Trash to Triumph

In the landfill town of Cateura, Paraguay, there is garbage everywhere and in fact that is the main source of income for its residents: recycling trash.  Until recently, this poverty stricken community was unknown to the world. However, in 2006 something amazing happened.  A children’s orchestra, with instruments made exclusively out of trash, was formed.

In time, the choir has become an example of triumph over adversity, performing all over the world, resulting in scholarships, reducing addictions, and inspiring other impoverished areas to follow suit.

What in the world, you may ask, does this have to do with sexual trauma?  The answer is simple: countless survivors of sexual abuse and assault will tell you (if asked) that the crimes committed against them left them feeling like garbage.  Survivors often and sometimes for long periods of time feel profound shame, suffering from a sense of being dirty and used up. It is no wonder then that The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon stated in its annual report that: 85% of prostitutes reported history of sexual abuse in childhood; 70% reported incest. Furthermore, compared to non-victims of crimes, rape victims are 13.4 times more likely to have major alcohol problems and twenty-six times more likely to have drug abuse problems.

Arguably these behaviors are a logical response to feeling like garbage.

 So the challenge then is how to help a human being who was robbed of worth believe in the inherent possibilities of transformation. If actual trash can be recycled to make beautiful music, surely the soul can find its true home in the knowledge of its essential purity.  Many survivors are heroically engaged in this pursuit.  We must not give up. YOU CAN HELP.

Misplaced Blame

’d like to talk about misplaced blame today.  When it comes to sexual abuse and assault, it seems to me the most obvious and yet apparently difficult lesson for us as a society to learn is that we must blame the perpetrators of these crimes and not the victims.  In theory we all agree with that premise, but in reality, a very different and destructive truth emerges.

Unfortunately, it is often a knee jerk reaction to question the victim's veracity and/or participation, especially when - which is very often the case - the perpetrator defies our expectations of what a sexual criminal looks like.

Even though I intellectually understand the existence of this problem, I was still shocked and deeply saddened when doing research for my book by the number of brave women and men who were called liars or whose timeline was questioned or in the cases of assault were asked questions like, "What were you wearing?"  or “Were you drinking?"  We don't make accusations or ask questions like that of victims of robbery.  And yet in terms of long-term ramifications, being robbed (unless it is accompanied by physical assault) cannot compare with the destruction wrought by sexual violence.

Everyone realizes, including those who have dedicated their lives to helping victims of sexual abuse and assault, that there are rare instances when people have claimed to be victims of sexual crimes and then were found to be either deliberately lying or manipulated into believing something that wasn't true.  So what?

Just as there are men and women in the military who have committed atrocities or doctors who have behaved unconscionably with patients or - well name the group - we know that human beings are capable of doing terrible things.  And we know that desperate people often behave in desperate ways.  However, those people do not represent the whole.  And just as we do not hold up to scrutiny all our military or the entire medical community etc., it is egregious to scrutinize victims of sex crimes because of the deception of a very few.

The recentallegations of 22 women who have spoken out against Bill Cosby and the subsequent skepticism surrounding their allegations is a case in point.  As Jay Leno asked, "Why don't we believe women?" And lest anyone think it is only women who are unfairly challenged, it is worth revisiting the Jerry Sandusky case. If you have not done so, I encourage you to read the heartbreaking story of Aaron Fisher (one of many such heartbreaking stories) whose young life was devastated not only by his “mentor’s” sexual abuse, but also by the shameful and shaming way he was treated after he bravely came forward and broke the silence.  Sandusky, highly respected and seemingly very respectable, was subsequently charged with 45 – yes 45 – counts of child molestation.

Will we ever get to a place where our first response is to champion rather than censure the victim who has the courage to speak out? Aaron Fisher represents thousands upon thousands of victims of sexual abuse and assaults who suffer not only the pain of sexual trauma but are also humiliated and castigated simply for telling the truth.

I am wondering if there is anything that we as people who care about the victims of these crimes can do together to change this sick and hurtful dynamic.  Maybe a "Don't Blame The Victim Day"? I'm not an organizer, but I know that in Steve Jobs’ biography when he wanted to do something and was told there was no way, he refused to accept that answer and directed his employees to go back and find a way.  Visionaries have always started from scratch and reimagined the world.  The #YesAllWomen Twitter phenomena, boasting well over a million tweets, suggested the possibility that change may finally, finally be on the way.  I hope so.