This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.
by JD Glienna, adopted from the Philippines to the USA. JD is co-founder of Adopteekwentokwento, a Youtube channel that shares Filipino adoptee voices.
I do become angry from time to time. I’m angry about all the lies I have to sift through to get to the truth. I’m angry that the system gave me to abusive parents. I’m angry that there was no process to help protect me or educate them for improvements. I’m angry that I have to constantly work through the bad memories. I’m angry that I listen to the lies of how great a mom I had, or comments like, “This is my baby” when it damn well was lies. I’m angry that a child had to be the pummel bag for someone else’s insecurities.
I may not always be angry, but it bubbles from time to time. I’m angry that some want a storyline versus taking responsibility. I’m angry that adoptees are the last part of the triad to be considered behind the adopting parents agenda, the government system, and then the birth mother. I’m angry at the lack of support for adoptees in post adoption. I’m angry for those who experience that they are a lie for someone and that they have to remain a lie. I am angry for all adoptees who want to be part of a family, adopted or biological and are constantly rejected.
by Jayme Hansen, Executive Director of ICAV, ICAV USA Representative, adopted from Korea to the USA.
Mid-June this year, the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) announced they have revised their adoption process, perhaps accelerated by the public outcry at the abuse and death of baby Jeong-In at the hands of her adoptive parent but I believe more of an attempt to comply with Hague Convention guidelines.
I applaud South Korea’s efforts to revise their adoptions processes
I believe this is a small step in the right direction. Adoption agencies should not be solely responsible for the process of relinquishment of the child or the counselling of birth mothers. Historically numerous adoption agencies around the globe have used unethical practices and have pressured vulnerable single mothers into relinquishing their children. An Huffington Post article entitled “Adoption Criminality and Corruption” exposed some of the abusive practices by adoption agencies, stating:
“Another major problem that the Hague Convention on International adoptions does not address is “finders’ fees” paid by foreign orphanages. These fees are enough to incentivize criminals to kidnap children and claim that they were found abandoned. Often, the children who wind up adopted through U.S. agencies are passed through multiple hands in a process known as “child laundering“ making it impossible for even the most reputable American adoption agency to ensure the origins of the child involved in any international adoption. The line between legal, ethical adoptions and criminal activity is blurry at best.”
This latest action from the Korean government did not stem from Jeon-In’s case alone but her life and death did play an important public role in highlighting the illegal and abusive practices by the adoption agencies who facilitate the adoption and continue to face no consequences. Risk is always reduced if we get rid of the middle men (adoption agencies) who have a vested interest in profits or their agenda to promote adoption ahead of any other alternatives and have no-one overseeing their practices and procedures. It’s time Korea took more responsibility for their children and attempt to implement a revised model of adoption which appears to be an alignment with the Hague Convention guidelines. There are other countries like Australia who have successfully implemented a completely centralised model of adoption for many years and despite the early discussions around the risks of Central Authorities ( governments) discharging their responsibilities to accredited bodies (see paragraphs 242-243), there remains no research since then, that discusses the pros and cons of a centralised vs outsourced model of adoption by governments.
Of course, as with all change, there are always those who oppose it – especially when the pockets of big organisations (adoption agencies) risk loss of their income stream! I challenge the opposition and point out that it is economically unwise for Korea to continue in the wholesale trade of its children when they have the lowest fertility rate in the worldwith 0.84 births for every woman in South Korea. Furthermore, this is a Korean issue and individuals need to keep in mind that Korea wasn’t established as a democracy until 1948. The country was literally torn apart and destroyed during the 35 years of Japanese Occupation and the destruction during the Korean War in the early 1950’s. Compared to America’s longer established democracy – Koreans are quickly establishing their own method of self-governance, social programs and economic growth at a record pace.
