Monthly Archives: November 2014


My mother died this week. While I loved her deeply, our relationship was, as they say, complicated.

The relationship between mothers and daughters is always complicated – all the more so when there is sexual abuse by the father/stepfather or another family member.

The central questions victims ask themselves, in such cases, are: whether their mothers knew the molestation was taking place; and, if they did know, why their mothers chose not to intervene on their behalf.

This can feel like betrayal on the most visceral level. How is it that we can be rejected by our mothers? Our very hearts cry out.

Many factors come into play:

  • A woman who is herself abused may fear for her life, if she does not acquiesce to the sexual violation of her children (daughters and/or sons).
  • Alternatively, a mother may fear abandonment by her partner/spouse, especially if she does not see herself as capable of supporting the children on her own.
  • A few women may be callous, particularly if they are addicts whose judgment has been impaired. This group of women may actually trade a child for drugs.
  • Many women live in denial. Unwilling or unable to cope with the thought of molestation by the father/stepfather or another family member, these women ignore what may to an outsider seem like clear signs of sexual abuse [1].

As for rescue:

  • There are women who do not understand the abuse dynamic (the inherent inequality between adult and child) and, therefore, see their daughters (even children as young as 6) as “competition” for a partner/spouse. These women are likely to blame a victim for the molestation, mistakenly characterizing the violation as seduction by the victim.
  • When the child molester is a family member, but not the father/stepfather (for instance, a brother, uncle, or grandparent), there is a greater chance of rescue for the victim, since “competition” does not come into play.
  • When child molesters challenge the veracity of the children they have violated, mothers are faced with a credibility issue. Some women will side with their partners/spouses as against their own children. This can be crushing for victims.
  • Women in denial never deal with the rescue issue.

Often, mothers and daughters are alike in more ways than we might care to admit. But ours is the choice of whether to follow in our mothers’ footsteps. We need not make the same mistakes they did…or inflict the same wounds.

[1] Signs of possible sexual abuse can include:

  • the presence of child pornography in the home,
  • changes in behavior by a child (disobedience on the part of a normally obedient child, for example),
  • sudden unease by a child around the offending individual,
  • secretive behavior by the offending individual,
  • unexplained nocturnal visits to a child’s bedroom,
  • sexual comments about a child in the mother’s hearing,
  • inappropriate touching of a child in the mother’s view, and finally
  • the statement by a child that sexual abuse has taken place.

None of these is, by itself, conclusive.  Each though merits inquiry.



Filed under Child Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women


ISIS is recruiting and training child soldiers it proudly calls “Cubs of the Islamic State” [1].

The recruitment and use of children as soldiers is a war crime, though not without precedent. Children – often forcibly conscripted – have acted as soldiers in India, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Thailand, and Myanmar [2].

In Sierra Leone, boys between the ages of 7 and 14 served in the Small Boys Unit. Some 10,000 are thought to have taken part, in that nation’s civil war from 1991-2002 [3]. These children were involved in rape, mutilation, sexual slavery, murder, and other forms of human rights abuses.

Over 30,000 children have taken part in the decades long conflict in Uganda, a substantial number of these actually abducted [4]. Young girls are subject to sexual violence, or required to serve as “wives” of the rebels and have their children.

And now ISIS.

Boys are taught how to use AK-47s and mercilessly behead captives. An Iraqi security official was quoted by NBC News as saying, “They use dolls to teach them how to behead people, then they make them watch a beheading, and sometimes they force them to carry the heads in order to cast the fear away from their hearts.”

Some children are used by ISIS as suicide bombers; others, as human shields. They are, also, indoctrinated in Shariah law. “It’s being done for the same reasons that Hitler had the Hitler Youth,” stated Charlie Winter of the Quilliam Foundation.

Brainwashing these children is a long-term strategy to assure ISIS’ continued existence. “They have to get used to hearing the sounds of explosions and machine guns and missiles and artillery and aircraft,” Abu Dujana explained. “They should get used to seeing blood,” the ISIS fighter said.

Americans can expect to see more blood, as well.

