Just World Trauma And The Loss of Individual Responsibility

“To err is human” is a common expression, but we should not believe there is always room for error. In some cases there is no room for error. None.

My Dear Readers,

By now, many of us, thanks to today’s technology and the mass media, have been inundated by the senseless acts of violence occurring in North Charleston, South Carolina and Panama City, Florida. These areas are forever branded in our memories. These incidents have left many of us, regardless of our race or location in the world shaking our heads in bewilderment.

In North Charleston, there is video evidence of a black police officer committing a crime of providing false report writing and covering up the murder of a black man by a white police officer.  In the Panama City incident, there is video evidence of three male college students from a prestigious HBCU (historically black college or university) gang raping an unconscious woman on a beach in broad daylight in the presence of hundreds of people.

The videos of both incidents are shocking, and for some members of the African-American community, are unbelievable.  Perhaps watching a video of a police officer calmly shooting a black man in the back as he ran away is just as shocking and unbelievable to the white majority as well.  Either way, it cannot be disputed or denied.

In my work as a clinical traumatologist, I am interested in the underlying reasons that may form the basis for such behavior, and I believe there is something we can learn from these events.

In the field of clinical traumatology, one of the sub traumas that can impact an individual is “just world trauma.” In this form of trauma, people have a need to believe in a just world, one in which they get what they deserve and deserve what they get.

The just world theory corresponds to the principle of “goodness,” that is, that the goodness of an individual is a primary factor that determines his or her fate in life.  Trauma shatters the just world hypothesis because the traumatic response occurs as a result of what is perceived to be an “out of the ordinary” event that is experienced as a direct threat to the individual’s survival and self-preservation.

Just World Trauma impacts more people than those who are directly involved in specific events such as those in North Charleston, Baltimore, or Panama City.  Trauma also impacts the family, friends and peers of the individuals involved.

In a way, we are all impacted by just world trauma. When Mr. Scott attended a family party a few days before, his family and friends were unaware that this would be one of the last memories they would have with him.  Neither did the parents of the woman who was attacked in Panama City imagine such a horrible crime would happen to their daughter.

Neither the victims nor their families did anything to deserve the traumas that they now must endure. How does one make sense of this injustice in a “just world?”

We must also consider the actions of the South Carolina police officer who witnessed his colleague dropping an object next to the body and not including this observation in his official report.  Several questions arise as one attempts to make sense of this police officer’s actions and behavior:

  • Why would he intentionally write a false report?
  • Why would he deny observing the planted taser next to the body of Mr. Scott?
  • Finally as a person who took an oath, why would he forsake his oath and in doing so, betray the community’s trust?

Regarding the three men of which two have been charged (the third has not been found) many questions remain to be asked.  The two men charged attended a prestigious university.  They had bright futures.

  • Why would these men engage in a behavior in which they know to be morally wrong, and not within the value system of the communities from which they come from?
  • Why would these men engage in gang rape in broad daylight in front of hundreds of people?
  • Why would these young men engage in behavior that would result in criminal charges, and ultimately result in incarceration and lifetime registration as sexual offenders?

Finally, we must not ignore the actions of the hundreds of people walking around the incident observing in which three different men sexually assaulted the unidentified woman. These people did nothing to intervene, protect the woman or call the police.

In responding to these events, two concepts come to mind as I look at the actions of the second police officer in North Charleston and those of the individuals who were involved in the sexual assault.  The first is ABC, which refers to the basic human need for acceptance, belonging, and commitment to a “group identity”.  The second is the phenomenon of “groupthink.”

The incident North Charleston was not simply about race. It is also about police culture and the beliefs ingrained therein.  One proud police officer I know, now retired, told me:

  • “We (the police) are brothers. We look after our own.”
  • “If I ever got shot, I would bleed the color blue.”
  • “I want to be buried in my uniform. My brothers will escort me to my grave.”

Simply stated, both officers are members of a fraternal order—in this case, it is the police department.  They often view themselves as being surrounded by a hostile population that they are obligated by their sworn vow to protect, and often, their fellow officer, their “brother,” is the only thing standing between them and that danger. As a result, one does not “rat’ on a fellow officer, a brother.