Some have express concern that vulnerable mothers will not want to seek out government help in their times of crisis. I think if government staff focus on the best interest of their people, it is a good thing and assumes a country, ranked as the 10th biggest economy in the world (in 2020) has the capabilities to resolve their own issues. Furthermore, South Korea has an ever-growing number of certified professional social workers who have helped their nation through numerous crisis over the years helping it’s citizens through increased teen suicide, affects from COVID-19, and numerous other social impacts and issues.
I also don’t believe these changes will result in more babies being abandoned at baby boxes as some critics state. First, there is no proof that children were dying in large numbers before the baby box was established. There is also no indication that this change in policy would result in greater numbers of these issues. I have visited and logged thousands of hours volunteering in nearly half a dozen orphanages across South Korea and the government has made it relatively easy for parents to relinquish their children if they are unable to care for them. I met numerous mothers who came to visit their children at the orphanages and placed them there so that the state could feed and take care of the child when the parent was unable. I question anyone who can support a program like the baby box that allows women to abandon their children. Such actions in most developed countries would lead to arrests. The problem with so called solutions like baby boxes, where children are literally dropped off like mail, is that it allows individuals to bypass responsibility and to shirk the government established programs. Baby boxes also encourage a breach of fundamental human rights for the child to have its identity documented and protected.
Let’s also not downplay the issue of abuse of children by adoptive parents. Little Jeon-Ing was not the first or last child to die at the hands of her adoptive parents. The seriousness of the risk to adopted children should never be understated. An article written by Richard Wexler highlights the under reporting of child abuse cases in his article “Abuse in Foster Care: Research vs. the Child Welfare System’s Alternative Facts“. Wexler’s research found under reporting of abuse and neglect in numerous states across the USA. A study from Oregon and Washington state found one third of all children in foster care were abused. A study in Atlanta found 34% of the children experienced abuse where the goal was to assist them in being adopted. Mr. Wexler summarised his findings by stating “in survey’s going back for decades, from 25 percent to as high as 40 percent of foster children report having been abused or neglected in care”. The bottom line is that relatively few children are adopted in South Korea by its own citizens. In fact, only 260, children were adopted within the country in 2020. If you compare the number of abuse cases by the number of children that are actually adopted within Korea, the percentages of abuses dramatically climb up. An article written in 2021 by Grace Moon states that “13.35% of adopted children were victims of abuse, double that of children raised by their biological families.”
For the critics who use inflammatory language labelling the changes as the markings of a “Socialistic System” – this is is an attempt to fuel conservative follower-ship without recognising the hypocrisy of such a call. Even the most developed countries, including the USA have state funded programs that oversee the protection children. Here in the USA we have a government agency in each state listed under numerous names such as Child Protected Services (CPS), Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) or Department of Social Services (DSS). I wonder should we also label our American programs in child welfare and protection as “socialist” too?
Korea isn’t alone in attempting reform in adoption. Numerous other countries are reforming adoption laws because of their recognition that children are not being kept safe and that the current system of plenary adoption has many flaws. This is also thanks to the role played by adult adoptees who have worked tirelessly to advocate for our rights and needs. A growing number of countries such as Romania, Russia, Guatemala, Ethiopia and South Korea have either banned or placed laws that make it nearly impossible to adopt internationally. These changes came largely due to the unscrupulous practices of profit driven adoption agencies. One of numerous examples was highlighted by pro-adoption agency Adoptive Families Association of BC. The article summarized the issue by stating: “terrible conditions in Romanian orphanages after the overthrow of the Ceaucescu government in 1989, prompted parents from many countries to adopt thousands of abandoned children; it also spawned a lucrative adoption industry within the country. With little infrastructure, the system was vulnerable to unethical practices”.
My Recommendations to the Korean Government to Revise Adoption
My first recommendation would be for the Korean government to change its citizenship law. Unlike the USA and most countries, a Korean citizenship is not determined by being born within Korean territory. Citizenship instead, is conferred by jus sanguinis or through the “right of bloodlines” of an individual. This law means that “Children of Korean citizen women, who had either a non-Korean father or no known Korean father (no Korean man claimed paternity), were not Korean citizens — even if born in Korea.” The outcome of this law has had perverse affects: “therefore, many single mothers chose to “abandon” their “fatherless” child so that the child would have the rights and access to services, education, and employment as a Korean citizen, rather than have their child officially recorded as not having a Korean father and therefore being a non-citizen with no such rights.”
