October 17, 2009

When home is not safe

“You haven’t written much on your blog this week,” a friend said to me. “What is it you aren’t saying?”

The weather here has turned dark and cold: the sunny days of summer are gone. We’ve had our first snow, although it melted quickly. Students are tired and stressed. Most of my fun trips – retreats and get-togethers with friends – are over for the season. Red-haired Sister canceled her visit because of bad driving weather. Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair Boy’s Ultimate tournament was canceled because the fields were too wet.

But that’s all a normal part of seasonal change.

The bleak news this week has to do with the little neighbor kids, the ones who visit every day and spent hours this summer playing on my front porch. Little Biker Boy is the eight-year-old who knocked on my door on a cold night last April, in bare feet and boxer shorts, asking me to call the police because his mother’s boyfriend was in a drunken rage.

In the intervening months, I’ve talked to social workers at Child Protective and at the local women’s shelter about the family. Their power was shut off for several weeks this summer because the bill had not been paid. Even worse, another man moved in. The kids kept saying they liked Man With Green Pick-up, but then they told me about an incident in which he was abusive to their pet cat. I know from the many stories I’ve heard that a man who abuses a cat will abuse a woman or child. I talked to the social worker at Child Protective to alert the agency that another abusive man was living in their home, but of course, they can’t do much without proof.

We’ve given the kids a safe place to come to here at my house, but there has been little else we could do. It’s frustrating as a neighbor to feel so powerless. The two kids can be difficult to deal with, but these last few months, Little Biker Boy has really been acting out his anger. He’s a child with deep pockets of rage. And Ponytail will dart into our house like a scared animal, refusing to leave. “I wish I could live here,” Little Biker Boy always says. It’s heart-wrenching.

This week, the police have been back to their trailer again, this time to arrest Man With Green Pick-up. He had been sexually abusing five-year-old Ponytail Girl. I first heard the story from Little Biker Boy, who told me it all in a numb, matter-of-fact way. The elementary school has been alerted, and they’ve set up counseling for the kids.

I’m not sure what will happen next. Child Protective may well step in and put the kids in foster care. Their mother loves the kids, but her own childhood – in which she was abused and she watched her mother being abused – affects how she views the world. It’s as if the red flags that are so obvious to me are invisible to her. Totally invisible. And like most victims of abuse, she is vigilant about keeping secrets, about keeping out the community that could help her. She would punish Little Biker Boy if she knew that he was always telling me everything, and she would forbid the kids to come over here if she knew I was talking to social workers at Child Protective. She loves her children, I have no doubt about that, but she seems incapable of protecting them. She eventually did make the call to the police about Man With Green Pick-up, but so much damage had been done first.

I’ve watched this cycle of abuse in my own community. I’ve watched it in my online community. I’ve read narratives in books and listened to poems at readings sponsored by the local women’s shelter. I’ve watched the pattern repeat itself: the child who is abused grows up to think abusive relationships are normal and learns denial as a survivor skill. Survivors of abuse are masters at pretending that everything is okay. I do have friends who have broken the cycle, usually with a network of support that includes professional therapists, a twelve-step program, a strong community, and healthy friends. But they seem to be exceptions to the rule.

I continue to write about abuse on my blog because I know that silence is not the answer. Silence does not protect the victims: it helps perpetrate the cycle. I don’t know what the answer is — I feel helpless and powerless this week — but I do know that we have to keep talking about abuse, keep analyzing it, keep at it until we do come up with solutions. I do know this: a five-year-old girl should be safe in her own home.

48 comments:

Rana said...

(o)

RageyOne said...

:(

I'm extremely saddened to read this posting.

Angry also.

Innocence lost in a most horrific manner.

Brigindo said...

How absolutely horrifying. Like RageyOne I feel both deeply sad and angry to read this. My heart goes out to the kids and the mom but also to you. If it is this heartbreaking to hear about it, I can't imagine how difficult it is to have a front row seat. I hear you about feeling helpless but you have done and are doing a lot. In addition to the calls to Social Services you and you're family are providing a respite for them, which is what makes for resiliency and will give them a chance at breaking the cycle when they're older.

Songbird said...

