Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Not My Reef, You Don't

Loss of Federal Protections May Imperil Pacific Reefs, Scientists Warn

A snorkeler approaches a school of convict tang fish in the shallow waters of Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Credit Ian Shive/USFWS

Fisheries officials call the marine national monuments unnecessary, and their boundaries are said to be under review by the Trump administration.

The New York Times  by CHRISTOPHER PALA  OCT. 30, 2017

HONOLULU — Terry Kerby has been piloting deep-sea submarines for four decades, but nothing prepared him for the devastation he observed recently on several underwater mountains called seamounts in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“It was a biological desert,” he said. Where normally fish and crabs dart about forests of coral and sponges, “all we could can see was a parking lot full of nets and lines, with no life at all.”

Mr. Kerby and Brendan Roark, a geographer at Texas A&M University, are comparing seamounts that have been fished to those in pristine, protected areas. This month, they surveyed the upper reaches of four seamounts, one of which, Hancock, lies inside Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which includes the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

They knew that the seamounts had been fished by trawlers and coral harvesters at some point. “But the extent of the devastation and the huge amount of gear that was abandoned on the bottom were shocking for both of us,” he said.
Left, abandoned trawl nets on the northwest side of the Hancock seamount. Right, lines caught in the craggy terrain of the southeast side of the seamount, just inside the Papahanaumakuakea Marine National Monument. Credit Terry Kerby
Among the casualties littering the seabed were 10-foot-tall black corals that can live over 4,000 years, among the oldest forms of life on earth.

“Allowing fishing in the few protected seamounts left would be a huge mistake,” said Dr. Roark.
It’s a sentiment widely shared among marine ecologists.

The Trump administration is considering rolling back federal protections for 10 national monuments, including two in the central Pacific. The Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument and the Rose Atoll National Marine Monument protect the waters around a handful of islands, most uninhabited, to the south of the Hawaiian Islands.

The shore reefs of the islands have long been protected from commercial fishing; the monument designations extended that protection to 50 miles from shore in some cases and 200 miles in others.
According to a memo obtained by The Washington Post in September, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that the designations of the Pacific Remote Islands and the Rose Atoll be amended “to allow commercial fishing.” (A similar recommendation was made for another marine monument, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, off the coast of New England.)

The memo did not mention the largest marine reserve: Papahānaumokuākea, a string of mostly uninhabited atolls and reefs that have been largely undisturbed since World War II. At about 583,000 square miles, it is the largest protected area on the planet. (Industry officials in Hawaii are pressing for commercial fishing to be allowed there, too.)

By The New York Times | Source: NOAA Fisheries
Many scientists see these marine reserves as among the last rich, untouched ecosystems where they can study the effects of climate change in isolation from the impacts of overfishing or pollution.
The fishing industry here in Hawaii sees it differently. A driving force behind the administration’s reconsideration is an obscure but powerful quasi-governmental organization called the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, or Wespac, based in Honolulu. The council has jurisdiction over the waters where 140 long-line vessels based in Hawaii — as well as a handful in American Samoa — fish mostly for tuna and billfish.

Wespac has argued that limits on catch, gear and fishing seasons are the best tools to regulate fishing and to ensure that the Pacific yields the maximum sustainable harvests. Over the years, the council has strongly opposed the creation and expansions of each of the marine monuments.

This year, the council has embraced a new slogan: “Make America Great Again: Return U.S. fishermen to U.S. waters.” In a presentation to members of the other fisheries councils in February, Wespac officials claimed the marine monuments “curtailed economic growth” and “compromised national food security.”

Ray Hilborn, a fisheries expert at the University of Washington and a scientific adviser to Wespac, argues that tuna and billfish are highly migratory and travel in and out of the reserves. “The monuments just force the fishermen to go farther and spend more fuel to catch the same fish,” he said in an interview. “It’s a fake protection.”
An employee of the United Fishing Agency places bigeye tuna on a cart after they are unloaded from a fishing boat in Honolulu. Bigeye tuna is the mainstay of the sushi market and the principal target of the Hawaii long-line fleet. Credit Eugene Tanner/Associated Press
Asked whether Wespac sought to reintroduce fishing only in monument waters or also in near-shore reefs, Kitty Simonds, the longtime executive director, said in an email that the council also would review “the management measures that were in place before the monument designation and may recommend changes.”

The fishing industry in Hawaii is hardly in trouble, several experts noted. Indeed, the Hawaii fleet’s bigeye tuna catch has doubled since 2006, even though half of America’s Pacific waters are now off-limits to fishing.