Another issue is the Korean government provides nearly 10 times the funding for orphanages compared to what’s provided for single mothers with children. The government should establish child welfare reforms so that single mothers have the resources to raise their children and be given the opportunity to thrive and become positive and contributing member of Korea’s society. Currently the only option is for the child to be plenary adopted or institutionalised for life. Not really a choice! We all know the researched outcomes of institutionalisation i.e, of retardation in child cognitive and emotional development, higher exposure to violence, and greater susceptibility to mental health issues.
Lastly, I recommend that South Korea establish stronger policies and laws for child support for single mothers. This includes enforcement to hold the fathers accountable and ensure they be responsible for the children they’ve sired. The Korean Herald highlighted this issue by stating, “83 percent of all single parents in South Korea never received any child support payments from non-custodial parents in 2012. Only 4.6 percent of them filed lawsuits. Even among those who won their cases, 77.34 percent said they never received any money, in spite of court orders.”
I am optimistic for a better era where South Korea holds itself more accountable for the long term well being of its children rather than exporting them en masse to other countries. Taking back responsibility via the revision to adoption processes is a great place to start!
Click here if you’d like to read Jayme’s other blogs at ICAV.
by My Huong Lé, Vietnamese adoptee raised in Australia, living in Vietnam. Co-Founder of Vietnam Family Search, an adoptee led organisation dedicated to helping reunite families in Vietnam.
April 20th marks the 46th anniversary since I was evacuated on an RAAF flight out of Vietnam. That day changed the course of my life and the memories of it will forever be etched in my mind.
April in general is a significant month for many Vietnamese Adoptees as it is the month in which over 3000 babies/children were also evacuated. Like myself these children boarded military transport planes bound for adoption by American, Canadian, European and Australian families.
The fors and againsts of having done this have been debated. I would like to say there was no telling what would have become of my life had I stayed, nor was there any telling of what was to become of my life by being removed. The fact remains that I was removed at the age of 5 from a family I knew and placed in a foreign country. This experience was very traumatic and I lost my identity, language, culture and everything familiar to me. In Australia I experienced a different form of hardship and difficulty to what I would have experienced had I remained.
Fortunately, many who left Vietnam were adopted into loving foreign families. I wasn’t granted that right and was adopted into an abusive and dysfunctional family. Regardless that family clothed me, fed me and provided me with a good education and I will always be thankful to them for that. Australia is indeed a privileged country offering endless opportunities and being removed from war torn Vietnam like all adoptees I had a chance to make a better life for myself.
What happened I cannot change, but what I have the power to change is my attitude and the way I react and deal in all circumstances. I know I am the person I am today because of all that I have experienced. It has made me stronger, more forgiving, more understanding and more loving. For this I am grateful.
What I have been through is also in part what propelled me 17 years ago to return to Vietnam to find my birth mother and to work with orphaned and disadvantaged children. Without a doubt God’s hand has been upon my life. He has guided me, protected me, opened doors and put some amazing people in my life. Gratitude fills my heart for all those who have impacted my life over the years.
During this anniversary month for adoptees, my thoughts too are very much for birth mothers. Many birth mothers returned to orphanages to collect their children and they had gone. This time signifies permanent loss for them. I have hugged some of these mothers and seen their tears. As my mother’s tears have been wiped dry, I too hope these mothers can reconnect with their children.
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.
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!
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 #NotAThingand 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.
by Yolanda, a transracial adoptee (of Jamaican, black mixed with Chipawaue Indian origins) raised in the USA into a black American adoptive family.
I was adopted at seven months old and my adoptee story isn’t a good one.