Oh, God. This is terrible.

Sandy said...

Heart-breaking.

Janice said...

I'm just so sorry. Your posts from earlier this summer seemed to suggest that a tragedy was hovering over this family and I don't see how anyone could have avoided this with the mother's avoidance despite the signs that you caught and reported.

Cold comfort, of course.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I'm so sorry, and so angry.

Thank you for writing about this.

BrightenedBoy said...

You're doing the right thing.

I'm so sorry to hear about this.

And I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but somebody needs to sit their mother down and have a very frank discussion with her about her responsibility to her children.

Surviving abuse doesn't give you carte blanche to bring sexual predators into your household or permit physical mishandling of your children.

If she can't recognize that, then she shouldn't have custody.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Hugs. So many hugs. My heart aches for those children.

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

I am so thankful for the fact that you saw the signs and you created a safe place. You keep doing what you are doing.

romelover said...

Prayers ascending for all of you. For strength and courage, healing, and thanksgiving that you are on the scene when they need you. This is so heartbreaking.

KathyR said...

Oh, I hate seeing this. I'm sorry.

Roundhead Lady said...

You're giving them more than you realize, just by being there.Keep caring.

heidi said...

Oh, god. That's just horrifying.

Seeking Solace said...

First, cheers to you for doing the right thing. So many people turn away or ignore a situtation like that.

I am sad and angry. Sad for the children. And angry that the justice system does not put people away like the Man with the Green Truck away for good.

Digger said...

A terrible story, Jo(e). I hope the kids and their mom do ok. The kids are fortunate to have been welcomed by you and your family, where they didn't have to be afraid of adults and could see a loving family interact.

The Vicar of Hogsmeade said...

A wise woman once said, "I deeply and firmly believe that if one person can ruin a child's life then it is equally true that one person can save a child's life." I pray that the children see you and your safe house as the salvation it can be for them.

Xiomara A. Maldonado said...

This post makes me want to cry, particularly since it is a story I have heard several times before. Thank you for speaking to the topic; it obviously weighs heavy on your heart.

Josh said...

Thank you for being there for the children, Jo(e)... you're absolutely right about the cycle of abuse and its impact on kids.

Last weekend, I interviewed a woman who had come to the hospital after being beaten and strangled by her boyfriend; now 28, she said that she had been in abusive relationships since she was 15. As saddened as I was for her, I'm more concerned for her four kids... I can only hope someone like you is in their lives.

halloweenlover said...

That is heartbreaking and infuriating all at the same time.

When I was growing up, we lived in an apartment building with a girl next door who was about my same age. We played together for years, and it came out when we were about 9-10 that her stepfather had been sexually abusing her for years, so he was arrested and moved out. A few months later, we saw him sneaking around the apartment and realized he was back. I remember being shocked and sick with rage that a mother wouldn't protect her child, because of a man.

Big hugs. Let's just pray this little girl can break the cycle.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Jo(e). This is just so sad. I've worked with child abuse victims for almost 5 years, and I have felt this story coming ever since your first post about Ponytail Girl and Little Biker Boy. You are so right about the terrible cyclical nature of abuse. It is just so tough to break, but you're right to continue to talk about it.

Little Biker Boy's rage makes me as sad as Ponytail Girl's fear. Both emotions are so dangerous as they continue to live their lives.

Hugs to all of you.

Norah

elswhere said...

(o)

Lorianne said...

Oh, Jo(e). This is heartbreaking. Bravo to you for doing the right thing, both by being there for these children, but also for talking to Child Protective Services. SOMEONE needs to speak out for these children, so thank goodness you're doing what their mother "should."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post and for standing strong on behalf of the defenseless. You are doing God's work.

Karin said...

This would break my heart no matter what, but having an almost 5 year old girl...well...it breaks my heart and it sickens me. I'm so glad that they have you at least to speak for them.

Arwen said...

Having one person out there in the world who is safe can make a huge, huge difference in a child's resilience. Thank you for being there fore these kids.

landismom said...

Thank you for doing what you're doing, jo(e). The world is a better place because you're doing this, even if it feels frustrating and horrible at times.

Nadine said...

