Guest Post: Lynda M. Martin

10386945Lynda M. Martin
This Bird Flew Away | Read my Review
Author Website | Goodreads

What is real love? The whole world wants to know. They should ask Bria Jean, because she has it all figured out. Opinionated, stubborn and full of woe, Bria would tell you real love is having one person you can always count on through thick and thin. For her, that’s Jack. And it doesn’t matter to her that she’s nine and he’s twenty-three-not one bit.

When, at the age of twelve, Bria disappears, he and his Aunt Mary search for her, and when she surfaces, injured, abused and traumatized, Jack fights to become her guardian with no idea of the trials ahead of him. By then, Bria is thirteen going on thirty, full of her own ideas on how her life should run and with some very fixed notions about who is in charge.

This Bird Flew Away – The reality behind the fiction

I’m honored to be writing here, discussing my novel This Bird Flew Away and the true life experiences behind the fiction. Thank you, Majanka,  for inviting me to your blog.

Let me begin by introducing myself. Yes, I’m an author, a writer, an editor and a teacher, but that’s only my present life. For thirty years I was an outreach worker in child protection.

So what’s an outreach worker, you ask.

Until the late 1990’s an outreach worker was a usually a volunteer who used a combination of training, natural ability with children, and personal experience with the issues to act as a first contact with victims of crimes against children. Ideally, this person had no concrete connection to law-enforcement, or any social agencies, therefore had no agenda other than the welfare of the victim. Lately, this role has been ‘professionalized’ to a degree, and may often be a police officer or social worker with special training.

Law enforcement, including police and prosecutors are primarily concerned with ‘making a case’ against the perpetrators of these crimes, and are not always inclined to view the welfare of the child to be of first importance. Social agencies have a mandated policy of preserving the family unit, decisions to make as to whether or not to apprehend the child, and all the politics involved in these bureaucratic organizations, and as such, may not be able to consider the short-term best interest of the child. Parents, particularly those dealing with incestual abuse, are often emotionally charged, in denial, enraged, and therefore ill equipped to assist the child. In most cases of familial abuse, the child has kept this terrible secret for so long a parent is the last person he/she will be comfortable confiding in.

An outreach worker comes into the situation as a stranger, but a stranger who understands, with many similar stories to share and most importantly, someone uninvolved in the situation. They do not carry the authority of the law that the child fears may break up the family, or put a loved one in jail. They are there only for that child.

An outreach worker is often the first person who hears the child’s story, and having gained her trust, must now stand between her and those who, however much they sympathize, do have their own professional needs of her.

Ideally, once the situation has normalized, inasmuch as it ever will, the outreach worker disappears. I say ideally, but in the latter half of my thirty-year career, I fostered some of these children in my own home, some for a few weeks, and a few for several years.

This was very unprofessional, and a great weakness in an otherwise very professional career. I couldn’t maintain the required distance from some of the victims, particularly those victims of child trafficking, or the ‘throwaway’ children, unwanted, neglected and abused. They became part of my family. I’m still in contact with some past clients. Some are friends; some are closer; some of their children call me Nana.

I no longer do this work. One day, not too many years ago, I woke up and started crying. I entered a profound depression that lasted for many months, during which I lived with a terrible fantasy in my head. I wanted to get my hands on some automatic weapon, line up all the child molesters and shoot them dead. It was time to stop.

Today, I use the knowledge I gained from these years in my writing. This Bird Flew Away is the first in a series of three novels centered on these issues, in the hope that fiction may reach those that another dry sociology paper will not. My novels concentrate on healing, on the whole personalities of those I came to know, not the dark, and twisted ‘survivor’ tales of the mainstream media (which drives me crazy, by the way. I’d like to see Law & Order, Special Victims Unit off the air for the distorted, destructive portrait of sexual crimes and the victims they present.)

When I first presented This Bird Flew Away to agents, hoping for representation, several agents told me that the public doesn’t want to read about this. “They want feel-good stuff and fantasy,” said one.

“Nonsense,” I replied. I know something those agents do not.

The scope of sexual crimes against children is far wider than the public is led to believe, or the statistics presented by law enforcement state, which are 10% of boys and 22% of girls. These represent only reported cases, and as all workers in the field know, those are but a chip off the tip of the iceberg.

Some years ago, I attended an international conference on crimes against children and the best information these experts put together suggest at least 4 of every 10 boys and 7 of every 10 girls, worldwide, have been sexually exploited before the age of sixteen. That’s 70% of women! Does that seem unreal? It isn’t. In the United States alone, an estimated one in three households is the scene of familial sex abuse. 100,000 children are trafficked within the U.S. every year. At any given time, somewhere between 240,000 and 300,000 children are bought and sold on American streets. Did you know?

But what this does mean is at least two thirds of survivors receive no help, no counseling, nothing to help them reconcile their traumatic past. I hope the story of Bria, full of optimism, courage and humor, as indeed are most of the girls I’ve worked with, will help them learn that they are not alone. Quite the contrary, they are the majority.

For those who’d like to know more about my career in child protection, or of the issues involved, here is a link to my article, ’The Rape of the Innocents’, which receives more views than all my other articles put together. Doesn’t that say something?

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