Tag Archives: child abuse

Is the UK’s Online Pornography Ban Going Too Far?

david-cameron-220_1774555fWe know many people were fairly preoccupied yesterday with the news of the royal baby’s birth. But here is another story from the day that is going to affect far, far more people.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a new sweeping government plan to ban (or at least dramatically reduce) viewing of online pornography. The plan, due to begin by the end of this year, will force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block all pornography-related search terms and websites. Individuals wishing to access pornography on their own Internet connections will have to contact their ISP directly in order to opt out of the program. “Extreme pornography” (such as content depicting rape scenes) will be entirely prohibited. Specific measures will also be taken to locate and prosecute viewers and distributors of child pornography.

So far, so good? Maybe not. Cameron appealed to the very sympathetic cause of protecting childhood innocence, but many are calling such blanket measures a violation of privacy rights. Here are some of the arguments:

1. First there’s the idea that the Internet should be a freely accessible source of information (in the broadest sense of the word). If people wish to restrict certain areas of the Internet in their own homes, then that is their prerogative.

2. Many raise the issue of who will determine what is “pornographic” versus what is informational, artistic, or just regular news (will risque images of celebs count?). Also, many mainstream movies are quite graphic, even depicting rape, child abuse, etc. How will these be evaluated?

3. Some argue that censorship of any sort is like a gateway drug for the government. Ban online pornography now, and what other online viewing habits will start being regulated as well?

4. One of the biggest concerns is that Cameron’s plan doesn’t actually address the pornography industry, sex trafficking, child abuse, or violence against women. It seems to be a way of painting over the issue, when there’s still a really dirty wall underneath.

Cameron’s ban qualifies as what is colloquially known as a “sumptuary law,” or a law intended to enforce morals and control certain consumption habits. This has included certain styles of clothing, food, and various “luxury habits.” The argument could be made that if you ban the material associated with the improper habit (ie. alcohol, revealing clothing, or, in this case, pornographic websites) then the behavior will necessarily decrease.

On the other hand: “Guns don’t kill. People do.”

What do you think?


Thumbnail image credit: James Blinn/Alamy

5 Questions Every Modern Parent Should Be Asking

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 1.00.44 PMDo you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re sort of uncomfortable but you don’t complain, don’t leave, don’t speak up because you don’t want to cause a scene or make anyone feel bad?

Even when we have concerns that are legitimate, sometimes we hold our tongues to avoid awkwardness or confrontation. We don’t walk away because we believe our departure implies criticism, judgment or lack of trust in another’s decisions or lifestyle.  We take care not to step on anyone’s toes. We don’t want to be rude or offensive by questioning what folks are doing. Maybe we assume that the other person knows better – or knows something we don’t.

Of course we know just fine ourselves. Our little voices whisper to us, “Get out of here. This feels wrong,” or, “This guy has no idea what he’s talking about. We’re in danger.” And our little voices are usually right on target. Those voices become especially useful when it comes to our kids. But sometimes, just as we ignore it when it comes to our own safety, we ignore it when it comes to theirs.

Even though we like to think that we’d never put our babies in harm’s way, it happens to every parent at some point. That moment when we know we should be changing course but we stay put instead because we don’t want to make waves. At times like these it’s important to remember that there’s nothing rude or offensive about being a good advocate for our children. After all, our kids trust us implicitly and believe that when we send them off into the world that we are sending them off to safe place with responsible people. They never say, “Momma, will I be safe?” They move through the world with confidence, knowing for certain that we have their little backs.

We are our children’s best advocates. We are responsible for our children’s safety. And knowing about the world and how it spins in 2013, we can initiate some pre-emptive, full-disclosure conversations that will provide us with comfort and trust as our children explore the world independently. These are five “little voice” questions that every parent should be asking without hesitation or fear of imposition:

1. “Can you please not drive and text or talk on the phone while my child is in the car?”  

