Call Me Lucky

Monday, June 30, 2008

Call Me Lucky

Lucky as a lad

Say what you will about the man but if Barack Obama isn't elected, the weakest among us will be hit hardest. The elderly, the poor and particularly children will suffer the most if we're saddled with another bullet-headed president. Among these groups, it's the children who concern me the most. I've been interested in their plight since I was a boy.

This doesn't mean I support Sen. Obama's recent denunciation of the decision handed down by the Supreme Court that ruled capital punishment for rapists of children is unconstitutional.
The New York Times excised remarks Obama made concerning the decision:
Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said, "I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, that the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that does not violate our Constitution." He added that the Supreme Court should have set conditions for imposing the death penalty for the crime, "but it basically had a blanket prohibition, and I disagree with the decision."

I hope this response was simply a matter of political expediency for the Democratic candidate. Obviously the last thing he needs is to have John McCain labeling him "soft on child rapists." But then, had the Illinois senator joined the rest of the civilized world in opposing the death penalty, he could have been out of this one by simply maintaining a consistent stance on the issue.

Does it really matter? The decision has been made and won't soon be reversed and so Obama's views don't particularly matter. Even if the Supremes had ruled the other way, the worst case scenario would only involve the execution of some vicious rapists of children, right? No one else would be affected. No one, that is, except for the raped children and they'd be all for the state-sponsored elimination of these human jackals, wouldn't they?

I can't speak on this issue as a raped child. I can only speak as an adult who was raped as a child and I oppose capital punishment for those who rape children. I was much younger than 12 when I was assaulted so in theory, my rapist could have been sent to the death chamber by Sen. Obama's rules.

Rules that Supreme Court Justice Alito spoke up for by dissenting. The NYT continues:
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. sharply disputed this conclusion. He said that because many judges and lawyers had interpreted the 1977 Coker decision as barring capital punishment for any rape, state legislatures "have operated under the ominous shadow" of that decision "and thus have not been free to express their own understanding of our society's standards of decency."

Unfortunately the ominously shadowy Alito either doesn't care or knows nothing about what looms over child rape victims or he'd stop carrying polluted water for neo-cons and use his power to help shape a less oppressive and less
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brutal society. Child abuse thrives when authoritarians rule -- authoritarians like Samuel Alito. Abused kids are already freaked out enough without having bloodthirsty men in robes boohooing their inability to take a life for an eye. Alito has inveighed against compassion at every turn but now we're supposed to believe that this pro-torture reactionary is thinking first of children? To employ a term Sanctimonious Sam despises, spare me.

Many people are so overwhelmed by the thought of child abuse that they'll do just about anything to change the subject when it is mentioned. The most common device these subject-switchers utilize is the ultimate decree. They'll say, "I think if someone gets caught abusing a kid, they should be rounded up and killed! Case closed!" Once you proclaim that you're in favor of executing pedophiles, what else is there to say? You have advocated sweeping them under the ultimate rug and that's that. Problem solved. The problem, that is, of having to discuss child abuse.

Pronouncements of lynch mobsters notwithstanding, I wouldn't have wanted my rapist put out of his own misery and into mine. I started life without blood on my hands and I aim to keep it that way. Had the man who raped me on numerous occasions not died in prison while serving his third term for sexually abusing very young boys, I might have gone to see him. My personal revenge would have been to show him that I did not become what I resisted, that I hadn't grown into a cruel and heartless man. I would have told him that he inflicted a burden upon me that almost killed me, and not just when I was nearly asphyxiated during his savage assaults. I'd have told him of the encumbrance I dragged along with me for decades that, through hard work, I had managed to lighten. In short, I would tell him that although he inflicted a lot of pain upon me, he had not succeeded in ruining me. Then I would tell him that I was sorry that he had such a miserable and wasted life. Finally, I would ask him why he thought he had ended up doing the things he did. Maybe I would have  discovered some context for the man, even if I had to sort it out of the manipulative lies for which pedophiles are deservedly notorious.

I couldn't do any of this because by the time I figured out who had raped me, he was dead. The news of his demise did not cheer me. I just thought of the end of his awful life in a cruddy jail cell and wondered what led to such a waste. At least I didn't miss my chance to confront him because he had been killed in my name.