Regarding the sexual assault in Panama City, there is a psychological phenomenon called “Groupthink” that occurs the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision making outcome that is shared by all the members without discussion or critical dissent.  Consequently, it can be the desire for acceptance from a group that can discourage creativity or the sense of individual responsibility.

An example of such behavior is a comment on the video made by one of the assailants prior to the sexual assault:

“She isn’t going to know.”

As his assault begins, the other men become willing participants.

The concept of groupthink parallels the ABC model.  The common theme is one of internalized pressure being brought on by group behavior.  This can be seem with the actions of the second police officer in North Charleston as well as with these young men in Panama City.  In both situations, the people involved reject individual responsibility in the interest of gaining acceptance, belonging, and commitment to a group identity.

Concluding Words

Understanding why these actions may have occurred does not negate accountability.  For making the choice of rejecting individual responsibility, all individuals involved must respond to the consequences brought on by the decisions they chose.

What remains disturbing are the behaviors of hundreds of individuals who, instead of intervening, protecting the victim, or notifying the police, chose to continue partying.  Although these individuals did not participate in the sexual assault, their failure to act extends into the realm of “groupthink” and is an abrogation of their responsibility to residing in a just society.

A proactive response to “just world trauma” is to reject the concept of groupthink, and in doing so we can seek to transform its foundation (ABC) into a different ABC: building a psychological foundation that supports empowerment through advocacy, balance and calmness.

It is through this new foundation that the individual can respond to the pressures of the external world.  It is through the resulting empowerment from within that the psychological self can lead the individual in the journey of achieving goals and objectives in life.

The lives of these individuals, the victims, their families, the police officer and the assailants have been forever impacted.  Standing at the crossroads, we as individuals will continue to be faced with the choice of following the group, or to empower ourselves by taking responsibility for our own actions and the communities in which we live.

A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.

-Ten Flashes of Light of the Journey of Life

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

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The Impact of Racial Labeling

My Dear Readers,

Labeling is a necessity in life.  It is through labeling that we identify differences among ourselves.  However, it comes with a price that we pay when this labeling impacts the way we view our relationships.

Recently while looking at Facebook, I came across an interesting video of a young black man following an encounter with a police officer. Prior to reading the post, I took a deep breath to prepare myself for what I assumed was going to be another traumatic experience concerning a black man and the police.

In viewing the video, I was surprised as the young man spoke eloquently about the traffic stop in Lexington County, SC and how he and the police officer handled themselves.  The young black man stated that as he was being pulled over, he followed his protocol of safety—he kept his hands on the steering wheel, and remained polite and calm.  He added that the police officer was professional and most importantly, both the police officer and the black man left the encounter alive and without incident.

What I find interesting about the video is the young man’s comment that “we should all stop the labeling.”  He added that not all police officers are bad and not all black men are good. Needless to say, the post went viral; such comments were not expected from a black man.

The young man is correct.  Not every police officer is bad, and not all black men are good.  However, the fact remains that society grants the police officer the power to take a life when justified to do so.  In doing so, the society turns a blind eye, a silent tongue, and a deaf ear to the screams and pain of the black community when it comes to police misconduct.

Labeling is indeed destructive.  In identifying differences, there is real possibility that labeling will also reinforce stereotypes, prejudices and bias we hold towards each other.  In doing so, the ultimate outcome is that we are living in fear of each other.

The question is: can we really stop the labeling?  The young black man doesn’t realize that he, by following his safety protocol, he acknowledges the label he bears—one of being viewed as a threat to the police officer—and, by using the safety protocol, is consciously sending a message to the police officer differentiating himself from “those people.”  He is essentially saying, “I am not a threat to you.”

However, what about the others who did not follow similar behaviors, but also do not pose threats?  Are they not worthy of being shown the same professionalism?  Can I assume that the police officer in the next encounter will treat me in the same professional manner that the young black man was treated?

We will not stop the labeling because it is not in the interests of the dominant group to do so.  Why?  Fear.  The dominant group has historically lived in fear and from the way life is looking, they will continue to do so. Labeling allows society to rationalize and makes sense and justification of its actions and behaviors.

