat away at them - if that does not constitute part of trauma, what does? The callers on the show that wanted to support Dr. Clancy were, to my mind, doing just the opposite. Neither I nor Dr. Wyatt would ever suggest that to either caller, but it the first one is suspicious of babysitters and exerts extra caution when looking for someone to watch her children - if that is not trauma, what is? She has started thinking about it after she had children. Note how she said she never forgot it, she can remember every detail of every time the babysitter sexually molested her - that is trauma. It has changed the way she looks at other people, she cannot relegate it to the recesses of her mind (these are flashbacks and are seared in the brain). The second one is still angry and she is afraid for her little girls - that is trauma and the problem there is because she has not dealt with her anger and is overprotective of her daughters there is a good chance that if it does happen to her daughters then she won't recognize it (which is what Dr. Wyatt is trying very politely to suggest). It also begs the question: "If it wasn't a problem for her, why is she worried about it happening to her daughters?"

None of us want anyone to feel guilty about what happened to them as a child. However that is the norm. We know that children blame themselves when things go wrong (see my dissertation, probably best place is chapter 6 - section on guilt). Witness children whose parents divorce when they are young. They blame themselves for mommy and daddy splitting up and no amount of reassurance seems to change their minds. These traumas - big and small - are processed consistently as we age. As our experience and understanding grows, we re-evaluate our past experiences and put them in a different light. We seldom are able to go back and truly remember how we felt as a child, we tend to remember it through the veil of time.

Most people who are sexually abused as children survive fairly well. I suppose that I am a prime example. I have discussed this in earlier blogs. We manage, we get educated, we get married, we have children, we have jobs. That does not mean that we were not traumatized. In my case, it took a sexual assault when I was 27 to break open the dam that I had built around my memories. Even then I did not go into extensive therapy until I was in my early 30s. I was extremely resilient.

There is a lot of denial about the impact of sexual abuse in childhood. We don't want to believe that we were that impotent, that we were that stupid (witness the one caller who said it had taken her a long time to even talk about it - one of Dr. Clancy's supporters). I have heard so many survivors talk about how it didn't really have an impact on them - despite the lives that they are leading. It is not my place to push them; I no longer do any counselling. I just suggest that if it ever does start to bother them, then maybe they should find a counselor to just talk to for a bit. More often than not, they do. I have students who end up confiding in me when their lives are falling apart.If appropriate, I give them the odd tale from my life - it always helps to know that no matter how bad things seem, one can still succeed. It is not the end of the world, even if it seems like it sometimes.

To get back to Dr. Clancy. She talks about the New Hampshire university research centre and Dr. Finkelhor. However, she doesn't talk about the work of Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk and the research team that he works with at the same place.

I would suggest that everyone go to David Baldwin's Trauma Information Pages. Everything you ever wanted to know about trauma. From the sounds of it, Dr. Clancy should have gone there and read up on a topic of which she seems to have little grasp . When I read the book (not at the top of the pile), perhaps I am wrong about this, but somehow I doubt it.

And for the record, to relegate personal trauma to statistics is the biggest problem that we have. It is all part of just being a number. This is a subject that is almost impossible for people who have not been sexually abused as children, or who haven't spent a lot of time around people who were abused to grasp. Scratch any woman's surface and you will find a story, I suspect. I'll bet that there isn't a woman alive who hasn't at some point in her life been subjected to the unwanted sexual attentions from another person. As adults, these are seldom traumatic - unless there is an underlying childhood incident. They are just a pain in the butt. For children, they will cause some level of trauma; if dealt with immediately, there doesn't have to be a lasting negative impact and appropriate meaning will be attached to the incident.

To a better world - it's a long time coming. And people like Dr. Clancy and the media that support her don't help matters.