Lax Lorraine and a Locker
Child Abuse Intervention Gone Wrong
I was born into abuse, premature by three months because of a violent fight between Shane and a pregnant Wynne. I was very small but survived, maybe because I'm just too dang tenacious and stubborn. I experienced some pretty horrific abuse as a child, to such an extreme that it sometimes seems impossible I'm still alive. I've only recently begun to recover from the trauma of it--from the severe physical, psychological, and sexual abuse to the neglect to the environment filled with animals, feces, and urine. Throughout the years, there were investigations by social services--I know now that teachers and other officials suspected the abuse my younger brother, Scott, and I were experiencing at the hands of Wynne and Shane, and yet were unable to get us out of the situation. At times, I told several adults a small piece of what was going on, all of whom turned back to the abusers and asked if what I was saying was true, or told me not to tell lies about people who were just doing their best. Scott had behavioral problems and, as a result, brought more attention to us that way.
As a pre-teen, he was smoking, into drugs, and in a school gang. On the other hand, I was completely compliant with all rules, with everything adults told me to do, extremely mature and responsible, made no trouble for anyone, and was in essence a tiny adult. Sometimes, I wonder if people weren't as concerned about me for this very reason. Occasionally, I joined my brother when he hung out with his friends, so I was aware of what type of influence they were on him. Our ages ranged from 11 to 13. Scott and one of the boys from the group, Nate, hung out with each other outside of the other gang activities. Nate's mother, Lorraine, went to the same church as we did, so she knew us all--but not well, only as acquaintances, because Wynne didn't allow friends.
One Sunday, when Scott was almost 12 and I almost 13, my brother wasn't at the house following church meetings--and he didn't return. Unlike a regular person who has discovered that their child is missing, Wynne didn't go to the police--she knew police involvement risked an investigation, exposing the abuse and the unbelievable living conditions. She instead interrogated me over and over about what was going on, where my brother was, what I knew, why I wasn't telling her what she believed I knew, and refused to believe the truth that I knew nothing. Since it was my responsibility to raise my younger brother, she seemed to believe that I should know what was going on, even though she was the adult.
After a few days, Wynne finally discovered that my brother had moved in with his friend, Nate, and his family. I found out the next Sunday that Scott had shared stories of the abuse with his friend, which Nate then shared with his mom, Lorraine. Nate's mom became interested in “saving” my brother, thought that she would look like a hero to the community if she turned his life around, and decided to take him to live with her family. Lorraine had not thought things through and didn't have a plan for handling a child with behavioral problems, who would need medical care, therapy, and many other things to recover from the trauma. She found my troubled brother to be unmanageable, and turned to me--a child--for tips and resources about how to manage him. She also did not make it clear what her plan was--whether my brother should pay rent for his stay, whether he was there temporarily or permanently, etc. She never turned to social services to get Scott the professional help he desperately needed, nor did she ever ask me if I was going through abuse. Scott was with Lorraine's family for about six months, until Lorraine grew tired of my brother's behavioral problems, and “tossed him back.” In the end, she forbade him to ever come near her son again, and told everyone how much trouble he was.
Scott, now 12, returned to the house for a few weeks, then my Grandma took him to live with her, because she “didn't want to interfere” but felt that giving my brother a place to stay was alright. My brother had the same behavioral problems there, and my Grandma gave up after a few months and “tossed him back” again. Not long after returning from my Grandma's house, my brother shot me repeatedly with a bb gun and bragged about it at school, and assaulted me in public with my locker door. These events resulted in an investigation that ended in my 13 year old brother being removed and Shane receiving custody, severing any contact I had with Scott until we were both adults. I remained in the situation my brother had just escaped until I was 19.
From the beginning when my brother went missing, Wynne interrogated me, sometimes for hours, about what I had done so that my brother wasn't at the house, what I had said to anyone that made them think things weren't ok, why I had betrayed them all, why I was not a better parent to Scott (younger than me by 11 months) to prevent this from happening, and on and on. I felt the shame of not having predicted this, of having failed to keep both Scott and myself safe from the consequences. The few days until Wynne finally found out what had happened were filled with terror, because I was being questioned as well as punished for not managing Scott better. Those months while Scott was with Lorraine and then my Grandma were some of the most horrible in my life, very confusing and uncertain, since I didn't know what would happen with my brother, and Wynne kept me in constant fear of any outsider. I only remember bits and pieces, but what I do remember were some of the worst punishments, interrogations, and child sexual abuse that I had experienced up until then. It was a very horrific time for me. When my brother returned for those brief times, it was also horrific for him. All adults had become dangerous, uncertain, unpredictable elements. We both experienced intensified physical and psychological abuse at Wynne's hands, and I'm so grateful that Scott's actions towards me meant that he got out of the situation somewhat. He has since told me that once he was in Shane's custody, Shane never touched him--they weren't on the best of terms, but Scott wasn't abused there.
