Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 4

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘When we are at our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change’.

Avatar Aang

I think it’s safe to say that for almost every person they may hit rock bottom at some point in their life or very damn near close to it. For adoptees, a lot of us endure some of the most painful experiences and battles, from being abused or neglected in orphanages or families, suffering from homelessness, being kicked out of home, substance abuse, child trafficking and the list can go on.

This is another quote I learnt from Avatar: Legend of Korra when the heroine’s past-life-self came to her when she had lost almost all of her powers as the Avatar. Aang appeared and told her this; that when we hit rock bottom, when we lose so much or everything, we have our minds and souls are so cracked open and vulnerable that we are exposed to seeing new perspectives on life and our pain; in a way that we can help rebuild our lives in a new way; that we can start over anew. We can finally see what we did that wasn’t working then we have the chance to use new tools or solutions to our problems. When we have fallen so far, it is a good opportunity to rebuild ourselves anew from the foundations of the ashes upwards. When we become humbled this way, our ego has less of a hold and power over us, and we choose to transform and change into a better version of ourselves that serves our highest self and happiness.

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 3

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘If we look for the light, we can often find it, but if we look for the dark it is all you will ever see.’

Uncle Iroh

This is truly one of the best quotes I stumbled across from, yes, Avatar: Legend of Korra (an Americanised fantasy/spiritual anime based in an alternate reality). It was quoted from Uncle Iroh when Korra stumbled across him in the spirit world in her child form. In her child form she was crying and giving into her negative thoughts and the audience got to see how it impacted the world around her; making the other spirits angry and sad, and turning the sky dark with clouds and anger. Uncle Iroh emphasised to her how powerful her inner thoughts are, how our thoughts can impact our perspectives on reality; and dictate our beliefs about our reality, and ourselves and how it can bring down and uplift up the people and environment around us.

It’s important as a human being, and especially as an adoptee to not give over our power to our negative thoughts, and I know that is easier said than done. This is especially hard when living with trauma or other mental illnesses, sometimes it’s a constant battle we all deal with maybe all of our lives. But it’s important to realise that there is plenty of darkness in the world, and in our personal lives, but if we give in, we give in to our most basic instincts, we give into our egos and all the things that tormented us as children. And these thoughts can taint how we see the world around us, the life we live in. If we let the darkness in by just an inch sometimes it can overwhelm us, and feel like that is all we see in the world; and when you turn on the news it’s easy to give into the belief that we live in a dark world. When we live a difficult life it can make it even harder to not fall into this type of headspace, so it is important for our survival and our sanity as well as our wellbeing to leave a light on for ourselves; to give to ourselves the chance to live a happier life by choosing every-day to choose to see the light in every chance we get and in every challenge life throws at us.

When we start to put in a little effort every day to see the light we do have in our world it makes it just that much easier, and the light will shine back on us. When we build a reserve of light and happiness for ourselves it gives us more to ground ourselves when we face any hardships in our lives. Sometimes light is what we give ourselves in our darkest moments, a gift we give ourselves as a form of self-care; kindness and understanding and self-love.

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 2

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘Forgive those who have wronged you, not because they deserve forgiveness but because you deserve peace’.

Depending on your unique individual adoptee story, adoptees in general experience a lot of hardships, from trauma, separation trauma, to abuse. Trauma can rewire the brain sometimes in a way that makes us more susceptible to pain, whether that be from rejection, bullying, abuse or stress. It’s very easy to hold onto pain and build resentment and anger, and I know for me personally growing up I was the type to hold grudges, even years after the wound had been inflicted.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across this quote that it shifted my perspective on forgiveness; that it isn’t something we do for the other person, but what we do for ourselves, for our own sanity, for our own healing and wellbeing. Carrying around pain (and this is not to say we have to do this to deal with trauma as trauma is more complex than that, that’s not to say it cannot be a part of that process) is a heavy burden to carry, and you might not think so, but when you begin to unravel all the past pains, whether that be on your own or in therapy, and you see how it can affect you emotionally, psychologically as well as physically, and spirituality you will be surprised about how big of an impact it can have on a human being.

