****CAUTION, this post has content that may be a trigger for some people. ****
It’s hard to read Push by Sapphire. I think the thing that is hardest about this book is that I have worked with too many young girls who show the signs of sexual abuse but they don’t talk about it. Child protection does not take the report if the child has not said anything. It doesn’t matter how often you have seen these behaviors in your professional career. It doesn’t matter if the child is playing out the sexual abuse during play therapy. If they don’t name a person and state what happened it is non-reportable.
As adults we are supposed to be able to help children. That is supposed to be within our power when they are powerless. It is heartbreaking to watch a child behave in ways that feel very different from other children’s challenging behaviors. So heartbreaking that you make the call even when you know they will ask if the child said anything and all you can say is that the disassociation you see during times of extreme stress or the way the child seems to be somewhere else and fighting off something that is not you feels like there is more going on with this child. Or you see the sexualized behaviors or hear language you should not hear from a small child. But they don’t follow up on it because the child did not say anything about what actually happened.
The National Center for Victims of Crime states that the prevalence of child sexual abuse is difficult to determine because it is often not reported. Also since there is no common definition for child sexual abuse statistics vary. The statistics that the Center lists are:
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse
- Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident
- During a one-year period in the US 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized
- Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of US youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized
- Children are most vulnerable to Child Sexual Abuse between the ages of 7 and 13
And the list goes on…if you are interested. Overall they are pretty depressing statistics.
Push is the story of Precious. It is her story. Her story of wanting to learn how to read and write. Her story of the sexual abuse she endured by her father and the two children she has as a result of that abuse. Here story of getting up each day and getting through each extremely challenging day. It is her story of wanting to tell the world that she is somebody. It is her life story that she finally has the opportunity to tell.
In the beginning Precious talks about her experience with education. She sits in the back of the classroom. She wants to be there but her ability to follow along with the class was minimal. When her teacher tells her to turn to page 122 Precious writes; “But I couldn’t let him, anybody, know, page 122 look like page 152, 22, 3, 6, 5-all the pages look alike to me. ‘N I really do want to learn. Everyday I tell myself something gonna happen, some shit like on TV. I’m gonna break through or somebody gonna break through to me-I’m gonna learn, catch up, be normal, change my seat to the front of the class. But again, it has not been that day”.
I think about my students and how trauma effects the brain and their ability to learn and how Precious recognizes her challenges but won’t speak up to tell her teacher why she can’t follow along. Instead she talks back to her teacher and embarrasses him. There are so many different layers to the behaviors we see each day. On that day Precious’ teacher probably felt frustrated with her, angry, embarrassed, possibly he felt like giving up on her. But he doesn’t know all that has led her to this moment of defiance.
Later Precious talks about when she was a younger, when her father was abusing her. It started when she was very young. “I see me, first grade, pink dress dirty sperm stuffs on it. No one comb my hair. Second grade, third grade, fourth grade seem like one dark night. Carl (her father) is the night and I disappear in it. And the day times don’t make no sense. Don’t make sense talking, bouncing balls, filling in between dotted lines. Shape? Color? Who cares whether purple shit a square or a circle, whether it purple or blue? What difference it make whether gingerbread house on top or bottom of the page.” This passage also struck me and made me think of my students. It is hard for me to figure out ways to teach basic things to some of my students such as identifying the letters in the alphabet, being able to identify the sounds those letters make, being able to consistently count to 10 or consistently identifying colors. These are skills that are most often learned in preschool or before and I am struggling to teach these things to kindergarten and first grade students. But then, how often do they feel like Precious?
It is hard when you are going through something very emotional to focus on the things you need to focus on. As adults we may face this type of struggle when there is a death of a loved one or if some other traumatic event is happening. I can recognize when I am struggling with something and I am distracted from my work. I often question how truly important completing an assignment is or showing up for work when I am struggling with some big feelings. But I make myself complete my responsibilities. Where does a young child find that perspective and that motivation to overcome the big feelings they are having and focus in on their work? I think this is why we need to find more ways to support students socially and emotionally before we can even begin to place a strong emphasis on academics.
Push is a hard book to read but I highly recommend it. I think, especially if you are working with students like Precious it is important to hear their stories, gain perspective and maybe be able to change the ways we reach out to these students so that they feel like they are somebody.