Your book is certainly about a very depressing subject that adults find hard to talk about but according to one study I read, every eight minutes, a child is sexually assaulted in the U.S.1, and 93 percent know the perpetrator. Do you find these numbers believable?
Yes, I can believe the statistics mentioned because incidences of child sexual abuse are greatly under-reported. Therefore one will find a great disparity when researching the statistics. However, the CDC is recognized as a reliable source and indicates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age 18. A sexually abused child is most often violated by a male that is known to the child ie; father, friend of family, a person associated with school, church or by an older child, that is at least 5 years older.
Once you made the decision to write this book, how long did it take?
I have known since high school that I would someday write my memoir. My first opportunity to begin writing occurred when I retired from Nursing. In the beginning, I only wrote intermittently, but once I was able to focus I completed my manuscript within a year.
I know in your book your own experiences were the primary source of the information about child molestation but did you talk to others who had experienced a similar childhood situation?
I do not refer to sexual abuse as molestation, it is a lay term that minimizes the actual harm sustained by the child. And besides the following acts meet the definition of sexual abuse: fondling, showing sexual photos to a child, penetration, exhibitionism, rape etc. Because child sexual abuse occurs so often, I have participated in hearing testimonies from several victims. I found the more often I revealed my history, there would be yet another woman who would tell me about her childhood victimization. Fortunately, healing often occurred during these shared stories.
Do you feel that victims of child molestation, unfortunately, experience a bit of guilt, shame, and blame that they associate with the abuse? Guilty about not having done something more to stop the abuse, or even feeling ashamed that they might have felt some physical pleasure during their abuse?
Young children have not fully developed cognitively, therefore they do not understand the sexual acts perpetrated against them. However, they are impacted emotionally due to the amygdala section of the brain. They do not understand sex but do know how the abuse makes them feel. It is crucial to understand this fact when discussing child sexual abuse. The amygdala is the section of the brain that handles emotion. Sexual abuse causes severe developmental harm to a young child. Instead of learning love, intimacy, trust and feeling nurtured by the adult the abused child learns love linked with pain, confusion, much fear, guilt, shame, and betrayal. The adult who has suffered such grave emotional damage as a child will experience difficult relationships. The impact of sexual abuse on a child’s emotional development is life-altering. The essence of the person a child would have been is forever changed. I consider child sexual abuse to be the murder of the soul.
Do you work with others to help them understand that it was the person that hurt them that should be held accountable, guilty and ashamed?
Yes, I most definitely, help others to understand what happened to them is not their fault. The first response to a child victim should always be, “ Thank you for telling me, I believe you and I will keep you safe.”
Do you think that in the 1950’s and 1960’s that people were more apt to close their eyes to the ill-treatment of children and sexual abuse that were happening in a neighbors’ family?
Unfortunately, in the 1950’s and 1960’s child sexual abuse was seen as a taboo that no one discussed and barely recognized its existence. When it was discussed it was done in hushed tones and kept secret and there were no laws to hold perpetrators accountable.
Child abuse laws began to be enacted around 1962 but it wasn’t until a 1979 study done by David Finklehor MD, that child sexual abuse laws became prevalent.
As a young girl were you afraid that if you told someone about your situation that you would be taken from your mother?
I was threatened by my abuser, my stepfather to not tell my mother. He said, my mother would be harmed if I ever told “our” secret. Victims rarely reveal their abuse unless asked a direct question. However, because my mother asked me a question, “Paula are you sick?” I did reveal my abuse to her when I was 5 years old. Upon reflection, I believe I did so because there were too many incidences over a week’s time and because he lied to me, broke a promise. My betrayal anger surfaced.
Were you afraid that if you told a classmate about the sexual abuse you were enduring that other kids would ridicule or pick on you?
Because of my emotional trauma and confusion caused by the sexual abuse it never occurred to me to tell my classmates. I didn’t even tell my best friend until I was in nursing school. During high school I was trying to navigate adolescence, while suffering from severe emotional damage. Stored in my amygdala were emotional memories of love mixed with fear, anxiety, distrust, and confusion. I could not flirt or get close to my male peers because any romantic attention from them caused me extreme anxiety.
