I swear I didn't know.
I can't believe I didn't know.
I'm not sure what I did wrong.
I am just leaving a meeting of staff to discuss how our new policies on abuse and abuse reporting are working. We've encountered a number of bumps on the road - nothing set to derail us but trial enough anyways. The meeting was to discuss how an incident was handled, how we could do it better ... but it was also about the 'why' of the new position on abuse.
Part of my job is crafting an approach to help agencies, first ours - then any who want - become as abuse free as possible. As a result our abuse reporting policies are strict and are aimed at aggressively targetting abuse while attempting to be gentle to service recipient and service provider as possible in the situation. Difficult but not impossible. As I left I am forever grateful to this agency for letting me do thing and to work through these issues.
But it all shook up a memory. Something that I don't talk about much but something that I felt I had to share with the group of staff. It made me feel vulnerable in the telling. It made me feel helpless in the memory.
Ron was a fine guy. I liked him. Destined for great freedom in the community, once a couple of things were dealt with. Partly I liked him because of his big open smile and his ability to see our help with genuine affection and understanding. Partly because he always pushed his case, always knew that the limits of his disability were just beyond the next goal. Very cool view of life.
I had been counselling him for quite awhile and then, with circumstance and time, a new therapist came on. A few weeks later he told her. He had been sexually victimized by a particular staff. When the call came to me, I was reeling. The staff he named was well known to me, well loved by many, well thought of by all. But I believed instantly. Because I knew Ron. He was not a liar. He had become vulnerable to me over his sessions, but he never masked truth with lie, it was beneath him.
I'd had lunch with his abuser.
I felt traitorous.
Why didn't he tell me? Why did he tell his new therapist, she had no history with him. He didn't hand out trust that easily. I was hurt. I felt so completely inaffective as more of the story came out and I realized how long he'd been in therapy and how long the abuse had gone on. At least he told, was heard and had action taken. Even if it wasn't by me.
I saw him later, as he was waiting to see his new therapist. I called him into an empty office to ask if he was ok. And to apologize for not being there for him. He said everything was ok. That he was alright now. He told me that he didn't tell me because he liked me, he knew it would hurt me, the new therapist didn't know him yet, wouldn't hurt her as much. He was just taking care of me and my feelings.
Somewhere in there is my error. I still rummage through it in my mind to find what I did wrong. And in this process, this new process for dealing with abuse when reported and in crafting ways organizations can change to reduce the possibility of abuse. I think of him. His big open smile. His genuine manner. As I worked through all the research on abuse, looked at all the recommendations for agency change, as I wrote the document that would lead this agency to make changes, often huge, in present practice. I think of many faces, but most often of him.
I could see the impact of his story on the group.
He gave me a gift.
I didn't give him enough.
But one day, when this journey is through and we've discovered a path to service provision and safety - when we've got the means to change policy and change practice to make the world safer for people with disabilities. We'll give that to any who want it. And maybe that will be my gift to him.