Basically I grew up in a religious family full of mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Because of that, I was taken away from my adopted mom and placed in the foster care system, where the mental and physical abuse continued.
Growing up was hard, I was always the black sheep of the family. Now that I’m older, my adoptive family act like I did something to them. They don’t accept me or my children. At family functions they won’t even speak to me or my kids. So I stopped going and cut them completely off, but it still hurts.
All I ever wanted was to be close to my family. But I guess I’ll never know what that feels like. Life sure does suck sometimes. I get sick and tired of not being accepted. I can’t seem to make sense of my life anymore. Why am I even here on earth? They tell me my life has purpose but I don’t see it.
My artwork above reflects how I’ve been broken. My music also helps provide me an outlet to express my journey.
by Netra Sommer born in India, adopted to Denmark; officially no longer “adopted”. Netra’s story aired in Denmark on TV and in print media, Nov 2020.
From as early as I could remember, as a child I was not happy. This was not my place. These were not my parents. I couldn’t look like them. I was always different.
They never talked about India, were never interested in my origins whereas I was always very curious about my identity. I had so many questions. Why was I here? I am not Danish. I could never be what they wanted me to be.
As I grew older, I realised there was one thing wrong with my life – it was my adoption. All I could think about was this adoption and how unhappy I was. I grew up with a lot of violence. I was always told I wasn’t white enough; I had to be this or that to be Danish. The message I always got was I had to be something else that wasn’t me. My personality was so different from theirs – I loved colours, I loved music. They did not want any of this for me. So many things reminded me that I was always so different and not my parents’ child.
I moved out of home at a very young age. When I was a young adult at age 18, I found out I could cancel my adoption – except in Denmark, the problem was I needed the signature of my adoptive parents and they didn’t want to give it. I told them it was the one thing I wanted and then I’d never ask for anything else. They said, “No, we have done so much to get you, we want to be a family. We think you are sick in the head, so no.” Each year I asked. I pushed and pushed. They always said no. “Mum and I are tired of you. We can’t live like this anymore. We can’t deal with this. You are a psychopath who has no thought for us and how it impacts us to have you cancel this adoption”. All this was communicated via texts and emails as I refused to ever see them.
Two years ago I met a journalist. She was very interested in my life. She knew I’d been talking in my community about adoption. I told her I wanted to cancel the adoption to be my mother’s child again. These Danish people were not my parents – there is no love or understanding, nothing for me to hold onto. When she learnt more about my experience she realised it was a difficult problem without my parents consent and wondered how this could be resolved.
I tried and texted my parents again. This time they told me what they wanted in return. I was to pack all my childhood things from the home – which meant I had to go there. They also had a list of questions they wanted me to answer. I replied that no, I’m not coming back. I offered for a friend of mine to pick up my boxes of childhood belongings. They tried to involve her but she refused. They sent a letter full of questions they wanted me to answer. They wanted an explanation for things like how do I think this impacts my sister, why I wasn’t considering them, whether the things in my childhood had been that bad, etc. I didn’t feel I had to justify what I wanted. I didn’t hear from them for a long time – they were angry I wouldn’t answer their questions so they were refusing to cooperate with my request.
The journalist wanted to help with my story. With the help of her production company, the story of my life was filmed and how I wanted to cancel my adoption. We could not predict what would happen next. My adoptive parents created a lot of drama and at many points we wondered if things would ever happen.
Suddenly they sent a message. “We have seen you don’t want to answer our questions but we want to cancel. Send us the papers with your signature and date”. So I went and got the papers, signed and filmed them and sent them. I was next contacted by a lawyer via the mail who told me I hadn’t signed the papers. Everyone else knew I’d signed them. I was so exhausted fighting this. Each time there was something new they do to play their game. I was so tired of them. I found out they would only communicate to me via the lawyer so I found out what she wanted, did exactly as she said, signed and sent the papers again. They were playing a power game to show me who was in control.
