All we saw were slight waves on the waters of Loch Ness. As much as I kept my eyes trained for suspicious movement, Nessie was no where to be seen. So we stopped at a gift shop to pick up a few postcards and maybe a gift or two. At first I was frustrated looking at the postcards, all the postcards presented pictures of the monster smiling. Grinning. Winking. "A friendly sort of monster,' I said to myself mockingly and then like a cold wind blew over my skin, I realized just how appropriate these images are, for monster's often smile.
Second week on the ward. It's cold outside, snowing. I was new to the eastern part of Canada having moved from the balmy climate of Victoria. Our ward shift had a supervisor but the real power rested with a woman, younger than I, louder than I, more forceful than anyone I had yet met. She had a clash with one of the women on the ward and seconds later she threw open the ward door, then she threw the woman outside. It was cold. Really really cold. My staff mate was colder. I said, 'She's only in her nightie.' Then, 'She's got bare feet.' Then, I was told to shut up. I did.
Later we were all to go out for a beer, I begged off. The next shift I heard about the night in the bar, about how funny my powerful peer was, how she made everyone laugh. What a wit. What a card. What a cut up. And the abuser, the monster, laughed over her beer.
We had lunch together. Lunch. I knew his wife. I admired him. He was one of those wonderful guys who manages to be easy to like. Laughs freely, listens well, looks great ... a man's man. He spoke of his faith, his love of Jesus, with a quiet conviction. He never preached at you, never pressed you, but his convictions were never far from any conversation.
Then the world exploded. A man with a disability came forward, fearfully, and reported that he was being victimized by this man of prayer. That he was being sexually used. He came forward, finally, because his girlfriend who had been pulled into sick sexual games with Family Man insisted that it stop or she would leave him. He loved her, he hated the abuse, the choice was made. After a bungled report to the police nothing happened. Staff left his position, went to another agency, last I heard of him he was at a meeting laughing being congratulated for his commitment to the vulnerable. Yes, the abuser, the monster, smiles as he preys.
This is my last lecture tour of the year. The New Year looms. In January I will end three years and begin my fourth year in residence as a Director at Vita Community Living Services. I went there those years ago with a proposal. I wanted to work with an agency, making changes, examining structures, looking at protocols and policies, examining hierarchy - all with an eye to reducing abuse, setting the goal of an abuse free agency. Three years have passed.
We have seen reports of abuse increase. We have seen people with disabilities discover power. We have seen staff grow strong, grow resistant to abusive situations and abusive practices. We have had incredible growing pains, we have made real mistakes. But we have never ever taken our eyes of the goal. We know the monster smiles, we know that we cannot identify, from the glint in the eye of a job applicant those who abuse and those who do not. But we also know that we can do much to change the dynamic. We can resist the temptation to give up.
Before I left on this trip, Manuela (the executive director) and I agreed that next year will be the year that we create a road map for others to follow. That we begin to go public with what we have found. That we challenge systems to change, that we dare administrators to responsibility, that we throw down the gauntlet and say 'Enough. Abuse Ends Now.'
I bought a post card of a smiling monster to send to Vita. It is a symbol, for me, of the challenge we set for ourselves next year, of the achievements of the last three years, of what it means to look evil the eye and wipe the smile off it's face.