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Sexual abuse, a personal experience
E. Norbert Smith, Ph.D.


Outrage. I am outraged at the ongoing national debate regarding alleged positive aspects of child sexual abuse and can remain silent no longer. And I am grateful to radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger for bringing the article that appeared in the July 1998 volume of the Psychological Bulletin, a bi-monthly publication of the American Psychological Association (APA), to our national consciousness. In it the authors say it's all right for an adult to sodomize a child so long as the child doesn't develop psychological problems because of it. The article, "A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples," by Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch and Robert Bauserman, unleashed a firestorm for asserting there is scant evidence that little boys suffer from having been sodomized by adult males. Forgive me for using Oklahoma slang, but we have a perfect word for such nonsense: HOGWASH.

That the article was embraced by the official national pedophile organization should sound an alarm for even the hearing impaired. The North American Man Boy Love Association cites and applauds the APA-published study and other research documents as justification for sex between children and adults, saying that sexual encounters between men and boys "are often quite positive and beneficial for the participants, regardless of their ages," according to the group's Internet web site. That we are even having such a debate is despicable. Those seeing such deviant behavior as neutral or positive are not thinking clearly. They are deceived and exhibit spiritual blindness for, There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." King Solomon (Proverbs 16:25, NIV). Please allow me to tell my personal account of child abuse for the experience was far from positive, even its telling five decades later brings intense pain. My reason for sharing is not self mutilation or martyrdom, but to give hope. I shared portions of my abuse experience with most of my nursing classes and was amazed how this small act opened the doors to classroom and private discussions. We had several classes where well over 50% of the women in the class admitted to having had physical or sexual abuse as children. None saw it is positive! Many in our society have been sexually abused and are still hurting and bitter. We spend a lifetime working through some of the issues. To use Dr. Laura's example, saying a sexually abused person that has a "normal" day years after the event proves the abuse was not harmful and perhaps even helped that person become stronger is akin to saying a raped victim was somehow helped by the violent act because she has survived. Nonsense! It may say something about the ability of the human spirit to survive and for some of us illustrates the power of God and of His Holy Word.

My story. Here is my personal story of sexual abuse and recovery. My parents were married and lived a short while on a farm in western Oklahoma. During the depression and "dust bowl" years my parents, like those in Grapes of Wrath, fled Oklahoma and settled in Oregon where I was born. Shortly after my birth they divorced and my mother retreated from Oregon to live with her parents on the family farm in Oklahoma. My early childhood is filled with pleasant memories of loving grandparents and mother and roaming the canyons, pastures and wheat fields with my dog Tippy. I was reasonably popular in grade school, emotionally well adjusted and happy, although lacking a caring father. All that changed when, in the summer following third grade at age 9, my mother re-married. Mostly I think she did it so I would have a male role model…a father to help shape my character. Wow, was that a mistake! My stepfather was homosexual and a pedophile. He was clearly more attracted to me than to my mother. Following their marriage we moved from Oklahoma to Toledo, Ohio. That alone was a major upheaval and I experienced cultural shock. I was the only student in my class who wore bib overalls. I sounded different with my southern drawl. In Oklahoma cursive was not taught until the forth grade. My classmates had been writing in cursive since second grade; I could only print. More ridicule.

And my home life rapidly deteriorated. Lacking indoor plumbing in our home, we visited my stepfather's mother's house for our weekly tub baths. My stepfather insisted we bathe together to conserve water. You can imagine the rest. For the next 3 years I was repeatedly and forcibly sodomized. Mostly the sodomy was rectal, but not always. Unfortunately the bathroom was not the only place the abuse occurred. In spite of what the media would have us believe, nothing about that experience was positive. It was devastating, ugly, and atrocious. It was painful and often caused bleeding. I felt used…tainted and at the time could see no way out. He had glib answers for all my arguments. I was no physical match for an adult man that worked in a feed store lifting 100-pound bags all night long. The abuse worsened over the next few years and occurred whenever he and I were alone. . I hated being alone with him. I hated him. I hated myself. Ashamed, I finally told my mother. Our family knew nothing of homosexual behavior. They could only say that somehow, " his wires were crossed." They did not even have words for what went on. At first she did not believe me. The whole concept was foreign to her. Later she did help limit our time together, but the damage was done. Yet far worse time lay ahead.