We all know the stats. Distracted drivers hurt people. Carpools being a vital part of parenting, often times we toss kids into minivans assuming that the drivers are responsible behind the wheel simply because they are responsible for children. Do you know if the parents or guardians in your carpool are texting while driving? I admit, while I’ve asked this question to friends on occasion, for the most part I assume that people are doing the right thing. But there’s nothing wrong with asking. We have every right to protect our kids.

2. “Do you keep a gun in your house?”  

The Newtown tragedy was not lost on anyone, certainly not parents of small children. Let’s use this tragedy as a lesson to us all when it comes to gun safety. A few weeks ago, my son was eagerly anticipating a play date with a new friend. The night before the big day, I received an email from the boy’s mom, “Don’t take this the wrong way. But in light of everything that happened this year, do you keep guns in your house?” I was so happy that I wasn’t the only parent asking that question. There is nothing intrusive about ensuring our children are playing in a safe environment. I assured her I don’t have any weapons in my house and we cleared the way for a terrific conversation about modern parenting.

3. “Will there be any other people in your home during the play date?”  

Listen, I’m not a paranoid parent, but when I drop my kids at someone’s house, I want to know about older siblings, friends, visiting uncles or handymen hanging around. When we are alert, we pass this awareness onto our children and we give them a beautiful gift called confidence. When their heads are up, they are better prepared to protect themselves if placed in an uncomfortable position. Abusers seek opportunity.

I always tell my kids this: When you go to pick out a puppy, do you want to take home the puppy who is nipping and barking? Or do you want to take home the puppy that curls up in a ball in your arms? Of course they vote for the snuggly puppy. And then I tell them that abusers think this way when they pick out victims. They want easy prey. When we are confident, when we look people right in the eye and use our strong voices to tell them when we don’t feel comfortable, we are unbreakable. Knowing who is in the house, we can prep our kids with an easy conversation and remind them that if they are ever in a place where they don’t feel right, they should go to a parent and ask for help.

4. “Will the birthday cake have nuts in it? Will nuts be offered at the party?” or, “Does your child have a food allergy?”

According to Food Allergy Research & Education, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy – that’s about two kids in every classroom. With this in mind, the likelihood that an allergy sufferer attends your child’s birthday party is pretty darn good. Peanut is obviously the most prevalent allergy in children, though lots of other issues are out there – eggs, shellfish, gluten, dairy, soy… how can we do the right thing? Some kids know enough to ask the right questions. My son, for example, has been asking, “Are there nuts in this?” since he was two years old. He has a genetic allergy and knows to be vocal. Other kids might just trust that the food is safe. So it’s important for us parents to clear potential danger out of the way by asking about allergies ahead of time. This way the party host has a chance has full disclosure.

But even though the party host may not have an allergy kid, it’s also important for her to ask guests ahead of time. Because the last thing anyone wants to do is serve a strawberry cake with almond extract to a kid with a nut allergy and sit there helplessly while the child breaks out in hives and gasps for air. This is the world we live in now, and these are the precautions we need to take. We can no longer take the “I didn’t know better” approach. Because we do know better. Ask the questions. Protect the child. Protect yourself.

5. “Can you please not use your cell phone or go in my bedroom while babysitting?”  

We may be comfortable assuming that our babysitters know better than to text, play “Words with Friends” and chit-chat on their iPhones while caring for our children. But most likely, this is not the case. Very rarely do teens log out. But it is absolutely acceptable to ask them to turn off electronics while watching our kids. We are paying them to give their full attention to our children, after all. And if there is an emergency, they can use the house phone.

We may also assume that sitters respect our privacy when they’re in the house. But I’ve been shocked to hear many adult friends confess that they used to rifle through bedside goodie drawers and personal spaces of parents for whom they sat as teens. If it’s an uncomfortable topic to discuss casually, write down a short list of expectations for the sitter like this:

  • chicken soup for dinner
  • PG movies only
  • no texting or phone calls while kids are awake
  • be sure toys are put away and kitchen is clean
  • kids in bed by 9pm
  • my bedroom is completely off limits
  • we’ll be home by 11 but call for any problems

By taking time to create clear boundaries, we are letting others know that we value ourselves and our families. This is a good thing. And really, when we share our expectations we are helping everyone by avoiding uncomfortable situations. It’s okay to speak up. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to advocate for our kids’ safety. Safety is the last thing on their minds so it needs to be the first thing on ours.

Find Out What You Want – Step #3


 What a remarkably appropriate stick this is, how well fitted for today. How interesting that I pulled it out of my bunch now, of all times. Now that I sit in a hotel room in Poland, in Katowice, in the city I grew up in. The city I escaped from. The city that still haunts me in nightmares.

Here I am, shocked like a deer in the headlights, because I feel the past closing in around me. I feel a life that is over and done with, that is gone, long gone, coming back from its dark hole. Here I am. Not Pausha Foley anymore but Patrycja Gawronska. Again.

Clinging to Christopher with all my might – he is my shield against Polishness. My link to Pausha. My link to Pausha Foley. To the American life. To the French life. To the lives I created for myself.

But then this – this dark, hard, painful existence in this dirty, dark, crumbling city – have I created this too? Have I created my childhood full of fear and pain? Have I created the trauma that sent me for long years into apathy and obliviousness?

I would hesitate to answer this … maybe … has it not been for one night, long ago, in Los Angeles. I worked with the wizard that night. I went deep, deep into the source of me, into dark places and scary blanknesses filled with a terrifying father, with masculine abuse and feminine neglect, with collapse of my power, my autonomy, my soul. And then, when the time came to return to my body, I resurfaced accompanied by a thought:

interesting how I organized all those experiences for myself…

Click here to read Find Out What You Want – Step #1 and Find Out What You Want – Step # 2

The Anti-Abuse Ad Only Children Can See

Visual-ANAR-SOLO-NI„OS-693x1024Children are arguably the most vulnerable population in human society. They are entirely dependent upon caregivers who may or may not be happy, prepared, or willing to provide them with a stable and loving home. Child victims of abuse are often particularly powerless in their circumstances, as it can be difficult to circumvent authority figures in order to seek out real help. That’s why a Spanish organization, Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk Foundation (or ANAR) has created a special anti-abuse advertisement that displays different messages to adults and children.

How, you might ask? It has to do with height and a kind of artifice similar to those hologram bookmarks we used to have as kids that showed different images depending on the angle from which you viewed it. From an average adult height, ANAR’s billboard reads, “Sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” From 4’5” and lower, the ad displays the message, “If somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you,” followed by the phone number. Here’s how it works:


This revolutionary ad may be the key to getting abused children the kind of help they need. It could also potentially sow distrust between parents and their children, and it could be co-opted by advertising agencies to transmit all kinds of messages to children without their caregivers knowing. For now, though, it’s an amazing step in the direction of child empowerment and safety, and we applaud ANAR’s work.

What do you think? What kinds of messages do think would be beneficial for children’s eyes alone?

Healing Crooked Genes

Most of us think of genetics as fate.  Tough luck if some of your genes are programmed for trouble.  Well, there is ,more to it than that.

It now seems likely that genes can be reprogrammed, through something as simple as a basic shift in attitude or change in life style.  It’s the discovery in a field of genetics called epigenetics that has identified a biochemical code carried in our DNA.   Epigenome is the name of this code has been given.  It acts on genes like a dimmer switch.  Epigenomes can turn up the power in genes that make life wonderful and turn down the power in those that make life difficult.   

The Unhappy News: Child Abuse and Gene Expression

Researchers recently found evidence of this genetic feature in the brain tissue of people who were abused in childhood and later committed suicide.[1]  They found changes in the DNA expression of a gene that regulates the way the brain controls the stress response, intensifying stress reactions and short circuiting the brain’s capacity to calm these reactions.  As a result, the history of abuse made these people more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.   The environment of abuse had turned the stress gene way up, locking the brain into threat mode and generating a chronic state of stress.  It made their lives unbearable.  This unfortunate gene expression was not found in postmortem brain samples of people who had no history of childhood abuse. 

