This past weekend I read a stolen life, a memoir by jaycee dugard. Jaycee was the 11-year old girl who was kidnapped while walking to school one day in 1991. For 18 years, she was held captive, as a sexual slave, by a man and his wife. She was forced to live in a shack and tent in the backyard, had a bucket to use as a toilet and another bucket of water in which to wash herself. She was brutally raped and sodomized throughout her captivity.
She gave birth to her first daughter at age 14 and her second daughter three years later. She and her daughters had no medical care or schooling during the entire time they spent living with this pedophile, rapist, and sexual pervert. The man’s wife was a willing participant in the abuse.
She was not discovered until her captor took her and her daughters with him to the parole office. Years of visits by parole officers and the police to his home did not result in her or her daughters being discovered living in squalor in the backyard. The system failed Jaycee. Her book, the memoir of her life, not only tells the shocking facts of her physical and mental abuse, but also of her survival and recovery.
Jaycee has done a limited number of interviews since her recovery, and the most recent ones coincided with her book release. What I found disturbing about some of the blog posts were the number of people who felt she was a willing participant in what occurred to her and that she did not do enough to save herself. There were similar comments posted about Elizabeth Smart when she was recovered alive after 9 months of captivity by a similar type of sexual deviant and his wife.
In my opinion, this is partly why abuse of women and children (and, yes, I know that men are abused, too, but my focus is on women and children since they have historically been more powerless victims in society) continues. People want to blame the victim rather than the perpetrator. The rape victim asked for it. The battered wife deserved it. The abused child had it coming to him / her.
I recommend reading this book, although written in simplistic language (Jaycee only had a 5th grade education after all), for a number of reasons. Writing a journal during her captivity helped her to survive it. In my next book review, the young girl also kept a journal which helped her to survive it. Writing is powerful. This point cannot be emphasized enough.
Taking care of her daughters and various stray animals (including a spider) helped Jaycee to survive. While her captor was abusive to animals (a significant red flag), she was a caretaker to them. In my next book review, the abuse and care of animals and other children was also significant.
Jaycee does not consider herself a victim and is looking for ways to turn her experience into something positive. Part of the proceeds from her book (and her current lawsuit) will go to help other families recover and heal from the experiences related to abductions. Again, this is a recurring theme in my next book review.
A pine cone was the last item Jaycee remembers grasping as she was shocked by a stun gun and abducted. She wears a pine cone necklace as a symbol of hope and new beginnings.
The other book that I read this week was Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter by Melissa G. Moore. As mentioned previously, Melissa’s story shares some similarities to Jaycee’s. They both kept journals. They both cared for animals and other young children. Neither one considers themselves victims, although they were, and they are both looking for ways to take their awful life experiences and transform them into something good.
I first spoke about Melissa Moore in my post, Forgiveness . . . Then What? Melissa Moore is the daughter of the Happy Face serial killer. I recommend this book, too. First of all, she tells the story beginning back when she was a small child. Through the thoughts of a small child and as she grows up, you see her, her family, and her father from a different point of view. It gives you an appreciation for the family that surrounds criminals and their acts.
Melissa also delves into the issue with which I have struggled. She also grew up believing that to truly forgive you have to “accept family members’ behaviors, regardless of their violating act.” She states what now seems obvious – forgiving and forgetting are not the same thing. “We can forgive by moving forward with our lives, but we don’t have to continue to live with abusive actions.”
Melissa compares her recovery to a living, growing tree. If you have a dead branch on it, you cut it off so the rest of the tree can continue to grow and be healthy. Powerful imagery to be sure.
At the end of her book, Melissa shares a list of things she has learned. I was fascinated by this list because I have come to find and do many of these things myself. Among the things that I think are most important and which I share with my kids – listen to your intuition (that little voice in your head is what I call it), break the chain (I use cycle), be accountable, keep a journal, and be of service to others.
Among the things that I am now more energized to do – shatter the silence. We are taught that we do not air our dirty laundry. We do not tattle on others. You cannot heal, you cannot help yourself, you cannot help others unless you shatter the silence. This is the most important message in this little book.
It is then that you can begin anew.
A living, growing tree is the image used by Melissa Moore to represent her recovery and growth.
Final thoughts – In both of these books, the authors tells stories about instances where other people, adults, did not do enough to protect them. This left them feeling alone and forgotten and even responsible for what was happening to them.
If the neighbor who lived next door to Jaycee’s abuser had called police rather than be convinced by her husband to mind her own business, perhaps she would not have spent 18 years in sexual bondage and captivity. If the police and parole officers responsible for monitoring this man had just taken a few extra steps to find out what was happening in his backyard, things may have turned out differently. If the psychiatrists treating this man had actually listened to his comments and followed through then maybe he would not have felt the need to go on days long, drug induced “runs” acting out perverse sexual fantasies on this child.
If the school counselor that Melissa had reached out to had done something, perhaps several young children’s lives could have been made a little bit more normal. Not to mention her mother, her grandmother, and her other family members and close friends who seemed to turn a blind eye to what was happening to these young children.
At the end of the day, these women moved past blaming themselves for what happened (or at least they are working on it), and they are working on ways to help others in the process. They have powerful stories with powerful messages of survival and recovery that are worth reading about. And worth doing something about.