Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lessons from a militarized childhood:
They don't want to hear

(In this entry, I assume you are aware of my goal of raising a lot of money to help child soldiers by donating all of my earnings from sales of the hardback of Children No More to Falling Whistles. If you're not, you can go to the Children No More site and learn more there. I'll be here when you return.)

What I experienced in my three years in a militaristic youth group is nothing compared to what true child soldiers undergo. I believe, however, that they and I, as well as many abused children, emerge from our experiences having learned many of the same lessons. To help folks without these backgrounds understand some of the challenges facing these kids--and those who seek to help rehabilitate and reintegrate them--I'm going to talk about some of the lessons I learned--and that I believe they did, too.

Before I do, though, I want to make clear that I know how unhealthy these lessons are, I don't live my life by them, and so on.

They are, though, what such kids learn, and they are what I learned at that age.

Also, beware that there's going to be rough language and generally harsh stuff in all of these lessons. That's the nature of them.

Enough disclaimers. Let's get on with today's lesson:

They don't want to hear

Years later, when you're a grown-up, if you dare to tell anyone, they'll almost always say the same thing: Why didn't you tell someone? Your mother? The adult in charge?

What a shame you didn't think of that.

How stupid do they think you were? Of course you tried telling people, but then you learned another lesson: They don't want to hear. Adults are not on your team. They don't want to see the horrors right in front of them. Any reassuring lie will do.

Oh, he's just exaggerating.

Of course we wouldn't do that!

Let me reassure you that no such thing would ever happen here.

He's just going through a rough phase.
Rough is what follows the times you're dumb enough to tell. Then, you really pay. They're good at hurting, though, so the bruises are where they're hard to spot--and besides, you're clumsy and fall a lot and bruise easily, ask any of the adults. It doesn't take long before you learn to do the hiding, because then there's no risk you're accused of telling.

It really never changes. All those years later, when you dare to tell, most people don't want to hear. It makes them wonder if that could really have happened. It makes them suspect you're exaggerating, even when you tone it down so they can take it. It makes them uncomfortable. Fair enough, it is uncomfortable, and it should be, it should be so fucking painfully uncomfortable that we all agree it simply may not, must not continue.

You see, you can't help but having moments in which you believe that maybe, just maybe, by bringing it all out into the light, by forcing open the eyes of all those who look away or refuse to see the abuses going on all around them, that you can make it safe for the next young ones to tell.

You don't really believe that, of course, not for an instant, but sometimes you try anyway.


John Lambshead said...

This, of course, is how paedophiles get away with it.

Anonymous said...

As adults, we realize that telling someone about injustice is an appropriate action to take. But as an abused child, when someone who is placed in charge of you does horrible and unspeakable things, your child's reaction is to believe that other adults must be in agreement with your treatment. Why else would they have placed this person in charge of you? They must know; they must realize. It must be OK. You have a perfect family, everyone says. You must be the one who's wrong. You're the one that screwed up. If only you had scraped the plates right, folded the towels right, remembered to dust under the piano, not been such a smart ass, anticipated what you were supposed to do - then the abuse wouldn't have happened. You deserved that beating - you messed up. Yes, as an adult we can recognize how irrational that line of thinking is. Sometimes. Sometimes, it never goes away.

Mark said...

John, it's how so many people get away with child abuse. I hate it.

Mark said...

Anonymous, I agree both that the natural reaction of the child is to believe it to be appropriate and that it never goes completely away.

J. Griffin Barber said...

This worst thing about such filth is that they almost never resist arrest.

Mark said...

Griffin, I think the worst thing is that they never get a chance to resist, because the vast majority are never caught.

Eric said...

My dad was an alcoholic who was fond of games that involved electric shocks and hot pieces of metal. My mom whipped me bloody for mentioning it. She knew, but that was a threat to the family. Sometimes they really don't want to hear.

You know what's worse - a lot worse - than thinking it's your fault? The thought that there was nothing you could do to change it. I'm 53, and to this day I cling to that guilt because it's less scary than the thought that there really was nothing I could do.

Mark said...

Both are terribly frightening, Eric. I hate what happened to you.

Michelle said...

Griffin and Mark, you are both wrong. The worst thing that comes out of this is the child learns to never, ever let up their guard. They are lead to believe that they asked for the abuse and it was their fault. This is compounded by the fact that if they do tell, they are told they are lying, so they learn to just take it and pray someday it stops. Valuable lessons that do more damage than can be imagined.

Mark said...

Michelle, there are so many bad aspects of these situations that identifying the worst one is impossible.

J. Griffin Barber said...

And I shouldhave qualified my statement: The worst thing about my job, is that in bringing them to whatever justice, they rarely resist.

Mark said...

Good point, Griffin.

Anonymous said...

I don't know all of you. I can't begin to imagine what all of you have been through. I'm sorry for the hurt in your lives. I've kept a few foster children who have been through different forms of abuse, the hurt and fear in their eyes breaks my heart. I just love them when they let me,listen when they talk, and pray for them the rest of the time. I pray you all find peace. I love you all.

Anonymous said...

Eric - I'm so sorry for what you suffered in your childhood, and for the effects that still linger.

Mark said...

Thanks for the two kind responses, Anonymous.


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