There is an old saying: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, flies like a duck, it must be a duck.”

Not necessarily.  Using that analogy, black people must walk and talk like white people because their very skin carries the label of “criminal,” which is incorrect in most cases. Through this reasoning, we must act like white people, but we are not guaranteed to be treated like whites, regardless of how well we behave.

Labeling of black people continues to this very day.  On 4.12.15, the media reported that two African-American men, both students at Troy University, were arrested and charged with raping a woman during Spring Break on a Florida beach in broad daylight.  The sexual assault, carried out by four individuals, was witnessed by hundreds of others who did nothing to intervene.

The entire assault was videotaped on a cell phone.  Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen in his press conference, stated:

“This is happening in broad daylight with hundreds of people seeing and hearing what is happening and they are more concerned about spilling their beer than anyone getting raped. It was the most disgusting, sickening thing and likened the scene to wild animals preying on a carcass laying in the woods.

This is such a traumatizing event for this girl.  No one should have to fear this would happen in Panama City Beach, but it does.”

There have been six recent incidents involving law enforcement and alleged abuses:

  • Columbia, SC: A state trooper shot a black man at a gas station after ordering him to get his driver license.
  • North Charleston, SC: A police officer shoots a black man five times in the back as he runs away. The police officer plants a weapon next to the victim’s body.
  • North Augusta, SC: A police officer fatally shoots an unarmed black man in his driveway.
  • Tulsa, OK: A reserve sheriff’s deputy fatally shoots a black man while he is subdued on the ground.
  • Los Angeles, CA: Ten sheriff’s deputies are placed on administrative leave for the beating of a white man who had been subdued following a long distance chase on a stolen horse.
  • Sacramento, CA: A sheriff’s deputy is placed on administrative leave following the beating of a white man and stomping on his head after being asked by the victim in a polite manner to stop blocking traffic.

Most of the incidents share the following common thread:

  • The six incidents were all caught on video,
  • All the individuals involved were either suspended, placed on administrative leave, or fired from their respective law enforcement organizations.
  • All of the individuals have been immediately identified, formally charged for criminal actions, and/or may be charged pending the outcome of an independent investigation.
  • The local law enforcement authority and city leaders have immediately issued statements of condemnation of the actions and have been transparent regarding releasing information regarding these incidents.

However, due to racial labeling, the incidents are being portrayed differently.

  • The actions of the law enforcement officers are being portrayed as either rogue cops, traumatized due to a prior shooting (the SC state trooper) or being poorly trained.
  • The actions are of the law enforcement officers are being cast as “isolated incidents.”
  • We are asked to view the law enforcement officers as individuals and not be reflected on the law enforcement or policing institution as “group behavior.”

In incidents regarding the actions of the law enforcement, there is now the clear intention of transparency to prevent the “labeling of the police as a group’.  Why? Because neither the police nor the greater society want law enforcement at large to be viewed as out of control and untrustworthy.

This does not apply to the two black men involved in the sexual assault at the beach in Panama City, FL.  The two men have been suspended from school, immediately charged and awaiting trial.  Unlike with the police officers, who are being identified as individuals involved in criminal or alleged criminal behaviors, the media and the police are going to great lengths to label these young men not as individuals, but rather as members of a group engaging in “animal type behavior.”  To restate the comments of Sheriff McKeithen,

“It was the most disgusting, sickening thing and likened the scene to wild animals preying on a carcass laying in the woods. This is such a traumatizing event for this girl.”

Earlier I stated that that the dominant group will not stop labeling, especially when it comes to the identification of black men.  Fear sells.  It sells guns and ammunition.  It impacts the voting and legislation in federal, state and local government.

Racial labeling and fear go together like two favorite deserts that we can’t seem to do without.  It is as American as apple pie and vanilla ice cream.  There is much more to come.  Fear sells… and the dominant group is buying it.

Until the next crossroads…. the journey continues.

Safe and Alive: Running The Blue Gauntlet

“It looked as if the officer was trying to kill a deer running through the woods.”

