Warning: Please be advised that this post might be triggering for some people. It discusses sexual abuse, rape, and abortion.
This is a picture of me, a few months before my 10th birthday. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life was about to be turned upside down. I was on the brink of being uprooted from everything I knew and loved in Connecticut, only to be trapped in the heat and poverty and ignorance of rural, cockroach-laden Florida, a state that kept me in its vise-like grip, despite my best efforts, until I finally managed to break free at age 49.
When I look at the girl in this picture, so vulnerable, all legs and arms, I want to scoop her up and rescue her. Even back then I was prone to depression. I can see it in her (my) eyes.
But things would be exponentially worse a year from then. I’d be living in a tent, constantly beaten up by classmates in my just recently desegregated school, and my stepfather would start sexually abusing me at age 11. That sent me into such a state of dissociation that I barely remember the two years that followed.
Another thing I can see in that poor little girl’s eyes is the very faint, distant realization that something was not right with her stepfather. He stared at her a lot. He made her uncomfortable. He had begun to tentatively groom her for the abuse to come. Even if I had had a clue what grooming was, I was too young to be able to articulate that there was danger looming on the horizon, and my mother wouldn’t have allowed herself to hear it anyway. Denial is a toxic family trait.
This little girl believed that when people weren’t looking right at her, she ceased to exist for them. She was convinced that if her feet didn’t stick out of the blankets at night, she would suffocate when she fell asleep. She still refused to eat bread crusts because her mother once told her that they would give her curly hair (under the mistaken impression that that would be an incentive.)
This little girl was a sitting duck.
I can’t be certain, but this could very well be the last remaining photograph of me as someone who still had innocence. This girl still believed that adults had her best interests at heart, and that they could be trusted. She deserved for those things to be true.
I thought of that girl as I read about the 10-year-old who recently had to go out of state to get an abortion after having been raped at least twice. She must have been like me. All legs and arms. Clueless about the horrors that lay ahead. As you read this, she has yet to lose all of her baby teeth. Do you think she still believes in the tooth fairy? I hope so, but I doubt it.
From an adult perspective, I can’t imagine doing anything to put such a child at risk. It astounds me that there are so many people in this world who are hellbent on shattering the innocence of childhood. That innocence is fleeting enough without having politicians and pedophiles rushing it toward the exit.
I certainly can’t imagine turning a little girl into a brood mare for an unwanted fetus that would grow inside her, all but ripping her little undeveloped body in half, and, if she managed to survive that, turn her into an adult too soon. I could not force that child to gaze upon the face of her rapist every time she looked into the eyes of that baby. Especially if it’s only to make a political point.
And yet, here we are. At first, Republicans (and, to my horror, even journalists) tried to say that this little girl didn’t really exist. Then, as the evidence mounted, they tried to get us all to shift our focus from the tragic girl’s need for an abortion and move it to the pervert who impregnated her in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that pathetic excuse for a human being is now in jail, but saying that he should be the only focus implies that this little girl, who has been turned into a political pawn, is some rare unicorn, and that things like this never happen and therefore shouldn’t be considered as a plausible exception in Republican efforts to destroy women’s rights.
In fact, in 2020, 1 in every 5,000 American girls between the ages of 10 and 14 got pregnant. A girl that age cannot give consent under any circumstances. These are rapes. According to RAINN, (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), every 9 minutes, child protective services substantiates, or finds evidence for, a claim of child sexual abuse. It’s happening to a girl right now, as you read this. And then when you consider the number of child abusers who go undetected, and the number of these children who are abused over and over and over again, that’s a lot of sick violence that should be the real focus of rage for anyone who claims to care about life.
Two true stories for you:
First: When I moved to Florida, there was a girl in my school, a 5th grader, who got pregnant and didn’t understand what was happening to her body. Apparently, no one in her family even noticed. Her teachers didn’t notice, either. That, to me, indicates a horrifying level of neglect and the kind of invisibility that no child should be subjected to.
When she went into labor, she was, predictably, all alone, and didn’t know what was going on. She was terrified by the excruciating pain, no doubt. Then this thing (from her perspective) came out of her body. Can you imagine? She took it and threw it over the hedge into her neighbor’s yard. The infant died on impact. Her classmates never saw the girl again. No adult ever talked to us about it. Not even once. That, in itself, sent a message.
