The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on November 15, 1981 · Page 20
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 20

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, November 15, 1981
Page 20
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Pl«t SO The Salina Journal - Sunday, November 15,1961 Spotlight The Salina Journal A By BECCY TANNER Features Editor • midst the Barbie dolls, ice cream cones and Saturday morning cartoons, the little girls grew up. Once "it" started, they identified themselves as different. As victims, they were unworthy, unloveable people. Subhuman. They were adults in children's bodies. And as they grew, and their peers matured, they began to see themselves either as "whores" or "frigid." As children, they were sexually abused. Now adults, they tell themselves "it's over, get on with life." So they forget, they repress, they seldom speak about "that time." But try as they will, they cannot stop the pain that comes with as much unpredictablity and devastation as a raging flood. They are shamed into believing they have sinned. And so these victims choose anonymity - fearful that by sharing their lives with outsiders, their words will somehow be misinterpreted. But still, they find themselves needing to talk. Few people, they say, understand their lives — understand this strange pattern that causes them to abuse themselves. And it wasn't until a year ago that they finally formed a group, "Sexually-Abused Anonymous." Contacts may be made through Salina's Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas; they meet at 8 p.m. Mondays at the Growth and Counseling Center at 200 E. Iron. She chose the name "Mary." At 40, she is a nurse in a small She uses words like "blonde hair, blue eyes and slender," to describe her physical characteristics. About her emotional side, she says "survivor" fits the bill. "I think I was born with the type of characteristics of being a victim," Mary said. "In other words, I remember feeling this way even before I was sexually abused. I was always serious, and felt a tremendous responsibility to protect those closest to me. "I was five years old when I was sexually abused by my older brother. I remember feeling confused and guilty. I hurt. I wanted to tell someone, and yet I couldn't understand why he had hurt me." This hurt, Mary said, turned inward. When she didn't think about it, it didn't hurt so bad. "I became really obsessed with sex and death," she said. "I began to think in terms of how I could die, how I could kill myself and to how people would respond to my death ... In talking with others I don't feel as if my sexual abuse was as traumatic or prolonged as others. But there were other events in my life that made me really question myself. Was there something written on my face? Why did these things keep happening?" Mary was the only girl in a country schoolhouse. And the teacher, Mary said, "got her kicks out of watching the boys play with me." "Felt guilty" "I felt guilty and afraid to tell anybody," she said. "And yet, I hated these people, I wished them dead. And surprisingly enough, they did die. The schoolteacher was killed in a car accident. And my brother died later, also. I remember feeling glad they had died, and guilty that I had caused their death." And so she grew. By the time she was a teenager, she was "sexually active." "I refused to use birth control," she said. "It was another method I had in abusing myself. I reasoned that I deserved to get pregnant. I got pregnant and married somebody I really didn't want to marry." And still the guilt feelings kept piling up, she said; the emotional wounds she received as a child never healed. Like a persistent hangnail which continually crops up, the annoyance became unbearable. "I found temporary relief in alcohol and drugs," she said. "I got a divorce and remarried. And then I made several attempts at suicide. But the last time I attempted suicide, it really scared me, I really meant it that time. I even wrote a note." That, she said, is when she reached for help. "I went for counseling, joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and still felt I needed something. I would tell people I had been sexually abused as a child, and they would agree with me that I needed help, but that they couldn't help me. I interpreted it as 'You're too sick for us.' "Finally, I met another woman who had also been sexually abused as a child. Together, we formed Sexually Abused Anonymous." This woman, about whom Mary talked, chose the name Phyllis. She too, is 40, and comes from a small community outside Saline County. She is a housewife with curly brown hair, blue eyes, and a slender build. At times, she has a tendency to be a chain smoker — times when she discusses her past. Still, she is a survivor. "I was the oldest of four children," Phyllis said. "My mother and dad were both alcoholics... the sexual abuse first started when I was three years old. I can remember being with my dad and him walking along a street hold- The wound which never heals ing me. He started fondling me. "By the time I was five years old, he had progressed to oral sex and when I was around six, intercourse. My mother knew what was going on; there were times when she would take me to him and go into my bed and stay. "The first time there was intercourse, I remember screaming a lot. My mother knew what was going on, but he wouldn't let her into the bedroom. I passed out. The next day my mother had me lay on the couch — I was bleeding pretty bad." When she was seven yean old, someone reported the abuse to authorities. "One day at school two policemen came to my classroom and with no explanation took me to the police station. Neither of my parents were there. These strange people started questioning me about what my father was doing to me. I don't know what happened in court, or whether he went to court, but he remained at home. The only thing changed was that all my family knew about it." More than anything, she said, she remembers the fear. "I can remember him coining into the bedroom, and knowing what he would want, and pretending to be asleep. I was afraid... afraid of him and afraid of what he would do to the rest of our family." Her mother died when Phyllis was 12 years old. And as she continues talking, revealing her past, her eyes speak. She has the ability to let a stranger become a part of her identity — to look inside and see the child she never was. After her mother's death, Phyllis was placed in foster homes .and various relatives' homes. She was later sexually abused by an uncle. "I have been married three times, always Photo Illittrallon by Tom Dort«y seeming to pick someone who was abusive and domineering." Then she met Mary, and Sexually Abused Anonymous was formed. "It is the first one of its kind that we know of," Phyllis said. "It is a self-help group of individuals who have experienced sexual abuse as a child or are currently experiencing such abuse. It's victims helping victims, much like Alcoholics Anonymous." And what have they discovered? "We know we share characteristics that are common to other victims," Phyllis said. "And we are learning how to deal with them." • All identified with a feeling of victimization — of being out of control, even into their adult lives. • The inability to say "no." • The