–Walter Scott Sr. (father of the deceased)

My Dear Readers,

My editor, upon seeing this blog entry, will no doubt go through a host of facial expressions, shake her head and give a deep sigh.  She may even whisper to herself “Damn, here we go again.”  Yep, let’s go.

I am speaking once more to the consequences of living in a society that has given the police free-ranging powers when it comes to policing African-American men.

I call this “The Running of the Blue Gauntlet.” I use the term “blue gauntlet” to describe what it’s like to pass through an intimidating or dangerous crowd, place or experience in order to reach a goal.  For many of us, that goal is to simply get home safely, without being inhibited or constrained by law enforcement.

As my editor would say, “Damn, Dr. Kane, you’ve already written 9  blogs about the police, what else is left to say?”  She would also point out that my latest police-related blog regarding black parents preparing their sons for police interactions (2.29.15), received a fairly low readership.   She suggested that this may be a result of the readership being either tired or simply overwhelmed by all the news about the police.

Given good advice, (my editor takes her role seriously and is heavy handed in marking out stuff she feels will dilute the message of the blog), I decided to simply stop writing about the police for a while.  Clearly, I do not consider myself to be a “friend of the police,” or FOP, which would mean that I see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil when it comes to whatever actions they take in the name of “protect & serve”.

At the same time, I am not a “police hater.”  There are many fine young men and women who put on the uniform every day to do an honest day’s work of enforcing the law and showing fairness to all. I am quite familiar with the police culture; with my father and brother both retired from law enforcement and corrections, I understand the black and white mentality and the “circle the wagons” approach to their work.  The attitude is clear: you are either a supporter of us or acting against us.  There is no gray area.

By now, the video footage of the death of North Charleston, South Carolina man Walter Scott after a traffic stop has been seen by millions around the world.  For decades, the white majority and the world at large have heard the countless stories of excessive force, atrocities, and abuses by police officers towards black men told by members of the black community.  The usual response to these stories have been doubt, suspicion and the feeling that the complainants are “overly sensitive”, and that the police were merely doing their jobs.

In this case, however, the video says otherwise. No words, no listening to stories, just the sheer evidence in front of our own eyes.  Regardless of race, ethnicity, social and economic background, what we have seen is chilling, disturbing, and traumatizing.

I won’t further the trauma by recounting what is on that video, but the ensuing outcry and protest in North Charleston is reminiscent of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting and death of Michael Brown.

  • Both cites have extremely large black populations: 67% of Ferguson’s population is black, compared to 47% of North Charleston’s population.
  • Both populations have high numbers of white police officers and low numbers of black officers. Ferguson has 53 police officers, of which only 3 are black.  North Charleston has 324 police officers, of which 60 (18%) are black, and 8 (3%) are Hispanic.
  • Both cities have white police chiefs, white mayors and city governments that are overwhelming white.

In light of the similarities between the two cities, one must question why the outcomes in these two cities differ so much.  Why isn’t North Charleston being set aflame?  Why are there not riots in the streets?

Several factors are involved:

  • In Ferguson, the outcome was dependent on eyewitness testimony: that of the white police officer involved in the shooting, and the testimony of others who were black like the victim Michael Brown. The grand jury decided to go with the testimony of the white officer.
  • In North Charleston, the videotape is providing eyewitness testimony.
  • In Ferguson, the police chief and mayor immediately sought to defend the actions of the police officer as well as to protect him by not releasing his name for several days.
  • In North Charleston, both the police chief and mayor, following review of the videotape immediately condemned the actions of Officer Slager and released his name for public scrutiny.
  • In Ferguson, the investigation was led by the district attorney, who was known to have close ties with the police and family members in both judicial and police professions. There was the clear lack of transparency, with the district attorney purposely holding back the release of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer involved in the shooting of Michael Brown.
  • In North Charleston, the investigation was quickly taken over by the state of South Carolina, leading to a timely arrest and indictment for murder for the actions taken by Officer Slager.
  • In Ferguson, Michael Brown and his family were vilified in the media with allegations of gang involvement and past history of criminal proceedings.
  • In North Charleston, Mr. Scott is a veteran of the armed forces, has no history of violent or felonious behaviors. His involvement in the legal system is one of being jailed for contempt of court for failure to pay child support.