People who support executing rapists of children fail to consider a crucial issue-- the age of the victims. The victim in one of the cases the Supreme Court examined was eight years old when she was raped. That would make her twelve or thirteen right now. She has enough of a challenge in front of her without having the state presuming it should kill on her behalf. When I finally dealt with the horrors of my childhood, I had enough brutality to reconcile without adding an execution to the list. Unlike the poor child in the aforementioned case, the perpetrator of the crimes against me was not a member of my family. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to deal with having had one of my parents' siblings killed to settle a score for me. I can imagine that such a state action could cause a very large schism in a family, a schism that (to one extent or another) would trace back to the victim. This would place yet another burden on the child -- in large part because adults wanted to make a grandstand play that would help distract everyone from considering how such a crime might have been prevented in the first place. Sorry we left you alone with that evil man but to make up for it, we had him killed!

Almost everyone wants to avoid this subject and who can blame them? Breaking silence about child abuse is so damned disquieting. When, as an adult, I began dealing with what happened to me, I talked to close friends about it. A very few were just great and couldn't have been kinder. Numerous others had the same question for me. They'd ask, "Are are you talking to anyone about this?"

I'd think, "Yeah, I thought I was talking to you. But clearly you believe I should only speak to people who are paid $150 an hour to hear about this shit. I guess you don't understand that it's tough for me to trust strangers -- particularly strangers who sit there and only say 'hmm' every 15 or twenty minutes. It can be kind of nerve-wracking. After you do that, it could be kind of nice to speak to a trusted friend."

The "are you talking to anyone" people were a bargain compared to the lynch mob advocates, particularly for me. I'm hampered by prejudice because I oppose the death penalty for anyone. Even if I were to be murdered, I would not want my killer executed. You can't kill someone without making someone else into a killer. I cannot see how anyone could ever justify that.

Even if I supported the death penalty, I wouldn't want child rapists killed simply because they were once children themselves. In all likelihood they were abused children. While most victims of childhood sexual assaults don't grow up to become pedophiles, the vast majority of pedophiles were sexually abused as children. Who knows what would have happened to me if I had been raped a few more times, or a few years later, and had been tricked into believing I'd been acting on my own initiative? Would my social contract have been completely voided? I can't say. Life gets pretty damned nuanced when you can consider yourself a lucky childhood rape survivor.

Another reason I don't want pedophiles executed is because we need to study them. The more heinous the criminal, the more important it becomes to at least try to figure out what the hell makes that person so dangerous. There's no question that these people need to be segregated from society. When it comes to confining convicted child molesters, I am no bleeding heart. Sadly, I don't think people over the age of 21 who offend in this fashion can ever be trusted again. Perhaps they could be reformed if we didn't have a prison system that's heavy on punishment and light on rehabilitation. Unfortunately, our prisons are just about the most lawless places in our society. Maybe if prisoners were taught that laws are meant to protect everyone, even prisoners, they might gain some respect for legal statutes. In any case, I don't want these people treated inhumanely.
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This brings us to another form of brutality many people presume abuse survivors endorse: prison rape. A lot of people don't seem to grasp that snickering about 'dropped bars of soap' and 'girlfriends named Bubba,' should offend anyone, particularly a rape survivor. I abhor all rape. This includes the rape of rapists. There are no special circumstances that ever justify rape. Period.

The word I would use to describe myself during my childhood would be "shocked." I was in a state of shock for years. Nowadays it's called 'post-traumatic stress' but it was really just good old-fashioned shock. I had been through too much and so I shut down a lot of my receptors. It's how you begin on the path from victim to survivor. To some extent I'm still in shock, not so much because of my childhood experiences but because of my adult ones. It is shocking that people think they are being kind and supportive to a violent crime victim by speaking of killing and rape as remedies. There are a lot of such people and they vote. I guess that's why Barack Obama feels he must pander to them. Alas.

UPDATE: The response to this piece has been amazing. Thanks to everyone who commented. I replied to several but I read them all and appreciate them all but one of them (that was petty and silly.)

Dennis Perrin linked to this and then it got linked all over the net, leading to the improbable occurrence of having July 4 become this blog's busiest day in memory (and it normally does just fine thank you). The internet has never been a place for holiday traffic so this is pretty unbelievable.

I wrote something I thought needed to be said. It was seen by my normal readers and got a nice response and that was wonderful. Then Dennis said something about what I said and several more bloggers chimed in and now it has been seen by thousands more people than I could have hoped for. So thanks to Dennis and all the other people who linked to the story and everyone who read it.

This has been a most encouraging and heartening development.  Barry

ADD COMMENT

RightwingsnarkleWednesday, July 16th 2008 4:09AM

Thanks for talking to me/us, Barry.

