Equity and Inclusion in Social Media Spaces for Adoptees who are Differently Abled

by Lynelle Long (Founder of ICAV adopted from Vietnam to Australia) & Angela Bennett adopted from South Korea to the USA, living with different abilities.

Last year due to COVID, I ran a number of online video group events to allow our adoptee community some interaction given the restrictions and isolation around the world. Whilst doing this, I had the honour of Angela attending one of my events and I did not realise she is differently abled and during the group video discussion, I realised I needed to make accomodations to ensure all people could participate equally and with sensitivity. Some time after that event and in January this year, I collaborated with a few Australian intercountry adoptees to put together our first paper on lived experience of disability AND being intercountry adopted – in the context of a response to a Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect & Exploitation of People with Disability. It again reminded me to consider how I could help make our spaces more inclusive. So I wrote to Angela and asked her for feedback on what could be done better. I’m sure there are other leaders like myself who don’t mean to be un-inclusive, it’s more that if we don’t live with those differences we aren’t actually forced to think about HOW we might better accomodate others. Angela was very positive and helpful and I wanted to share her thoughts because I figured if I can learn from this, perhaps others can too.

Here’s what I wrote to Angela:

Angela, I wondered if you could give me some good thoughts/ideas on how to do things better for adoptees who are differently abled. I was so happy to have you participate in my last ICAV online event but I felt so out of my depth to provide it in a better way to allow you fully participate. I’m always happy to hear your views and suggestions on how I can improve!

Here’s what Angela wrote to me in response:

That last ICAV event was awkward for me. Inclusion for people with disability is a lot to undertake. I think it’s pretty awesome you want to try to tackle it. It looks different based on the disability.

I’d say for me with the speech impediment, I talk 3x slower than the average American. There’s nothing wrong with my intellect. There’s certain sounds or combination of sounds that is like mouth gymnastics. So be mindful to avoid cutting me off/interrupting to finish my sentence for me. It’s better to wait about three to five seconds to make sure I’m done speaking. I often have to pause to inhale for another set of words. Cutting me off just resets from the beginning. Because I talk slower, I feel like I’m long winded. I get needing to have time to let others speak. I often wait until others speak. This is because I’m trying to see if I can simply say, “I agree,” or “So-and-so made a good point, and I also think _,” and just go from there to do less talking.

When I’m done speaking and you’re facilitating/hosting, to benefit the others, you did good in repeating or paraphrasing my point. In your position I would just do that, but start with, “What I think you said, __, is that __. Am I understanding correctly? This helps the other adoptees who have a hard time deciphering my speech pattern and acknowledges in a kind polite way what I said. If you, yourself can’t understand using the following statements can be helpful: “I didn’t catch what you said after __” It’s hard to hear you, can you repeat that last sentence? Can you speak louder? I/we want to understand but not sure of what was said. Can you say it in a different way? I think you said, ‘porcupine,’ but I don’t know what you’re trying to say. Is that like the animal with spikes on it? (wait for response) Oh, you said concubine not porcupine! Ha ha, that makes much more sense now. I have no idea what you’re trying to say. What I think/heard/believe you’re saying is __? That doesn’t make sense. Do you mind clarifying?

I get winded so sometimes I pause mid-word, mid-sentence, mid-answer to take a breath and regain control of the different muscles needed to speak. Sometimes this could be the diaphragm, sometimes the vocal cords, sometimes it’s my tongue and saliva control. It doesn’t hurt to speak, but it can sometimes quickly tire me.

If you’re video/audio recording an adoptee with speech that is challenging to understand, I recommend providing closed captions or subtitles or at minimum a timestamped transcript. This brings the inclusiveness not just to someone with a speech delay or impediment, but brings inclusiveness to those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

I’ve only provided an answer in the context of someone with a speech delay, speech impairment. People often assume someone with speech problems have lower intellect. While it is predominantly true, it is not a safe assumption. Most of what I’ve said is a form of what is called “active listening.” One important thing is that there is a distinction between not hearing what someone says and not knowing/comprehending. Simply saying, “what?” suggests the speaker needs to repeat what they said, but louder.

My speech pattern often means I drop sounds and I’m not even aware of it. I know English has a lot of silent sounds to begin with. But I drop out sounds that I have trouble forming or combining. So I might drop the “s” from thanks even unaware that I dropped the ‘s’ sound because most of my effort went to making the “th” sound. I know the words, I just have to get everything to work together to verbalise.