Carrying around anger or resentment is like carrying around poison, it may be repressed and under the surface, maybe buried down deep, but it can eat away at the beautiful soul you have underneath all that pain. You can easily spot someone who is plagued by their past and pain from a mile away, you can feel the weight of their pain within the way they carry themselves, the way they speak and speak about themselves and the world around them.

When I found this quote and I truly embraced it into myself. I felt so much weight being lifted it was almost euphoric; although for me I carried around years of pain and anger, from being bullied all my childhood to separation trauma and neglect. And truly I did sit there and think ‘why should I carry around this pain while this other person goes on with their life with no care in the world? Why should I suffer for their mistakes or their mistreatment made from another human being?’

Sometimes it’s a choice we make for ourselves, whether or not to move on, or carry that pain with us, or to let it go so that we can find the peace and happiness we deserve.

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 1

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life, don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking, don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your inner voice, and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.’

Steve Jobs

There are studies that show it is common for adoptees to create a false sense of self – usually between two identities – the perfect golden child who does everything for the approval of their adoptive families so they will never face rejection, or the rebel who may reject their families before they can reject them (again). The golden child can look a lot like the astute student who pours hours and hours into their classes, gets straight A’s, is terrified to get anything less than this, someone who never disagrees with their parents opinions or ideologies, and may claim there is nothing to complain about in terms of being adopted. They may end up being the type in fact (and of course you don’t have to be adopted to do this) but to live out the life their adoptive families want for them. They may want them to study to be a doctor, a surgeon, a scientist, an engineer instead of doing what their heart truly desires.

For me personally, I was definitely one of those types of false selves that adoptees may tend to fall into, the over achiever, the perfectionist, the one terrified of their parents’ disapproval, or letting my teachers and mentors down. For me ever since I was a child, I always wanted to be an artist. I knew deep down that’s what I wanted to be my whole life; and my parents were very aware of this. However, they tried to bring me back down to reality; saying that I had to be the best of the best in the industry like Picasso or Van Gogh to get anywhere in that field. They especially emphasised this when I got to late high school and had to think about seriously what I wanted to do in my life as a career.

I ended up choosing psychology as that was a science, something tangible and structured that I could follow according to society’s expectations. Don’t get me wrong-psychology; human and social psychology and behaviour does interest me but it didn’t ignite a fire or a spark inside me the way that art does. In the end I chose to study Animal Behaviour when I graduated and got accepted into university. When I was exposed to the outside world, the real world I realised how much of my life I was allowing to be dictated by my parents. I realised that I had to live my own life and my own dreams. And yes, it was scary to face my parents and tell them I was transferring to the Bachelor of Arts and I wanted to be an artist. But I paved a path in my life of so much self-discovery and knowledge; where I met so many wonderful people, I aligned with in so many ways. I don’t regret it to this day.

Let me just say this from personal experience to fellow adoptees; live the life you want to live, not what society dictates you should do; not what your family or friends think you should do – do what you want, what brings you joy, excitement, what makes your heart sing and your spirit soar.

Because when your family and those friends or whoever aren’t in your life anymore you are going to be stuck with the life and dreams that you made. No one else has to live it but you, and you will experience your happiness or lack of happiness, not them nor anyone else. You will be the one who will go to bed every night feeling either fulfilled or unsatisfied with the decisions you make every-day, so make sure you forge your own path, your own dream so you can find true happiness. It isn’t easy sometimes, but nothing in life that is worthwhile is.

Bitten and Suffering

by Lily Valentino, Colombian adoptee raised in the USA.

We adoptees are absolute masters at compartmentalizing, I am no different. I can go on my way, not acknowledging, ignoring and stuffing my shit in the back of the closet. But it never fails that eventually something will trigger me into facing my feelings, and downward I usually go for a few days, and sometimes weeks and months.

Yesterday was one of those days, it was like walking through a field and getting bitten by a snake! It happened fast, yet while it was happening it was playing out in slow motion. But now it is nearly 24 hours later and I can quite sharply feel those words coursing through my veins like the poison of a snake.

