It’s been a hard week in Pittsburgh to be a survivor of childhood sexual violence

Content Note: abuse, sexual assault, isolation

It’s been a hard week in Pittsburgh to be a survivor of childhood sexual violence.

The Vasquez story was especially hard to process because the Pirates had been the good guys amongst sportballs teams. Media coverage was abhorrent – lots of references to their “relationship” and “sex” as if these journalists aren’t informed about the appropriate language to cover these stories with accuracy and fairness. That’s a bullshit claim in a City dealing with the Grand Jury Report. It is willful ignorance and a disservice to the public. Shame on these journalists.

I tried to cope by using words. I reached out to other survivors, to other feminists and to outlets to find a space where a response could be crafted and offered up. Some said no, others never responded.

And my world just got smaller. Because of course these types of disclosures create more painful fissures and gaps in our lives. The rawness manifests in abruptness and even coldness toward other survivors. It is an odd reality.

I’m hurt but not surprised. Growing up surrounded by sexually violent predators in my neighborhood, schools, church, and family, I learned quickly that I was on my own. There was very little comfort to be found. I could not rely on anyone to meet my needs or keep me safe. Moreover, I was given responsibility for emotionally caring for adults and other kids in my life.

I stumbled into adulthood with mixed up expectations and distorted boundaries. The further I moved physically from my childhood, the more those carefully constructed layers of denial and repression began to decay.

It almost goes without saying that I ended up in adult relationships filled with violence, including sexual violence. I thought these were awful because I had forgotten earlier experiences. Now I think these adult violations are far down on the list of terrible things I experienced.

But I was still on my own. I had friends, but did not have a means to communicate my needs. I felt so worthless than my only solace came from being useful. I became a social worker, I volunteered, I did good deeds and raised money and spoke up for others. But it is a daunting task to unlearn those maladaptive coping mechanisms while also processing my very real trauma. I don’t even know what comfort looks like.

Over the years of blogging, I have shared bits and pieces of my stories, my truths as I knew them at the time.

When the Grand Jury Report was published in August 2018, it ripped open decades of injuries and wounds. I mistakenly thought there would be some unity. I turned to the media, to journalists I know, asking them to explore the robust stories instead of focusing on the dichotomy of the poor duped parishioner and the Bishop. That was a waste of time. The Bishop is a better interview that some poor bitter angry survivor. He’s also closer to the boards and head honchos at the media outlets.

Ongoing disclosures are a harsh mistress. I’m glad for the truthtelling, but dread the day when people stop feeling outrage. That’s all we have right now – the outrage of decent people. It’s not sufficient to change the powers that be, but it helps keep the demons at bay and perhaps protects younger generations.

I’m 48. It’s realistic to expect another 20 years of disclosures from the institutions in my life. I don’t know what to expect from my family and neighbors. I know there are stories, but I’m unsure if anyone is going to begin sharing with the larger group of former kids. But to spend the rest of my life in this agony seems impossible. I’ll just grow more brittle and lose my remaining compassion and empathy.

I thought writing could help. I tried getting involved with essayists who are lovely, but I don’t know how to write an essay. I tried organizing local female opinion writers into some social mutual aid, but everyone had something else to do on the day of the planned gathering. I asked my publisher to bring the editorial writers together to bond and discuss, but my request for a sober gathering nixed that idea.

Writing is just another solitary pursuit. I can at least document these experiences, to create a space for things that went unspoken for millenia. But it doesn’t help alleviate my isolation and despair.

One solution is for me to avoid local media and instead focus on feminist and progressive media outlets that will more likely handle these stories with appropriate professionalism. But national feminist and progressive media aren’t going to report on the endless stream of new disclosures from the Diocese of Pittsburgh or nearby school districts. Tuning out feels like cheating. That’s how every adult in my life handled these difficult issues and I don’t want to be that person.

I assume other survivors may be living in similar chambers of isolation. Maybe not, I don’t know how to ask. This post is awkward and disjointed and hard, just like the reality.


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