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On Josh and Anna Duggar and the Fundamentalist Christian Culture of Forgiving Molesters and Abusers

May 22, 2015 1 comment

I don’t often write non book reviews anymore, but something has come into the news that hits close to my heart and my own personal experience, and I felt it necessary to put my perspective out there.

Probably most people by now have heard that Josh Duggar of the famous Quiverfull family the Duggars has admitted that he molested young girls when he was a teenager (source).  Perhaps what may be more shocking to most people is the knowledge that his wife, Anna, knew about this before they were married and married him anyway and is having children with him.  (They currently have three young children, with a fourth on the way).

If you read Anna’s and Josh’s official statements, you will notice a theme among them.

Anna says, “He continued to do what he was taught. [I know] who Josh really is – someone who had gone down a wrong path and had humbled himself before God and those whom he had offended.  Someone who had received the help needed to change the direction of his life and do what is right.” source, bold emphasis added by me.

Josh says, “I would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions.  I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.source, bold emphasis added by me.

In the fundamentalist Christian community, there is this idea that only those who were not truly saved are capable of abuse or molestation.  I know this, because I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian community and heard this rhetoric over and over again.  If Christianity was a ladder with fundamentalism at the top and the most liberal church you can think of at the bottom, my church growing up was one rung below the Quiverfulls.  (If you are not familiar with what Quiverfull is, I highly recommend reading this expose on it).

Even in my slightly less fundamentalist fundamentalist Christian community growing up this idea existed.  If someone has molested or abused people, they are clearly not saved, because no one with Jesus living in their heart would be capable of such heinous acts.  Thus, if a person who has committed these acts “comes to Jesus” aka gets saved aka simply states that they now have faith in Jesus, the community believes that they are now incapable of molesting or abusing anyone.  What this means is that all a molester or abuser has to do when caught is state how truly sorry they are, that they have seen their wrongs, that they have asked Christ to come into their lives and save them, that they have now repented and are turning 180 degrees from what they were.

You can see this same rhetoric in what Anna and Josh say above.  While I seriously doubt that Josh is actually the changed person he claims to be (once a molester, always a molester, in my opinion), I do believe that his wife, Anna, truly believes that it’s ok to have children with him, because Josh is different now. He’s got Jesus. He didn’t have Jesus before, and that was bad, but he does now, so it’s ok.  You can see how these ideas would lead to the harboring of abusers and molesters within the community.  The molester and/or abuser knows exactly what rhetoric to say to get out of it.  EVEN IF they had previously claimed they were saved, they can simply state that they thought they had been saved, but they must not have truly been one with Jesus or Satan wouldn’t have been able to entice them to commit these heinous acts.  It’s irrelevant if the molester actually believes this or not, they simply know the rhetoric to say to get a clean slate in the community.  While forgiveness is admirable, there are just situations and circumstances where that forgiveness should not go hand-in-hand with trusting the person to be around vulnerable people or with not punishing them at all or holding them accountable at all.

I personally know of at least two scenarios in my own community I grew up in where similar abusers and/or molesters have been given a free pass to be around children because they have “repented and come to Jesus now” so they “couldn’t possibly be capable of it anymore.”  This culture fundamentalist Christianity has of sweeping these situations under the rug and protecting the abusers and molesters simply because they have come to Jesus is inexcusable.  Yet it is so deeply ingrained in the culture, that I doubt it will ever change.  So why am I bothering to write this?  I want anyone who comes into contact with people from that community to be aware of the fact that just because they claim someone is a man of God or an upstanding citizen or a woman after God’s own heart that that does NOT mean that they have done nothing heinous in their past.  They may have, and the community may even know of it and still speak of them that way.  If you are in contact with children from this community please listen to what they say closely.  If they say something like “so-and-so used to be very bad but then they came to Jesus so it’s ok now,” that is most likely a situation that warrants closer attention.  These children need us to pay attention and try to protect them because God knows their own community will not.