So what is the difference? In the North Charleston case, the public is not holding to stereotypes and fears about black men or value- based beliefs about the intentions of police officers. Instead, the public, for the first time, is receiving a close up, uncut view of police misconduct, neglect and a cover up that resulted in the needless death of a citizen and veteran who served his country during a time of war.

The difference is that given the clear evidence shown on the video, the black community is willing to “give the system” one more opportunity to show it can and will do the right thing and work in service to protect the community from the rogue actions of bad cops.

The black community has been screaming about bad cops for decades.  These screams, and the accompanying fears, have been transmitted intergenerationally.  It is no doubt that every black family has a story of police abuse or mistreatment to tell.  And yet, no one really listened before. Now, the whole world is not only listening, they are watching to see what will be done.

Does this mean that all cops are bad? No, of course not. Mr. Scott’s brother, who stated during the press conference that “not all cops are bad, but there are bad cops,” echoes this.  How do we tell the difference?  Bad cops don’t wear a poster sign that states, “Watch out for me, I am a bad cop.”  So what do we do?

Two clinical psychologists and friends of mine, one who was previously a middle school teacher and the other, a former supervising deputy police chief of the sheriff’s department of St. Louis County MO, tell me that trust has to start somewhere, and they believe that the black community must work towards trusting the police.

I love my friends.  We went to school together.  They truly are good men.  I know that they have my back.  If I called for their help,  I know that both would be knocking at the door before I hung up.

However, as white men, though they mean well, it is evident by their statements that we live in two worlds that are far apart.  As a black man, I have experienced racial trauma at the hands of the police.  As white men, they have the privilege of only being able to speak on this issue through “intellectualizing” racial trauma—because they have never had to endure it.

In most cases, this is a recipe for misunderstanding and minimization, but for some of my friends, this is the way that that they actually “get it.”

Here in Seattle, the Seattle Police Department has started a program in which anyone completing a transaction through Craigslist can come to a police station and do so instead of risking having a stranger come to one’s home.  On its face, this program sounds good right?  However given the concerns that black people have about the police, would one REALLY expect a black person to waltz into the police station seeking protection?

And for those who would have been inclined to do so, how would watching Officer Slager calmly fire five bullets into the back of Mr. Scott as he was running away change their opinion?

The newly appointed Chief of Police for the Seattle Police Department has made it her mandate to reform the department following years of abuse reports concerning ethnic minority communities.

Chief O’Toole has replaced her executive team with outsiders: younger officers with fresh new ideas.  For the first time, SPD has a black female deputy chief who serves as second in command.  In addition, she has elevated a chief technologist and information specialist who is a non-commissioned police officer to the level of assistant chief.

Chief O’Toole recently shared concern that the killing of Mr. Scott was going to have an adverse affect in policing in Seattle and her attempt to rebuild trust with the community.

She is right. Trust is out the window. Realistically speaking, trusting the institution of policing may be a reality for the majority and yet for those of us with darker complexion, it is a luxury that we, for our safety and the safety of our loved ones, are unwilling to risk.

At best, a more appropriate goal would be to re-establish respect for the institution of policing in the community, particularly between ethnic minority communities and the police.  Respect must be a given from both sides.

However, trust is something that must be earned.  Trust is a one-to-one interaction that occurs through the experience of a relationship between two individuals.  Police officers are taught to trust a fellow officer and to be suspicious of others who don’t wear the uniform.  How can they expect the community to trust them in return?

Just as the police officer is suspicious and cautious when being involved in a traffic stop, the same officer, regardless of their color or gender, must be willing to accept that many African-Americans have the same level of suspicion and anxiety, if not more, when it comes to being involved in a traffic stop, so it makes sense that we are vigilant (and not paranoid) about our safety.

The incident in North Charleston affirms for many of us that it is open season when it comes to killing black men.  I hope that by explaining how running the “blue gauntlet” impacts African-American families, I can help others become more aware of the impact this trauma causes.

