Hugh and #MeToo

For me, innocence ended with my favorite uncle.

He was my favorite because he was funny. Always cracking jokes. And he had a big fancy car, and he owned a music store and a giant color TV with a wooden console, and he let me play pool on his pool table that cost a zillion dollars and even ride the Vespa scooter around the neighborhood.

One day the bubble burst. It was one of those Jewish holidays that lasts a week, and my parents had actually taken me out of school to join the extended family in the New York suburb where Uncle Funny lived. He was married to my mother’s sister. The family was very close-knit.

Suddenly on this particular holiday, Funny Unc just could not keep his hands off my growing butt. Every time I walked past him with the hors d’oeuvres tray, zap! He made it a point to show me I could not avoid his pinching fingers.

To not carry the trays, or serve drinks, was not an option. Never mind that my cousins were all outside playing. My mother made sure I played “little hostess” and made sure everyone got some. But until this one year, my buns had not been up for grabs.

Telling anyone was just not an option. There were jokes about this or that uncle, how you had to watch out for him. But it was considered a kind of cat-and-mouse situation: cat is a cat, and mouse is a mouse, and you play the game.

That night the adults went out for dinner and left us cousins with TV dinners and the TV itself, but we didn’t watch it. Instead we let ourselves into the aunt and uncle’s bedroom.

After a warm-up snoop around my aunt’s dressing table, where we marveled at her collection of false eyelashes and the accompanying paraphernalia, we got down to the real business.

Under the bed were a number of cardboard boxes. In the boxes were the Playboy magazines, also Hustler and Penthouse, which we considered to be way too dirty for even us to look at. I thought maybe my cousins looked at them when I wasn’t there, but when I picked up one with a real pussy shot on the cover, they made me put it away. I had never seen such a thing. They had.

We contented ourselves with flipping through the Playboy numbers, giggling at the ridiculous appearance of full-grown women sporting ears and tails, serving cocktails to cool-looking men in evening dress. I wondered whether the women in their leotards and fishnet stockings were cold, because they certainly would never let the men in suits be too warm. I wondered if they got headaches from the rabbit ears, like I did when my mother made me wear a headband to keep my hair out of my face.

We scurried to put all the magazines back properly before the Cadillac tires crunched in the driveway. When the adults got home, we were downstairs playing pool like usual. I did not know what to do with this new information, the fact that there existed such a thing as dirty magazines and that there were boxes of them under my uncle’s bed. The thought of broaching the subject with my parents took my breath away. So until this very moment, only the actors involved shared my secret.

That night, my uncle came into the room I shared with my girl cousin, to say goodnight.

“Let me give you an earlobe,” he said through breath smelling of Manhattans.

“A what?” I asked.

“An earlobe. Here, let me show you.” My cousin tittered from her twin bed. She most certainly knew what an “earlobe” was.

Well, I found out. Funny Unc took my ear in his mouth, breathed into it, and stuck his tongue in it…and that was enough! I pulled away, feeling mortified and not knowing why. I felt very confused. According to my cousin, this was something pleasurable. According to my feelings, it was invasive, inappropriate, and wrong.

After that I flatly refused to do anything that put me in range of pinching fingers and probing tongues. I never told a soul, but I much preferred my mother’s wrath for not “serving” to my uncle’s abuses.

Years later I learned, through judicious listening to aunts who didn’t know I was eavesdropping, that Uncle Funny had sexual problems. He couldn’t get an erection without his porn. Lights went on in my head, especially later on when I became an expert in child sexual abuse: there is a pattern there, a certain profile, where the male factor has difficulty achieving sexual satisfaction with real grown women, so he seeks out porn and children. My uncle was one of those.

So among the other infuriating distractions of the past month, I’ve had to somehow contain my rage at the fact that in the face of the wave of “casting couch” accusations, confessions, denials, “mee-too-isms,” and mea culpas, glossy tributes to Hugh Hefner, the Big Bunny Boffer, father of modern pornography, Objectifier In Chief, are all over the virtual newsstands I frequent. I have no fondness for the man who built an empire on the vulnerability of women, on the ritualistic subjugation of those with the “right” measurements and the implied or outright denigration of those who measured otherwise.