Suddenly one hot summer day, my uncle called. He said, “There is a letter for you”. I had instructed them to send the signed papers to him. Now I had to wait because he was away on holiday but returning soon.
The day of his return, I sat and waited in the sweltering sun. The TV film crew were with me to film what would happen. We all sat waiting. My uncle opened the letter. I was so quiet and the film crew asked me how I was feeling, could I explain? But I could not. I had no words. Then my uncle pulled out the 2 papers and said, “Now you are free!” Finally, after more than 10 years of asking! All I could think of was to return to my home, my boat. I don’t know the words to describe how I felt.
The next day I sent the papers off to the government who told me to wait another month until the cancelation is official. I planned a big party to celebrate. The day before my big party, a lady called me. She was the lawyer from the government. She said, “I just want to be sure that you want to cancel your adoption”. After I answered she pressed the button on her computer and said, “It is now cancelled”.
The official cancelation came to me as an email. I showed the tv crew. I was just so overjoyed! I told them, “I’m not adopted anymore! I have my Indian name back!” Then we got to party. I think that was when I realised for the first time I was finally free. But I did realise too that now I have no one who is my relative. If I die, no-one will be notified. According to my Indian papers, I have no relatives, no parents, no sisters. It was the first time I felt a little scared if something were to happen to me; what if I wanted someone to take over my boat? I would need to organise a Will and ensure my things are looked after.
According to my Indian papers, I was found by a policeman on the streets of Bombay, so I have no true identifying information. It was estimated on two different pieces of paperwork that I was 1 year or 3 months old when I was found. My adoption was done via a Danish adoption agency that doesn’t exist anymore. There are so many things I want to find out. I haven’t been back to India but I want to as soon as possible. I need to know what happened, what the truth is about my origins. I want to make another documentary about my return back to India when COVID is over.
The only words of experience I can offer to fellow adoptees is that if you are wanting to cancel your adoption, be sure that this is what you truly want. There is no going back. There are a lot of hurdles to make it happen. Most parents won’t want to agree because it is a loss of a child for them. But I really believe it’s important adoptees have the choice. I wish that in Denmark or any other country, that adoptees could cancel adoptions without needing adoptive parent permission. They purchased us as a child – why should they always decide our fate?
Many people judge and think that I am not thankful for being in Denmark. It bothers me that so many continue to participate and buy a child. I think most mothers want their child if they had other options. The end result of canceling my adoption is to be left with no relatives, no inheritance, to be very alone, and of course, to have an adoptive family who are very sad and angry. They did mistreat me but the law in Denmark was difficult and didn’t support my wishes due to the statute of limitations which meant for historic cases of abuse, I was not able to press charges. I have done everything I could to be free. Thankfully it didn’t cost me financially to get my adoption cancelled – I didn’t need a lawyer and the media company were an amazing support, along with my friends and own “family” who are there for me.
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.
I watched Darryl Hammond’s Cracked Uplife 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 killerof 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 Revelationand 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!
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 Stateor 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 carefrom 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.
The last time I called home, my adoptive father asked me to come and visit. I spoke to my biological sister who was raised with me and she told me the last time she was home, our adoptive father apologized to her. I’m guessing he will do the same when I go home. Unlike my sister, I cannot accept his hollow apologies and allow him to live his life as though nothing has happened. I want to address the major wrongs he has done to me, things I always wanted to raise but never had the courage to, until now.
You may be hurt or upset by the fact I have addressed you as “stranger”. It’s not done intentionally to evoke anger, resentment or animosity. However, I use this term on purpose. To me, you are a stranger. We have had minimal contact throughout the 30 years I have been on my own. I refuse to call you father because I am a father and I know the joys and pains of being a father. You are not deserving of that title. You have done nothing to build this relationship and I do not know anything about your life. As a father, I have placed the needs of my children first, I have given them every opportunity to grow and flourish, and I have loved them unconditionally. I am their father and everyone who knows my children, knows me too.
Your request for atonement? I’m assuming you will ask for forgiveness. I know you want atonement in exchange for a simple, “I’m sorry”. How can one single phrase ever be reparation for the wrongs you committed, over many years? I cannot give this to you. There is a saying that one can forgive but never forget. This is how I feel. When I write about you and what you have done – this is not lashing out, this is not done to discredit you, this is not done to make you embarrassed … it is simply my own therapy on how to live through the trauma and pain you instilled on me as a vulnerable child. This is recalling only a fraction of the things you did to me and my sister.
You are toxic and here are the reasons why I know you are toxic:
You failed to provide me with affirmation and security In your mind what you did was tough love. I’ve lived my entire life thinking I was a failure, not worthy. This perceived failure and rejection stems from your toxic refusal to provide me with the right amount of security and affirmation during my formative years. I have beaten myself up enough and I no longer need affirmation from you. I know I am a good human being. I know I am smart enough. The long list of accomplishments throughout my life give me this affirmation – not you.
You were overly critical You disapproved of everything I did. I didn’t do it right, fast enough, or I did it incorrectly. You criticized everything. You believed I needed to learn to do things properly but this caused me to be a harsh inner critic – to the point that it became crippling. It took me a long time to stop being overly critical of myself. Do you remember the time you pushed my face into a pile of mashed potatoes because I was unable to say the word gravy? Why was it hard for you to understand that learning a new language as a four and a half year old boy was difficult? It was more frustrating for me than it was for you.
You constantly made fun of me You called me “stupid” and “wimpy” all the time. You constantly made jokes about me and stated that my actions would lead me to a life of crime. I don’t know why any parent would say such damaging things. It was never funny to me. Your words were hurtful.
You constantly justified your actions and tried to make out that I was the problem You twisted normal behavior to be wrong, to suit your thoughts and beliefs. I remember all the times you made me read biblical scriptures and gave me lectures on why my actions were wrong. I was a damn good kid and I had no mean or evil bone in my body. Yet in your eyes, having a snack was stealing. Watching TV was evil. Listening to music was evil. How did you have such twisted logic for two small children entrusted to your care? You also thought it was normal for other children to do the same things that you denied us.
You never allowed me to express emotions If I expressed a different opinion, you called it “sassing back” and often metred out some form of punishment. You never considered my feelings or the way I perceived the world or situation. Even more hurtful were the slaps I had to endure from your wife each time she perceived me to be talking back. I had to suppress the things I wanted to share with you as my parent. The bullying I endured all through high school and the racism I felt from the community I lived in. I suppressed these things because you didn’t want to deal with these issues. When racism occurred, your advice was to, “ignore it!”
You used guilt to manipulate I remember the letter you shared with me that was written by Philip. It stated I was an unruly child because I did not sit still and listen to his instructions. It’s amazing to me that you preferred to take instructions from a man who never had children of his own. You used that letter to justify what you did and you used manipulation like that letter to make me feel ashamed, guilty, and worthless. You used words and your religion to make me feel guilty for being a kid.
You placed your needs and desires before my own Your priorities were always about the businesses you ran. I wanted to do sports – but I was not allowed to participate. Boy scouts and numerous other things that I wanted to participate in, were always shelved. I was seen only as slave labor and never allowed to pursue things I was interested in.
You never established healthy boundaries I did not have any safe spaces to be my own person. My room was open to inspection at any given time. The “traps” that were laid to catch me doing something “wrong” that any other parent would deem as normal was your way of proving I was a bad child. The tactics used were the same tactics used by the Nazi’s to entrap and capture the Jews during World War II. You felt that every aspect of my life was open to ridicule and I had no safe place to flourish. I was always in fear as a child. I lived in fear of reprisal and never had any privacy. No healthy boundaries were ever set.
You made us responsible for your own happiness Your wife forced me to clean the bathrooms. I was forced to clean your filth. I was asked to massage your wife’s feet, back and shoulders at her beck and call. I was told that my actions were the reasons why you were unhappy and miserable -because I could nothing right. As a child, it was never my responsibility to make you or your wife happy.