Book Review: The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder by Olga Trujillo, JD

November 28, 2011 11 comments

Olga at a young age.Summary:
Olga was a young, successful lawyer in DC when she suddenly started having inexplicable panic attacks and episodes of blank stares or rapidly moving eyes.  She sees a psychiatrist and is diagnosed with a moderate case on DID.  On the spectrum, she has multiple parts but not exclusive personalities and still has a central core.  These parts have kept the memories of her extraordinarily violent, abusive childhood from her consciousness thereby allowing her to function, but just barely.  In her memoir, Olga tells what she has now remembered of her childhood and how she has now discovered she managed to function and be surprisingly resilient.  She then delves into her long-term therapy and how she has come together into mostly one part and usually no longer dissociates.

Review:
I always find memoirs by those with DID or dissociation completely fascinating.  Even just the ability to write the book and explain the disorder from the insider’s perspective is a remarkable achievement.  I previously read When Rabbit Howls, which is written by a person much further along on the spectrum where completely different personalities wrote the different parts.  Since Olga has a centralized part that has integrated most of the other parts, she writes with much more clarity and awareness of when she dissociated as a child, the process through therapy, and integration and her new life now.  This ability to clearly articulate what was going on and how dissociation was a coping mechanism for her survival makes the book much more accessible for a broader audience.  I also appreciate the fact that someone with a mental illness who is Latina, first generation American, and a lesbian is speaking out.  Too often the picture of a person with a mental illness is whitewashed.

Olga offers up a very precise trigger warning of which chapters could be dangerous for fellow trauma survivors.  That said, I found her reporting of what occurred to her to be respectful of herself as a person.  She never shirks from what happened to her, but is sure to couch it in concise, clinical language.  I respect this decision on her part, and again believe it will make her book more accessible to a wider audience.  People can see the results of the trauma without finding themselves witnesses to the trauma itself.

The book right up through about halfway through her therapy is clear and detailed, but then starts to feel rushed and more vague.  Perhaps this is out of respect for the people currently in her life, but personally I wanted to know more.  For instance, how was she able to make a drastic move from DC to the middle of the country without upsetting her healing process?  How do the phone sessions with her therapist work?  I think many advocates of those with mental illness would appreciate more detail on how she is able to have a healthy, happy relationship now, especially since we witness the dissolution of her first marriage.  Similarly, I wanted to know more about her coming out process.  She states that she knew at 12 she was a lesbian, but pretty much leaves it at that.  I’m sure it was easier to embrace her sexuality the more integrated her parts became, but I am still interested in the process.  She was so brave recounting her early life that I wonder at the exclusion of these details.

Overall this is a well-written memoir of both childhood abuse, therapy for DID, and living with DID.  Olga is an inspirational person, overcoming so much to achieve both acclaim in her career and a happy home life.  I recommend it to a wide range of people from those interested in the immigrant experience to those interested in living with a mental illness.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian Independence Day Reading/Reviewing Project)

September 30, 2011 12 comments

Cover of the book Purple HibiscusSummary:
Kambili’s father, Eugene, is a wealthy businessman and newspaperman focused on telling the truth of the upheaval in Nigeria, but even more focused on his fanatical version of Catholicism.  Kambili, her brother Jaja, and their mother all live on edge, walking on eggshells, never knowing when he might snap.  In contrast, Eugene’s sister, Kambili’s Aunty Ifeoma, is a university professor and a widow, cheerfully raising her children to be independent.  One winter vacation Aunty Ifeoma convinces Eugene to allow Kambili and Jaja to visit.  A visit that will change their worlds forever.

Review:
You all know by now that I’m good friends with Amy, so when she asked me to participate in her one-shot project, I couldn’t say no.  Although, I was completely at a loss as to what to read.  I’ve never read a Nigerian book before.  So I asked Amy to help me figure out a book to get my hands on, and she recommended this title to me.

Adichie instantly swept me into a world that is starkly different from, yet surprisingly similar to, my own.  The excessive religion and fear of god was something I was raised with myself, so I found myself instantly connecting to Kambili.  Indeed, it’s nearly impossible not to connect to her.  She is intelligent yet vulnerable.  Strong yet terrified.  Wise yet naive.  She is an ideal main character, because she is so essentially human yet impossible not to root for.

Kambili’s father is an abuser; there is zero doubt about that, yet the perspective of the abused is so eloquently depicted by Adichie.  Kambili truly loves her father.  She is afraid of him and hurt by him, yet she knows there are good things too.  She wants nothing more than to please him.  She lives for his kind words.  Indeed, even the reader sees that there are good aspects to Eugene in spite of the fact that he’s a horrible abuser.  He routinely donates money to the needy in Nigeria, for instance.  This is what makes it so powerful and realistic.  Abusers aren’t monsters from a fairy tale.  They are deeply flawed people who hurt those closest to them.

