«Return to LEAR'S FEBRUARY 1992 By Heidi Vanderbilt A Chilling Report Do you want to know what incest is? What it really is? No ...»
"In my experience, it is sometimes possible to retrieve and work with memories without abreaction."
When memories return as uncontrollable flashbacks, says Philadelphia therapist and incest survivor Roz Dutton, a client has tolearn to "bracket" them—to separate the self from the memory. In order to heal, she says, "survivors must reexperience the memory with feeling and in a safe environment and then eventually let it go."
Neither the number nor the detail of abuse memories, however, makes the difference in healing. Nor does forgiveness of the abuser. Therapists who specialize in incest and child sexual abuse—and a growing number of clergy and pastoral counselors, as well— realize that forgiving the abuser is not only irrelevant to healing but often impossible.
More to the point, survivors need to forgive themselves. They must not hold themselves responsible for what happened.
Mike Lew keeps a photograph in his office of a group of little boys lined up to cross a street. "I have it here," he says, "so people can look at it and see what a child that age looks like. We forget how small we were."
Janice went into therapy because she wanted to kill herself over the breakup of an affair. When her therapist asked about her past, Janice said, "I don't remember a lot about my childhood. For example, I know my parents and I lived together in the same house, but I have no memories of my father until after I left home." She reported that both her parents were alcoholics. Her mother would become so depressed that she'd lock herself in her room for weeks on end. Janice had to cook for herself, her father, and her mother.
Janice told her therapist about the affair that had just ended. It had lasted only three months. The man had abused her verbally but not physically. Most of Janice's previous lovers—eight in the past two years—had abused her physically.
Janice acknowledged that she drank too much and smoked dope. The therapist Page 44 of 56 suggested that she join Alcoholics Anonymous, but Janice said she could quit by herself. For several weeks she abstained from alcohol and drugs. Without the numbing effect of drinks and dope, Janice began to have troubling memories. She remembered slats of light from the venetian blinds in her bedroom falling on her pillow. She remembered her father's hand—was it her father's?—lowering the blinds. She remembered pretending to be asleep. She remembered fear.
Janice complained to her therapist that she was in pain all the time now, sick to her stomach, dizzy, headachy. She had bizarre pains in her rectum and vagina, and she felt like gagging. The therapist suggested that Janice join an incest survivors' group. She agreed that she would but insisted that she didn't really belong there.
In the group Janice met eight women who had been sexually abused. Two of them had only vague memories, like hers. One had knowledge of the abuse in the form of physical scars, but no memories. Three women were in the process of regaining their memories and suffered flashbacks. One was preparing to sue her parents in civil court, and another had already taken her abuser to court and won a judgment for damages.
"I watched people who felt angry and showed it," Janice says now. "I was still too scared to feel anger. But I learned from them. I saw, too, that there were things, like confronting our abusers or going to court, that we—that I—could do. When I told my mother about the abuse and she screamed at me and asked why I had allowed it to happen, I went to the group for sup-port. Most of them had had the same experience.
But some had been able to work through it with their moms and now they have good relationships. I modeled myself on them."
Because so much of what survivors have experienced is negative and painful, good feelings can feel like abuse. People who are recovering have to learn to tolerate positive
feelings about themselves and others. As author and incest survivor Laura Davis says:
"I thought healing was just another punishment. I thought it was the endless processing of pain. I thought I was sentenced to healing for the rest of my life."
Eventually, for most, there is resolution. It comes at different times to different people— for some it takes a year or so, for others it takes decades. The talk therapy, group therapy, self-help groups, art therapy, the body therapy—in time they work. The past recedes until it is in the past. Memories are more often memories than flashbacks.
Anger is appropriately directed at the abuser. Sex and intimacy are possible.
Survivors find they have choices, that their actions are not the inevitable result of their abuse. They can talk about other things. As Alice Miller writes: "The goal of therapy is to allow the once silenced child in us to speak and feel. Gradually the banishment of our knowledge is revoked... we discover our history, our self, and our buried capacity for love."
"Incest' does not tell the awful things you did to me," writes incest survivor Louise M.
Wisechild in The Obsidian Mirror. "But I will name them out loud, in public."
"Use my name," pleads a woman talking to me on the phone. "All my life I've been thought of as crazy. I want even one person to know what happened and that I am not Page 45 of 56 crazy." I had offered anonymity to every survivor I interviewed. I was astonished that so few wanted it. "Use my name," they said. "Use my name."
Ten years ago my therapist advised me not to tell. "There is a real danger that you will be irrevocably labeled a victim," he said. He was right. For then. But now survivors are breaking the silence. For some that means telling their therapist and their survivors' group. For others it means whispering it to the bubbles in the bathtub. I have written the truth in my journals late at night, then tom it up. Some mail a letter to the abuser or to their family. Laura Davis, who eulogized her grandfather at his death and then remembered his abuse of her, rewrote the eulogy. "There are a few things I forgot to say," she began. Then she wrote them down.
Brad, whose days as a victim led to multiple personality disorder, returned home during the holidays last year and confronted his family. Louise Wisechild invited her step-father to a meeting and told him how he'd hurt her. Kim Shaffir took her stepfather to court.
She confronted him, publicly exposed him, and was believed.
When Michael and Lisa Smith took their parents to court, they withheld their names from the media. But at the end of the trial they felt that they had no reason to hide and that by hiding they were perpetuating the aura of secrecy that surrounded their abuse.
They gave permission to the newspapers to publish their names, and they appeared on TV to talk about incest and what had happened to them.