Now that people talk about sexual abuse more, do you feel that it is helping to reduce this blight of human conduct?
I do believe today, more victims receive treatment for sexual abuse but unfortunately, I do not believe awareness of this atrocity has lessened the frequency of child sexual abuse. I believe the internet, access to porn and chat rooms where pedophiles interact with each other has actually increased child sexual abuse through child trafficking and child porn.
Do you think a girl of 15 or 16 is mature enough in today’s world to give her consent to an older boyfriend?
I believe I answered the age question previously but will expand on it. With children anytime, there is a 5 year age span between children involving sexual activity it is child sexual abuse. I also believe child marriages are sexual abuse. it is criminal to allow an adult male to have a child bride. Unfortunately, many states allow 16-year-olds to marry. I believe the age of consent should be 18 and ideally 21. Sexual abuse is the abuse of power. Logically the wider the age span the more power to include maturational, emotional and physical.
What is your take on shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager?” Do you think these types of shows perpetuate sexual abuse and make young girls want to emulate the sexual lives of the teenage female characters glamorized in the show?
I am not familiar with the shows 16 and Pregnant and the Secret Life of an American Teenager but suspect my belief as stated above would apply.
Are TV shows too cavalier about student-teacher hook-ups? Shouldn’t we be more appalled by the student-teacher hook-ups in popular tv shows like Glee and Pretty Little Liars? The viewing public looks at it as titillating. They don't get outraged. They don't march on TV producers for showing situations that in real life, the parents would be ready to stone the teacher to death and claim that the student is sexually and emotionally damaged for life. Why doesn't the public get angry at the producers of these TV shows that depict and glamorize what in real life is considered a heinous crime as just some juicy student-teacher hook-up?
Yes, sex between students and teachers and TV shows that perpetuate these scenarios are dangerous and are promoting a crime. The general public does not fully understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse and education is imperative. It the main reason why I wrote my book.
I know you are involved with various organizations that address the issues of child abuse. What are these organizations and what can readers of your book do to help these causes?
Currently, I am a Volunteer Advocate for the NH Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the Crisis Centers. I assist with getting laws passed that will provide improved Victim Rights like Marsy’s Law and I take calls for the Crisis Center’s hotline every other Thursday from 7 p to 7 a. I am also a part-time substitute school nurse. I would strongly encourage everyone to volunteer for the many child focused organizations within your communities like CASA, Boys and Girls Clubs and so many more. We cannot have healthy productive and involved citizens without investing in our children. There are too many hungry and abused children. In America, it is a national disgrace.
It can be difficult to hear that someone you care about suffered sexual abuse as a child. What is your suggestion of how a person should react when someone tells them that they were sexually abused?
When someone tells you they have been sexually abused, first you tell them you believe them. Next depending on how recent etc. you help them get treatment at the hospital and report it to the authorities. Also reinforce to them it is not their fault. They did nothing to cause this crime to be perpetrated against them. And then just be available to provide whatever they need. Allow them to vent their anger.
Having written your book and told your story, do you feel more whole now? Has telling your story been therapeutic?
Because I was fortunate to have received exceptional psychological treatment from both a psychologist and psychiatrist, I did not need a therapeutic outlet via writing my memoir. I wrote it to shine a spotlight on the subject, to educate the public and as an inspiration to victims and survivors. To give them hope.
Will your book be coming out in Kindle format or in Audio format?
I would love to have my book on Kindle but I lack the computer skills to do it.
What kind of books do you read? What are some of your favorites?
I like to read political books because they are all about power as is all types of sexual abuse. I am interested in all types of abuse power. I believe in using my power to make laws that will render pedophiles and all sexual predators powerless. Also enjoy memoirs, like Glass Castle, Before we were Yours, and Angela’s Ashes.
Others include: The Audacity of Hope, Fire, and Fury, Unbelievable, my front row seat...,and looking forward to reading A Higher Loyalty.
Who are authors who inspired you in your writing?
I especially, enjoyed the writing style of Elizabeth Strout, in Olive Kitteridge.
How can your fans contact and connect with you?
Fans can connect with me on my Facebook page named the The Black Leather Satchel.