If you want me to type in chat, circle back around. I type fast, but I mouse slow. You can say something like, “I’d love to know what you think Angela. Do you want to answer or should we come back and check the chat in a couple minutes? Then maybe you can use a strategic stall tactic and say, “I want to add my own thoughts here for a minute.”

Avoid cross talk. Cross talk is rude. Short example was the post you responded to which I wrote about on my FB wall. The driver was talking about me to my friend. I was right there. The statement itself is rude, but the more important thing is that not only was he stereotyping someone who uses a wheelchair, but stereotyping that I am not capable of carrying on a conversation. When things like that happen I have no way of knowing if this is someone not comprehending my speech patterns, or he/she has a hearing problem, or if they are discriminating against me, if they have listening problems, if they are stereotyping my speech and assuming I am not intelligent/educated enough, or if it’s a microaggression based on something else like culturally am I not supposed to speak on my own behalf because of racism towards Asian females. I heard a parent explain it to her child once. “There’s nothing wrong with the way she is talking to us. She talks differently and it means we have to listen more closely to what she says.”

During a conversation you can even ask, “Do you want to add anything and/or did you have more to say?” Silently moving your own mouth to mimic someone else talking while they are talking is mildly rude and annoying for long conversations, but it’s not significantly offensive generally speaking.

Even persons with disabilities have ableist ideas against someone else with a disability. Much like the adoptee community has its ideas of “adoption is good” v. “adoption is corruption” even in local disabled groups …. I recently went to a popular sports bar. I asked the waitstaff for closed captions to be turned on the tv. The waitstaff didn’t want to figure it out unless someone in our group was deaf. So the group leader shushed me. I was appalled because it felt like the group leader who is paralysed was not being mindful of someone with a different disability and that was the whole point, to be a social support group.

I’d love to see and am also willing to assist with developing a media/guide for intercountry adoptees with disability or even more of a series of stories from adoptees with disability themselves.

Thank you Angela for sharing from your lived experience to help us do better!

I Support #NotAThing

#NotAThing founders: Allison Park, Kara Bos, Brenna Kyeong McHugh, Cameron Lee, Kevin Omans, Patrick Armstrong, and Richard Peterson. Media artists Valerie Reilly (Graphic Designer) and Sarah Monroe (Videographer), and petition Korean translator Jullie Kwon.

I am not a Korean intercountry or domestic adoptee but I am an intercountry adoptee and this is not just a Korean adoption issue – it is a global issue for all who are impacted by adoption. I stand with the Korean adoptees who are demanding President Moon apologise and meet with them to discuss how to better protect vulnerable children.

I am against the murder and abuse of any child who gets placed into an adoptive family.

I am also against any rhetoric that minimises what has happened and attempts to push the responsibility onto the child – as if they were the cause, not good enough, and needed to be “swapped out” to better suit the needs of the adoptive family.

It is time the governments of the world, who participate in, promote and look to the current plenary adoption system be upfront and realistic about the downsides this system creates.

My first argument is that the current plenary system of adoption does not respect the child’s rights and too easily becomes a commodity in a market for adoptive families to pick and chose the child of their choice. President Moon’s poorly chosen words simply reflect this reality. His words tell us what we already know: children are a commodity in today’s economy – matched theoretically to suit the needs of prospective parents, and not the other way around! If there were any semblance of equality in this system, we children would be able to more easily rid ourselves of adoptive families when we deem them equally unsuitable! But the reality is, we are children when adoption happens and like little Jeong-In, have no power or say in what happens to us. We are adopted into the family for life, our rights to our birth origins irrevocably denied, our adoption as Pascal Huynh writes, “is like an arranged child marriage”. The majority of the world somehow understands how unethical an arranged child marriage is, yet we still talk about plenary adoption as if it’s a child’s saviour.

Thanks to the recent publicity of Netra Sommer’s case, the public around the world have recently become aware of how hard it is for us adoptees to revoke our adoptions. It took Netra over 10 years to be able to undo her adoption! As for any equal rights in the current system, the mothers and fathers of loss get even less than us adoptees. They are discouraged from changing their minds if they no longer wish to relinquish their child, yet President Moon is publicly encouraging a process that allows adoptive / prospective parents to change theirs. This is the one sided nature of the adoption system!