"We have to wake up and smarten up," says therapist Arlene Drake. "If the family as we've idealized it were really so wonderful, this wouldn't have happened. We've already gone overboard on the wrong side, protecting aggressors and blaming victims. Let's really be kinder and gentler. Let's err on the side of caution and the children. Let's give child sexual abuse time and attention. Let's `listen to the whispers so we don't have to hear the screams.' "
------------------Interview with Shari Karney In the ongoing battle to secure legal rights for victims of incest and child sexual abuse, California attorney Shari Karney has been described, with awe, as a lioness protecting her cubs. Her dedication to the issue began in 1982: While representing a three-yearold girl in an incest proceeding, Karney found long-buried memories of her own childhood abuse rising to the surface. Since then she has worked with incest clients to the exclusion of any other practice, and today her schedule is so heavy that she tries only incest cases. Also on Karney's agenda are speaking engagements as well as radio and television appearances around the country. She is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Lawyer Referral and Information Service, she works with Child Help USA, and she is currently involved in the formation of a nonprofit organization called SIN—Stop Incest Now. As a central figure in the fight on behalf of survivors, Karney has called for a "children's bill of rights," something she believes the country desperately needs. She considers her greatest success to date to be the passage of California Senate Bill 108, drafted by Karney and holding child molesters legally
Karney, whose personal experience has become the impetus for a possible NBC-TV movie tentatively titled The Conspiracy of Silence: The Shari Karney Story, recently met with Frances Lear for lunch in the dining room of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Lear: Shari, when you were a young attorney starting out, you could have gone in a lot of different professional directions, some of them probably pretty lucrative. What motivated you to take up this cause?
Karney: Well, it all started when I went to jail at the age of twenty-nine.
Lear: Why were you in jail?
Karney: Well, because I was representing a three-year-old child who was locked up in juvenile hall for her own protection against insexual abuse while the perpetrator, her father, was roaming free. I felt it was very wrong. I litigated against this man for incest, and during cross-examination I asked him how many times he had touched his daughter's genitals. He asked me what I meant by "touched." I exploded. I said, "Touched!" You know? I said, "Let's get the dictionary out!" I was screaming and ranting, simply enraged. The judge cited me for contempt, fined me five hundred dollars, and I just threw the citation on the floor. Then I asked the father for what possible reason he had touched his daughter's genitals, and he answered, "To medicate her." I jumped over the rail and tried to strangle him. My reaction amazed even me, and I wasn't surprised when the judge sent me to jail for two nights.
While I was there I started remembering. I had completely blocked the memory that I was raped by my brother from the age of about six to about eight and was molested by my father from about six months to about four years old. There was anal penetration and fondling and oral sex. When I got out of jail I went into treatment and discovered how my history explained my behavior in court that day.
I continued on the case. The judge ordered the child into therapy, the mother into therapy, and the perpetrator into nothing. After six months the child was returned to visitation with the father, and she is now in a school for children suffering from situational psychosis. After that I gave up all other practice and specialized in incest and sexual abuse. And you know what? I was never able to save a single child from being sexually abused.
Lear: What have you done for yourself?
Karney: In the long run, a lot. But it took time. I confronted my own family and met what I call the conspiracy of silence. Then I went into the court system and tried to break the conspiracy of silence there and met with more silence. Then I went to the public and got more silence.
What I really want to say is "Silence No More." I want to get the incest and sexual abuse of children to stop. I want adult survivors who experienced childhood sexual abuse to have recourse against their perpetrators, both for money damages and criminality. I do Page 47 of 56 not think that there should be a statute of limitations for incest.
I wrote legislation that was passed in the California legislature and took effect on January 1, 1991, providing that adult survivors have an automatic right to sue the perpetrator until their twenty-sixth birthday. The previous statute of limitations was age nineteen.
Lear: So you've been acting politically.
Karney: Yes. It's a political issue. People don't understand the political ramifications of molesting a child. When you victimize a young girl, she becomes eventually an adult who has children and doesn't want to recognize it when her own children are getting incested. You have somebody who doesn't have personal power and doesn't take power politically or financially. You have a victim. The courts believe that parents have an absolute right to power and control over their children. We need a children's bill of rights.
Lear: What is it like to go into the courts and legislatures?
Karney: I wish judges knew what incest looks like, what sexual abuse looks like. As for legislators—I have to tell you that when I testified before the California Assembly's Judiciary Committee, which is composed almost exclusively of men, it was an extremely abusive experience. They sit in these huge chairs and they scream down at you.
They're so concerned about the rights of the perpetrators. When I appeared before the committee, I said, "I don't get it. We're just trying to get the victims equal rights." And the head of the committee started screaming at me. "What don't you understand? How dare you speak to me in this way?" Lear: Why are those guys like that? What is threatening to them?
Karney: I think when you say that men are going to be accountable for where they put their penises.... It's the first time they're being made accountable for their acts, and they don't like it.
Lear: Are you suggesting that the politicians and the men on the courts have put their penises in their children?
Karney: I think so, in the same proportion that men everywhere are doing it. I don't say they're all perpetrators, but they take care of their own. They are into protecting other men's rights. And children are considered chattel—the property of men.
Lear: What about the mothers?
Karney: I think the mothers are the silent partners. To be honest, I have to tell you that I haven't run into any cases of females abusing children sexually.
Lear: There are women who are perpetrators, of course. And then there are women who are perpetrators of a sort. They probably don't act out, and they're blind to it, but they are very incestuous with their sons.