Dear Doctor: What you didn’t ask, and what I didn’t tell you

Connie Valentine founded the Incest Survivor’s Speakers Bureau (ISSB) in Northern California in the 1990s. When we met in 2004, I asked if the organization actually received many speaking requests. “Not so much,” she laughed.

Connie is one of the most intrepid women I know. She set up the ISSB, and then started annual meetings to focus on child trauma, particularly child sex abuse. Some years, only a handful of people showed up. She was serene. It doesn’t matter, she said. We’ll hold it, and whoever shows up, that’s who needs to be there. At the last meeting in April — No. 17 — 165 people attended. That’s not bad for a gathering about an issue that most people would prefer that didn’t exist in our world, and yet that has touched one out of four women and one out of six men.

In 2002, she wrote an open letter called “Dear Doctor”, which was published by The Permanente Journal. Connie wanted the journal to use her real name, but the editorial board, after great debate, decided not to, to preserve the “anonymity of any involved persons”, even though Connie did not name anyone in her essay, and her abuser is dead.

By the time I met Connie, she was well on the way to a healthy life. I wouldn’t call her robust, but for all she’s experienced, as she says, it’s amazing that she’s alive. I asked if she was okay with her essay appearing on ACEsTooHigh. She agreed, and, again, wanted her real name used, for the same reason she gave The Permanente Journal: “I no longer feel shame about the events of my life. The shame belongs to the perpetrators. Rather, I feel sorrow. They are people who need forgiveness, and I forgive them.”

Her essay is the story of many people who suffered child trauma, of our health care system, and of the power of healing. It is painful to read, and, in one paragraph, graphic.

SO DO NOT CONTINUE IF READING ABOUT CHILD SEX ABUSE WILL CAUSE YOU ANGUISH. Usually, we journalists put a barrier of our own descriptions of a situation between the people who experience it and our community. But this is a first-person account. No barriers.

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