Jeong-In’s death highlights some other core issues I have with the plenary adoption system:

  • The lack of long term followup, research or statistics on adoptees after the adoption and post placement period.
  • The selection and assessment of prospective parents by the adoption agency and their lack of accountability in their role.
  • The blind belief within the child welfare system, that an adoptive parent would never harm a child. But with all the indicators shown in this video of the recount by child care workers who tried multiple times to flag that things weren’t right for this child, no action was taken to suspect the adoptive parents of harming this child. This reflects the one sided view of first families who are demonised and seen as the only perpetrators of violence or abuse against their children. In contrast, adoptive parents are seen as saviours/rescuers but yet many adoptees will give evidence of the abuse that happens too often within adoptive families.
  • The lack of rights for any first family/kin to be notified or able to access the child’s body after death.

One has to wonder how such leniency and almost apparent empathy for the adoptive parents as expressed in President Moon’s words could not be equally applied to first families in Korea. In the large majority of cases, Korean women have to relinquish their children due to single motherhood status and the lack of supports – not because of any dark, violent, drug filled history.

I get angry each and every time a vulnerable child like little Jeong In-Yi gets mistreated and hurt by the very system that is meant to protect and support them. Let’s use this anger to demand change that is long overdue but also, let’s not forget Jeong-In herself for although she only remained on this planet for a short 16 months, she has impacted many of us!

The mothers of KUMFA have stood up and rallied to demand the agency involved, Holt Korea, be held accountable for their role in this death. The Korean adoptees around the world have created this campaign #notathing to demand the President of Korea meet with them to hear their voices. We need government to invite us to the table to discuss options other than plenary adoption.

I and other members of ICAV have shared about alternatives to plenary adoption but I question if Jeong-In would still be alive today if she had not been placed into the adoption system. The irony is no doubt she would have been much safer with her single unwed mother!

The shame is on Korea for not doing more as a first world nation to support mothers and children to remain together! The same is applied to any country, especially first world nations who have the resources yet continue to have their children adopted out via the plenary adoption system. In the USA there has been a very similar child murdered within adoptive family that mirrors Korea.

This is not a system I aspire to for vulnerable children of the future!

In Memory of Jeong-In, died 16 months old, Oct 2020

I want to end by honouring Jeong-In for the massive impact and legacy she has left behind. I hope she has not died in vain. I hope the extreme pain she must have endured was not for nought! I hope that each time an adoptee dies at the hands of their adoptive family, the world community will stand up and demand the we adoptees are #NotAThing and that more needs to be done to make our system safer and more aligned to the needs and rights of us – for whom it is all meant to be about! We are that vulnerable child grown up, who could not speak for themselves and needs our protection and our action!

Please consider signing the petition #NotAThing and find ways in which you can take action, to demand governments and authorities do more to make changes away from the current plenary adoption system to something far more respectful of adoptee and first family rights and needs.

#imsorryjeongin
#notathing

Other adoptee voices who share about #notathing

Kara Bos
Moses Farrow
Mila Komonos

Media Coverage

Adoptees say “we are not a thing”

Peruvian Adoptee Returns to Birth Country

During 2020 COVID lockdown, I had a chance to play around with creating a resource via video conferencing. Click on the image below for my interview with Milagros Forrester, a Peruvian adoptee raised in the UK. She kindly shared her adoption journey detailing how her adoptive family supported her to reconnect with her origins and return to her birth country.

Many thanks to Milagros as she has waited patiently for me to complete the hours of video editing, to get this into a finished state.

Family and Xmas Times

This is the one time of year where I’m reminded I don’t have that childhood family with amazing memories and closeness. I’ve always yearned, as only some other adoptees can know, for that sense of family where I feel wanted, cherished, loved deeply. I know my family, like many others, are never perfect, but the older I get, the more I see my childhood in my adoptive family and can only remember the pain it created for me. Adoption is supposed to be happy isn’t it? It’s what gets portrayed. But I know I had spurts of moments of happiness in mine — it’s so hard to recall because as I grow older and relive it all again via children of my own, I realise the level of neglect and trauma my adoptive family caused, that could have been avoided.

How do I get past it? Should I? Or do I accept it will just always be … yes it hurts beneath the surface, oozing with pain every time I have to think about “adoptive family”. I’m old enough now to understand this pain is part of who I am. It’s not going away but I can hold and honour what I’ve had to do, to come past it —to be functional, stable, loving.

