On a recent trip to Washington DC, I spent a great deal of time in the National Holocaust Museum. Jewish history and culture intrigues me greatly and hours passed upon hours as I soaked in every word, image and relic I encountered. In one section of the museum when they spoke about the eventual rescue of the surviving Jews from the concentration camps, I read about another tragic part in their story. There were men, women and children who had endured the horrible events of the holocaust, working in slave like, animalistic conditioners, near starvation and death and then help arrived. The world wasn’t prepared for the holocaust and had no clue of what was going on. When rescue came, the rescuers immediately began feeding the survivors food. They were starving. It appeared they needed the food. But it turned out the rescuers were ill-equipped to deal with people of this kind of tragedy. Because of how starvation works on the body, it turned out they ended up causing more damage then good by overfeeding the survivors. A number of survivors of the concentration camps died days later because their body could not handle the food.
When I read this and saw the pictures, I about lost it in the museum. To have survived ALL of that. To have made it to the end of that horrible war and those horrible events, only to die because you finally ate food. Seriously!
What stood out to me was the fact that the rescuers were ill-equipped to handle the full rescue of the survivors. They hadn’t seen this level of tragedy before. (Perhaps the US troops hadn’t read about their ancestors and how they treated their slaves. I think they were similar conditions. Le sigh.) However their ignorance originated, they just didn’t know. There hadn’t been a class on “How to Properly Rescue and Save People Who’ve Been In Concentration Camps at the Hands of the Psycho Hitler.” There weren’t seminars on gradually nourishing people who were near death from starvation. The starvation was only one aspect of it. I’m sure the rescuers had to learn on the job how to deal with the emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual and mental issues of such a tragedy too. I can’t imagine the healing process for the survivors who were rescued from those camps. The entire situation is delicate and must be handled so gently.
I write all this because it reminds me of how policeman, counselors, lawyers, judges and many others interact with people who have been sexually assaulted and abused, especially children. I know each of those types of people probably have had a bit of training about victims and they probably did have a special course for victims of rape and such. I want to assume they do. What I wonder is who compiled the lessons in those training courses? I think they are long overdue for a major overhaul. The lessons need to be revamped.
The cops about killed my soul and understanding of self and my voice when they questioned and interviewed me twice about my abuse. I left those meetings blaming myself and thinking it was my fault the abuse continued for seven years. I left questioning whether it was that big of a deal and if my silence had something to do with my own issues and not my abuser. The day we were in court, I was filled with fear, confusion and frustration. When the DCFS agent came to my house and my school long before the case ever made it to the cops I was also filled with fear. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I was frozen. When my then pastor learned of the abuse and spoke to me alone in his office, again I was consumed with fear. I just wanted to say the right things to make it all go away. I wanted to close my eyes and have all the bad things disappear. I can go on and on with examples of how various people in positions of leadership and authority tried to help or tried to do something and sometimes they just completely missed the ball.
Some people missed it because they were filled with self-serving purposes in trying to silence me. But others, they were sincerely trying to help me. Even still, the words they used, the subtly in their behavior, the assertiveness in my healing happening in their own timing…. they were simply ill-equipped to deal with the tragedy I had endured.
Can someone offer a class in that?
The same can be said for friends and family who are connected to someone who has been assaulted or abused. After telling my story to various people in my life I heard things like, “I thought you were confused.” Or, “I thought it was gossip.” Or, “I thought we were friends. Why didn’t you tell me what was going on all those years later?” Or, “You are always going to have issues trusting men because of that.” Perhaps these are normal comments that can be expected but they are self-serving, selfish, belittling and dismissive.
Where is that class on what to say when your best friend tells you she was raped? The world needs a crash course in it.
This month is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Every day I’ll be writing all types of posts regarding this issue and my personal experiences.
I create videos as a way to share my story. You can watch three related ones by clicking the titles below.
If you are a victim of abuse and assault and you would like to seek help or report your crime, please find all kinds of resources at RAINN. If you would like to share your story with me privately, be featured this month either publicly or anonymously or you just need an encouraging word, please shoot me an email at SheenaLaShay [at] Gmail [dot] com.