[1] NBC News, “ISIS Trains Child Soldiers at Camps for ‘Cubs of the Islamic State’ ” by Cassandra Vinograd, Ghazi Balkiz and Ammar Cheikh Omar, 11/7/14,

[2] Child Soldiers International,

[3] Human Rights Watch, “Sierra Leone Rebels Forcefully Recruit Child Soldiers”, 6/1/00,

[4], Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About, “Uganda: Child Soldiers at Centre of Mounting Humanitarian Crisis”,


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Filed under Abuse of Power, Emotional Abuse, Law, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women


The Disney animated film “Frozen” has become enormously popular. Rather than telling yet another tale of how a girl finds her prince, the film tells the story of two sisters whose love for each other saves them and their world.

Child abuse victims, too, run the risk of being frozen.

It is not difficult to find stories about abuse in the news. Incest. Child pornography and exploitation. A child tortured to death. A group of children held captive; handicapped children tormented. Systemic abuse with the collusion of law enforcement or the church. The rare monetary judgment against a predator, more often than not unenforceable for lack of funds. Take your pick.

No Disney villain can compete.

The children robbed of their innocence and peace of mind – sometimes their lives – deserve to have their stories told. But as survivors we cannot focus exclusively on this darkness or we will succumb to it. Isolated, immobilized by despair. Frozen.

There is hope in the world. There are those who consider these violations among the worst harm human beings can inflict. There is love waiting to be found. Reach out for your share.

Darkness cannot withstand Light.  It was to conquer darkness that Jesus Christ came into our world.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1: 4-5 NIV).


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Filed under Abuse of Power, Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

American Horror Story

WARNING:  Graphic Images

A three year old boy was beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend this week. Prosecutors have called his death an American horror story.

Scotty McMillan was tortured for three days by Jillian Tait and Gary Fellenbaum [1]. The child was hung by his feet, and struck with a whip. He was tied to a chair, punched, and beaten with a metal rod. His head was put through a wall.

The nurses who ultimately saw the little boy’s wounds wept. Scotty was gone by then.

We can discuss statistics. The rate of physical abuse is up. Three quarters of the most seriously abused children seen in hospitals in 2009 were on Medicaid, suggesting that poverty is a major stressor on families [2].

We can discuss failures by the system. Scotty’s six year old brother, also regularly abused, attended school. Despite a legal duty to report suspected abuse, no teacher or school counselor contacted authorities.

We can discuss spirituality and moral responsibility. Surely, this was a violation of the laws of God and man. Any mother’s natural instinct would have been to protect her children, rather than inflict harm on them.

We may never know what led Tait and Fellenbaum to act in this inhuman manner. Were they once abused themselves or witnesses to abuse? Were they psychopaths without empathy or sadists excited by the pain of their victims? Whatever the answer, nothing excuses their actions.

Ultimately, the rest of us must remain vigilant for the signs of abuse in children, even those not our own. We may be their only hope.

A list of 10 frequent signs of child abuse can be found at the Safe Horizon website

[1] NBC 10, “Mom, Boyfriend Beat Boy, 3, to Death inside Chester County Home: Prosecutors” by Dan Stamm, 11/6/14,

[2] CBS News, “Serious Injuries from Child Abuse on Rise, Especially in Infants” by Ryan Jaslow, 10/1/12,


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Filed under Child Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Justice, Law, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Poverty, Religion


As abuse victims, we choose various means of expressing our pain, and seeking comfort for it.  The one thing victims should not do is attack one another for those choices.

Perhaps the most divisive issue for abuse victims is forgiveness.  Many victims view forgiveness as impossible, and forgiveness by other victims of their own abusers as a betrayal.

But forgiveness is, first and foremost, the decision by an abuse victim not to center his or her life wholly on the violation [1].

Forgiveness does NOT imply approval of the violation. Forgiven or not, the abuser should, if at all possible, be held accountable for the criminal act(s) of which s/he is guilty.  That may involve imprisonment, chemical castration, and lifelong monitoring to prevent a recurrence.

Whatever we do, we cannot fully balance the scales once a child has been violated [2].  In most cases, the child must deal with the scars of abuse for a lifetime.  For that very reason, the decision by a victim whether or not to forgive his or her abuser is entirely personal, not subject to a general critique, even by other victims [3]. Continue reading


Filed under Abuse of Power, Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Justice, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse