I rant. I like to think I am quite good at it, but I am no George Carlin. I want to be a writer, and am trying to finish a book, but for the last couple years, ranting is about all I am good for. Most will say it is better than the alternatives I could be doing; drug addict, alcoholic, prisoner, homeless, prostitute. They are all likely outcomes for those of us who grew up in terribly abusive homes, but alas, I have resisted all of those for the most part. Instead, I rant, and try to make a difference. The problem with making a difference, however, is that people don’t want to be different. Sure, they might want things to be different, but they want that to happen without having to actually change themselves, and fail to see the problem with such logic.
Enter the obituary of who could easily be my adopted female parental unit (I will call her mother for simplicity sake, but she in no way is deserving of such a title). I do not know why the story of Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick’s obituary has inspired me to actually sit down and write something again, but I have a few ideas. Perhaps it is not a single reason, as I read quite a few takes on it before I felt the need to do this.
For those yet unfamiliar with this story, a woman recently died alone in a facility in Reno, Nevada because none of her 6 remaining children wanted anything to do with her. 2 of those children sent in a scathing obituary of her, detailing issues of abuse, neglect, and torture, after her death. My first thought in reading said obituary was that my mother would be deserving of no less, the second thought being one of kinship with the children who wrote it. Then, as is usual for me in about anything, came anger. At first it was because someone questioned the authenticity of the obit, suggesting it may be a fake. If it was a fake, the idea that someone would think such a thing funny is disheartening to say the least, and if it is not a fake, then people questioning it because they are uncomfortable with the mental image it portrays is a glaring example of why these things do indeed happen. Upon further investigation, I found that this is indeed a true obituary.
The second source of anger was from the media’s handling of the story. They jump all over this now, I will believe, because the story is one-sided and the dead woman can’t defend herself or cry foul, but where were they when the children needed them? The same place they are now, with millions of other children being abused in this country every day: Talking about Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians, and iPhones. I am glad that this story is getting out, but I do not have much hope of it actually changing anything, because the media has long ago stopped being a positive agent for change. A responsible media would investigate this story, uncover who allowed this abuse to continue, why nothing was done, discover if anyone involved with these children was still working around others kids, and publicize it until they were removed from such a position and prosecuted for any other crimes.
Unfortunately, that is not how our media works anymore. Even with no one complaining on the deceased’s behalf, the newspaper pulled the obituary from their online source. Another journalist stated that “it is so sad that it takes this, a woman’s death, for the children to finally speak up about whatever had happened.” Again, if the media were to be honest, I think they would find that the children did try to speak up. In fact, they testified in front of the Nevada legislature in the 1980’s about the abuse they had suffered. If the media had picked up and investigated the story at that time, perhaps this obituary would not have been necessary, and the children could have obtained the closure they needed much sooner. The truly sad thing here is that the media, which could give children a voice, which could make this the national issue it needs to be, is staunchly silent on this topic. In trying to get my own story published in my hometown paper, I received the following reply from editor Curt Hineline:
I have lost sleep over trying to answer a simple question concerning your letter to the editor. “Will the good that can come from publishing it outweigh the backlash it will create in Oakland?” After much prayer and thought I have decided I am not going to publish your letter. I expressed my concerns to Chris Rhoades who said it was ultimately my decision but that he would back my decision.
If the intent of the letter was to raise awareness of the problems we face as a society and not merely be vindictive in nature, I feel there is already an awareness of the problems that face all communities including Oakland. Cooperation between school officials, pastors, parents and law enforcement are making a difference and an overall awareness and appreciation for the problem will continue to prevent things from happening like what happened to you.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that will never be rid of these atrocities so continued awareness is important. With three small boys myself, I am encouraged every time the school brings in a speaker for an assembly or seek to address the problem in a classroom setting.
Sorry to bail on you with this one. I know that this was important to you.
Thanks again for your patience on this. And let me know if there is anything else I can do for you apart from publishing this letter.
It seems that, in Curt’s mind, the comfort of the abusers is more important than the possible benefit to the victim that having their story told may bring. His response also highlights the ignorance that exists in the media as to the statistics of abuse. Over 90% of all abuse against children is perpetrated by someone in or close to the family, so “cooperation” between those most likely to be perpetrating the abuse isn’t likely to make much of a difference to those being abused. It just gives the abusers an inside track on how not to get caught. Finally, the arrogance of his statement that “an overall awareness and appreciation for the problem will continue to prevent things from happening like what happened to you” is exactly why these things do happen. He seems to think, as I fear most people do, that since they know these things happen, they won’t happen to them. That type of thinking is exactly why they happen.
The third source of anger from this, which also included some surprise, came from the comments from people who were asked about or read the story themselves. USA Today actually went out and interviewed some random people about this story with a copy of the obituary in hand. Some people stated that, if it was true, then the deceased deserved it, while others thought that a public newspaper wasn’t the right place to air such a private matter. What surprised me was who said each statement, with an elderly woman stating that the truth needs to come out, while a young woman seemed to be the type to sweep such things under the rug. I would have thought it to be the other way around, and it is worrisome that it was not. I would not want the elderly woman to change her viewpoint, but for the younger woman to think child abuse is private, that it doesn’t deserve the spotlight, that it doesn’t affect each and every one of us, to me paints a dismal picture for our children. Among a generation that will likely bring about the end to sexual orientation discrimination in this country, and the generation that has seen white American births become the minority, if this woman is representative of them at all, child abuse, and children’s civil rights, will remain something that people are dissuaded from talking about.
Other comments that are posted underneath print versions of the story include people shaming the obituary’s authors for not honoring their mother as the Bible commands, chastising them for feeling hatred towards her, and questioning why they are just now coming forward. Even now, after the woman’s death, after the history of the abuse has been chronicled, after a state senator was interviewed about the legislation she introduced in the 1980’s partially because of these children, people want to blame the victims. I can only guess at the psychological factors that would cause a person to do this, but it is clear that it happens very frequently, and that it serves as a reason that many people do not come forward and instead choose to suffer in silence. To address those types of comments one at a time, you should honor your father and mother, as the Bible commands, but simply producing a child, or even having one grow older under your supervision, hardly makes you a parent or deserving of such honor. Hate is an emotion that I don’t think people have any more control over than they do fear, sadness, or joy. It is a natural response to stimuli in our environment, and like all things, it has its place. Would you hate someone that killed a loved one? How about yourself? Many child abuse survivors feel as though their souls were murdered because of the abuse they endured, or that their child-self was killed and they were forced to become adults way too early. When you compound that feeling with the revictimization many of us feel every time we are told hate is wrong, that we should just get over it, or that the victim is somehow to blame, hate is a very appropriate response. As for coming forward after she died, they did come forward earlier. It just never garnered any headlines. I suspect I will hear the same thing when my story is finally told, even if it is after my parents are dead as well, and I will likely hear it for the same reason: we tried to come forward, tried to get people to listen, tried to find someone who cared, but our stories, and the millions like it, were not important enough to garner any attention, were not lucrative enough for the media to cover, and not popular enough for politicians to care.