I ask because the question arose recently in the unfolding disaster of the Glastonbury men who adopted nine sons, and then were charged with sexually abusing two of them. News stories said one of the men — George Harasz — had trauma in his background that might have affected his ability to be a good parent.
And there it is again. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says child sexual abuse is reported up to 80,000 times a year, but far more incidences go unreported. This week, two new accusers came forward in the growing list of alleged victims of Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. In Connecticut, jury selection starts next month for the next St. Francis Hospital/George Reardon child sexual abuse trial.Also in Connecticut, we learned from his recent trial that Joshua Komisarjevsky, who with Steven Hayes sexually assaulted and killed the three Petit women, was sexually abused as a child.I, too, survived childhood sex abuse, from the time I was 7 until I was roughly 13. I tried to tell, but when a beloved teacher refused to listen, I pushed the memories below the surface and pretended everything was fine.Everything wasn’t fine. When I hit my 30s, the memories burst to the surface and I found myself with a phone in my hand, trying to find someone who could talk me out of killing myself. The horror and shame had festered, but I made that last-ditch call because, as a single mother, the only person who would be left to discover what I’d done would have been my 6-year-old son, and I would not leave him that legacy.And that is the experience of the vast majority of survivors of childhood sexual trauma. We turn that unbearable pain on ourselves. We may drink, sleep around and engage in other risky and dumb behaviors, but we don’t often make the news. You can find our ranks in prison, in the halls of power in Washington and everywhere in between.Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz was quoted in one story about the Glastonbury family. But she said, when I asked her later: “A traumatic childhood does not render someone incapable of raising children.”On DCF’s website, prospective adoptive or foster parents are alerted that they should be “determined to be physically and mentally able to provide care to children.” Any past traumas would come up in interviews during home studies, said Katz, and that means the onus is on prospective parents to self-disclose.”Sometimes, trauma is just life, but I think it’s important to know about it, understand it,” Katz said. “We want to make sure, more importantly, that the prospective parents are aware of it, so we can help them, so we don’t create loaded situations.” She says that in providing support, the department strives for the ABCs — awareness, balance and connections.After that phone call, I started swimming, and swimming hard. If a counselor or therapy lagged, I moved on. I joined any therapy group that would have me, and I relied on people until they could take me no longer, and then I moved on. I needed fresh horses to get across the stream. The minute I was able, I confronted my perpetrator and his accomplice, and when they denied the abuse, I cut ties and never looked back.I know the statistics. We, the members of this club no one wants to belong to, sometimes find our answer in a bottle. Or we find partners who pick up where our perpetrators left off. We have our share of mental health issues. Sometimes, we have trouble with intimacy. Some of us — though not as many as you might think — grow up to be perpetrators, though most of us would cut off our hands before we would hurt a child.But you can’t compare trauma (or recovery) any more than you can compare snowflakes. A strange brew of good therapy, massive support from my husband, genetics and luck got me through. But you should know I’m not special. We are everywhere. And we are dealing.Hartford Courant, Susan Campbell, Dec 11, 2011