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Quiet please: abuse in progress

Jane Grayson

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Goodbye, teddy.

I hope you'll be here when I get back. You will be the same, won't you?

I wonder if I will be the same, too? Or will I have changed?

Does something happen to me when he does these things?

How will I be when I get back this time? Might my pants be dirty? What will I do if they are? Will I be able to rub them properly clean? Or if they've got wet, will the wetness leak on to any of my other clothes? What will Mummy say?

Might a button come off my cardigan if he tugs too hard? He's never careful like me.

Will my hair get ruffled by his horrible big hands when he says he's 'caressing' but all he's doing is just messing it up?

Teddy, you don't know what happens when I go out like this. I'll be back before tonight, but what might he have done?

I don't want to go, but I've got to. And it's nearly time.

If only someone would ask what had happened, or why was my face not smiling. When Mummy asks things when Uncle George brings me home, she doesn't seem to be asking a question, really. At least, I never feel as if she's asking.

Oh dear: I can feel my lips quivering 'cos I want to cry, but I mustn't. I mustn't. Only babies cry, and I mustn't be a baby.

There, it's all right now. I managed to stop myself.

I don't want to go. But it's nearly time. My wind-up alarm clock inside my heart is tick-tocking, pushing the hands towards the time he'll come and get me.

 

WHY WORDS FAIL

When Rose asked me to write her story, I accepted with considerable trepidation. This young woman, whose name I have changed to protect her identity, had been groomed and seriously sexually abused, and still finds it very difficult (sometimes impossible) to say that anything happened to her. Words fail her. She is haunted by unbidden memories and excruciatingly vivid nightmares. She hesitates to speak lest speaking re-collects the intolerable.

Seventy years ago, survivors of the holocaust also found it very difficult (sometimes impossible) to say that anything happened to them. Words failed them as for Rose. For decades they, too, kept quiet, hoping to keep the memories at bay.

Rose's silence, like theirs, was not only for her own protection but partly for the sake of a society that didn't seem to know how to receive those who had endured such intolerable suffering.  Observing other people's discomfort, Rose would not force conversation upon a reluctant 'listener' who learned that she had been abused.

When she asked me to write her story, Rose sensed a gulf between those who understood childhood abuse and those who didn't. Together we hoped that if we let the world read exactly how one child perceived abuse, the gap might be bridged.

ELOQUENT TEARS

My task was far harder than any of my previous nine books. It took 14 years. Fourteen! I was working where angels fear to tread. When she wept, for example, I needed to learn how to listen for what she was saying with tears. At first I had assumed tears to be a way of asking for comfort. Not always. Tears speak. I would not have heard their message had I yielded to the temptation to comfort instead of receiving their silent communication.

I had my own interest in the subject, having been damaged so much by abuse that I needed a hysterectomy when I was aged 24. Both of us wanted to deepen people's understanding of sexual abuse and especially of grooming.

We shared three further aims.

Rose wanted me to show that she doesn't look different because she's been abused. She's an ordinary person who has gone through a really bad experience - as have many others. Having read my experience of physical pain in A Pathway through Pain, she trusted me to write about her suffering in the context of her very real faith in God.

SILENT SUFFERING

Secondly, Rose wanted to help those who asked with great puzzlement, 'Why on earth do children not say what's happening?' Rose's story leaves no doubt whatsoever. 'Silence was not an option but a simple inevitability.' And the reader, caught up with Rose in the web of deceit and lies, comes to feel this with a new understanding.

Thirdly, Rose wanted to ask those who say to her, 'God will keep you safe,' or who recommend that she 'Trust in the Lord,' to pause before pushing these promises as if they answered the paradoxes of faith. 'Things' had happened while she was trusting Jesus to keep her safe. Indeed, I find it a horrifying possibility that more happened because Rose had been trusting Him so much. Having given Him her whole heart she believed that He would keep her safe.

As a child, Rose knew that Jesus said: 'Ask and you will receive.' She did exactly that. 'Please, God, might You ask Uncle George to stop? If you ask him, I'm sure that would help.'

Can we - should we - fault her?

When Uncle George didn't stop, Rose resigned herself to accept whatever God allowed and she changed her prayer accordingly: 'Thank You, Father, for caring like a Daddy. I really love you Lord. But please, God, please… I know You've heard me ask this before, but please can You help me to feel You today? I do trust Your promise that nothing is too hard for us. It's just that it's much easier if I could feel You "there" in the middle of everything with Uncle George.'

