I recently finished a project about child sexual abuse that was one of the hardest I’ve ever done.
Each aspect of the project was difficult. Getting the data. Going back to the agency and getting more data. Finding people willing to share their experience.
And, above all, hearing the stories of young women who had endured sexual abuse, often from relatives. In one instance, I had to stop myself from crying during the interview because I knew the survivor and her mother would shift their attention to comforting me.
Judy Atkinson is an aboriginal woman from Australia who has worked to heal many children there who have been similarly abused. We met in Orvieto, Italy, where we both participated in the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma.
In her work, which often takes her to remote areas, she draws on her ancestral traditions to combat what she sees as the toxic and even lethal consequences of colonialism.
Many of these communities have been completely ignored by the Australian government, she said. When they do respond, she feels that their statements indicate an acceptance of the actions against the children as if they are almost to be expected because it is such an ingrained part of aboriginal culture that it is almost normal.
Judy refuses to accept this attitude, which can lead quite easily to justifying inaction and neglect. Instead she feels she must strike a balance between speaking honestly about what is happening and not giving further fodder to critics.
Judy also encourages the young people and communities with whom she works to design their own healing environments. She strives to achieve healing on individual and communal bases.
It’s not easy, and the situation in some of the places where she works is so dire as to seem beyond repair. Yet she has had successes in which victims have told their stories and perpetrators have acknowledged their misdeeds and pledged to stop.
In our project at the Reporter, each of the three survivors we interviewed used some form of artistic expression as part of their healing process and journey.
It’s given me comfort that halfway across the globe a brave woman is doing the same with young people who have suffered similar unspeakable actions.