In contrast to Eugene is Aunty Ifeoma.  Aunty Ifeoma is the kind of woman that I believe most modern, strong, educated women want to be.  She tries so damn hard to help her kids be strong, to be a good mom, to help save her sister-in-law and niece and nephew from an abusive situation.  She tries hard at everything, yet sometimes the civil unrest at the university and the constant struggle to feed her family gets to her, and she snaps a bit.  Aunty Ifeoma is the perfect comparison to Eugene.  She sometimes snaps at her kids a bit when she’s tired or frustrated from the extreme situations going on around her Nigeria, but she never harms them.  Since stress is one of the excuses many abusers use, it is excellent to see this comparison within the story.

Adichie eloquently describes Nigeria as well.  I’ve never been to any part of Africa, but I felt myself swept into the hot, dry air.  I could almost smell the food they ate and the cashews and oranges on the ground outside.  Although Adichie shows the political unrest and civil strife, she also clearly displays the beauty of Nigeria, which is something I’ve never encountered before.

With all this beauty and realism, then, I must say I was a bit thrown by the ending.  It almost felt as if it was from a different story.  Whereas most of the book was reserved and eloquent in its simple depictions, the ending felt larger than life.  I think I was hoping for something more from the ending.  Some type of realistic understanding of a tough situation instead of a….deus ex machina style ending.

That said, I am incredibly glad I read this book.  I’m glad Amy helped me broaden my horizons to reading from a style of lit outside of my normal comfort zone.  This book is incredibly accessible, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of contemporary, literary stories.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Book Review: A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

August 18, 2011 8 comments

Picture of Jaycee at the age of 11.Summary:
On June 10, 1991, eleven year old Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted from her school bus stop by Phillip and Nancy Garrido with the aid of a stun-gun.  Jaycee was locked up in a backyard compound and repeatedly raped and abused by Phillip in a bid to satisfy his pedophilia.  Over the course of her 18 year captivity, Jaycee gave birth to two daughters in the compound.  Eventually with her increasing age, the sexual assaults stopped, but she was still held captive.  Finally, on August 26, 2009, Phillip brought Jaycee and her daughters with him to the parole office in an attempt to explain away why he was spotted in public with the two girls.  Jaycee, who hadn’t been allowed to speak her name for 18 years, was able to write it down for the police.  This is the memoir of her experience and gradual recovery from the captivity.

Review:
Jaycee wrote this memoir without the assistance of a ghost writer, something very uncommon in memoirs by victims of abduction.  She states in the beginning that her way of remembering things is a bit off because of the trauma, but that her way of telling her story will provide a genuine experience for the reader to truly see how the abduction affected her.  She is correct that the memoir is not set up in a traditional way, but this tends to make for stronger books when discussing something as painful as this.  It reminds me a bit of the very non-traditional story-telling methods used in another memoir When Rabbit Howls.  Eliminating the ghost writer and letting the victim speak grants us, the readers, the opportunity to truly connect with a survivor.  I humbly thank Jaycee for her bravery in this.

Most of the chapters start with Jaycee remembering the events from the perspective of her younger self.  This absolutely makes scenes such as her first molestation by Phillip incredibly haunting.  She then ends each chapter with a reflection from her adult, free perspective on the past.  This structure is unique, but it provides an interesting perspective, showing both Jaycee the victim and Jaycee the survivor.  Toward the end of the book this structure is lost a bit as we suddenly are shown many pages from the journal Jaycee carefully kept in captivity, as well as talking in a more present manner about the therapy she’s been going through.  Her therapist sounds truly remarkable.  She uses horses to help the survivors deal with problems, which seems to work incredibly well for Jaycee who often only had animals around to talk to during her 18 year ordeal.

Although Jaycee does recount her abuse and manipulation at the hands of Phillip, that is not at all what stands out in this memoir.  What comes across is what a strong, sensitive, caring woman Jaycee is.  She is not lost in woe is me.  She does not even think she has it the worst of anyone in the world.  The one thing she repeatedly states she’s learned is that she was not assertive enough as a little girl, and that personality trait backfired on her repeatedly throughout the ordeal.  She states that she sees this as the reason abuse of all kinds are able to go on, because people don’t speak up.

