A disclaimer: I worked for several years in Early Intervention, a nationwide program that serves children under three years old with developmental delays and disabilities. This is a description of my first meeting with one of the children I served. In the following (true) story, the foster mother was unimpressive at best. However, I know and love several amazing foster parents. I have watched children flourish under the love and nurturing of good foster homes. So please don’t read this particular character as a commentary on the foster care system. The world is already a better place because of families who have devoted their lives to displaced children. Having said that …
I remember sitting in a clean, dark living room cluttered with porcelain and picture frames. The sun is shining, it’s springtime in the South, and this is my last appointment of the day. I’m ready to finish up and be outside. I have conducted meetings like this a few hundred times, and by now am comfortable sitting in strangers’ living rooms. I don’t remember the foster mother’s face, but I remember her demeanor as cold, indifferent. I talk briefly with the little girl before I open her file. She’s two years old, with neatly braided hair and a clean pink sundress. She and her four-year-old sister have been in foster care for only a few months. They are together in the living room. I notice how quiet they are, how the little girl doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t smile. I open my notes.
I ask her foster mother the usual questions, and she answers politely without elaborating. As I’m completing another form for her to sign, she looks at the little girl. “Go on, now. Go potty.” The girl begins to cry, not with the exuberant resistance of a toddler, but in a guttural wail I have never heard in another context. The woman is undaunted. “Go.” The little girl obeys, moaning as she moves across the room and down the hallway. “Does she always cry like that?” I ask. “Only when she goes to the bathroom,” she responds. “I don’t know why. Something must have happened.”
Something must have happened.
I am not an expert on child abuse, but I know there is only one reason why baby girls are terrified of bathrooms. I try to reason with myself. Don’t respond, I think. She’s already in the system; someone already knows more about this than you do. They don’t even know you yet. There’s nothing you can do about it. Just have this woman sign the forms and you can go home. But it’s not working. I hear her at the far end of the house now, softly wailing in the bathroom. I put down my file. I can’t take it.
“Excuse me,” I say to the woman. She does not respond. I walk to the end of the hall and see the little girl, standing alone outside of the bathroom, still moaning. I pick her up. “Shh,” I said. “You’re okay. It’s okay.” She relaxes against me, resting her braids on my shoulder as I rock her. She is no more or less afraid of me than anyone else. Gradually the wails subside. Her breathing slows to the shuddering sob of a tired baby. When she is calm, I carry her back into the living room. I sit down on the couch, the little girl in my lap, talking quietly to her. She never looks at my eyes.
* 90-95% of sexual abuse is never reported.
* 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18.
* Among them, nearly 30% will be molested before the age of 7.
* In the United States, three million children will be sexually abused this year.
* 90% will know their assailant.
* 1 in 20 men will sexually abuse a child.
*1 in 3300 women will also become perpetrators.
* When sexual abuse is reported, only 1-4% are false accusations.
* In those instances, 75% are made by an adult, not a child.
* Thirty nine million American adults were sexually abused as children.
They are staggering statistics that we never hear.
In preparing for the 40 Day Fast, there has been a lot of talk about abundance and excess. In this, too, I see my own excess. How easily I trust others, how naively I assume the best because I have never endured the worst of humanity. How often I have sensed that something was wrong, but chosen to believe otherwise. It is so overwhelming to consider nationally that I have chosen to pray specifically for my little corner of the world. I am focusing on the greater Montgomery area of Alabama. My prayer is that a child will be heard and a child will be spared every hour that I pray. I am also praying for adults in my sphere of influence who were abused as children, that they will experience the freedom and peace that only comes from the restoring power of Christ.
In every county there are organizations devoted to catching criminals and helping children and adults heal from the devastation of sexual abuse. I have personally interacted with The Family Sunshine Center in Montgomery and the Rape and Sexual Abuse Center in Nashville. Both programs are run by gracious and compassionate people. If you have time or money to give to your local program, by all means, they need a hand. But if you want to know how to help, just look around. Three million children need us to pay attention, to ask uncomfortable questions and speak up when we think something is wrong. And 39 million adults need to talk.