Healing doesn’t mean the pain stops and goes away. Healing means I’ve come to accept the truth. I no longer sit in it drowning or reacting. I’ve learned better ways to manage my emotions. I’ve learned how to have boundaries and not give past what I’m willing to. I’ve learned it’s ok to remain true to my own needs. I’ve learned to accept what can’t be changed but to change what I can. I can accept them as they are and know they’re not capable, even if they wanted. I have to give it to me, myself. Love, connection, acceptance, nurturing. 

Xmas, like Thanksgiving for Americans, is a time where as an adoptee, I feel those sad feelings for what I might have had but didn’t. I know the reality of reunions is that even bio family, if I ever find them, will most likely never be able to meet my emotional need for “family” either. So, this Xmas, I will bring my children and husband close and treasure every moment I have with them for they are the only true family I will ever have! I am thankful I was able to heal enough to have a loving relationship and become a mother myself and give to my children what I never got. This has been my life’s blessing and will be my focus this Xmas!

Distorted Priorities

Not being granted Citizenship as an adoptee is like having a False Positive.

It has come to my attention that the US Senate and Congress members have recently been sending letters to push for their agenda in intercountry adoption. The first I attach here to Assistant Secretary Carl Risch requesting attention to recommit to one of the purposes of the Intercountry Adoption Act, “to improve the ability of the Federal Government to assist” families seeking to adopt children from other countries.

The second I attach here to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo requesting resources and focus to address the waiting families wanting to bring home their children with COVID restrictions.

While I appreciate the Senate and Congress members sentiments to get involved and highlight the importance of these issues, it frustrates me that on the one hand these letters are written, using all of the power between them as a collective, yet I have not seen such a letter to push for the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). For the past 5 years, I know our dedicated intercountry adoptee leaders – Joy Alessi from Adoptee Rights Campaign and Kristopher Larsen at Adoptees For Justice and their teams have been working tirelessly, trying to get Senators and Congress people to support the much needed and overdue Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). We need enough Senators and Congress members to support the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 because there are gaps left from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 that resulted in intercountry adoptees prior to 1983 being left without automatic citizenship.

I gotta ask the obvious question here: why won’t American politicians get behind the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) yet they will use their political force to push for more adoptions? It is the very same Intercountry Adoption Act 2000 that’s cited by them to get support amongst the Federal Government to assist newly desiring adoptive families to build their families, but yet – for the historic families who once sought to adopt children, who find themselves decades later, without citizenship for their children (now adults) – there is no permanence and no political leadership to address the problem. Isn’t it rather distorted that the powers to be will focus more attention on getting new children in without having made sure the ones already here, have stability, permanence and citizenship? What is adoption if it isn’t to ensure permanence, which is fundamentally about citizenship in intercountry adoption? Let’s also not forget every beneficiary of the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) was already vetted at entry and promised citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) seeks to cover adoptees who entered on adoption purposed visas (IR4) otherwise known as legal permanent residents.

I feel for my adoptee colleagues who work tirelessly, pushing what feels like an uphill battle to gain the support needed to address this long overdue issue. Why aren’t letters like this being written to ICE or USCIS and to all the top level government officials including the President, who have the connections to influence these important decisions?

I don’t have the answers to my questions, I simply ask them because I hope others are too. We need Senators and Congress members to take leadership on the issue of automatic citizenship for the thousands of intercountry adoptees, now adults, who are living in suspended animation. These adoptees have been asking American leaders to represent their cause and help them overcome what feels like an insurmountable barrier – to be considered rightful citizens of their adoptive country. This right seems to be obtainable in every other adopting country – except the United States of America!

Adoptee Remembrance Day

For Adoptee Remembrance Day I want to highlight and honour those who have attempted suicide and also those who have died of suicide. This is a topic within adoption that needs far more attention and resources. We lose adoptees to suicide because there is not enough supports to recognise and enable healing from the losses that many experience.

I wrote this because I understood this cry for help from someone I’m currently supporting and it rings of the truth we experience in being relinquished. Our relinquishment is not a once-off action without consequences – our loss is experienced internally on a very deep level, and for some, it’s felt every moment, every day and can become overwhelming!

I want to go home!”

This is the cry of a young man as he struggles, dangling from the noose created for himself.