AlanSmitheeFriday, July 11th 2008 10:00AM

Is that the best you useless do-nothing pwoggwessives can come up with?  Using the issue of child rape to pimp your corporate-owned candidate?  Is there no disgusting low to which you'll stoop for your plaster saint and your warmongering party?

Guess not.

LanaWednesday, July 9th 2008 5:18PM

Barry, thanks so much for your wonderfully thoughtful essay on this difficult subject.  As you know, I was serially sexually assaulted by a close family member for much of my childhood and went through a criminal trial against him at age 16.  The issues that you raise are very personal for me.

Like you, I cannot claim to speak for every victim of sexual crimes committed against children. I can only speak from my own experiences.  I know that I  experienced many years of fear, shame, anger, depression and periods of re-living the assaults as a result of not only what my father did to me, but also as a result of how other family members responded to my disclosures of the attacks.  It took many years for me to feel as though I had emerged from the experience as a survivor who was capable of living a good life.  It took years to rid myself of the intense shame and guilt that had so deeply invaded every part of my being.

Imagine if I also had to live with the guilt of feeling responsible for my own father's execution?  Disclosing sexual assault is already difficult enough -- I cannot imagine going through my own disclosure and subsequent criminal proceedings against my father if the death penalty had been attached.  I can't imagine the deep wounds that this type of penalty would have inflicted on me -- the victim.  As you so eloquently write, this form of punishment would only serve to drive these crimes further underground.  Had the death penalty been an option in my father's case, I don't believe that I would have had the courage to speak about his assaults, and that would have led to at least another two more years of being raped on a "regular" basis.  

You raise so many important issues about the language that we use to describe sexual crimes against children.  I believe that if we could succeed in getting people to talk about these crimes using language that is truly descriptive of them, and places the responsibility for the crimes on the perpetrators, that we could succeed in helping victims far more than some reactionary by-standers' attempts at "helping " us by having the perpetrators killed.

I have so many thoughts, and so much more to say on this topic, but I am emotionally drained from this subject.  I think that many people don't understand that when they propose penalties such as these, the victims often react by having to defend the very people who harmed them.  I don't want to have to argue about why the man who raped me year after year shouldn't be executed.  He is the last person I want to defend.  I need my energy for myself and my own continued healing.  I don't want to be placed in a position of feeling as though I have to protect him.   That is just plain wrong.  I don't want to have to give the man who repeatedly raped me another thought.  He doesn't deserve it.

I support Sen. Obama, but I think that he was reacting to the Supreme's decision more as a father of two girls than he was a person who has immense influence over public policy that could ultimately help victims.

Thanks again, Barry.  I can always count on you to nail the dive on these issues.....

ADD COMMENT

Greg S.Wednesday, July 9th 2008 11:36AM

A very scary man lived next to you when we were kids.  His son was a pal of mine and I used to play at his house from time to time.  I've learned over time that I had a good reason to be afraid of the look in this creep's eyes and I wonder if my friend and his siblings were subject to the type of horrible abuse you suffered and bravely shared here.

Thanks for speaking out on the topic Barry.  People should know that this nightmare can and does happen to innocent kids and shedding daylight on the subject is a great way to keep people on guard and aware.  

Brendon MurleySunday, July 6th 2008 6:52AM

Thank you Barry.

AWhitney BrownSaturday, July 5th 2008 6:46PM

Barry, this is the most thoughtful thing I've read on this subject ever. Thank you.
I would add one more aspect to the death penalty for rapists, whether of children or adults: it makes murder more likely.

The death penalty is stupid, but imposing it for non lethal crimes forces criminals to consider murder as a rational strategy.
Once the rape is done, why not kill the victim? They can only execute you once. And it's one less witness.

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BaseballgirlSaturday, July 5th 2008 11:51AM

Thank you for your moving story. I've never shared mine in writing. I hope you don't mind if I do it now. It seems an appropriate time.

I was almost raped by my stepfather when I was 11.

My mother had married this man whom she barely knew in an effort to gain some financial stability and get my brother and me back from my dad in California.

From the moment we moved in with him, he had his eye on me. He would brush up against me and put his hand on my leg under the dinner table. This was my mother's 4th marriage and, after numerous boyfriends, etc, I was used to this treatment. Mom had encouraged me to be friendly and affectionate. I was the oldest and worked very hard at keeping things together. I did not want to be a cause in anyway of another failed marriage.

After a few trips in the car where he would ask for "just a hug" and "just a little kiss", one night he came into my room while I was asleep. I awoke to find his hand between my legs and him standing naked in the moonlight with his dick in his other hand. I screamed and kicked him in the stomach. He ran off but my mom did not wake up.