feeling of "Why does it keep happening to me? Is there something written on my face to make people do this?" • Developing a mistrust of men. • Recognizing a "savior syndrome." Seeing themselves as "fixers." The victims thrive on helping others. Partly, they say, to feely worthy, to feel loved. • Developing physical habits such as overeating, smoking, sleeplessness, addiction to alcohol and/or drugs. • Having a tendency to dress conservatively — of feeling like "I don't want to give off any outward clues, play down all sexuality." "The thing is," Phyllis said, "we thought we could work these things out alone, we thought we had dealt with it all. But they kept cropping up. We found we had to continue to deal with the effects on our lives and we needed help. We feel anyone can recover from sexual abuse if they have the capacity to be honest with themselves." for prevention: Educating potential victims By BECCY TANNER "Prevent it." It's a phrase whispered, shouted and screamed from the lips of those connected with sexual abuse. "Stop it. Stop the pain. Don't let it go any further. Fight, scream, do what we must. But let's not let another generation feel what we have had." And yet, how? The minutes, the hours tick by and another child is sexually abused. Statistically, the average isn't good. Salina professionals say the reports are "epidemic in proportions." First, the professionals rattle off national statistics. One out of every four girls will be sexually molested by the time she reaches age 18. "Not good," they shake their heads, "not good at all." Then the professionals point out that 38 percent of .the cases involve incestuous relationships; only one-fourth are molested by strangers. The average age of sexual abuse victims is 11. And then some professionals grow quiet - before they start to talk about Salina. "The truth of the matter is we don't know how widespread this sexual abuse is," says Joan Wilson, administrative director of the Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas. "We only can go by what is reported. We don't know the number of cases that go unreported." And what is reported? In Salina, the black and white statistics jump from reports. From August until December 1980, three cases of child sexual abuse were reported to the SRS. But from January 1981 until the present, 30 cases have been reported. What is this "sexual abuse?" Isn't it "just a bunch of kids with overactive imaginations?" No. Counselors, nurses, doctors and child advocates define sexual abuse as "sexual exploitation, abuse of a child including any act committed by an adult designed to stimulate a child sexually or an act in which the child is used for the sexual stimulation of an adult." Touching sexual offenses are described as "fondling, genital stimulation; oral stimulation; intercourse; pornography; and violent acts — rape and physical injury. Non-touching offenses are verbal abuse for purpose of stimulation, obscene telephone calls, exhibitionism, voyeurism and primal scene. So stop "it." But how? A play for children "That's why we are bringing the 'Bubbylonian Encounter' to Salina," said Mary Jo Heath, counselor of an elementary school. "It's a play for children about the sense of touch." Sponsored by the Salina Coalition for Prevention of Quid Abuse, the play is designed for school-age children. The 30-minute program involves three characters who use humor, drama and audience participation to describe the types and effects of human touching. The play covers the range of positive and negative touching, giving specific information to children about steps to take if "forced sexual touching" should occur. The goals are direct. "We want children to realize they have the right to protect their own bodies and seek help when touching feels bad or confusing," Heath said. "We want them to realize that sexual abuse can be harmful and is against the law. It can happen by someone you know, even a family member." The coalition plans to present the play live to the community within the next few months, Ruby Reece, presi- and co-founder of the organization, said. "We are also having a video cassete of 'Bubbylonian Encounter' made so it will be available for teachers and counselors to use within the school systems," Reece said. Pat Murray is a clinical social worker and director of adult services at the Central Kansas Mental Health Center. She and other Salina professionals see an increasing need for the "Bubbylo- nian Encounter." "We are seeing that as the victims mature into adults they develop all kinds of symptoms," Murray said. "They have a tendency to see themselves as unworthy, unapproachable individuals. Affects entire family "I think it is important to realize that sexual abuse affects not only the victims but the perpetrators as well — the entire family has hurts and needs. We also see a tendency on the part of victims to change roles. No longer do they see themselves as children, but as partners." But put aside the harsh terms connected with clinical analysis; put aside the sterile, cold walls and ask how sexual abuse affects the community. "I don't mind saying I feel anger," said Judy Curran, assistant director of nursing at Asbury Hospital. "We don't see that many cases, and yet when we do ... everyone gets highly upset. It angers us to see this kind of thing continuing. And what are we to do? Treat outer bruiaea "We report it. Yet I've often wondered after it is all said and done, the commotion dies down, what happens to the victim, what happens to the family? We treat the outside bruises of the bodies; what happens to the bruises inside?" Yet, why bring up the subject? "I know there is a problem of sexual abuse," said the Rev. Rene Colaw, pastor of the First Church of The Nazarene. "It's a bigger problem than I think we are willing to admit. The thing is, I think the kids need to be educated towards this. And if presenting the 'Bubbylonian Encounter' will do it, fine. I can't say whether it is right or wrong, to be truthful, I haven't seen it yet." But the concept, Mr. Colaw said, sounds good. "Until a few years ago, sexual abuse was something people Just didn't talk about. Finally, they are talking. Part of the reason people don't want to talk is that they dpn't want to admit it's happening. But it is. And until we take some drastic steps to prevent it, it's going to keep on happening. And then, we won't be any different than the Roman Empire." The key, Mr. Colaw said, is in educating the public. "We need to educate not only the kids, but the public as well. Pastors, school counselors, doctors and nurses need to have specific training in deal•• ing with people who have had sexual abuse. We need to be told what to say." But what about the victims? What about their needs? Will presentations such as "Bubbylonian Encounter" reduce the grim statistics? "If you could see the faces of the children, the fear they have inside them when they finally do tell someone, then you would begin to understand," Heath said. "And then, if you could see the relief pour forth once they have told someone, then you know it U worth it. "I can't help but think that if children are taught, from an early age-on, the differences in good and bad touching, then maybe this might stop. Maybe some lives might be lived differently."

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