“….they were brought to this country, were stripped of their names, language, culture, religion, god and taken totally away from the history of themselves”

These were words I heard in passing yesterday, that were the initial sting, bite, if you will, which left me literally stunned. These words came out of Luis Farrakhan, and as I was listening to him speak them, it hit me, he was talking about the slaves brought to America and I too, I too, was sold and brought to this country away from my birth land, for money.

As these words slipped down my throat, I thought of being minority, being Hispanic and how my white adoptive mother pushed and tried to get me to date white guys. How she often spoke about how she wanted me to marry an Italian man. This thought always makes me sick and the term, “whitewash” comes to mind as being her motive. Memories of how she spoke of Hispanics by referring to them using the racial slur, “spics” rush to the forefront of my mind.

It left me shrinking into my seat for the rest of the day. Choking on thoughts of all that I have lost and continue to lose, my culture, my language, my native food, my name, my family and mi tierra (my land). Thinking of how my world is literally cut in half (because I have my birth family that live in Colombia and my husband and kids here in the US), how true happiness of having my world combined will never be had, true belonging is a shadow that I’m forever chasing just like time lost.

I sit here uneasy, fighting the tears from filling my eyes. I’ve been in deep thought about this sudden cry for human rights that does not seem to include adoptees, yet we are walking a near similar path to the slaves of 300 years ago. The difference, we were not bought to fulfill physical labor but to fulfill an emotional position for many white families. Some of us were treated well, part of the family like nothing “less than” while others remained outsiders, forced to fit into a world not our own and punished emotionally and physically when we could not meet their needs. When we stood up for ourselves and decided that we no longer wanted to fulfill that emotional roll to another human for which we had been bought or withstand the abuse, we have been cast out and off of the plantation and told never to return.

The crazy thing is that it is 2020 and my basic human rights to know my name, to know my culture, to grow up in the land that I was born in, to speak my native language, though violated mean nothing, as nobody other than other adoptees are concerned, or have a sense of urgency about this violation.

Adoption is Complex

by Rowan van Veelen adopted from Sri Lanka to the Netherlands.

My two mothers

ADOPTION

Am I unhappy in the Netherlands?

I’m against adoption and still happy with my beautiful life in the Netherlands. It’s not as black and white as everyone thinks.

I can be happy in the Netherlands and at the same time unhappy about the lack of not knowing my biological family.

ANGRY AT ADOPTION IS NOT THE SAME AS ANGRY AT ADOPTIVE PARENTS

My adoptive parents did everything out of love. What they couldn’t give me as adoptive parents is the mirroring and the comprehension of my losses.

It is very simple to see that they are my parents but there is also the character part, which is organic and where we differ.
Why would I be mad at them about this? This is something unfair to expect from adoptive parents because they can’t give that either.

Just like every parent, they make mistakes in education and that’s okay! So I’m not mad about that either. So I can say personally, I am against adoption but at the same time grateful for who my adoptive parents are. At the same time, I missed my biological parents.
Being adopted is not black or white but grey.

AGAINST ADOPTION BECAUSE .. ?

I found my biological family and my papers were correct. So why would I oppose adoption? As mentioned above, I have good parents, so what’s the problem then?

The problem is that money is made from me at my most vulnerable moment in life when I was a baby.

The moment I depended most on others, my vulnerability was taken advantage of.

For others to make money, I feel like something that was traded. It’s a scarey feeling that people arranged everything in the procedure to get me to the Netherlands. It’s not a safe feeling. This makes sense because it was never about my safety but what I was worth as a baby for sale.

So yes, I’m super happy that my papers were correct and that after 27 years I met my family! But that doesn’t change the way this went and the negative consequences on my development because of these events.

NOT ONLY IN SRI LANKA

Then why am I against adoption from all over the world?
Because as long as money is made from adoption procedure, children’s rights will be violated.

As long as demand from the West exists for babies, the supply will be created in poor countries.
This doesn’t stop until the demand stops.

