Saturday, November 1, 2014

Responding to Victims: Mockingly or Lovingly?


A few weeks ago, I shared on my Facebook profile wall a link to a Homeschoolers Anonymous article exposing a cover-up of child sex abuse involving a well-known homeschooling magazine.  Predictably, many in the homeschool community remained silent on this issue or, even worse, actually defended those who are allegedly complicit in this heinous affair.

Then earlier this week, a young homeschool graduate posted an article claiming to be a homeschool "victim" survivor.  The article included references to "trauma" from her parents and a "cruel" mother. Sounds serious, doesn't it?  Yet the article was actually a satirical piece on how great her homeschooling experience was, an experience she felt the need to describe in an entire article full of opposite-meaning statements.

Statements like these:
"One of the very worst things about 'home schooling' was the socialization."
"My Mom was a special kind of cruel, you see, she MADE me take public speaking, knowing I hated it!"
"I have no idea how I survived the mental trauma of being raised by two people who honestly thought it best for me to pursue a few deep relationships versus having a ton of friends."

Now, I like sarcasm just as much as the next person.  No, that's probably not true.  I love sarcasm, probably more than the next person.  But I draw the line at stuff like this which, whether intentionally or not, makes a mockery of human pain.

Sadly, it didn't surprise me much that despite the misappropriation of victim and abuse terminology, the article received a generally positive reaction (it has now been reportedly shared over 35,000 times on Facebook).  This is troubling particularly in light of the fact that this homeschooling-is-so-awesome-so-let's-sarcastically-refer-to-ourselves-as-victims piece also included as its main image the very same image used in the Homeschoolers Anonymous abuse exposé until it was later removed due to copyright infringement.

Aside from the image copyright issue - which raises the question of how those running a 5+ year old blog would actually be totally ignorant of how copyrighted images versus public domain images work - it is bizarre that anyone would use an image of a gagged woman to represent an article about their positive homeschooling experience.  And not only is the woman in the image gagged, she also has her arms crossed shielding her body, classic [real] victim posturing.  Its no surprise that this image was originally used for an article about sex abuse since its a very fitting visual representation of that topic. 

What is a surprise is that the author of the "homeschool survivor/victim" piece later posted a disclaimer that it was totally not intended to discredit real abuse.   It is possible that this young person is just naive and genuinely ignorant of how her sarcasm comes across as callousness toward abuse and that for some reason, she did not realize that stealing an image intended to depict a [real] abuse survivor makes zero logical sense in an article praising the benefits and positives of homeschooling.  We can give her the benefit of the doubt here but this still raises concerns about how a young woman who touts herself as being well-rounded would not realize that being a victim is just not a topic that one uses jokingly or sarcastically.  

The normal reaction to hearing about a child being abused is revulsion, horror, disgust, maybe a twisted feeling in your stomach.  What is not a normal reaction: taking the image from an article on abuse and using it for an over-the-top sarcastic piece about how awful fantastic your homeschool upbringing was.  

Maybe that isn't exactly what happened here, but one thing that I do know is definitely happening - the homeschooling community is being shaken up with story after story of sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse among not just individual families but also widespread abuse within influential organizations.  These stories are disturbing enough but the reactions to these accounts raise a whole new issue.  I have seen a variety of outright denials, victim blaming, victim shaming, attempts to silence these stories using passive aggression or spiritual manipulation, and perhaps worst of all, the many who continue to stand in open support of organizations and individuals who face substantial and reliable accusations against them.  Wake up, people.  We have a crisis in our community and attempting to cover it up is not only despicable on a moral level but is also doing nothing to make it go away - which seems to be the goal for those who wish to silence this difficult topic.  The other day I read a comment from someone who said something to the effect of "negative stories damage the name of homeschooling." Wrong.  What is damaging the name of homeschooling is the fact that we care more about silencing the voices of victims than we care about actually showing compassion and love toward those who have been mistreated.   That we would rather attempt to perpetuate a selfish agenda of making homeschoolers look perfect than be willing to admit that sometimes wolves are hiding among us.  That we mistakenly believe homeschooling itself is in jeopardy if we even acknowledge that there are real stories of abuse.

As a second generation homeschooling parent, I obviously love homeschooling.  It's the right choice for our family (at least right now - we never know what the future holds). But a homeschool community that cares more about it maintaining an artificial reputation than about promoting truth and compassion is not a community I want to raise my children in.  So I will continue speaking out and adding my voice to those who are standing in solidarity with the broken and remaining committed to holding our community accountable, not because we don't value homeschooling but precisely because we do.  Will you join us?