Unlike Michael Brown and Walter Scott, I have never been arrested or jailed for a crime.  However, like Walter Scott, I served in the armed forces of my country. Like the two men who are now dead as a result of traffic stops, I am a black man who is vulnerable and exposed to elements that are not within my control.

When I leave the office late at night to go home, I psychologically prepare myself to run the “blue gauntlet.”  I call home, telling my loved ones that I’m leaving, about any possible stops I may take, and my estimated time of arrival.

I always have my license, registration and insurance card open and available.  I have checked my front and rear lights for faulty equipment.  Before I drive, I pray.  As I drive, I am vigilant about my speed, surroundings and other cars in close proximity to me.

When my beloved Linda was alive, she would not even consider closing her eyes until hearing my key in the door lock. She would greet me with a prayer, thanking God for my deliverance.  Now that she has passed away, my daughter has now assumed her mother’s role.

This brings me so much sadness. Am I living with fear or living in fear? That depends on the day and the events associated with it.  I doubt that Mr. Scott knew that his life would end when he was stopped for his faulty taillights

Beginning in May 2015, Loving Me More will be issuing a brochure entitled African American Males and The Police. My hope is that it will help to reduce the chances that more incidents such as the one in North Charleston, South Carolina will occur.  However, there will always be the possibility that some will continue to view the relationship as the “hunter and the hunted.”

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

A Victim No Longer: The Journey of Self Discovery

My Dear Readers,

Many in society turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the trauma and devastation left by sexual abuse.  Some believe that those victimized by sexual assault, domestic violence or emotional abuse at a younger age will in time “forget” or “get over” the physical and psychological abuses they have suffered.

In September 2012, a member of the Seattle WA African-American clergy community pleaded guilty to 22 charges of sexual molestation and rape of boys.  The local media reported that the minister admitted to sexually abusing 10 boys from 1997 through 2011.

One wonders what happened to those children and adolescents, who are now known as “The Invisibles.”

  • Have they faded into the darkness?
  • Is it possible that they sit alone, suffering in silence as they attempt to resist or respond to their feelings associated with the experiences?

It is possible that in the many years following the abuses and psychological trauma, they may continue to adhere to feelings of shame and guilt for what happened to them. As members of the larger society, we have a responsibility to ensure that those “suffering in silence” understand they have not been forgotten and to assist them by being beacons of empowerment and enlightenment.

In order to do so, I believe we must understand their experiences as they continue to progress on their journeys.  It is in that spirit that Loving Me More introduces a new series focusing on the therapeutic work of one such individual, Bobbi (not her real name).

This individual suffered horrendous sexual abuse, physical abuse, and exposure to domestic violence as a child. For the past five years, however, Bobbi has done remarkably well in the healing of her wounds through her therapeutic work, walking what we call her journey of self-discovery.

This series will begin with excerpts from Bobbi’s journal.  Bobbi has graciously consented to share her experience with us in the hope that her words will inform and bring awareness to the general public, as well as help others to become “travelers” in the Journey of Self Discovery.

Bobbi wants others to know that although she was victimized, today she has empowered herself, and is no longer a victim or simply a survivor of sexual abuse.  Instead of just “existing” in life, today, Bobbi thoroughly lives her life.  Now approaching the tender age of 60, Bobbi is striving; enjoying the challenges and actively looking forward to the exciting moments that life has to offer her.

Bobbi’s story begins……

“When I was 4 years old, I was raped by a family acquaintance.  The rapist threatened to kill my mother and my two-year old brother Billy (not his real name), so I kept the secret.

When I was 9, my stepfather Fred (not his real name) forced me into a horrible situation of repeated sexual abuse.  I would endure this horror for two and a half years.

When I began my menstrual cycle, my stepfather told me that he planned to impregnate me.  It was at this point that I summoned up the willpower to inform my mother as to the horror I was enduring.

In response, my mother beat and verbally abused me, and kicked me out of the house. At the age of twelve, I entered the state foster care system where I was moved around numerous times. I remained a ward of the state until my 18th birthday.

When she kicked me out, my mother told me that I was a whore and that I would never achieve anything in my life.  She was wrong.  I went on to have a successful marriage, a professional career and I have raised four beautiful, healthy children.