You were a control freak I was punished for playing with other children at the gym while you played basketball. I was yelled at. I was told to sit still and watch the game. I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion. I was told, “Children were meant to be seen and not heard”. When I wanted a soda, you forced me to drink milk with every meal. Most Asians are lactose intolerant but you didn’t care. You forced us to drink gallons and gallons of milk.
You robbed me of my childhood When was I ever allowed to have friends over? When was I allowed to stay at my friends’ homes? Where were the trips to Disneyland or places where children want to go? You told me to grow up and be an adult when I was only a child. On my 12th birthday, you told me I was “no longer able to eat off the children’s menu” and needed to start acting like an adult. My entire childhood was filled with memories of getting up early in the morning and going to work. Baling hay in the hot summer sun until exhaustion. Being covered head-to-toe in filthy dust and allowed to shower only once a week. Where was the carefree, worry free childhood? I had none.
You were never my advocate An advocate is a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy. What I remember is that you threatened me. You stated you had good standing in the community and nobody would believe a person like me. You said these things when I threatened to expose the cruel things you did to me and my sister. When I wanted to go to college, you mater of factly told me to find a way to do it on my own. You had no vested interest in making me a better person. You were never present at any mile marker of any achievements or important dates of my adult life. You were never present at my wedding, the birth of my children, college graduation, sworn in as an officer, and the dozens of other important milestones of my life. I can count on one hand the number of times you called me in the thirty years of adulthood. The real reason why you never called is you did not care.
You lacked empathy The word empathy means that a person has the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When the bully wrote on my face with a permanent marker – what did you do to ensure I wasn’t bullied? I was bullied because of my race. I was bullied all through high school. I sat alone at every meal at the lunch room. You always assumed I was the culprit, that somehow, I committed some offense. In fact, you told others you suspected I was on drugs. With what money did I buy drugs? How could I have obtained drugs when I was isolated in school? You were always quick to assume the worst in me. If you hated us so much, why did you adopt?
Acknowledge your behaviour was emotionally abusive Can you acknowledge that you yelled, name called and belittled me? This by itself is not emotional abuse. Your attempt to control me by using emotion is however the definition of emotional abuse. Your belief that you knew best, your threats, name calling, shaming and criticism was damaging to my spirit. You also spoke to other family members and neighbors about me in a negative manner to destroy my credibility and isolate me from being able to tell my side of the story. This is abuse. You allowed your wife to constantly play mind games with me and my sister: checking to see if we watched tv, adjusting the container of ice-cream to see if we ate any of it, the lack of privacy, the pitting the siblings against one another. This was emotional abuse.
Acknowledge your actions were physically abusive You purposefully made me fearful of you. I felt I had to avoid certain topics and was walking on eggshells because of your anger. You believed you had the authority to be abusive. Despite your Christ-like example of gentleness, kindness and understanding – you chose to hold onto the mentality of “spare the rod and spoil the child”. In fact, you referenced this numerous time when you exercised corporal punishment on me and my sister. You often denied us food when we were “bad”. You used physical restraint techniques of pinching and grabbing us by the neck. Your overpowering frame that is 6 feet four inches was intimidating alone but you felt the need to use physical force on us by whipping, spanking using belts and razor straps. You blamed us for your violent behavior. We were punished for every minor infraction. I suffered hypo-glycemia and one of the symptoms is extreme hunger. I didn’t understand what my body was going through but when I had a cookie to increase my blood sugar, you considered this to be stealing. Later, I would eat entire packets of cookies and throw the wrapper into the woods to avoid the ridicule of being a “thief and sinner” in your eyes. Lastly, the beating you gave me in front of the milk tester was not justified. It was embarrassing. Your violence was NEVER justified.