FAILED LOGIC

She had already tried a different logic that had failed.  'Maybe if I learn to keep still, God will be more likely to realise that it's not me doing it, and that might make Jesus come and ask Uncle George to stop. Why, oh why doesn't Jesus do that?'

How do we explain to the Roses of this world that if we are 'good' God does not help us more … that He doesn't always stop evil? When is it appropriate to puncture faith that is naive? Do we say? Dare we speak up? Or do we stay silent, like children being abused??

From the depth of her loving heart Rose cried out: 'God, please! Please! I need You! This is so sore; so very sore. And I can't tell anyone because of what it was, and no-one would ever ask about this sort of thing because of how rude it is… oh, what can I do? I'm so frightened. Please, God, please mend me… .'

Do we tell children that God is a deep, deep mystery? That He allows, and has allowed, men and women of profound faith to feel abandoned by Him, and He has not intervened even when people have been 'sore; so very sore'?

I know many who identify with Rose in that simple prayer and who are confused by this God of Love Who allows suffering. Perhaps that contributes to Rose's story being so uncomfortable. In difficult circumstances adults discover how their faith has grown up - or whether it has. Some simply give up.

BEING THERE

The stark fact is that Rose still suffers even after sincere, fervent prayer. We cannot accuse her of having too little faith. What do we say? What do we feel? We do not have answers. We have only God Himself.

But we do have Him. I believe we do.

A friend told me that she felt somewhat impotent when she couldn't do anything. 'But it's so good your just being here!' I replied. In fact, I need to remove the word 'just' in order to express the value. 'It's so good your being here!' To be with a person even if we do nothing is very potent and that plays a significant part in the lifelong process of healing. Jesus' final words were His promise to 'be' with us always. And because we are His body, we represent Him being with others.

We do have Emmanuel; God with us, in relationship with us. And in times of my own darkness, He has posed a terrible challenge to me. I have heard a whisper, 'Am I sufficient? Or do you want more than Me?' Hard, hard questions.

But there remains another hard question. How do we help people understand about sexual abuse so they can be a help to others? Sadly (but maybe not surprisingly) I have found that people prefer a book that feels good. Publishers were afraid of Goodbye, Pink Room: one even said they would be glad to publish it if I could 'just' change the ending to make it happier.

UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTHS

But I wanted to tell the truth, and stay with the uncomfortable questions. Was the feel-good factor more important than integrity? At the time I was furious and refused the requested change. But a solemn concern followed my fury and far outweighs it. When the publisher requested a 'happy' ending, did they know what I did not; that people would simply turn away? Does our society actually prefer not to know?

Fortunately, key people have recommended it remarkably strongly. The National Safeguarding Officer publicly declared, 'This is for anyone who doesn't "get it"!' (ie understand the child's viewpoint). The leadership of the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) were keen enough to co-publish, pushing determinedly in order to get this unique perspective out there. They know Rose's huge sacrifices to 'speak' with words and tears and silence. One reviewer offered support like this: 'You may well weep, rage, feel impotent by turns or even all at once. That is good. Read it.'

By contrast, one magazine ended an otherwise-glowing review with caution. 'The first chapter is shocking.' Another lady murmured: 'I don't think I should give this book to my husband. He might be too upset.' I almost yelled in reply: 'Will you protect an adult from the reality of sexual abuse, letting the children cope as they've learned to do - in silence?'

BREAKING SILENCE

I seek to be curious, not furious. What do these words mean: 'This book is shocking'? I am confident that no child who has been abused would be shocked. They would be consoled, I think; they'd learn that they are not alone, which might give them hope.

Sexual abuse happens. It's endemic. Is our society willing to face that as fact? Or will we express indefinitely our horror and disgust at the atrocities (which, by the way, does nothing to help survivors). While voices shout loudly against the vileness of abusers, the abused feel even less able to be heard.

Even the way we make such a scandal about the latest paedophile maintains an atmosphere that it's them, not us. Abuse is over there, not here. Headlines declaring Jimmy Savile to be a 'Monster!' and 'Molester!' could have been describing Hitler. He didn't belong to us.

While we believe that, we can justify hunting down abusers, forgetting that they operate, like Uncle George, under our noses. The majority of perpetrators sexually assault children known to them, with about 80 percent of offences taking place in the homes of the offender or the victim.'1 But we brand paedophiles as 'inhuman,' perhaps so we can hide them in prison.