If you have to adopt if necessary, do so from within the Netherlands. Believe me, I understand how difficult the choices are for being childless, but you must never forget the importance of the child.

What Needs to be Done about Abuse within Adoptive Families?

Part 3 of a 3 part series on Sexual Abuse within Adoption

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!

Resources
Possible Solutions

The Legacy and Impacts of Abuse in Adoption

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

When abuse happens to a child from the very people who are supposed to protect it, a devastating legacy of impacts is created. I lived with my adoptive family for 19 years until they left to go overseas to be missionaries. Up until that point in my life, I had learnt to suppress my truths and bury it deep within my body.

How can one ever describe the impacts and legacy we are left with as a victim of sexual abuse within an adoptive family? Words feel inadequate.

The Worst Crime is Being Expected Not to Tell – Darrell Hammond

I watched Darryl Hammond’s Cracked Up life story on Netflix – it helped me find the words. I highly recommend watching it for those who seriously want to understand childhood trauma and the legacy it leaves. I related to his story on so many levels: the anger at self for having been so vulnerable, the conflicting emotions about these very people who are your parents who others only see as amazing and wonderful people, the memories of abuse where my body felt violated, disrespected and used for their own purposes, the coping mechanisms I developed to survive, the trail of devastation left behind in early relationships and choices because I knew no better until I got professional help, the attempts to take my life because the pain was so unbearable, the depression, the darkness that would consume me. So many parallels with the life I lived until I found help and healing. Thankfully it didn’t take me over 50 years, but it certainly consumed a large part of my prime adult life and I still continue to deal with the impacts to this day. I think this is the part most people don’t understand which Darryl’s documentary highlights – our trauma never leaves us – what can get better, is that we learn to forgive ourselves for our survival and coping mechanisms, and we can learn to reconnect with and care about ourselves. It is a lifetime journey of healing and coming to terms with what was taken from us – our innocence and potential to live life without those brutal scars.

Each day, each week, each year I struggle to comprehend my adoptive family. My childhood mind just can’t integrate that they could have been so cruel, nasty, neglectful, mean — but yet they were also my saviours, my lifeline to surviving a war, my rescuers. It is their unspoken expectation that I should just get on with life as if nothing has happened that continues to hurt the most. I did this for many years but it becomes harder the older I get and I can no longer accept this anymore. I can no longer deny the emotional impact I feel each time I interact with them. It’s been so hard to pretend that I don’t hurt, I can’t do it anymore. What they choose to see is a strong, resilient survivor who has overcome. Yes that is part of who I am, but what they don’t want to see, is the other half – the hurt, traumatised inner child me who wants to be protected, loved and nurtured. I have had to learn to give to myself because they have not been capable. Not one member of my adoptive family wants to know how I’m impacted or understand my struggle. This is because their shame is deeper than my pain. This is what no-one will talk about. It did not escape my notice that Darryl Hammond tells his story publicly after both his parents have deceased. I recognise we subconsciously protect our parents if they’ve abused us and it’s at our cost in mental health, to do so. This is the sad reality of childhood trauma inflicted upon us by our supposedly “loving” parents.

I’ve barely written about this topic in over 20 years – in places I refer to it briefly but rarely in-depth. It’s not a topic I love nor is it a topic I talk about to shame my family. I do so now, to encourage others who are tortured by the shame of what happened to them — to speak out, find their voice and empower themselves. The first article I wrote on this topic I kept anonymous out of my own shame and desire to protect my adoptive family. I look back at how ridiculous it is that I should have ever felt I had to protect them. As an adopted person, there is nothing worse than being relinquished by my first family then being unprotected by my second. My layers of loss and grief are multiplied!

We never forget what happens to us as survivors of sexual abuse, we can only simply move forward from the hate and anger that is so valid, to realising it only damages ourselves if we allow it to fester or hurt ourself. For my own survival, I have to live with it and move on – somehow I’ve learnt to remain true to my own needs and ensure my life is no longer controlled by the thoughtless actions of the perpetrators many years ago, or the shame and guilt that controls them now.

My sexual life is forever tarnished and damaged. I will never have a relationship with my partner that I might have had, had I not been sexually interfered with. Being abused in this manner has always compounded my ability to trust, to want to be close, to feel safe with people and figures in power, it destroys my belief in a greater power – my spirituality. It was not surprising that after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse, the documentary Revelation revealed that many children had suicided whom the investigators attributed directly to having been sexually abused. It is no secret that many of us who have been abused end up self intoxicating, destroying ourselves because our soul is so damaged and hurt. We just want the pain to end, we want someone to reach out and help us.

I cry for the child within me who was so vulnerable and trusting but was so misled and taken advantage of by the males in my adoptive family (extended and immediate). I cry for those all over the world who have to live with this horrendous crime to us as innocent children. Sexual abuse is a terrible reality for anyone but having it done to you from within an adoptive family adds so many more complex layers of trauma that become almost impossible to unravel and deal with. Relinquishment trauma in and of itself is terrible enough. Relinquishment and then abuse in adoptive family is just soul destroying. I hope one day people will stop talking about adoption as if it always saves us and awaken to the realisation that sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse is too prevalent in adoptive family environments. We need to change this!

I want to note that I have met many amazing adoptive parents and I am not that bitter and twisted to label them all with this brush stroke, but I do want to awaken our society to the biggest myth that adoption saves us. From a place of honesty – for those of us who live abuse in adoptive families, it is likely the biggest silent killer of adoptees!

I never spoke up while I was young because I was constantly told how lucky I was by friends and strangers. I never spoke up because I was made to feel like shit in my adoptive family, picked on, singled out, the family slave, called names like “tree trunks” or “monkey face”. I remember one young man Matthew, I never forgot him, he was a rare one who was kind to me and could sense what was going on. Matthew was employed as our new farm hand by my father to help out. He was blonde, blue eyed, respectful and strong. I remember he stood up to my adoptive father questioning why he was so tough on me, forcing me to do the labour a young man like himself could do, but yet I was pubescent girl. My father quickly got rid of him. I never heard or saw from Matthew again.

I wonder how Matthew is today and whether he found another job. I felt bad that it was because of me that he lost his job but to this day, I always remember him for being kind without sexual implications and very respectful of me. He had shown pure concern for me. I wish he’d reported my father and his ways. Little does he know how far my father went with the abuse and if he knew, he’d probably hate that he didn’t do something.

My friends at church and school sometimes saw how my father treated me but it seems no-one reported anything. Why would they? My mother was the school Principal, my parents both seen as strong Christians with a missionary background, active in the church and community, leading the youth groups, hosting the fire brigade. I wasn’t acting out. I was a school academic and high achiever. I wasn’t into drugs. But I retreated within myself. I always thought I was an introvert until my adoptive family left while I remained behind to start Year 12 while they went to live and work overseas as missionaries.

In reconnecting with some of my extended adoptive family in the past few years, it has confirmed that some had concerns about how I was being treated from as early as toddler years. Some have said to me they wish in hindsight, that they had done more, reported their suspicions. As an adopted person, I’ve just never experienced a protective or safe parent. I grieve that!

I have the resilience these days to watch things like Revelation and Cracked Up. I use to avoid because I’d be such a wreck watching anything that closely resembled my traumas. I have learnt to turn my emotional churning into something constructive. I write to share with the wider world about how we can better protect vulnerable children. I turn my childhood tragedy into an opportunity to speak out and empower others to do likewise. I advocate for those who are still struggling to find their voices. I talk about the hushed up topics that people don’t want to discuss. I speak out to give hope to other adoptees like me, with the message that your life doesn’t have to be destroyed. There is a way to heal and move forward. We don’t have to stay ashamed. We have nothing to be ashamed of! We can speak up even if we don’t get legal justice. We can help encourage our fellow sufferers to find their braveness and shed off their mantles of shame. It’s not ours to carry, it is the system and the adults who fail to protect the most vulnerable!

I speak out to bring light to this hidden tragedy of sexual abuse within adoptive families. We don’t even know what our rates of sexual abuse are because nobody captures it or researches whether we are more prone to sexual abuse in adoptive families than others. I can only refer to research in similar situations like foster care and if our statistics somewhat mirrored foster care, then we really are the silent victims because we don’t have any one monitoring us once we join our adoptive family. We have no avenues to call out for help. We are totally vulnerable within our adoptive family. We have to do better to protect vulnerable children and ensure we are placed in better environments than what we have already lost. Sexual abuse in adoption must be talked about for this change to happen!

Coming Next: Part 3 – What Needs to be Done about Abuse within Adoptive Families

Trauma Informed Resources

Adoption, Abuse & Exclusion from the Royal Commission

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

I write this in honour of the survivors who spoke out with much courage in both the Royal Commission and Revelation. They inspired me to no longer be afraid to speak up. Change is only going to happen if we shake off the mantle of shame and name the perpetrators and no longer allow them to hide!

Most people in the adoption community understand and accept that there is trauma and loss involved for us, the adopted person. The trauma we refer to in adoption is usually what I more correctly term “relinquishment trauma” – the trauma that comes from having connected in utero with our mothers and then ripped away for whatever reason, never to connect to her again, unless we are lucky enough to be reunited or have an open adoption (which is rare in intercountry adoption contexts). Many well known professionals like Dr Bessel van der Kolk and Gabor Maté have spoken at length about the childhood traumas involved in being relinquished or abandoned.

In this 3 part series, I want to talk about one of the traumas that occurs to some of us after our adoption – the trauma of sexual abuse within our adoptive families. This topic is too often hushed up in shame and guilt and we, the adoptees, are left to deal with the ramifications – alone, and unsupported.

During COVID-19 I’ve had extra time to be able to watch some documentaries. One of the most impactful was Revelation on ABC which is an investigative documentary by Sarah Ferguson following on from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse. I felt compelled to watch it because at the time, the media was covering the release of Cardinal George Pell, who reached one of the highest levels of office in the Catholic hierarchy, and was set free on legal technicalities after taking his case to the Supreme Court in Australia. He had previously been found guilty of child sexual assault by two separate courts but those decisions were overturned. Being a survivor of sexual abuse within my adoptive family, I was horrified and angry at this news like many other survivors! I was triggered and reminded of the lack of justice for people like me, whose perpetrators get away with their crimes! Triggered also because I understood intuitively how much courage it must have taken for the one brave soul and allies to stand up against the Catholic church and dare to take it on, speak his truth, and hope/pray that justice would prevail. Sadly it didn’t! Like me, that brave soul has to live knowing that no matter how hard we fight for our inner child who has been so badly wounded, there is sometimes no legal justice to ensure the perpetrator is punished for their crime. The other trigger was to watch the Pope shortly after, speak out in support of Cardinal Pell, likening his “suffering” to that which Jesus Christ suffered. Ughh for those of us who do believe the victims, this is like the ultimate twist and it sounded just like my adoptive father crying out when I confronted him a couple of times over the phone for his deeds from the past. He demanded that I stop “crucifying him”. Could there be any further twist to us victims being portrayed as the perpetrator, causing their suffering?!

I am compelled to speak out for adoptees like me, who suffer within our adoptive families from sexual abuse. I believe it’s one of the worst forms of trauma that is layered upon our already fragile bedrock of trauma from relinquishment. It has taken me decades to feel open and liberated enough to speak freely about how this has impacted me. I speak out because I tried to participate in the Royal Commission but in the end, I didn’t get to because by the time my lawyer confirmed I was indeed considered technically “under State care” whilst my abuse had occurred, I was too late – the Royal Commission had 1 week left to go and were no longer taking testimonies.