To Hugh Hefner I say: good riddance…I truly wish you had never existed.

To my Funny Uncle I say: you destroyed the lives of your children, but you couldn’t get me. Rot in hell.

And to the at least two generations of women who have obsessed about their measurements and shoe size, who thought that ass pinching was simply something you had to put up with, and probably meant you had found favor with your power brokers: no more! We don’t have to do this anymore.

In fact, we never did. We bought a lie, but it’s time to return it. It doesn’t fit.

Child Abuse Awareness Month: Sexual Abuse

This is a topic nobody wants to hear about.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four girls report being sexually abused before age 18, and one in six boys.  Now, these statistics only include cases that are reported, and were gleaned from retrospective studies that the CDC conducted.  Other sources predict that one out of every two girls will experience some sort of sexual abuse by the time they reach 18, and those forms of abuse can include:

  • Inappropriate touching
  • Fondling, i.e., inappropriate stimulation of sex organs
  • Forced non-intercourse sex acts such as fellatio or cunnilingus
  • Intercourse, vaginal or anal
  • Forced or coerced posing for pornographic photographs or videos

Most sexual abuse is committed by someone known to the child, usually male, although there are female abusers out there too.  The abuse usually starts with some kind of grooming, to establish rapport and trust with the child: buying toys, taking the child to the movies or amusement parks, giving the child sweets, etc., until the child regards the abuser as a trusted “friend.”   The grooming process may take place over months or even years.

Once this has been accomplished, the abuser ofter begins by having the child watch pornography with him, or look at pornographic materials, especially of children engaged in various sex acts.  The child begins to see these things as somewhat normative.  Somewhere along this line the abuser begins to touch the child, often telling the child that this is how love is expressed.  The child may be frightened, but the abuser comforts them and tells them it’s all right because they love each other, don’t they?

The child cooperates because they feel that they will hurt the abuser’s feelings if they don’t.  Sometimes this works all the way until penetration is attempted, at which point the child is in pain and becomes afraid.  At this point the abuser often switches to using threats that he will tell the police and the child will be taken to jail, or he will tell the child’s parents and they will be very angry; or if the child is very attached to the abuser he may tell the child that if he tells, the abuser will be taken away and the child will never see him again.

This pattern of abuse may continue for years until adolescence, when the girl or boy finally realizes what has happened to them and they shun the abuser.  It’s very rare for kids to disclose at this point.  It’s much more common for them to become depressed, self-harm, attempt suicide, get into drugs, run away, or enter prostitution.

In my former position as Child Sexual Abuse Expert Witness for the Prosecutor’s Office of Monroe County, NY, and then for the State of Ohio, I most often encountered children 18 months to four years old who had been discovered to have physical evidence of abuse by either their parents or a pediatrician on routine exam.  We used various methods to obtain disclosures of who the perpetrator was: play therapy using dolls to act out the scenes and methods of abuse, sitting on the floor with crayons and paper, all sorts of things.  Everything was videotaped to use as evidence at trial, even though many judges refused to use that evidence at trial because it was from a minor.  Go figure.

My youngest patient was five months old, and had been vaginally raped by an adult in his 40’s.  My worst-ever case was a nine month old boy who had been anally raped and then beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend (and pimp) when he was left alone with the baby while she went to the convenience store down the street.  That perpetrator was tried by grand jury, not a regular jury trial, and was sentenced to 7-to-15 years with possibility of parole at 3.5 years.  This was in a state where rape-murder was a capital crime (Ohio). I was never called as a witness, even though I was the receiving physician in the emergency room when the lifeless baby was brought in.  That trial, which I watched on closed circuit television as they let the bastard off, was the end of my position;  I couldn’t stand it any more.  I quit then and there.