There are moments in which all of us need to have a backbone and feel that we have the right to say no to adults if we believe they are doing the wrong thing. You must find your voice and not be afraid to speak up. (page 143)

This message of “speak up” is stated repeatedly throughout the book and leaves the reader feeling empowered rather than downtrodden at such a tale.  If Jaycee could live through such a situation and come out of it stronger and as an advocate for victims and survivors of abuse to speak up, how can any of us do any less?

I recommend this book to those who enjoy memoirs and survival stories and can handle scenes of a disturbing nature.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

June 17, 2010 1 comment

A white little girl standing with a black little boy in front of a school bus.Summary:
In this memoir, Julia recalls growing up in a conservative Calvinist family in Indiana with her two adopted black brothers and the parental abuse and general racism they faced.  The last part of the memoir recalls her time spent in the Dominican Republic at a fundamentalist Christian reform school–Escuela Caribe–and the further abuse inflicted upon herself and David there.

Review:
I heard about this memoir due to the section on Escuela Caribe.  A cousin of mine was sent there by her parents in the 2000s and when googling it, I came across all the controversy surrounding the school with this memoir frequently cited.  I therefore expected this book to predominantly be about a vicious reform school.  In fact, it is a stunning exploration of race and racism in the United States.

Julia was four when her parents adopted David, and they immediately bonded.  Julia frequently expresses feeling as if David, who is only a few months younger than herself, is her twin brother.  They are happy siblings and oblivious to the racism around them until their parents adopt another boy a year older than them, Jerome, so that David can “have one of his own kind around.”  Jerome is violent, steals, slacks at school, and molests Julia.  Julia eventually comes to wonder why her parents beat Jerome and David when they sin but simply send her to her room.  This combined with Jerome’s continued attempts to convince David to side with him against “the whiteys” is confusing and painful to Julia.  Julia and David feel as if they are truly brother and sister, why doesn’t anyone else treat them that way?  Julia beautifully depicts her own struggles against imitating racist actions and words as well as her brother David’s struggles against internalizing the racism they are surrounded with.

The other element strong in the memoir is a bracing look at the violence, anger, and fear often found in fundamentalist Christian homes.  Children are guided with anger and violence instead of love due to the Bible verse “spare the rod, spoil the child.”  Julia’s parents believed in this, and Escuela Caribe clearly firmly believes it as well.  They believe the children are horrible people and the sin must be beaten out of them, whether with belts, boxing gloves, over-exercising, humiliation, or excruciating physical labor.  This is important for people to know about, and Julia paints a clear picture in an unbiased voice.  Indeed, this is the least biased narrative voice I’ve ever read in a memoir, which makes it all that much more believable and painful to read.

Julia’s writing talent is strong, and she weaves a painful narrative that is difficult to put down and forces the reader to confront racism and abuse in American culture.  I recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs or has an interest in race relations or fundamentalist Christianity.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Swaptree

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Book Review: Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford

February 4, 2010 3 comments

Red book cover for Mommie Dearest with a black and white photo of Christina and Joan Crawford.Summary:
In the early days of Hollywood, Joan Crawford became one of the first celebrities to adopt children.  From the outside, it looked like her children had it all–presents, inherent fame, an apparently adoring mother.  However, in Christina’s tell-all memoir, she reveals the truth behind the image.  A mother obsessed with cleanliness and rigid rules.  A mother who demanded her children worship her like her fans did in order to receive her love.  A mother so desperate to cling to her days of fame that she attempted to beat down any glimmer of success in her children.  A mother who Christina still desperately loved to the bitter end.

Review:
This memoir is a must read for anyone who thinks that having money and being a celebrity automatically makes for a good parent.  Joan Crawford expected her four adopted children to be exactly what she wanted them to be instead of loving them for their uniqueness and human imperfections.  Christina’s situation gradually worsens as she becomes older and starts to show glimmers of being her own person.  The scenes of abuse in Christina’s childhood are the best written in the book.  It is clear that she remembers them vividly and can still identify with the emotions that went through her as a child and young teenager.