Oh, how awful. So awful. I hope the kids end up somewhere where they receive the love and protection they deserve. Stories like this make me want to open the doors to my own home...

lizardek said...

I can only shake my head in horror, but thank god you are not afraid to keep speaking out.

AmpersandPrime said...

sigh. it is just hard to know this kind of thing exists *out there*, I can only imagine how hard it is *see* it. i pray there is some safe solution for those kids.

Diana Hunt said...

Tears for those kids, tears for you and gratitude to you for your generous heart and your brave actions. We pray that those two may find a stable, happy home.

Magpie said...

Oh no. I'd been wondering about those children. This is awful. I'm so glad they have you in their life - a beacon of kindness and responsibility. I hope...

Ianqui said...

Reading posts like this now that I actually have a kid is even harder than ever before. I hope there's a permanent way out for those kids.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

You're brave. I think you're very brave -- for writing & acting both.

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

How terrible! Those poor kids...

(And whoever asked "What aren't you saying" was pretty astute.)

liz said...

(o)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. Sadly, I am also struggling with feelings of sadness and "what to do?" as I've recently learned that my next door neighbors are going through similar dynamics. My heart aches for the innocent kids, and also for the mother who couldn't protect them. I would have done more in her situation, but I haven't walked in her shoes. Anyway, now I know there's a reason I stumbled upon your blog. Keep us updated on how you're dealing with all this...

readersguide said...

Oh, no. Those poor kids.

susan said...

(o)

Lomagirl said...

From a distance you have my prayers- and so do those dear children. I hope you are one beacon of light for them, and that by your shine, and that of others, they can safely become whole people.

Jackie said...

Jo(e), thank you for telling this story. I had several friends in middle school who endured similar scenarios, and my heart still aches for all I couldn't do for them. Let us know if there's anything we can do.

Sarah Sometimes said...

I'm so sorry. Keep heart.

Kyla said...

I'm heartbroken over this. I wish things like this didn't happen.

I'm glad they have you, though. You've become their harbor in the storm.

Arvind said...

I'm glad the green pick-up guy has been arrested. But doesn't the law hold the mother even partially responsible in some way? I understand she was also abused, but being in denial should not be a sufficient defense against being an accomplice to child rape, right? Can she have some criminal charges brought against her? Or at least some legal reprimand or warning of some sort?

The only thing that makes me doubt if it is the right option for her to not have custody is that I'm not sure if the foster care places are any better. I'm afraid they may be even worse at abusing the kids in their care.

I have a sinking feeling that both the kids will grow up to repeat the patterns specific to their genders.

jo(e) said...

Arvind: Yes, that's why Child Protective is involved. The kids may well be taken away from her and put into foster homes. Sadly, there aren't any perfect answers.

What Now? said...

Heartbreaking.

I'm so glad that these kids have you and your family. No perfect answers, I know, but having people to listen and care has to be part of any answer.

Sue said...

(o)

Arvind said...

Sigh. No perfect answers indeed. I really do wish she could get to keep her kids with her. Like I said in my earlier comment, I don't know how foster homes are, and although there may be many good samaritans (like your family) who give all kinds of love to kids in need, I doubt if a foster home could always be trusted to give these kids the kind of love a mother is capable of.

Where I was going with my earlier comment was: wondering if there could be some kind of legal reprimand that would at least jolt her into realizing the harm she's doing to her kids. Maybe therapy and compassion could give her the eventual closure she needs to recognize the kind of loving companionship she ought to be seeking. But at least in the short term until then, she needs to get it into her head that she simply does not possess the clarity of judgement needed to pursue a relationship. I know that society asks women to make all kinds of sacrifices for kids, and I disagree with most such pressures normally, but putting someone in your care at harm crosses a line I feel (as long as they're not foetuses, but actual living human beings).

I'm sure that since she did call the cops, she must have realized this already, and can only imagine how she must be feeling for what she allowed to happen to her daughter. Taking her kids away could be like rubbing salt in her wounds. But if she really can't help herself from getting into more such bad relationships in spite of knowing the harm it does to her kids (I'm getting flashbacks from reading "Bastard out of Carolina"), I don't know what choice child protective services have.