National Child Abuse Awareness Month: Statistics

Child Abuse Can Be Prevented

Child Abuse Can Be Prevented

Having not quite recovered from the PTSD triggered by yesterday’s post, I’d like to offer you some sources on child abuse statistics.  They come from reliable sources, e.g. the Childhelp Foundation, which is a very user-friendly but slightly inaccurate source: for instance they estimate that fewer that 10% of children will be victims of sexual abuse, and the actual number is between 20-25%.  Maybe what they mean is that at any point in time 10% are being sexually abused.  I could buy that.  But it’s a good place to start, and gives a broad overview of the societal consequences of child abuse.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway swings to the other end of the pendulum: way, way too much information for the average bear, but if you are looking for statistics on anything and everything to do with child abuse you will find it here.

If you’re following along with this series, it would be good to take a look at these resources, just to familiarize yourself with the scope of the problem.  You’ll find some astonishing (in a bad way) historical trends over the past decade that make me wonder what kind of pressures are being put on society that causes people to lash out at our most precious possessions, our children.

But are our children really our possessions, or are they placed in our stewardship to raise the way we see fit?  That’s another discussion, isn’t it?  What do you think?

National Child Abuse Awareness Month: Types of Child Abuse

Child Abuse Can Be Prevented

Child Abuse Can Be Prevented

To tell you the truth, this series is painful for me to write.  For one thing, it’s triggering my PTSD because I was abused as a child.  For another thing, it’s triggering my PTSD because I worked with a child abuse response team member for several years, after which I became an expert witness for a county prosecutor’s office on child sexual abuse.  It’s gut-wrenching work.  But it’s so important to talk about.

For instance, January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  I found myself studying the dark pathways by which children end up trafficked into prostitution.  The common thread was abuse at home, which left the youngsters (and I do mean young: the average age of entry into prostitution is 11-14) vulnerable to grooming by “lover-boy” pimps, who take advantage of the girl’s need for love and acceptance, and then funnel them into prostitution.  So sad and wrong.

And that in its turn got me thinking again of the various patterns of abuse that can betray a child’s innocence and indeed rob a child of its childhood completely.

And those patterns of abuse include (and this is by no means a comprehensive list):

1.  Physical abuse, where harm is done to the child’s body with the intent of causing pain;

2.  Sexual abuse, which ranges from inappropriate sexual touching, other sex acts including intercourse, exposure to sexually explicit media, forcing the child to act as a model for pornographic images or video, forcing the child to perform sex acts with others (either children or adults), and more.

3.  Verbal abuse.  I cannot stress strongly enough how terribly destructive verbal abuse is.  It tears down a child’s self esteem and leads to depression and despair, eating disorders, self-harming behaviors, substance abuse, and other self-destructive patterns including suicide.

4.  Emotional abuse.  Typically a push-me, pull-you pattern of drawing the child in through affectionate behaviors and then violently pushing the child away, often using verbal and/or physical abuse.   Emotionally abusing parents will often reverse the parent-child role relationship, so that the child feels responsible for the parent’s well-being.  This is often associated with parental substance abuse.

5.  Psychological abuse.  This is a deliberate program of tearing down a child’s self-esteem for the benefit of building the parent’s ego.  The abusing parent envelops the child in a net of control, holding the reins very tightly, and playing on the child’s emotions as on the keys of a piano.  This type of parent is extremely intelligent, insecure, and is often the product of a highly abusive home.  S/he is highly narcissistic and needs complete control over everything.  Think “Mommy Dearest.”

All five main types of child abuse are forms of torture that produce permanently wounded people.  The extent to which they are able to recover, once out of the abusing environment, seems to depend on the resiliency of their temperament.  I’ve known resilient people who were horribly abused as children, yet grew up to be happy, well-adjusted adults.  And I’ve known less resilient people who’ve ended up so permanently damaged that they fell into addiction and eventually suicide.

What can we do to help?

For one thing, if we have contact with children through our work (teachers, health care workers, day care workers, lunchroom ladies, bus drivers, hairdressers/barbers, etc. etc. you get the idea), we can be on the lookout for telltale signs of abuse, and not be shy about reporting suspicions to the Child Protective authorities.  In fact, certain professionals are mandated to report suspected abuse: teachers, health care workers, and anyone whose job primarily involves children.

In my next post, I will describe some features of each form of abuse, so that you will know what to look for.