In these most vulnerable moments, the pain is so intense and raw, he can see no other way to have some peace.

How does he ever get to this moment?

It’s a lifetime of misunderstood pains which build up, no words to express.

It’s a bodily anger and rage from not understanding why she left him, was he not good enough? Was it his fault?

From an early age the body cuts off – his only survival mechanism.

Love does not conquer this pain, anguish, and confusion! Love cannot penetrate.

Who is he? How did he end up here, in a different country, surrounded by people that are not his by nature? This is not what he wanted! 

Generations lost – their trauma resides within his body.

Darkness seeps into his soul.

No way out? 

Only hope will relieve … find her. 

The one – who’s sounds and movements his body cells remember.

It will be his only chance to live.

Can someone help him come home … to her?

Then maybe it will make some sense. 

This loss and pain he doesn’t understand. 

Home is where he wants to be!

In honour of those we have lost who struggled through this, and for those who still struggle every day – You Are Not Alone!

ICAVs Memorial page

Resources

The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk
The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier

The Truth About Intercountry Adoption

The first part of this article, is written by Jessica Davis, adoptive mother in the USA who adopted from Uganda. She wrote recently and I wanted to share my thoughts in response to hers.

Namata

by Jessica Davis

A mother with no available options doesn’t actually have a choice when it comes to letting her daughter go on an “education program”.

Her child getting “adopted” while on the education program was the result of desperation, greed, ignorance and corruption.

A greedy adoption agency that chose to look the other way as to how children were coming into the system for adoption.

Ignorant adoptive parents who didn’t fully understand the problem at hand before trying to “help”.

A desperate middleman who chose to “bend” the truth and exploit vulnerable Ugandan families in order to put food on the table.

Corrupt judges and other government officials that cared more about lining their pockets than the well being of a child.

The misguided notion of “a better life” led everyone involved down a path that contributed to almost erasing a child’s identity, culture and ties to her family.

Adoptive parents’ love that wasn’t based solely on a child being part of their family helped them see beyond the lies and help her get home.

A child’s bravery in speaking out enabled the truth to be understood.

Continuing to allow children with families to be needlessly adopted and subjected to a lifetime of trauma and loss as a result of being separated from everything and everyone they have ever known and loved — from their identity within that family unit is inhumane.

Every time I get to visit with Namata and her family these are the things that run through my mind.

All that was ALMOST lost and erased.

4 out 5 children living in institutions worldwide have families that they could go home to.

Ignoring this family separation crisis will only continue to ensure that 4 out 5 times children like Namata will be needlessly adopted and separated from their families.

Subjected to a lifetime of trauma and loss NEEDLESSLY.

If adoption is about the well being of the child, why do we only care about their well being to the extent that they end up in a new family?

Adoptees are 4 times more likely to attempt taking their own life, so who’s well being is being prioritised when we knowingly ignore the truth and continue with intercountry adoption the way it is today?

Know better. Do better.

Jessica Davis

Lynelle’s response to Jessica:

As an intercountry adoptee separated forever from my family, these photos bring tears to my eyes. Last night I dreamed of my biological father – it was the first time he’s ever been present in my dreams. Usually it’s my mother. Seeing your daughter surrounded by people who mirror her, are her clan and having her place of belonging is just so beautiful! I know how much heartbreak, unspoken loss and grief, misplacement and longing you have prevented for her!

Your grief every day is the grief she would have lived with her whole life if she’d remained adopted.

Lynelle Long

Thankyou for being a mum who’s done what is in her best interest! What a gift you gave her to stop that unnecessary pain! I’m just sorry you feel yours and it’s the first time I’ve really comprehended how painful it must be for you and the rest of your family.

I wish other adoptive parents could understand this. It’s either your pain or ours that exists with intercountry adoption but so many choose to save themselves from the pain, instead of the child. You are one of the rare few I know who chose to accept it for yourself and do what’s right and ethical!

She’s just beautiful and deserves to be where she belongs!

Shared with Serena & Namata’s permission.

The Anti – Pro Adoption Labels

It bothers me a lot less nowadays that people feel the need to judge where I or ICAV sits on adoption discussions as being only either “anti” or “pro” — as if adoption can be classified on some linear adoption spectrum!

Yes, I like to, and I encourage my peers, to call out and speak openly on the complexities and call an end to the unethical practices, the trafficking, the deportation, the rehoming, the abuse .. but the reality is, usually when adoptees talk about these issues from these angles, we can so easily get labeled and shut down!

Personally, I feel there are so many shades within the adoption arena. Like if I support simple adoption in theory over plenary adoption – does that make me “anti” or “pro”? If I prefer kinship care and guardianship to either of those, am I “anti “or “pro”? If I prefer children to be kept in their country of birth, am I “anti” or “pro”? If I prefer children to stay within their nuclear and extended family or community, am I “anti” or “pro”? If I want to prioritise a child’s safety, am I “anti” or “pro”? If I want a mother to retain a choice, am I “anti” or”pro?

Isn’t it a bit simplistic to overlay such a narrow linear spectrum on our views for such a complex topic? And what happens when we consider domestic adoption with intercountry adoption? Or transracial domestic adoption with transracial intercountry adoption? The discussions will always be so complex with so many differences but also, so many similarities!

At the end of the day, transracial adoption, local adoption, intercountry adoption, foster care, guardianship, kinship care are all options for complicated situations in child welfare. What should we do about children who are vulnerable and need care? How can we ensure they have long term stability within loving and supportive structures for their life long journey? The answers to these questions moves us way beyond a simple “anti” and “pro” discussion. Simplifying these discussions to that type of focus really doesn’t get us anywhere except to divide us.

When we oversimplify complex situations it dumbs down the mindscope and limits the possible solutions.

When considering intercountry adoption, I support safety of the child and respect for families, ethnicities and cultures . This should always be first and foremost in our priorities when considering solutions for the child. I’m not anti or pro – I’m all about encouraging open and healthy discussion on complex issues that have not ONE single solution for all, but should be discussed on a case by case basis! I would love if governments could put more money and focus into helping keep families together where possible! I also recognise, that not all families chose to stay together and women should have choices. So my point is, we cannot overlay ONE solution over a whole spectrum of complex situations. Each and every child with their parents and kin needs to have their situation considered by its own merits. And let’s not forget, we must acknowledge that the solution(s) might need to change over time.

The biggest impact plenary adoption creates, is that it is a permanent solution for what is often a temporary or shorter term crisis. For some, staying together will hopefully be the preference and governments need to offer enough social supports to make this possible. For others, if they insist on not parenting their children nor having kin take on guardianship, I would hope we could move to a better model like simple adoption which ensures original identity remains intact and connection to kin legally preserved. I strongly dislike the way plenary adoption has inadvertently layered on more trauma than it’s supposed to help. People are human, we change over time. Why do we continue to place permanent life altering legal changes onto children as solutions that are difficult to change when in fact, maybe a better way would be to take into account that situations and people change and allow more flexible solutions?

Using simplistic linear labels like “anti” and “pro” to discuss intercountry adoption can be counterproductive. How much do we miss when we limit ourselves to such linear discussions?

Lived Experience Suggestions for Responses to Illicit Adoptions

On 8-10 July, ICAV was invited as an Observer at the HCCH Working Group on Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Intercountry Adoption.

Attached is our latest Perspective Paper that provides our lived experience input on suggestions for How Authorities and Bodies could Respond to Illicit Adoptions in English and French.

Huge thanks to all our 60+ participating adoptees and adoptee organisations, 10 adoptive parents & adoptive parent organisations, and first family representation!

Extra special thanks and mention to two amazing people:
Nicholas Beaufour who gave a huge amount of time to translate the entire English document into French!
Coline Fanon who assisted our one and only first family member to contribute! We so need to hear more often from the voices of our first families!

What Needs to be Done about Abuse within Adoptive Families?

Part 3 of a 3 part series on Sexual Abuse within Adoption
Part 1 & 2

In memory of Oscar André Ocampo Overn, adopted from Colombia into a family in Norway. He was murdered last year at the age of 15 years old, by his adoptive father after speaking out about the sexual abuse he endured at his adoptive father’s hands. Look at the price he paid for speaking out! Abuse in adoptive families happens. It is one of the most hushed up topics in adoption. Perhaps we fear the reality will shatter the illusions of the happy forever adoptive family marketing myth?

Sexual abuse within adoptive families needs to be talked about. I didn’t say “.. talked about more” because it currently just isn’t talked about at all! The only sexual abuse the adoption community openly talks about, is that which happens in orphanages which acts as a way to further demonise our origins and make our adoption fantasy seem even more like saviorism. I know intercountry adoptees who suicide where sexual abuse within the adoptive family was a known added layer in their traumas, yet adoptive families fail to understand why their child decided to end it all, or their role in this death. We need to help adoptive families reach out for help when they become aware of sexual abuse happening in their environment. We need more education on what are the signs and symptoms to look out for in adoptees who suffer sexual abuse, we need deeper psychological assessments of prospective parents to understand more how their own traumas can manifest in the lives of their prospective children, we need further resources to guide adoptive families on how to respond to sexual abuse. Silence should never be an option!

Due to my own life experience, I have a strong sense when other adoptees have lived a similar experience without saying so in absolute words. I know how to gently ask and it saddens me each time I meet another and they tell me what they’ve rarely or never told before. I hear all the scenarios – mother is abusive, father is abusive, grandparent is abusive, uncle is abusive, adopted sibling is abusive, parent’s biological sibling is abusive, close family friend is abusive. It is rarely a stranger! Adoptive parent preparation sessions and post adoption education sessions need to include more discussions on sexual abuse. Sometimes sexual abuse might be talked about in the context of children being removed from a family because of abuse and hence available for adoption or abuse that happens in the institution before arriving to adoptive home, but it is rarely considered that a child can be placed into an abusive adoptive home.

We need adoptive couples to be mindful of what healthy boundaries are so they can identify early on when things do not seem right. We need to create an environment that doesn’t result in hushing things up, burying the knowledge. I cannot say more loudly and strongly enough how damaging it is for an adoptive family to ignore any sexual abuse that occurs within the family dynamic. When left with no professional support, we develop coping strategies that are unhealthy for us and leaves an aftermath of destruction. Suicide is one path of that destruction, there are others like alcoholism, drugs, prostitution, perfectionism, over achieving, workaholism, eating disorders. As Bessel van der Kolk says, the body never forgets. Adoptees who have been sexually abused have to find one way or another to deal with the dis-ease that sits within us.

If your adopted child tells you of some form of sexual abuse, please believe them and seek professional help immediately. Report the issue to the police. Do the right thing even if it is your spouse, your other child, your family friend whom you have to report! I am told too often of adoptive families who treat the victim as if there’s something wrong with them, saying they’ve lied, made up stories, saying they have a mental illness and cause trouble in the family. Most children do not make up these stories and the child should never be made to feel it was their fault in any way!

We need the adoption community and professionals to talk more openly about these questions: how does sexual abuse within the adoptive family occur? How does demonising the birth family with a history of abuse set us up to heroise the adoptive family as if they are immune from being as abusive? How are adoptees more vulnerable to abuse than the non-adopted child? How can we better prevent sexual abuse in adoptive families? How can we better listen to adoptees who struggle with this type of trauma? How can we better record and capture data to reflect how often this occurs? How can we better assess prospective parents? How does sexual abuse impact the whole adoptive family? How does sexual abuse compound the relinquishment trauma already held by an adoptee? How can we help family members come to terms with the terrible deeds of the perpetrator(s)? How can an adoptive family heal and move forward from what has happened?

I’ve lived years of seeing exactly what happens when these questions aren’t discussed or addressed. It’s devastating for all family members and leaves generational impacts. We need to help shift the fear, shame and guilt that prevents adoptive families from openly acknowledging when sexual abuse happens so that adoptees and the family can find healing.

By not responding appropriately, the trauma of sexual abuse within the adoptive family is compounded with our relinquishment trauma.

Do not allow adoptive family shame to be more powerful than love and honesty.

For adoptees who’s adoptive family closes their eyes to your abuse, I hope you will one day find your voice and speak your truth. Your vulnerable child did not deserve abuse and it’s okay to walk away if your adoptive family are not capable of bearing their truth and giving you the support, love and protection you deserve. It’s taken me 27 years to be this open about this topic, being abused and adopted certainly is not an easy journey! The hardest part has been feeling so alone and wanting to belong to a family so desperately that even an abusive one will be okay. I share in the hopes of encouraging others who walk this path. Don’t give up on you. You do not have to feel alone. Find professional support, connect into your peers, don’t isolate yourself. Create a new sense of family for yourself. Find other “mother” or “father” figures in your life who CAN be nurturing and supportive. Fight to give yourself the healing you deserve! Speak up!

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