I was initially denied the opportunity to share my story in the Royal Commission because as soon as I said “I’m adopted” they automatically told me that abuse occurring within the “private domain” was not included. I should have said my abuse occurred technically while I had not been adopted. This point in itself highlights one of the areas in which we adoptees speak out about for what is wrong with adoption – and that is the lack of responsibility for us long term, by the State or Institution. The State/Institution takes us, places us, assesses our adoptive family, theoretically screens them, educates them, matches us to them, and deems them “eligible” to adopt. So if the institution that is so intricately involved with placing us “gets it wrong” (in hindsight), and it turns out we are abused by the people chosen by them to be our “parents” – how is it that they can escape having “no responsibility” for any part in our abuse? Remember – we are young children and never got a say. We are in the most powerless position. I argue that being adopted should not deem us as being outside “institutional care from a long term perspective” i.e., adoption is a long term form of State/Institutional care. The astute will understand that the prevailing “once-off transactional view of adoption” is one of the largest reasons why States/Institutes are happy to adopt children out and push adoption as a first solution. It enables them to wash their hands of us and not be held accountable for what happens after. In comparison to our peers who end up in other forms of alternative care that don’t sever the State/Institutional responsibility – e.g., foster care, guardianship, stewardship, or kinship care; they were allowed to participate in the Royal Commission and are followed up on long term.

I know in speaking with other adoptees around Australia how frustrating it was for us to have been excluded from the Royal Commission. While the Royal Commission is holding most institutions accountable for the lack of responses to sexual abuse, the very institutions who placed us into adoptive families where abuse happens, ends up never being accountable for their role.

The Royal Commission was just one way in which I would have liked to have helped create visibility to those of us who suffer sexual abuse whilst in adoptive families we are placed in, as a form of institutional care.

Another option I have, is to seek the services of a lawyer and take up my own personal case against the perpetrators and/or those who deemed my adoptive parents fit to adopt a child. This path in itself is a lengthy and emotionally taxing process. Not many of us end up doing this because being adopted, the mantra to be grateful weighs heavy. Our relinquishment trauma also usually means we have so much to deal with already. I have met only one intercountry adoptee who took legal action against their adoptive family for sexual abuse. To do so, has been a heavy price of further abandonment and unresolved family dynamics. It is a toxic mix of issues adoptees have to struggle through if they are to ever seek legal justice for this type of crime.

Over the past few years, I sought to find a lawyer who could pave a way to claim justice for me but the experience has been just awful! It is terribly re-triggering each time I speak to a lawyer who has no idea about intercountry adoption from the adoptee perspective and the impacts of abuse in the adoptive family. Too many adoptees in ICAVs network have experienced sexual abuse. For most, contemplating seeking justice is just too hard. To have the fortitude and emotional strength to get through the process is almost an unattainable goal, the financial cost prohibitive, finding a lawyer with the right expertise is difficult; most of us just want to move on and try to put it behind us. Each time I spoke to a new lawyer, I’d have to tell my experience all over again. It’s been one of the most invalidating experiences of my life! The last lawyer was the worst, telling me the initial consult would be free but then proceeding to bill me anyway. Lawyers can re-trigger us with their preying mentality that reminds us of our perpetrators! Out of six lawyers, I experienced only one who had any compassion, acted humanely and with empathy. The rest were all legalistic with no heart or soul. There’s something to be said for a profession who needs to be trained from a trauma and racially informed perspective to represent us. Every adoption lawyer I spoke to has never heard of representing us, the adoptee. Their services are all for the adoptive families! It’s taken me over 2 years to be strong enough to write about this experience or to consider trying again.

Coming Next: Part 2 – The Legacy and Impacts of Abuse in Adoption.

Resource

Listen to Kaomi Goetz’s Adapted Podcast in which she shares her story of Sexual abuse and the Institutional Response when she approached them.

Alone

by Geetha Perera, adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia

I can stand in a crowd
Or I can stand alone
And still no one will notice me
I cry in a crowd
Or I can cry alone
And still no one will notice me
I can hold someone’s hand
Or I can stand next to a person
And still no one will notice me
For I am not a stand out
I’m not the brightest star
I’m not the skinniest
I’m not the prettiest
I’m the one in the corner
Alone