The Innocent and Unprotected

Alarm went off again today. No surprise. Our nanny’s mother and I tried to talk to the neighbor one last time last night to offer her a peaceful solution but she wouldn’t even come to the door. She sent her 12-year old son down to tell us she had a headache. And the police didn’t come either. No wonder people give up here. But not us. We cannot let this go and our nanny’s mother is used to fighting and winning legal battles (usually on behalf of mistreated women and children, but still…) She has a friend who works in the city commissioner’s office and has lots of friends in the police department so she will be contacting him today. This has been very insightful in terms of how things work here. One good thing is that I am feeling less guilty for choosing for us to live here (rather than a fancy conjunto like Club Med) because Esteban’s coworkers have been telling him about all sorts of issues they have had over the years with neighbors at fancy conjuntos. Some are way worse that the alarm. It seems like there are a lot of neighbor issues here that are not easily resolved.

And now that I have spent a little bit of time here, I am not surprised. This country, like many others, is full of severely psychologically wounded people. Many people here have been so traumatized not only by the many decades long ongoing war (between the government and the leftist guerillas and the right-wing paramilitaries and anybody who happens to get into their way) and the everyday crime, but also by the high level of child abuse and domestic violence. Everywhere I turn I hear stories of child abuse, child molestation, and domestic violence. And I don’t mean just in the media. At Waldorf parent trainings, people talk about how they were beaten as children. Our nanny’s sister, remembers a classmate whose parents severely burned her hands on the stove because she stole the equivalent of $5 from her mother’s purse. Our nanny’s daughter, currently goes to a school (which she hates) where the kids routinely talk about how they are beaten and raped at home. Our housekeeper was just telling me yesterday how her husband gets drunk and beats her and the children. She told me that she thought of leaving him and then looked at me sheepishly as if to ask what I think. I bet you can all guess what I said.

At a recent workshop at school for parents about our biographies (basically looking at our past life experiences and how they influence the present), we were broken up into small groups and asked to reflect upon and then discuss such questions as: What do you remember of your childhood? What were the feelings of your childhood? How did your parents show love towards the children and each other? How did your parents resolve conflicts? How are you like your parents now? How do you show love? How do you resolve conflicts with your spouse? The answers that came up were illuminating and scary. Stories of sexual and physical abuse, of domineering, brutal fathers, and victimized mothers who then in turn beat the children. The “machismo” and the patriarchic values that drive it, with a good dose of conservative religious teachings thrown in, were really staggering. As my French friend (and the only other non-Colombian parent at the school) whispered to me during the workshop, “Wow, this is like France in the nineteenth century.”

And people are obviously so immersed in it and beaten down by a system that doesn’t help the victim (These have been our nanny’s mother’s words. I don’t presume to know enough about all of this to make such judgments.), that they don’t do anything about it. At a meeting at school yesterday, the talk turned to religion and the sexual abuse by priests in local parishes and schools. (Ok, so I started asking some probing questions to turn the talk in this direction. But it’s good to talk about these things openly, right?) We then moved onto the sexual abuse committed routinely by teachers at public schools here. Apparently, when the abuse is discovered, the teachers are just moved to another school. And the parents don’t do anything about it! When I asked how it was possible that the parents don’t do anything about this, I was told “Well, there are laws but nobody follows through. What are parents going to do? Follow up to find the teacher who was moved far away?” They seemed to think that this was a ridiculous suggestion. After all, the teacher has moved on. And what about the other kids he will be molesting??? One woman asked me if a teacher in the US would actually get into trouble for abusing a child. When I relayed all this to our nanny’s mother later, she just said “That’s because there is no trust here between parents and children. The parents themselves abuse their children so how can you expect them to care when a teacher does?” Wow.

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3 Responses to The Innocent and Unprotected

  1. Anne says:

    How do children communicate among each others? do they share how their parents or other adults might “abuse” them, or witness around them some unbecoming behavior? Just wondering about your girls and what they might learn from their peers, children talk!… I know they are at the waldorf school, but I have seen myself having some “unwaldorf” behavior with Mimi… 😦
    I remember your mentioning of a parent’s question earlier on about spanking children, and whether is was ok…

  2. Lisa says:

    Wow, this is so disturbing. Our world has a long long way to go. I am wondering how all this is affecting you, hearing all the stories. How are you dealing with the vicarious trauma? I admire you for pushing the topics to be discussed.

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