*spoiler warning*
That said, Christina never manages to disentangle herself from her mother.  In spite of everything her mother has done, Christina still attempts anything and everything to reconcile with her, apparently ignoring or forgetting the fact that she never did anything wrong to cause her mother’s behavior in the first place.  Joan Crawford is a cruel, spiteful, evil person, and Christina naively continues to seek her love even in her 30s.  This makes it more sad than most memoirs about abuse as it seems that Christina never truly overcame her abuser.
*end spoiler*

The writing, beyond the scenes of abuse, is sub-par.  Christina has a tendency to ramble a bit in an uninteresting way.  She also seems to not understand which parts of her life to skim over a bit.  I mean, did we really need to know exactly when in a funeral her husband hands her a paper cup of water?  No.  Additionally, she obviously had a bad editor, as there are quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes, which is odd for a mass market paperback.

Overall, it’s worth a read if you’re into memoirs or the inside Hollywood scoop.  All others should probably give it a pass though.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Swaptree

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Female Genital Mutilation

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Today while perusing links posted on twitter, I came across this story on Newsweek.  Now, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is no new topic to me.  We actually covered it in one of my sociology-type classes in high school.  This article though made it re-hit home akin to the way it did the first time I learned about FGM.

For those who don’t know, FGM is a cultural practice in which some part of a little girl’s genitals are cut off.  This can range from the least severe of “circumcising” her clitoris to the most severe where the clitoris and inner and outer labia are cut off and the vagina is then sewn closed with only a pin-sized hole left for urinating and menstruating.  To top it off this procedure is most often done in people’s homes with dirt floors by the elderly women of the community who use unsanitized knives and sometimes even shards of glass to perform the procedure.

Why is this done to these little girls?  Because their cultures perceive women’s sexuality as evil and dangerous.  Because if the woman gets actual pleasure from sex, she will be less subservient to her husband and more likely to leave him.  Mainly though, it’s that they think a woman’s genitals are evil and must be cut off.

To put it really lightly:  THIS IS FUCKING WRONG.

A basic human right is the ability to have an enjoyable sex life if you so choose, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.  Can you imagine if you knew you were completely incapable of ever having an orgasm?  Can you imagine what an affect that would have on your relationship?  It is a scientific fact that when a woman orgasms oxycontin is released in her brain causing her to bond with her sexual partner.  These women don’t even have that opportunity.  It was cut away from them.  It gets worse, though.  According to the victims in the article, sometimes the procedure is done so poorly that the woman is left with painful scar tissue, thereby making it not only not pleasurable but also painful for her partner to touch her.  This isn’t a case of a woman making the choice to abstain from sex.  It’s a case of a woman wanting to enjoy the pleasure others take for granted, but she can’t because of what was done to her as a child without her consent.  Honestly, Sila talking about her love for romance novels being marred by the fact she couldn’t have even a little bit of the pleasure the main characters have broke my heart.

Apparently though, there is some hope for women who had this atrocity committed against them.  The Newsweek article states that there is a new medical procedure that can at least partly restore the female genitals.  According to the article, this new surgery was discovered due to the work to discover genital restructuring for gender reassignment surgery.  NATURALLY, this surgery is deemed “cosmetic” by American insurance companies, leaving these mostly immigrant, poor women having to pay for their own reconstruction surgery.  This is akin to telling a burn victim her reconstructive surgery is cosmetic.  It is WRONG.

Well, Dr. Bowers of the hospital where Sila got her surgery won’t stand for it.  Dr. Bowers knows what it’s like to feel that your genitalia doesn’t match who you are.  She is a transgendered person herself, and she performs the procedure free of charge for these women.  Dr. Bowers says, “you cannot charge money to reverse a crime against humanity.”  Dr. Bowers is a hero.

Of course in an ideal world, Dr. Bowers wouldn’t need to perform this surgery on women, because their genitals wouldn’t be mutilated to start with.  I REFUSE to kowtow to political correctness and say “it’s a part of their culture.  We shouldn’t condemn it.”  It is WRONG, and I will keep saying it is WRONG until no more little girls are mutilated.

If you would like to help a woman who is a victim of FGM, please visit the nonprofit Clitoraid’s website.

Click here for more information on FGM.