In the morning, I told my mom what had happened. She was calm and left to talk to him. I went to pack my things, fully expecting that we would be leaving that day.

As you've probably guesse, we did not leave. I can't remember exactly what she said after all of these years. I do remember that he "promised" that it would never happen again and that I was to help by making sure I was fully clothed at all times...no running around the house in my nightshirt, no visible panties. In other words, it was my fault. I had enticed him. Like the girl who got raped because she walked alone at night, I should have known better.

I spent the next 7 years on guard at all times knowing full well that my mom was not going to protect me. I was treated like shit but, I had a roof over my head. I moved out the day after graduation. Only years later did I learn that he began raping my 9 year old sister almost immediately after I left.

My mom finally left him after 25 years of marriage. When he died, we found out that he had also raped at least 2 of his own daughters and that he himself had been sexually abused by an aunt when he was 9 or so. And so it goes, on and on.

I am fine. Married for 21 years, 2 kids, good job. My sister has PTSD and is on meds for bi-polar disorder. She's married with 3 kids and is extremely religious (Mormon). Her entire life revolves around her children and the church. Perfectly understandable I suppose.

Thanks for letting me share.

Baseballgirl, I am so sorry for all you have been through and all that has happened to your family.

It was very brave of you to honor us by breaking your silence and telling your story here. Please contact me anytime you need to communicate with another survivor of such horrors.

Barry

Carolyn KaySaturday, July 5th 2008 11:25AM

The chickens come home to roost.

If Obama loses in November it will be the fault of the DNC and all of you who wouldn't listen when we tried to tell you what a non-progressive he is.

Carolyn Kay
MakeThemAccountable.com

Believe it or not this is a clinton supporter who read this essay and saw it as her chance to say "I told you so."

Well Carolyn, you certainly told us something.

Barry

LateToThePartySaturday, July 5th 2008 4:45AM

Wow.  Thank you for the lesson in humanity. I mean it.  

ADD COMMENT

OrvilleFriday, July 4th 2008 5:08PM

As someone who was abused emotionally and physically, I can understand some of what you went through. I too would prefer that the people who hurt me change, rather than simply get punished. (Besides, the latter choice would only encourage them...)
It's a shame points of view like this are so hard to find, with our current judgementalist society...

Orville, Thanks for inspiring us by not allowing the decency to get knocked out of you.

Barry

Valentine FreyFriday, July 4th 2008 9:31AM

Hi. I just followed a link here from Tom Tomorrow's site, and while  I've never come across this blog,  I have to agree with the  posters who feel that this short piece is one of the best thing they've come across on the subject. I especially agree with the part about the weird idea that listening should somehow be the monopoly of trained professionals.

However, I have to say that in my case the horror that this crime evokes remains even after going through the experience of listening to the stories that come one's way. After all, my guess is that most of us have been angry enough to allow ourselves to fantasize about killing someone at some point - murder may be anathema but it's not something so foreign to basic human psychology that it hurts us to even think about. That's really not the case with the sort of crime we're talking about here. So while I don't trust the state, especially these days, with the power of life and death,  of all  of Obama's failures of nerve, this is one I had felt the least concern about. Thanks for giving me a fresh perspective. You've made me reconsider a bit.  

It's perhaps silly to try to make generalizations here when every case is different but I'd be interested to know what your thoughts are about a victim or parent of a victim  were they to take "private justice" in a case like this. Personally, while I wouldn't recommend it,  I wouldn't condemn it and I can't see myself ever reporting it.  

Valentine, So sorry to hear you are a member of this sorrowful club. I hope you're doing OK.

What follows are just my opinions:We all think about revenge. I couldn't have gotten to where I am on this issue without considering it.

I certainly could see someone pleading temporary insanity were they to do violence to a perpetrator of such heinous crimes but they still would have to live what they did. They also may well have to live with further damaging their family by ending up charged with a very serious crime. Revenge works great in movies but it's a much dicier proposition in regular life.

Barry

Jersey GirlFriday, July 4th 2008 7:14AM

I was sexually abused when I was a little girl by an older teenaged brother.  I think that's a very common situation, maybe more so than abuse by a non-family member.  We are both in our 70s now and both have children and grandchildren.  We are loving siblings and, along with our spouses, often see each other.  I see no point in ever confronting him--but until the day I die I'll hate and despise what he did to me.    

Jersey Girl, Thank you for sharing your story.