Teenage Runaways and Bipolar Illness: Related?

By now most of you know that I split from home when I was sixteen.  I shall not go into the “why” of it here.  That is treated on my “secret blog.”   Anyone who wishes to have access to that blog is welcome to write to me at, and I will send you the link.

My question for today is: what proportion of teenagers who really run away from home, and by that I mean not just for a day or a few days, but more or less permanently, have Bipolar Illness that is undiagnosed or untreated?  And not only Bipolar, but PTSD from childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse, or schizophrenia, Borderline, Major Depression…mental illness in general.  

My own experience on the streets put me in contact with many fellow runaways.  Most of them had some kind of what I would now categorize as psychopathology that predated their running away.  Certainly running away and the sometimes horrific experiences and conditions that one encounters can do nothing but aggravate any underlying condition.

Runaways are often witnesses to violence, victims of violence and predation, subjected to homelessness and various forms of degradation.  All of these set them up for PTSD, whether this was a precondition of their running away or not.

I have seen kids bullied, either at home or at school, who found the predictable privation of life on the street preferable to life at home or in shelters, where the bullying continues.  Aspergerian kids fall into this category because of their odd appearance and often stereotyped behaviors.  So do overweight kids, or even dyslexic kids because of their difficulties with reading and writing.  Life on the streets does not depend on one’s aptitude for written language, but only on the ability to survive in an environment that uniquely combines routine with chaos.

I myself fell into a number of these categories.  I was terribly depressed, when I wasn’t having bouts of extreme clarity where I found myself deeply engaged in the study of physics; and sometimes, ever since childhood, I emerged from my depressive state into a wild grandiosity, which was sometimes satisfying but mostly disturbing and dysphoric.

I was thoroughly bullied at school for being “weird,” and avoided human contact, interacting with dogs, cats, horses, rodents, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but not fish, because they always died on me.  I wore sandals and clothes from the Indian store in the nearby city, fragrant with incense.  They rooted for the football team;  I dug roots and made medicines from them.

To these high class bumpkins from rural coastal Massachusetts, who went with their mothers to Daughters of the American Revolution meetings and Order of the Eastern Star while their fathers and sons went to whatever meetings they went to, I was a witch and an outcast.  Their children were not permitted to play with me, and they teased me relentlessly about my differences.

Worse yet, the teachers considered me a distraction in their classes since I dressed differently and even wore my hair differently.  They lobbied to get me out, and finally figured out a way to do it.

Being different in a homogeneous society is considered unacceptable.  Anthropologists have written books about this.  We the bipolar, the borderline, the ADD, the PTSD, the schizophrenic:  where do we fit in?  We don’t.

Many good studies are now looking at the creative and innovative advantage of the “different” brain.  We who have them have always known that; yet we have historically been anathema to society.  I cringe every time there is some kind of random killing or other act of violence and the first thing the press asks is: does the person have a history of mental illness?  This, when there is solid research that shows that the mentally ill have no greater incidence of performing violent crimes than the general population; but we do have a greater tendency to be victims of violent crimes: no surprise there.

I hope the generation of children who are coming up now will find a more welcoming, better informed public in general, and a constructive school environment in particular, so that we don’t have to run away in order to not be abused, and to have to seek a kindred society of “misfits” on the streets.

Serial Rapist in the US Air Force gets a slap on the hand This horrific sexual predator who preyed upon female recruits was convicted on 28 counts of first-degree rape and other forms of sexual harrassment and misconduct, while in the position of instructor to the women he abused. And yet, even though the law provides for up to life imprisonment for these crimes, he got 20 years. Usually that sentence carries a provision for parole in 7 to 10 years, dependent upon conduct. It is well known that sexual predators have a very high rate of recidivism. The probability that someone who has made rape his lifestyle, as this slimy worm has, will rape again when he gets out of prison, is unacceptably certain. His “heartfelt pleas” to the judge and jury that he be allowed to participate in his childrens’ rearing should have been taken as incentive to lock him up for life plus 20 years. What fine values could a monster like this instill into his children. Makes me want to vomit.

Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved