Thursday, October 1, 2009

Whatever your personal beliefs about Mackenzie Phillips' incest disclosure, it is hard to look away from the outpouring of public reactions. So many of the online comments I've read are vicious broadcasts of disgust at her and her decision to disclose. Comment after comment, blaming the hideousness of the story on her, berating her for her drug abuse, for now removing the joy of listening to John's music, among other things. There are also numerous supportive, compassionate words, but one thing is very clear: the topic of incest provokes tremendous disgust, aimed, unfortunately, and all too commonly, at the victim.
And make no mistake about it, she was a victim.
It is a parent's job, an adult's job, to create environments for children that are safe, to establish and uphold boundaries. Even with the incest piece removed, it seems there were few, if any, boundaries, in Mackenzie's life with her father. They did drugs together; by his own admission, he shot her up for the very first time. Though she was 19 at the time of their first sexual encounter, the parent/child boundaries that should have been in place were non-existent. While she has love and compassion for him, her father failed her and some
of his behavior was, I believe, criminal.
Perhaps Mackenzie cannot access her anger at him. Perhaps she has and isn't sharing that with us. I don't know.
I do know that this step, speaking out, is the hardest thing any survivor can do because recrimination awaits at every turn. She will, though, find supporters among the throng and, hopefully, garner enough fortitude from that support to cope with the myriad of feelings and challenges survivors face.
For the rest of us, this is a lesson. Child sexual abuse is all around us. 90% of abuse is perpetrated by someone a child (and likely the family) knows and trusts. Approximately 50% of that is familial, incest.
Based on the remarks I've seen online, many people need much education about how CSA happens, why it continues and what they can do to prevent, recognize and respond to it. People still do not want to think that those among us, folks they know, would do such a thing. People want to maintain the status quo at all costs, which is why the victims, rather than the perpetrators, so often take the very harsh blame.
But the most important piece in protecting children is for each of us adults to look within, taking a good, long look in the mirror, facing ourselves and our own self-imposed obstacles. What are our personal challenges in combating abuse? Why are we afraid to report something when we have a "reasonable suspicion," the standard for mandated reporting? Holding onto false beliefs, often grounded in ignorance, steeping ourselves in denial, makes action impossible and perpetuates this terrible problem. The choices we make, to face this societal problem, and each case, head on, or to look away, are ours.We owe it to our kids to do the right thing.

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