Twins provide another example of how life experience can affect the manner in which DNA expresses a trait or tendency.  At birth, identical twins have identical genes. However, as time goes by, one twin can develop psychiatric problems or cancer while the other does not.  Studies show that as twins age, their epigenomes express differently.  As a result, their lives turn out differently. 

The point is DNA expression can be altered in adulthood.  In the case of the stress gene, its expression can be changed to enable the brain to regulate the stress response system more effectively.  In one study of men with prostate cancer, researchers found that a three-month program involving a healthy diet, moderate exercise and daily stress management had the effect of turning up 48 genes and turning down 483 genes. [2]  

The Happy News: Love and Gene Expression

It appears that love can also activate epigenomes. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford relates a story about a boy who was severely abused, emotionally and physically.[3] After he became a ward of the court it was discovered that he had zero growth hormone in his bloodstream. Chronic stress had completely shut down his growth system, to the degree of threatening his life.  He was hospitalized, and over the next two months developed a close relationship with his ward nurse —undoubtedly the first normal relationship he had ever experienced.  To everyone’s amazement, his growth hormone levels zoomed back to normal.  When his friend, the nurse, went on vacation the boy’s levels dropped back to zero.  Interestingly, it rose again immediately after her return.” 

“Think about it,” Sapolsky commented. “The rate at which this child was depositing calcium in his bones could be explained entirely by how safe and loved he was feeling in the world.”  The relationship we offer one another may determine the expression of genes involved in securing our well being, emotionally and physically.  It appears we are not “victims”of genetics. 

“The thing I love about epigenetics,” says Dr. Randy Jirtle, Director of the Epigenetics and Imprinting Laboratory at Duke University, “is that you have the potential to alter your destiny.” [4]

Forgiveness and Gene Expression

I had an experience in mid life in which an internal change I made altered the way my personality was wired, changing the trajectory of my life.  I was abused as a child by my stepfather.  At eighteen I left home and for the next twenty years had nothing to do with “that man,” as I called him.  As far as I was concerned he was dead and gone.  But, epigenetically, he was anything but dead.  The years of abuse had chemically encoded my stress response gene for a hair-pin trigger that set off fight or flight reactions, especially the fight version.  If someone looked at me crosswise, I became paranoid.  If someone got in my face, I blew up.  I was not an unlovable and unloving human being.  I had a good heart.  But under certain conditions, the circuitry operating in me back in my twenties and thirties could turn me into a frightened and frightening person in the blink of an eye.  It damaged trust in important relationships and devastated my self-esteem.   

Certainly, I was a much better father and husband than my stepfather, but I had to admit to myself there were moments when I couldn’t tell him from me. I knew nothing about epigenetics at that time, but it did seem as if some aspect of his volatility was encoded in my brain, as though inherited. But how could that be, since he was not my biological father? 

We now know from epigenetics that it’s probable his abuse coded a gene that set the default in my brain to anger.   Someone in his past had done the same to him, and someone before that person, going back generations.  I now was part of that epigenetic inheritance and I was passing it on to my children.  It was up to me to heal Dr. Jekyll of Mr. Hyde and spare the next generation.  To do this, I had to face my past beginning with facing my stepfather. 

After years of estrangement, I went to see him.  My stepfather had aged and was quite ill, which ironically helped us reconnect.  His illness made him humble and vulnerable, which in turn made it easier for us to open our hearts to each other.  The result was a process of forgiving that healed my life in ways I could not have imagined.  I am convinced that if science had biopsied my brain before and after the journey I made with my stepfather, they would have found that the stress response gene had recoded, quieting neural networks that cause fight-or-flight and amplifying networks that give peace a chance. 

Ten years after my stepfather died, I wrote a poem about our journey together.  It’s part of a book of poetry I wrote called Fishing for Fallen Light (Wakan Press, 2000).   Over the years, I’ve read this poem at workshops and recitals, perhaps a hundred times.  I am always humbled by its impact on people who, like me, were subjected to childhood abuse of one kind or another.  The poem seems to have a therapeutic effect on people.  Perhaps it helps generate an epigenetic change.  Who knows?  Science is just beginning to understand the way a change in attitude can change our brain to change our life. 

I offer this poem to anyone who wants to forgive the past in order to change a gene that can free your future.   


[1] “Epigenetic regulation of the glucocorticoid receptor in human brain associates with childhood abuse.” Patrick O McGowan, Aya Sasaki, Ana C D’Alessio, Sergiy Dymov, Benoit Labonté, Moshe Szyf, Gustavo Turecki & Michael J Meaney. Nature Neuroscience Published online: 22 February 2009. doi:10.1038/nn.2270 

[2] Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention,  Dean Ornish, Mark Jesus M. Magbanua, Gerdi Weidner, Vivian Weinberg, Colleen Kemp, Christopher Green, Michael D. Mattie, Ruth Marlin, Jeff Simko, Katsuto Shinohara, Christopher M. Haqq, and Peter R. Carroll PNAS 2008 105: 8369-8374. 

[3] Robert Sapolsky, “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Devastating Effects of Stress on Children,” Keynote address, Brain Connection to Education Spring Conference, San Francisco (May 11–13, 2000): http://cklrecords.blogspot.com/2006/03/why-zebras-dont-get-ulcers.html.

[4] Epigenetics: Study of Lifestyle Choices and How They Alter Gene Behavior. Amber Dance, Special to The Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/news/health/la-he-epigenetics-20100503,0,2006517,print.story, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Increase Awareness For Child Slavery: Rani Hong’s Appearance on NBC April 5th 2010 7 pm PDT

Paulose, a farmer in a hot corner of India in 1999, looked up suddenly from his work, not believing his ears.  He strained to hear the conversation of the people in the road, and then walked over to be sure he had not been dreaming.  There was a small gathering of villagers talking about a visitor to the village.  An American woman named Rani, who looked Indian but did not speak the local language.  She was looking for her files that may help lead her to any distant family members.  “That’s our Rani!  That’s our Rani!” shouted Paulose.  “She’s come home to us!” As he shouted he dropped his hoe and sprinted away to go and track her down.   So began the rarest of reunions, 21 years in the making:  A child stolen from her family at the age of 7, sold into slavery, liberated years later, and returning to her native village to put the pieces of her life history back together. 


 The life history of Rani Hong is complicated and in many places tragic.  She is a survivor of the human trafficking that thrives all over the world, but particularly in India.  Unlike many victims of this crime, however, Rani not only was rescued from her slaveholders, but raised in the United States by an adoptive mother who instilled her with the belief that love can conquer any evil.  Together with her husband Trong, also a survivor of child trafficking out of Vietnam, they use this shared belief to dedicate their lives to the goal of a slave-free world as founders of the non-profit organization called The Tronie Foundation. 

 1999 was just the beginning of Rani’s passion and her life time commitment to end the modern day slave trade worldwide.   This began her work as an abolitionist and to call others into action to volunteer and became a strong voice to the anti-trafficking movement.   

 In 2002, Rani worked with Washington state legislators to pass the first law in the country to pass state wide anti-trafficking legislation.  By invitation, Rani has worked with the US Department of State as an ambassador expert in trafficking issues.  In this capacity, she traveled to India in 2009 to speak at US Embassies in Calcutta and New Delhi, sharing her story, speaking out against trafficking, and through media events reached an audience of several million people in her home country to educate the horrors of this crime. 

 In March of this year, Rani continued her work in Washington State, by bringing together representatives from the Governor’s office, the Attorney General’s office, State legislators, the non-profit community, and the news media to unite to help Washington become the first slave-free state in the nation. 

 Her advocacy work with thousands of people is setting the path for activism in their local communities.

 Beyond the work in Washington state, Rani Hong receives support from advisors in Los Angeles this year — primarily Diane McArter, Sir Ken and Lady Terry Robinson, and colleagues of theirs in Los Angeles ranging from the entertainment, advertising, legal and medical fields.  They participated in a strategic planning session in Santa Monica, California in January, 2010, which has been a milestone in the work of Rani Hong to bring worldwide attention to the issue of slavery, healing and provide the inspiration and direction to continue the battle to stop slavery in our state, in our country and in our world.