Next: In my 20’s, I was an eligibility specialist for the State of Florida. I was the one who processed the paperwork for people applying for food stamps, Medicaid, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. That job gave me a very cynical view of humanity.
Before your mind wanders down that Republican “they are all welfare queens” back alley, let me explain that the average welfare recipient is a white female whose deadbeat baby daddy refuses to pay child support. If anybody is a welfare queen who benefits from this country’s largesse, it’s those white guys. That, and when I was working back then, in Florida in the mid to late 80’s, an additional child only increased your check by 53 dollars a month. You couldn’t raise a child on that. Any “welfare queen”, if she existed, would quickly discover that having more babies was not the best of get-rich-quick scams.
There is a lot of need out there. My cynicism sprang from the fact that there is a yawning pit of poverty at the very heart of our society that most of us refuse to acknowledge. And a lot of that poverty is tied directly to the fact that the increasing hostility toward women’s rights pushes women and girls ever closer to that pit, and that benefits no one from a societal standpoint, not even those who are doing the pushing. Anyway…
One day, one of my clients called, wanting an increased check because there was a new addition to the family. It wasn’t her baby. No. It belonged to her 11-year-old daughter. That little girl had carried the baby to term because her grown-ass, neglectful mother didn’t protect her from that fate, and didn’t believe in abortion. To say I was horrified is putting it mildly. Child Protective Services got involved. Personally, I blamed the mother for, well, a lot, including the fact that she wasn’t sure who the father of her grandchild was.
Two years later, when the child was 13, she popped up in my caseload again. And she was pregnant again. She was receiving benefits for the baby she had when she was 11, and now she wanted to document this pregnancy so that the baby would have medical coverage as soon as it was born. She was trying to make the best of her situation, at least. After conferring with her social worker, I processed the paperwork, but I couldn’t get past the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness about the effed up world in which we live.
And then I got a call from the girl’s mother. The girl had died in childbirth, and the mother wanted her two grandchildren added to her welfare check posthaste. She didn’t sound the least bit remorseful that she had allowed her daughter’s little body to be treated in such a way that it had finally said, “Enough.”
Dead at 13. No chance. All doors to her future slammed shut, never to be opened again. Her choices were never her own. And now, that same thing can be said for every female in this country. We are choiceless. So much so that the number of women choosing sterilization is already increasing, because even that is better than having no agency over one’s life. No one should have the right to take our health decisions and our options from us. And we shouldn’t have to consider mutilating our bodies to avoid such injustices.
And now, the Republicans are trying to go after the doctor who helped that little girl and didn’t do anything illegal in the process. At a bare minimum they are attempting to destroy that woman’s reputation. Republicans, along with their Fox News lackeys, also want to divert our attention to the rapist’s immigration status, as if the streets of America weren’t already lousy with rapists who are citizens.
For every thousand rapists, 975 of them walk free. You probably walk past several rapists every single day, unless you don’t get out much. But do the lives of their victims matter to the pro-lifers? If they had their way, that little girl would have been subjected to never-ending trauma. And all because they think life begins at 6 weeks of gestation and that no other type of life matters.
News flash. A fetus cannot live outside the womb at less than 23 weeks. And even then, it needs a great deal of medical intervention to survive. What I’m about to say may shock some people, but a fetus before 23 weeks is a parasite that cannot survive without its host. The definition of parasite, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an organism living in, on, or with another organism in order to obtain nutrients, grow, or multiply, often in a state that directly or indirectly harms the host.”
Questions for politicians. How do you look yourself in the mirror when you are knowingly forcing women and girls to be hosts against their will? How do you look at a 10-year-old girl and think, “Oh well, no exceptions for rape or incest!” and then give her no choice but to flee to another state like a criminal in order to take back her life, which she hasn’t even had the opportunity to live yet? How? How do politicians have daughters and sisters and still vote to cast them into involuntary servitude?
No two lives are identical. For every tragedy there is a unique circumstance. That’s why it’s a fool’s errand, and downright criminal, to attempt to legislate morality. Whose morality? Do you really think this situation was God’s plan for this little girl? If so, I’d start shopping around for a different deity if I were you. Posthaste.
Protect your children. Keep them close. Listen to what they’re trying to tell you. Teach your girls, especially, that no matter what the government says, nobody has the right to meddle with their bodies, regardless of real or imagined consent, even if the government decides that the consent is solely theirs.