The devil in the details

Rob Brown wrote a piece on the Good Men Project about the Etan Patz. Patz was 6-years-old when he went missing 33 years ago. Last week Pedro Hernandez confessed to kidnapping and murdering the boy. It remains unclear whether Hernandez’s confession is true. Some of his family members say that he confessed to them years ago. The police are currently trying to corroborate Hernandez’s claim while the man, who has a history of mental issues, gets a psychological evaluation.

But Brown’s piece is less about Hernandez and more about a sad truth: there are a lot of Etan Patzes out there. Not all of them are missing. Not all of them were killed. Many managed to cope with the pain other caused them, while others are lost in their suffering.

As Brown says, these boys and men are in a brotherhood of pain.  

One of the curious things about that brotherhood is that it exists behind a veil of silence. As Brown notes:

33-years to the day of your disappearance the monster placed himself in police custody. He divulged the details of the day that we don’t want to hear, but you had to live through. If that is not clear evidence to the level of horror you experienced, nothing is. That always brought me dark confusion; when people refuse to listen to details that a child had to experience.

To be fair, no one really wants to hear the details of abuse. No one really wants those images running through their mind. People would much rather spare themselves the horror.

In other instances, people would rather pretend things could never be that bad. They do not want to change how they view the world. As I wrote before:

That reminds me of the choices a lot of victims make when it comes to relating their experiences. They hold back information, not to lie or deceive, but because people just would not believe that kind of thing was possible. […] Why are people willing to accept that a mother would beat her child, but not rape him? Why do people accept that a man could be tortured, mutilated and humiliated, but not sexually assaulted? People seem willing to believe a certain list of abuses and violence, but the more outside of the usual it becomes the more people find it difficult to accept.

I can understand why people would prefer not to know those things. Yet by closing their ears to the details, people miss just how traumatic abuse is. Sometimes we need to hear the details, to know exactly what abuse can and does look like, in order to be able to confront it later on.

More so, by listening to the details we encourage other survivors to come forward. That does not mean people will share all the details. But it does let them see that people are willing to listen should they want to be that frank. In the long run that helps because we not only help those people cope with what happened to them, but we also learn the warning signs of abuse and of those who commit abuse.

As for Hernandez, I do not know if he did this. I think it is possible, and I think that if his confession is true that law enforcement will have to change how they perceive those who kill children. According to police, Hernandez did not mention molesting Etan, just killing him. Every person who kills a child is not motivated by sex. Given Hernandez’s mental history, this may have been a one-off act of horrific cruelty brought on by mental illness. It also may be the last act of a serial killer who was so good that even when he talked about killing Etan no one did anything.

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3 thoughts on “The devil in the details

  1. Good post, I would add also that sometimes we question our own memories of the experience. In other words, was it really as bad as I thought? Do I remember it correctly? When that happens it makes it even more difficult to share with others. Through the years I occassionally had someone remind me of how it was(they saw stuff) and I breathed a gentle breath thinking Im not crazy.

  2. Another reason some of us may not share is that we question our memory of the incidents. Am I exaggerating? Did it really happen that way? I have been grateful to have heard from some(who saw some stuff) that my memory was accurate. That goes a long way to help you in not thinking your nuts.

  3. Another reason for not talking about it may be the fact that sometimes we wonder if it actually happened the way we remember. I am grateful to a few people(who saw some stuff) and helped me realize that it was real and I wasnt making things up. What is most troublesome is that some days I still question myself?

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