Barry

ADD COMMENT

JamesFriday, July 4th 2008 6:34AM

As a fellow survivor, I commend you for writing this.  Violence is never the answer.  It only corrupts.  Revenge distracts attention from the issues as you insightfully say.  The issues are the care of the victim and a sick society that has a symptom called pedophilia specifically, and violence more generally.
I recommend the books of Alice Miller.

James, Alice Miller has done some great work on these issues. Thanks so much for commenting,

Barry

Thursday, July 3rd 2008 10:30PM

Barry, have you ever read Derrick Jensen? He's a radical writer who talks a lot about abuse. If you've read him, do you have any thoughts about him?

Juan, I have read jensen and think he's great, and not just because we're both 7 Stories authors. Barry

Mark BrookerThursday, July 3rd 2008 9:23PM

Thanks for that post.  Reminds me of a saying of Marcus Aurelius: The best revenge is not to become like the wrongdoer.

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GuestThursday, July 3rd 2008 5:38PM

What a profound and moving piece. Thank you.

mifWednesday, July 2nd 2008 10:38PM

Anybody who has seen the court system firsthand should be wary of giving the state the power to kill someone convicted of a crime.  Your way of looking at the issue is not as easy as saying kill the bastards but it makes sense to me.    

ZoeWednesday, July 2nd 2008 8:51PM

Wow...wow.  Thank you for this brilliant post.  Your bravery is pretty inspiring.

My interpretation of Obama's position was that he's a father who loves his two children and has a gut reaction to the idea of something harming them and that he hasn't thought through all the implications.  As you say, a lot of people haven't because it's not a fun subject to think about.  And if it's not personal, you have the luxury of avoiding it.

We need more voices like yours.

ADD COMMENT

ClareONWednesday, July 2nd 2008 9:45AM

Barry, your writings are my object lesson in how to express deep emotions fully, honestly and without an iota of manipulation.  

This is, hands down, the best piece I have ever read about childhood sexual abuse.  A large part of my counseling practice is about helping people to feel and use their emotions but not to be jacked around by them.  From now on, I may just send them to your site.

nihilixTuesday, July 1st 2008 10:08PM

awesome honesty.

i agree that a uniform position against the death penalty is the way to go. Why give the State the power to kill? Do you trust those douchebags?

Ann CantelowTuesday, July 1st 2008 11:04AM

I like your comment about need to study the pedophiles.  We don't see that point made very often.  I think all criminal behavior is insane; I'm a bemused when I hear that courts are trying to decide whether a criminal is doing his or her act out of insanity or not.

Not that criminals should be allowed to run free to commit crimes, but they should certainly be studied and helped if possible.

ADD COMMENT

GeorgeTuesday, July 1st 2008 9:14AM

"I hope this response was simply a matter of political expediency for the Democratic candidate."

It's not. He also mentions the issue on The Audacity of Hope:

"While the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime, I believe there are some crimes - mass murder, the rape and murder of a child - so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment."

Glenn CondellTuesday, July 1st 2008 1:13AM

A very powerful post Barry - I feel like I'm in a low grade of shock just reading it. I was lucky enough to avoid abuse, though I did come close once (a Catholic priest). I'm very conscious of it, having two children who I can hardly bear to have out of my sight, while being daily subjected to media reports of police, schoolteachers, judges, youth workers etc being arrested for possesion of child porn. I guess it's always been around, but like everything else, it's globalised now.

I hope Barack reads your blog.

RavenWindTuesday, July 1st 2008 12:19AM

Having worked as a counselor/therapist with incest, rape and battering survivors (including myself), I can say in all honesty this is the clearest, most honest piece of writing I've ever seen on the subject.  When I read the Court's decision, and subsequent discussions about it, I thought of a 15-year-old incest victim with whom I worked for two years before she could speak the truth, that her father hadn't just molested her, he'd raped her.  And then the further trauma she experienced as "the system" dealt with her and her family.  I think it literally would have killed her if there'd been any possibility that the state could have taken her father's life.

Thank you for using your forum here to speak to this, from the place of your own experience.  

ADD COMMENT

geekygirl602Monday, June 30th 2008 7:39PM

As a child abuse victim myself, I have to completely agree with you.  Thank you for your post.

NateMonday, June 30th 2008 6:22PM

Thank you so much for sharing this very valuable perspective.

RahimehMonday, June 30th 2008 5:38PM

Thank you for this amazing post, Barry.  It should be absolutely required reading for pretty much all Americans, (too) many of whom are drowning in a world-view filled with little more than fantasies of punishment and revenge.

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