However, throughout my life, I have consistently viewed myself as damaged, broken and deserving of the abuses I had endured.  After 50 years of suffering and on the verge of  suicide, I made the decision to seek therapy.

For the last five years I have been on a   journey of self-discovery.  It has been a journey in which my therapist has served as my guide and companion. It was in therapy that I learned the steps associated with advocacy, balance and calmness.

It was in therapy that I learned that what happened to me was not my fault.  I learned that “letting go” of what happened to me wasn’t the same as “surrendering,” but was about empowerment for the psychological self—my psychological self.   I also learned that the guilt and shame was not mine to bear.

My name is Bobbi.  I am empowered.  I am no longer just a survivor. I am a striver, and this is my story.”

Commentary from Dr. Kane

At the beginning of therapy, Bobbi was adamant that she could never share the depths of her feelings with her mother.  That was five years ago. However, that changed in 2013 when she received a holiday greeting card from her mother, along with the gift of a blanket. Inside, the card read:

 “Dear Bobbi,

This is a special snuggle for you from your mom.  I am so sorry for what you had to go through as a child.  Had I known this, I would have done a lot of snuggling with you.

You are grown, but this snuggle blanket is sent to you with much love and when you don’t feel good or you feel sad, please know that my heart is snuggling in this blanket with you!

I love you,

Mom”

This message represents the first words in 48 years uttered by Bobbi’s mother regarding Bobbi’s horrendous experiences. Following several years and hundreds of hours in therapy sessions, sometimes 2-3 sessions per week, Bobbi has become empowered enough to be able to respond to her mother’s “Christmas card.”

The response from Bobbi is quite lengthy; I am providing the letter in its entirety. I do not have the moral right to erase, change or paraphrase words to suit timelines or the desires of the reader.  I will leave it to you as the reader to decide whether to read partly, in its entirety or disregard.

This response is indicative of the transformation of a little girl who suffered in silence to an adult traveler, focused on self-discovery who will no longer be silenced.

PLEASE TAKE HEED OF THE FOLLOWING NOTIFICATION:

       THIS WRITING IS WITHOUT CENSURE AND THEREFORE MAY CREATE DISTRESS FOR THE READERS DURING AND FOLLOWING REVIEW.  PLEASE USE DISCRETION IN SHARING WITH THOSE OF YOUNG AGE OR LACKING IN EMOTIONAL MATURITY.

       “Dear Mom,

Thank you for the letter. I was surprised to receive it. Your letter is the closest thing to an apology I have ever received. I would like to let you know how I felt as a child.

The landlord locked Billy in the bathroom. Billy screamed and cried until he was sobbing.  I could hear Billy screaming while the landlord took off my clothing.

He then pushed his penis at me.  He tried again and again and again to push it in rubbing my private parts hard and roughly with his penis over and over again.

He also used his hand and fingers forcefully. I was terrified and in pain.  I remember screaming.  I thought he was going to kill me.  I kicked and wiggled as much as I could but it didn’t stop him.  There was nothing I could do being a child against this monster.

He laid on me and forcefully kissed me. When I continued to scream he put his over my mouth and told me to shut up.  Hel told me no one could hear me or help me.  I remember the glaring black look in his eyes when he was on top of me.

I remember my private parts being sore and burning when I went to the bathroom afterwards.  When he got through he then told me he would come back to kill you and Billy if I told.

I loved you so much.  There was nothing I wouldn’t have done or endured for you. I know you asked me multiple times what happened.

By not telling you I thought I was protecting Billy and you.  I believed he would return and kill you.  When you asked me in front of him to tell what happened I could only think of what he had done and what he said he would do.  I was terrified.  Terrified not only for myself, but for you.    I would have done and endured anything for you.

I kept the secret because of my love for you and wanting to protect you.  The secret made me feel ashamed as a child.  I felt others could look at me and tell I was a bad person.  I felt that I was dirty and a bad person.  I never had friends.

I felt different from other children and alone. I cried easily.  I have now learned through therapy it wasn’t my fault. The responsibility of being left alone and what happened was not my fault.  The shame and guilt I felt for so many years was not mine to bear.