The effects of the ongoing sexual abuse were far reaching. My self-image plummeted. I saw my self as bad, as useless as somehow forever tainted. I remember always writing "The Dope" after my name on papers I handed in at school. I found myself fanaticizing about running away from home. Once we had vacationed in Arkansas and that is where I wanted to escape. I would find a remote place and become a hermit. I would never marry; never have children or even friends. I spent months planning the trip. I would only take my dog and a few things in a back pack…and go on my reliable bicycle. I trained endlessly: 5 miles, 10 miles, 20 miles…then by the Grace of God I fell off my bicycle and broke my arm. So much for the escape plans. Unpopular, I found solace in science and books. Lacking friends I became what today we would call a science nerd. This was one way God was turning my ashes into beauty.

There is hope: The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV)

With hardly any warning, following the end of my sixth grade, we returned to the farm in Oklahoma. In retrospect I think my stepfather was about to get in trouble with the law in Ohio, no doubt for molesting other boys. It was good to return to my roots, but I was not the same carefree boy I had been just three years before. I had become tainted and painfully introverted. In school I remained withdrawn and had few friends. Science was my only bright spot for in it I excelled. At the end of seventh grade my stepfather was arrested, tried and sentenced to 30 years in the state prison. It was a mixed blessing. In fact it triggered a time far worse than the abusive days. Yes, my abuse was over, but everything was now public. My relatives knew. Our church friends knew and everyone at school knew. I understand the shame one feels when a family member goes to prison, but my experience was far worse because of the kind of crime. My deepest scars are not from the physical and emotional abuse from my stepfather; but are from the way family, "friends" and church people treated me. Again our community knew virtually nothing of homosexual behavior all they knew is that if I had lived in the same house with one then I too, must be a homosexual. Even our closest relatives would no longer allow me be out of sight with their boys.

I was devastated. Farm boys need to be with other boys to hunt and fish and roam the pastures and canyons…to become men, but no more. Again it was just my dog and I. Science and fantasy were my escapes. I earned an amateur radio (ham radio) license and talked to people all over the country…people that did not know of my abusive homosexual stepfather. And there were fantasies not of Arkansas, but of retreating to the bottom of the ocean…Jules Verne style as in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. And there were deep-seated doubts about my sexuality. I did not date until a senior in high school and then only one girl. I joined the Air Force 5 days after high school graduation. Unfortunately, shortly after receiving a "Dear John" letter from my high school sweetheart I married on the rebound. Although I knew I had made a terrible mistake the first month of the marriage, we were both Baptists where divorce is considered the second unforgivable sin. We remained unhappily married for 31 years. Yet from that bad marriage I have two wonderful children. It is also unfortunate my family held psychologists in very low esteem. The investigating officers and several church people strongly urged my mom and I to seek therapy, but it was dismissed with, "Therapy is for crazy people." Needless to say I entered adulthood with many issues to work through over the next decades. And by the Grace of God, most have been settled. Yet, much damage remains.

Besides the shattering of my self-esteem and self doubts regarding my own sexuality, I think perhaps the worse consequence of the sexual abuse was my inability to relate to my own son in a meaningful way. We did not do the normal father-son things. I had unrealistically high aspirations for him. I think I wanted him to do and feel and be all the things I had missed. Things are better now and we are friends, but I have so many regrets as a father for not doing the things with him a father should do…for not being the father he desperately needed. I know God can and will restore that relation as well. Forgiving my stepfather was difficult, but by God's grace I no longer harbor bitterness toward him. Let me loudly say recovery is not an event, but a process…indeed a lifelong process.

One unique characteristic of God is His ability to turn Satan's best effort of destruction into something grand. Perhaps the best example is King David. In mid life, after writing much of the Psalms, he committed adultery and murder. He came broken before God, was punished then forgiven and out of that most unholy relationship came King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live and author of my favorite book of the Bible, Proverbs. Indeed only God can turn ashes into beauty. My turning to science at an early age as an escape from an abusive stepfather prepared me for a productive life of science. For I have published over 300 technical papers dealing with a variety of wild animals. I have studied sloths in the jungles of Brazil, taken blood from hundreds of wild alligators, studied sea turtles at the Cayman Islands, lectured at Oxford University as keynote speaker and had opportunities to travel and lecture at universities around the world. And through science I have today a sharper image of the God of Creation than do most. Was this a positive outcome of childhood sexual abuse? Absolutely not! It was in spite of it. It was but God turning ashes to beauty. Praise God. Praise God. Praise God. Amen and Amen.

The following scriptures have helped renew my mind and remain a source of comfort.

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:21, NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)

That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. (Ephesians 5:26, KJV)

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2, KJV)

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, KJV)