Now that I'm older and know how things are supposed to go, I feel more betrayed by Lorraine and my Grandma, understanding that if they had used proper channels, gone to CPS and/or the police, instead of trying to “save” Scott, the outcome might have been quite different than it was. CPS had already investigated the situation numerous times, so there was definitely a file going about our situation. I know that at least a few people had reported things, but every time CPS investigated, the abusers were able to “charm” their way out of every suspicion. But, if Lorraine and my Grandma had added what Scott told them to what CPS already knew, that could have been just what the authorities needed to intervene. Instead, they took matters into their own hands, thinking they knew better than those trained to help children. But their amateur interventions only made the situation worse than it ever was before they tried to “help.” If Lorraine and my Grandma had actually gone to the authorities, something real might have been done to end the abuse.
Eventually, my brother and I both freed ourselves of the abuse, but many years later than what could have been had adults gone to the proper authorities. When Shane gained custody of Scott, he was still a very troubled child--Scott still struggled with gangs, illegal activities, and behavioral problems. Shane did not allow my younger brother to have any contact with me, so I didn't find out until years later that he got involved in gang related crimes and ended up in juvenile hall at 16. Scott has told me that serving his time was one of the best things to happen to him, since this is how he got out of the abuse. He finally had access to services, he was able to get his GED, and Shane severed all connections with Scott, disowning him once he was out. Scott learned a trade while serving time, immediately found a place to live and a job once he was out, and now is quite successful with his technical career. He has a son of his own, and recently bought his own home.
As for me, one of my high school teachers took an interest in me, especially after the incident involving Scott assaulting me at school. She slowly gained my trust, I joined the sports team she coached, and she made special efforts so that I wouldn't be abused more than usual for my participation on the team. She drove me to the house after school so that I could perform chores of cleaning up animal waste, making a meal for Wynne, and other such things as laundry, etc. She would wait outside in her van--from which she could smell the urine and feces--because she knew I would be punished if anyone came into the house, and then she would drive me back to school for team practice. Following practice, she would drive me back to the house. In all this time, she never asked what I was living through, and I have found out since then that many teachers suspected the abuse I was going through, but didn't take it to authorities.
My teacher said she was waiting for some more evidence, but who was she to think she should judge if the evidence was “enough,” to think that she should control the outcome when a child's life is at stake? It is CPS's job to gather the evidence, to make the case, to have a plan for the child, to sort out the details. If all of these people who had suspicions about the abuse had gone to CPS, Scott and I could have left the hell we were in so much sooner. As it was, I got myself out when I was 19, with the help of this teacher, who paid for my applications to various colleges and kept encouraging me to think of ways that I could live my own life. Wynne did not make it easy--she threatened suicide, killed an animal I loved but couldn't take with me when I left, punished me for even thinking of leaving, destroyed my most precious possessions in rage, and threatened to kill me. All of this abuse resulted in many lasting consequences--psychological issues and diagnoses, years of therapy, and lasting physical injuries and illnesses. It is quite possible I wouldn't have some of these consequences had adults stepped in and used the proper channels to help me, instead of either ignoring it altogether because they didn't want to "interfere", or amateurly intervening without professional involvement and inevitably making the situation much worse. I truly wish that these people had gone to the proper trained professionals, because then my life may have been entirely different. I know my abuse experience would have been changed. A few years after I got out of the situation, the house was condemned as being unlivable, unstable due to the horrific conditions, animal waste having destabilized the structure, floors falling through, etc.
I suppose this experience is why I feel so strongly now about using the proper channels if I ever suspect a child might be experiencing abuse. I surely don't want to make a child's life worse, their abuse more horrific, by taking matters into my own untrained hands, only to toss them back into the situation when I discover I can't handle a troubled, abused child on my own. I know from experience how quickly and easily situations can escalate, how someone untrained interfering just intensifies the abuse, and accelerates things further. I truly do wish that Lorraine and my Grandma had intervened the proper way, then maybe the horrific child abuse my brother and I somehow survived would have ended years earlier.
~ Menachem Mendel Schneerson
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