But what about those who have been abused? Can we bear their pain?

FELLOW SURVIVORS

Love bears all things. I would like to think that we could work and pray towards a society in which people who have been abused are welcomed; in which our respect for them is demonstrated in such a way that they need not hide or stay silent. Their shame could be countered with admiration for what they've been through. The suffering of each of us is different but none need be despised. We are fellow-pilgrims with questions about where God has led us.

Victims of the holocaust are now invariably called 'holocaust survivors'. Perhaps if we think of those who have been sexually abused as survivors then change could begin. Even language may offer freedom. Society now listens with respect to accounts of the holocaust: are we prepared to consider people who have been abused sexually to have something of value to share with us?

One of my most treasured pieces of correspondence came from a lady in her eighties, whom I had assumed to be too old to tolerate Rose's story. But far from recoiling or defending herself, this lady opened herself to the pain.

'I had no idea of the immensity of the horror of it until I read your book.  I can't express what it all meant to me, coming out of my safe life, but thank you for allowing me to come into these experiences.'

HEARING THE PAIN

Rather than feel helpless, this senior lady took up the challenge to inform herself of what she did not know. A friend had revealed childhood abuse during a Bible study, partly because the group's willingness to listen made it a safe place to receive the disclosure. That is critical. How many of our groups would be able to receive such a disclosure without being dumbfounded, or trying to offer so-called solutions?

If the figures are correct, many more of us may need a safe place to be honest about what has happened to us. A staggering proportion of us are survivors of childhood abuse - 24.1 percent of adults, according to the NSPCC2. These are not other people's neighbours: they are our neighbours and they need us. Abuse in childhood has a legacy and recovery often involves a serious struggle in adulthood. Sadly, some never recover, such as violinist Frances Andrade who, giving evidence in court this February, was overwhelmed by the non-understanding she faced. Her family had no doubt that her suicide was the eventual result of her abuse.

As an adult, Rose became manifestly angry at the bad things that had happened in her childhood. Her wounds were bleeding and open - open to His coming to bind them up. Crucially, she was able to hurl her accusations at God, to ask some very important questions about the story she had been brave enough to relive:

What, Lord, were You doing?

Worst of all, this was Jesus, Whom I had loved. I may have been very naive but I had loved my Friend with all my heart. How could He have repaid me thus?

I didn't verbalise a question to God. The tears coursing down my cheek spoke more loudly than words. I didn't know how God would respond to a cry like this. I didn't know what to expect. What I knew for sure was that I didn't want fake imaginings or religious fantasy.

I wanted only reality. I wanted God and I wanted Him to be real. Would the two mix? I sat down. The house was empty and therefore I allowed my tears to be slightly audible.

FACING THE CHAIR

There are two chairs in my study and for some reason, I allowed myself to picture Jesus, as a man, sitting on the chair opposite mine. I looked in the direction of His chair and I think my facial expression might best be described as 'glowering'. I suspect I was almost daring Him to speak.

Whatever He might begin to say, I was ready with an answer. Something like, 'That doesn't help!'

The Jesus whom I was picturing did not speak. My tears flowed a little more freely but now silently.

It must have been for about half an hour that I sat in my chair and Jesus, I imagined, sat in His. I felt as if He was resting His elbows on the arm-rests of the chair with His hands clasped gently across His tummy. His pose was relaxed; just a little too relaxed for my comfort.

Eventually, I goaded provocatively, 'Well?' I missed off the ending that I might have given: 'What do You have to say for Yourself then?' I hoped that my intonation spoke my hurt without my needing to sound too impertinent.

God's silence persisted for longer than I was comfortable but, just before I got up to swish away in disgust at His uselessness, some words came into my mind that I can only say were not my own idea.

The voice was very gentle, and it was very honouring.

The words I heard were these: 'This is the story of My beloved.'

Hope was rekindled for Rose: she was profoundly consoled. God must have held on to her. This was holy ground. Yet she was also intensely bewildered. Like Mary at the annunciation she asked, 'How can this be?' Suffering can take us deeper into God, not always away from Him.

 

Goodbye Pink Room by Jane Grayshon, is published with CCPAS and available from www.janegrayshon.com or www.ccpas.co.uk.

 

NOTES

1   From: NSPCC (2012) Nearly a thousand registered child sex abusers reoffended. NSPCC press

2  From: Radford et al (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today. London: NSPCC

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