Acknowledge you neglected me (us) I know you believe that you cared for me to the best of your ability – but to me, this is the furthest from the truth. You refused medical care for me and made me suffer on numerous occasions. When I had appendicitis, you made up some story that I had a stomach ache from eating apples off the tree. Eating fruit off a tree typically does not induce vomiting and severe abdominal pain, where a person needs to be hunched over when attempting to walk. Your disregarded my health and it resulted in me staying in the hospital for a week on IV antibiotics. When I got ring worm, you allowed the fungus to spread across my arms, torso and buttocks. It was “treated” by my grandmother by smearing a strong cleaner on my skin. The ringworm and cleaner left scars on my skin. Furthermore, you refused to provide me with sufficient clothing and gloves. I had to work outside in sub-zero Minnesota temperatures without gloves and proper outwear. I have deep fissures in my hands and the tight shoes caused me foot pain. When a boy’s foot protrudes from holes worn at the toes it is not caused by neglect from the child! It happens because the child has outgrown their shoes and it is neglect on your part as parent. A child should not have to beg to be given gloves to work outside nor put up with wounds in their skin because no gloves were provided.
Acknowledge you refused a child from personal growth and self-fulfillment You never gave me encouragement nor surrounded me with positivity. You did not allow me to pursue things I was interested in. The music I listened to was “devils music.” I don’t think many people would call Madonna, The Commodores and Tiffany as “devil’s music.” Gewirth notes that “to seek for a good human life is to seek for self-fulfillment”. Can you honestly say you provided a good life or childhood for me and my biological sister?
Acknowledge there was no reciprocation When your parents needed things, I sent money home. I did the same for your wife’s mother. Have you ever asked me if I needed anything? When you were hospitalized, I flew home to make sure you were okay. You never flew home to be with me when I underwent numerous surgeries in my life. When important people in your life passed, I made every effort to fly home to show support. You missed all the important mile markers of my life. Most of all you never reciprocated the love that I gave you as a child. I have worked hard to share my life. I have traveled to see you. I have sent numerous letters and phone calls. You have not. We have grown apart over the years and I do not know you at all. We have become total strangers.
Acknowledge you lied Abusive people will stop at nothing to make sure they are seen as the “nice” person. They do this so they don’t have to admit the bad things they have done. As a child, I saw your willingness to help others. You were willing to give the shirt off your back to assist anyone. It’s amazed me that you did not hold the same regard for me. Now I understand why. You lied about me. You painted me to be a monster. You gave half truths about what you did and reasons for why you did these horrible things. You talked yourself into believing your own lies. Why would a person say such things if they love someone? It’s because you had to hide this lie from others.
Acknowledge your religious fervor was destructive “Most of our world’s major religions each assume that it is their faith alone that is the “absolute truth” and refuse to concede that those traditions may be mistaken. Instead, they discover ways to force conflicting information to adapt to their own doctrine.”
You, like many other religious adherents, have no problems in understating the irrationality of other religions yet you were unable to apply the same logic when came to your own faith. Your revered bible has hundreds of verses where it literally instructs people to kill disobedient children, kill disobedient women, commit genocide, subdue and silence women and to enslave people. If one committed any of the offenses today, they would be committed, incarcerated and deemed evil. You used these texts to intrude, torture, and hurt me and my sister. You used your scriptures to subjugate, to justify inequality, and to control. I cannot believe in a faith that is so evil. You lived this evil instead of the love and acceptance that was also mentioned in the same scriptures.
It’s too late to apologize You had a lifetime to offer an olive branch to me. You had your chance to visit me and my family. You had your chance to call me. You made NO effort to be a part of my life. It’s been said that “our life is the sum total of all the decisions we make every day, and those decisions are determined by our priorities”. With that said, I was never a priority to you. As a child I was hurt by your lack of empathy. As a young adult I was hurt by your lack of interaction. I didn’t expect you to make me your priority, I was hoping, however, that you’d be there when I needed you. This has not been the case and I have learned that I have no need for a person who has been a stranger to me all my life. The best we can be is … apart.