I have often wondered why so many people seem to turn a blind eye when they see something that doesn’t seem right regarding a child. Maybe they did not see anything but they heard a rumor and maybe they thought it was none of their business. As a child abuse survivor, I’m here to tell you that when you make the choice to turn a blind eye you’re abandoning that child. You might feel that it isn’t your concern or that the child’s parents should be the ones deciding what to do. If you only take one thing away from reading my blog I’d like you to take away that you may be the only thing standing between that child and a lifetime of trauma.
In isolated churches where the outside world is not welcome, children have no one to turn to but those inside of their little community. If the community is more interested in protecting its reputation than protecting the life of the child than that child really has no chance. Not only will they deal with the trauma of whatever abuse happens to them but they may deal with the trauma of not being believed or of feeling unworthy of protection. It may take a lot of courage to speak up and you may have to endure criticism but in the end, is it ever wrong to try to protect or save a child?
If any of the adults around me had stopped to think about how odd it was that a 30ish-year-old man was spending so much time with me they might have asked some questions. The heat of that attention may have scared Steve off from abusing me, he may have felt he was being watched. Had one of the women who knew about this come to me just to check in and see if everything was ok maybe that would have given me a chance to open up, or again it may have scared Steve off. I told him pretty much everything about what was going on in my life. The time he was spending with me was so out there in the open for anyone who was paying attention to see. If you were one of the people who went out after church and shared a meal then you knew he was driving me around. If you were part of his group of friends you knew he was taking me on road trips with him. These adults could have saved me from some of my trauma.
When Steve Dahl was abusing me our church averaged around 250-300 depending on the Sunday. Steve played his trumpet in every service. He and his wife sat in the second row. He was popular and well liked. A man like that doesn’t just disappear from a church and nobody notices he is gone. A woman doesn’t have her husband suddenly leave and no one know what is going on. Her sister was suddenly gone too, so there is another person gone. Pastor Grant would have said something to the elders. The women of the church would have had some idea what was going on with Debbie, Steve’s wife, it would have been out there amongst the congregation. That is a lot of adults choosing to turn a blind eye. Choosing to say nothing. As a child, I could feel everyone stepping back from me like I had some disease they might catch. I knew they knew. I felt judged and unworthy of love. No one reached out to me in love, no one checked in on me, this added to my trauma. I am sure they assumed that pastor Grant would take care of it but maybe they should have checked to be sure. If love and compassion were present then I feel that backing away from me wouldn’t have happened. How do you back away from a wounded child? If they really thought I was a seductive child or whatever they are trying to say now, why didn’t that drive them to ask questions? Even if they had chosen to reach out to me at this point they could have saved me some trauma. If love and therapy had been applied here things could have turned out very differently for me.
In all of the intervening years running right up to the present if any of the adults who heard rumors or flat out knew about what happened had come to me and checked in they could have reduced my trauma.
C-PTSD encompasses trauma coming from many different sources over a long period of time. Food insecurity and poverty featured heavily during my childhood. This was no secret. I can remember one day when my mother took me for a school uniform fitting and another woman who was there commented on how I was so thin I looked like I could just blow away in the wind. On another occasion, I worked very hard to be on the honor roll at school and the reward was to go on a field trip out of town to a museum. I was sooo excited! There was only one problem, my shoes developed a sudden hole in the bottom and I was too embarrassed to go. We had no money for another pair of shoes so my mother called Roy and asked if he could help. He asked another student if she could loan me a pair of shoes for the day. I was mortified. I wore the shoes and the young woman who loaned them to me made sure everyone knew what had happened. Then I gave them back. Well, that solved the issue for that one day, but what would have really helped was if someone had offered to buy me some shoes. Maybe Roy who worked in the school and was my youth leader, or maybe this girl’s parents who were elders at the time. Instead they turned a blind eye. There were adults who knew we did not have electricity from time to time. One person, Ida Cox helped my mother. I remember it was such a big deal and made my life so much easier for a time. The other times we had no electricity no one helped. I know people dropped me off to that sad dark house after church. There were never any lights on. I would open the door and this dark heavy oppression would hit me like a wall of despair. Sometimes my mother would be sitting on the porch outside to greet me and other times the house would be silent. I would feel the way to the stairs leading up to my bedroom and then feel for the oil lamp to give me some light. Didn’t these adults wonder why they never saw a light come on? On one occasion a young adult man dropped me off after a service and I invited him in. My mom and stepdad were not there for some reason. I had nothing to offer him but Koolaid and at one point he asked me about the cooler on the floor. I explained to him that we have no power and that is where we kept our food. I even opened it up briefly to show him the contents. He smiled tightly and soon was out the door. I felt embarrassed and immediately wished I had not invited him in. Another blind eye.
I grew up feeling like everyone could see my pain and no one would help me. I grew up feeling unworthy, sometimes hungry, sometimes lonely, always unloved. This is the garden my trauma grew out of. The harvest of my childhood is an adulthood full of unraveling. First you have to figure out what is wrong with you. You can sense early on in adulthood that you are not like most people. Then you start the long journey of trying to heal. You try dozens of things until you land on some that help. Most help a little but there is no magic pill. Mine is a life of lost potential. I was too busy struggling to survive to do what most people do in their young adulthood. I had no one to help me figure out how to go to college. I had no desire to live with either of my parents and so I moved out at age 17 and got my own apartment. I worked hard to survive but there was no time to nurture myself or think about how to fix what was broken. When you think about turning a blind eye think of me and maybe reconsider. Would one adult be able to solve all of my childhood issues? Probably not, but if I could have entered adulthood with one less layer to my trauma it would have made a huge difference to me.
I believe that churches give too much power to pastors. They often feel that the pastor knows about things and is taking care of them. In legalistic churches, they often blame the victim and stand in judgement instead of applying love and compassion. They may gain salvation but they lose their humanity. The people at Calvary Gospel certainly seem to have lost their heart. How can they side with the abuser over and over again? They pray for the abuser and the victim becomes the problem. This may be why some people feel it is better to turn a blind eye. If they side with the wounded it will not be long before they are also wounded. It is selfish self-preservation. If you are in a group that causes you to silent that inner voice that tells you something is off then I advise you to run! Don’t let an organization like Calvary Gospel take away your humanity and care for children, the poor, elderly, and suffering. Don’t turn a blind eye, say something, reach out and offer your help. If you do this you can hold onto your heart and maybe help someone else to heal theirs.
As I look at the photos above all I can think is that she deserved better from all of the adults in her life.