 From a poverty-stricken village in India to the Capitol Building in Olympia, Washington, to International Parliaments, and numerous international press conferences, Rani Hong and the Tronie Foundation are striking proof that with courage and a passion for justice, people’s eyes can be opened to the reality of the enslaved, laws can be changed, and one voice can be joined with many to make way for a world that is truly slave-free

 Please show your support on the issue of Human Trafficking by voting for Rani Hong on


   to represent Washington State at our Nation’s Capitol for her lifetime achievements during the week of April 5-9th 2010.

 You can also visit http://www.youtube.com/user/thetroniefoundationfor more videos.

 Written by Dana Marie Shepherd, Secretary of Tronie Foundation and supported by Sir Ken Robinson


Recovery from child abuse

I am a single mother of a 10 year old very gifted and strong willed boy. In October 2008 my son shared devastating news that his cousin had been sexually abusing him for two years. In August 2009 we finished our trial where my nephew was charged with 6 counts of aggravated sexual assault. I have had in counseling and feel he is doing better than most given his situation. However, his anger towards me and his sadness is affecting him in every way. I give him a safe place to get rid of his anger in what we call ‘special time’ but now he is resisting this too because he feels the yucky feelings come out and he shuts down. I am so torn as to how I support his process and guide him without being a victim. I feel as though time is running short in so many ways before all this pain affects his future academically and emotionally. He has an amazing heart and soul and truly wants peers to like him and wants to do good but the power struggle is preventing all. Please guide me as to how I can help a young boy before he reaches the teenage years and then finds other ways to hide his pain.



Apologizing to a friend


I am a survivor of child sexual abuse and have been trying to heal myself ever since. I am a healthy looking 27 year old but with serious issues in managing relationships. Only a couple of my very close friends know about my past. Over the years I have been trying to accept what happened to me and move on. I have many friends who have helped me a lot to move away from my painful situation without knowing my past. I love spending time with my family and friends, and have become quite balanced.

I have always given a lot of importance to what I think and have always viewed every situation emotionally. The idea was to give myself the caress that I have always been looking for. But now I have become a person who thinks she is always right as she has been through the difficult times and I try to justify all my actions even if it hurts few people. I expect everyone to handle their problems the way I do – by expressing myself openly to my friends or by actions.

But recently I have been proven wrong. A very close friend of mine has had a difficult life because his mother is very possessive about him and has been living a life in suffocation. But he has accepted the situation and found his solace in his writings and music. He does not express himself openly and has very few friends. I am very disturbed with his situation. He did consider me as a friend who understands him very well (though he is not aware of my own problematic childhood). I have been trying to tell him that he needs to express himself openly to his friends in order to heal himself.

But he says that he does express himself, but through his writings and his music. I argued with him about this saying he should not limit himself to these inanimate things and find solution to his problems by expressing himself to his friends. But he got angry and upset saying that he is happy with his life now and that I did not understand him at all. He is not willing to talk to me now. I have hurt him and I would never want to hurt him. What should I do? I am not sure if he will accept my apology and it would be very difficult explaining to him, why I always think that everyone should handle problems my way. Now I very well understand that every person deploys his own method to manage problems, but how do I explain that to him without letting my problem known to him. Please help me.



Child Abuse: When Will We Do Away with this National Recognition?

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. We take one day to remember mothers and fathers, those who gave their lives for this country, the signing of The Declaration of Independence, a man who gave his life in the name of civil rights, and the day Christ was born. I have often wondered how many children have had to be neglected, slapped around or sexually violated in order to designate an entire month to prevention. What does it say about a society that is more concerned with its economic checkbook than the abuse of its children? Are they somehow related? I don’t have the answers but only more questions like, How did this happen? And, What can we do to eradicate it completely so April can be designated National Something Else Month?

