James is not a skilled novelist, and she's covering ground others have covered. What makes this book worthy of mention, however, is the conversation it opens, directing us to pay attention.
Lizzie is born of abuse and is abused herself at a terribly tender age. The one person who could have intervened before that abuse reached the crescendo of no return — a nurse who babysat the birth mother's older children — does not undertake a sensible form of counseling and legal action. The hospital staff fails to intervene even though they are aware of potential infant abuse. What we witness is a perfect storm: A family that includes a child molester who is "protected" above all else, even an infant's welfare. Following an emergency hospital run, the badly molested Lizzie is placed under court protection. There is further abuse in foster homes. At age 13 Lizzie runs away to find her birth mother. More years of abuse are compounded by very bad decisions made by Lizzie.
To protect her anonymity I engaged in an email exchange with "Victoria James." I asked why she felt compelled to tell her story despite the pain of recounting what she had gone through.
"Many people find it difficult to think that someone can escape their past," James said. "But I want to offer hope that anyone can make it in the world, regardless of who you are. ... I went to several different counselors until I found Dr. Diane Lass and I found God."
Dr. Lass is the founder and president of Hope and Strength Psychological Services, Professional Corporation, working with domestic violence and sexual assault victims as a community partner with the San Diego Family Justice Center.
"[Many church leaders] gave me a purpose for the future, gave me back my self esteem, that I must work on every day not to fall back into self-loathing, taught me I am a child of the most high God and that I did not do this to myself, it was done to me," replied James.
"When I was near death after a brutal rape I thought I should just lay there and die and all of a sudden my soul, my spirit, would not let me give up on life. I needed to tell my story and help others."
So how does one break the cycle? Start by refusing to allow families to ignore — or even protect — the abuser in their midst.
"You cannot be an enabler, you must be strong enough to let that person go and get help and work on yourself while they are away and realize you need to protect your children, not put them in harm's way," says James — but she realizes how big a task that can be, given her own experience.
"I want to help but don't know how to go about helping others," she says, and like so many before her, she didn't even know there were resources available to victims.
Indianapolis currently has over fifty organizations staffed with professionals and trained volunteers who offer help to families and individuals where abuse is a factor. Reconnecting with Dr. Matthew Galvin, with whom I have in the past worked to bring awareness to issues of child and youth abuse, Dr. Galvin points to the importance of creating and maintaining school-based counseling programs to address Early Life Adversity (ELA) in the face of cutbacks in community-based mental health centers and therapeutic residential care centers for youth. Using "ELA" is a safe way to talk about harmful relationships without invoking the buzzword "abuse." Dr. Galvin points to the Children's Bureau Glick Retreat/Courage House as a resource center that addresses issues of abuse and abusing. Until people learn not to abuse others, abuse will proliferate.
RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS:
The Alliance of Youth Mentoring Organizations: Marion County Commission on Youth offers a comprehensive listing of agencies that work in fields of prevention, education, intervention and recovery. Find them at mccoyouth.org
Others not on the Alliance list include:
Bloom Project Inc.
Child Advocates/CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)
Reach for Youth
Indiana After School Network
YMCA of Greater Indianapolis
Youth at Risk Program: Step Up —Services, Training, Education and Prevention
Youth Villages: The Force for Families
Stand Up For Kids is seeking to start programming in Indianapolis
The litany of abuse "Lizzie" has endured since infancy is encased in the bedrock of her family's history over multiple generations. Carving herself free from that encasement to "end the cycle of abuse" is at the core of House on a Swing by Victoria James, the pen name of a woman now living in Lafayette, Ind., who identifies herself as "a survivor of childhood abuse, and who knows the need for hope, charity and kindness."