You left for work and left the landlord in the yard whereas being four years old with the responsibility of watching my two-year-old brother, I was too young to be left alone.

I know you were a single mother but there must have been another way besides leaving  me alone with the landlord in the yard.  The burden of carrying the secret of my abuse changed who I am.  It stole my self-esteem, joy and sense of who I was.

When I started being sexually abused by Fred at the age of 9 years old, I questioned if I deserved it.  He started by saying things to me.  Then he used his hands and then his penis.  He had the same dark glaring look in his eyes as the landlord when he was doing it.

In therapy I have learned that it was the look of power and control.  Power that the abuser yields over a child.  Control, because I felt I was a bad person.  How could two men sexually abuse me if I wasn’t a bad person or there wasn’t something wrong with me?

He convinced me at first that you knew and wanted me to do what he wanted me to do but not talk about it.  He then told me you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.  He convinced me that you would be unhappy if I did not do what he wanted.

I was a child and I believed what he said. I loved you so much.  Again, there was nothing I wouldn’t have done for you.

On the day when I told you Fred had repeatedly raped me, you began beating me.  I don’t remember why or what I was being beat for when I swung at you and missed.  I also told the people at the Youth Center.  I always felt that you should have known what was going on and protected me.  I was angry with him, but I was also angry with you.

In foster care, I felt abandoned and unloved. I knew our relationship would never be the same again.  I received no therapy.  Again, I was different from other kids my age.  I was severely depressed, cried all the time and wanted to die. I felt I had no one who cared if I lived or died.

I had no money to do the things other kids were doing.  My experiences were different. I had no joy. I made my own set of rules to survive by.

The foster care parents were doing it just for the money. I had $25.00 per month to buy clothing, personal items and meds that were not covered by welfare.  The feelings of abandonment, lack of love and caring were always with me.

I am now going to therapy.  I realize now that what happened to me wasn’t my fault. There was nothing wrong with me.  Young girls are often abused by more than one man.  Being abused by one man makes it more likely that it will happen again.

I have let go of the shame and guilt.  I have nothing to be ashamed of or guilty about. I know my abuse has changed who I am. It stole the joy of my life for forty plus years before I went to therapy.

I now look forward to living the rest of my life without guilt and shame.  There will always be pain, but it does not have to influence or control my life decisions and enjoyment of my family.

I don’t remember much of my childhood. I do remember some good things.  The bad things I remember far outweigh the good things.  I still have flashbacks of what happened to me in childhood.  I have learned to live with them.

I responded to your note because I wanted you to know the depths of my pain  and how it changed me.  I have tried to say what happened to me as gently as possible.  I wondered what I could have accomplished without such a traumatic childhood.

This letter is not intended to hurt you.  I have always loved you.

Bobbi (12/31/13)

Concluding Remarks from Dr. Kane

It is my hope that you, dear reader, will understand that victimization and psychological trauma experienced during childhood and/or adolescence continues to impact victims’ lives as adults.

Bobbi’s story began as one of repeated sexual assaults, victimization and survival.   Although victimized, she is no longer a victim.  In her therapy, she has learned to become an advocate for the psychological self, balance the burden she will carry for the rest of her life, and gain calmness for the years and the journeys which lies ahead.

In doing so, Bobbi is no longer a survivor, rather she has become a “striver,” setting the pace and direction of her life.  Bobbi’s story should not be viewed simply as one of strength and endurance; it is also a story of empowerment, growth and development.

Lastly, Bobbi’s intent that anyone who has similar experiences of psychological trauma, or victimization by sexual assault, domestic violence or emotional abuse, may gain encouragement from her story and will find the “want” to respond to the voice that lies within the “psychological self” and seek assistance.

Stop suffering in silence.  Have the willingness to strive and let go without feeling lost or giving up.  Although victimized, be a victim no longer.

“The psychological self will continue to advocate, seeking balance and calmness;    remembering the traumas, abuses and the   violence that the physical body fights to        withstand and the intellectual mind   struggles to forget.”

Dr. Micheal Kane

Until next time… Bobbi’s Saga, A Victim No Longer