The focus for the month is on children but I wonder how many grown children of abuse are remembered? They are the silent victims who have stuffed down or sucked up the memories because it’s the best they could do. It’s estimated there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the U.S. Do they take part in the activities of National Child Abuse Prevention Month? I know I don’t.

In Finding Grace (St. Martin’s Press, March 2009) I relate briefly (I did not want the book to be heavy with abuse so it’s relegated to the first chapter) my sexual molestation by a neighbor when I was five or six years old. No one rushed through the door to save me, the walls didn’t fall on or the floor swallow up what was happening in the bedroom of that dilapidated farmhouse. It just happened. Period. I knew that what had happened to me was wrong and that I should never talk about it. So I didn’t. Ever. There’s just never a good time to bring up abuse. Who wants to drop that egg on a dinner party? I didn’t set out to hold secrets but shame is a great motivator. For years I thought that what happened was my fault: I shouldn’t have been playing hide-n-go-seek in the house, I never should have gone upstairs, I should have fought harder or screamed louder. Round and round I went until I convinced myself that I was the one in the wrong.

As I began to write more frequently I began to get requests for speaking engagements. In small gatherings I would talk about the abuse as part of my journey. This continued for a couple of years and then I was invited to speak at a conference with 14,000 people in attendance. "Will you talk about the abuse?" My husband asked weeks before the scheduled event. I assured him that I wouldn’t bring it up.

"There will be too many people," I said. "Nobody wants to hear about that."

"I think you’re wrong," he said. "Don’t you think the percentage of people at that conference who have been molested is pretty high?" I shrugged, which seemed like a perfectly good answer to me. "That’s not an answer he said."

On the day I was flying out I took the kids’ to my in-laws house across town. I came home and threw my books, notes and computer in my backpack and realized I had thirty minutes to kill before leaving. Since everything was packed and the house was clean I turned on the television in the middle of the day (a rare feat for the parents of little ones. Usually I can catch every tenth word or so and have to call a friend to fill in the rest. "What’d Dr. Oz say about poop?") The Oprah Show was halfway through and she was interviewing a young girl in Africa who had been repeatedly raped by her father. According to The World Bank, a sex crime happens every twenty seconds in Africa. Does Africa have national child abuse prevention month? If they did, would it make a difference? In this country alone in 2006, 6 million cases of child abuse were reported to Child Protective Services. How many cases weren’t reported?

Tears poured down the girls face on the TV and my eyes filled. I don’t recall the exact words but Oprah said something like, "Why are you crying?" The girl couldn’t answer. "Do you think this was your fault?" Oprah asked. The girl nodded and tears streamed over her cheeks. My heart sank. God can be very pushy at times. First my husband and now Oprah! I got out my computer and began to type.

When it was time to leave for the airport my husband asked, "What are you doing? We need to leave."

"Changing my talk," I said. I shut the computer and put it inside my backpack, throwing it over my shoulder. "I’m talking about the molestation."

My husband grabbed a suitcase and followed after me. "What changed your mind?"

"Oprah," I said, walking out the door.

"Oprah!?" he yelled, after me. "Since when do you talk to her?"

In that short fifteen-minute segment I reworked my entire talk and presented it in front of those 14,000 people and that young girl increased my motivation in writing Finding Grace. When I finished speaking that day people ran up to me in the corridors. They all looked different but their comments were the same: "That happened to me." They were silent victims who’d held their secrets long enough. One young mother said her daughter had been molested but she didn’t know what to say or do.

"Tell her it’s not her fault," I said. "Then tell her again because she won’t believe you. And then tell her again because she still won’t believe you."

I recently met a sixty-year-old woman who had read Finding Grace. She grabbed me and whispered, "I am your chapter one." She had never said a word about her abuse for over fifty years so no one ever had the chance to tell her it wasn’t her fault.

In this National Child Abuse Prevention Month I say to all the grown silent victims: It was not your fault. It is not your shame to bear. You did nothing wrong. It took me a long time to realize that. Maybe if more of us realize it we can use our voices in prevention and to promote healing. And maybe someday April will be National Chocolate Chip Cookie Month instead. Let’s hope.

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