Robert Richmond, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii, pointed out that the Hawaii fleet filled its yearly quota of bigeye in August this year, “so they obviously don’t need more space to fish. They’re just against all protected areas on principle.”

Over 500 million people depend on reefs for protein, Dr. Richmond said, and they already yield far less than they could if they were sustainably fished. Reef ecosystems may become even less productive as the ocean gets warmer and more acidic.

Dr. Richmond and other scientists also took issue with Dr. Hilborn’s criticism of marine monuments. They say the reserves serve as havens for species depleted elsewhere and for populations migrating away from the Equator, where warming waters are lowering plankton density.

“The fisheries benefits of marine reserves are now beyond doubt,” Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York, said in an email. “They allow fish populations to grow back and spill fish into surrounding waters, they pour fountains of offspring into ocean currents that seed fisheries, and they provide resilience to environmental shocks.”

The tools favored by fisheries officials target a few species to the neglect of others, he added, while “reserve benefits reach entire ecosystems.”

One of the islands on Mr. Zinke’s list is Palmyra, an atoll that lies 1,000 miles south of Hawaii and is part of the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument. The Nature Conservancy has been running a marine lab there since 2005, the only site with housing and a runway for small aircraft located in one of the most untouched tropical marine ecosystems in the world.

Coral in the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Credit Ian Shive/USFWS
Left, a booby chick tries out wobbly legs at Johnston Atoll. Right, a coconut crab scavenges in the jungle at Palmyra Atoll. Credit Photographs by Laura Beauregard/USFWS
With 170 inches of rain a year — compared with 37 in Seattle — Palmyra also has a dense rain forest where 11 species of seabirds nest. Discoveries made there include a surprising link between fish and seabirds: a study found that nesting birds’ droppings carried onto the reef by the rain stimulated plankton growth that attracted manta rays and other plankton feeders.

Other research has shown that the classic picture of a coral reef, with lots of pretty little fish and a few big ones, is entirely artificial. Palmyra’s reefs, like those in the other monuments, are dominated by sharks, snappers, jacks and other top predators, while smaller prey cower in fear in holes in the coral, a study found.

So interconnected are the elements of intact reef communities that allowing fishing just beyond 12 miles would disrupt the ecosystem, said Alan Friedlander, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii and chief scientist of the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project.

“You need to keep the fishing as far away as possible, ideally at 200 miles,” said Dr. Friedlander.
Moreover, the remote locations are difficult to police. Many of the denizens of intact tropical reefs, like humphead parrotfish and wrasses, are worth thousands of dollars in Asia, said Dr. Richmond.
“Fishing them sustainably, as Wespac proposes, would mean traveling very long distances from Hawaii and taking very few fish,” he said. “It wouldn’t be economical.” Dr. Richmond predicted that fishing vessels “would poach the heck out of those islands.”

Daniel Pauly, a prominent fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia, says that given a chance, the value of the bigger reserves like those around Wake and Johnston atolls and Jarvis Island, which extend to 200 miles offshore, will increase over time.

Dr. Robert Richmond at the Kewalo Marine Lab in Honolulu. Credit Kent Nishimura for The New York Times
Why? Evolution.

Research by Jonathan A. Mee, a fish geneticist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, suggests that in any large marine reserve, some “lazy” fish will spend their whole lives inside the boundaries and therefore will not be caught — and the bigger the reserve, the more fish inside it will live longer.

This will raise the number of what scientists call B.O.F.F.s (Big Old Fecund Females), which produce more eggs and eggs of better quality, further increasing the density of fish inside the reserve. Dr. Mee believes that evolutionary selection of a putative “lazy” gene would accelerate the population growth inside a reserve.

“The bigger the mortality outside the reserve, the faster the population inside will grow,” Dr. Mee said in an interview.

This would be particularly helpful for bigeye tuna, which is the mainstay of the sushi market and the principal target of the Hawaii long-line fleet. The population of bigeye in the central and western Pacific is now estimated to be 16 percent of its original size.

“Technology and subsidies have allowed industrial fleets to go farther and farther, and deeper and deeper, and to deplete stock after stock,” said Dr. Pauly, who has shown that the global catch is steadily falling.

“The only thing standing between these fleets and global depletion are these big no-take reserves, so this is the time to create more, not to open up the existing ones to fishing.”

Alex David Rogers, a conservation biologist and seamount expert at Oxford University, estimated that worldwide there were about 16,000 seamounts with summits above 5,000 feet, shallow enough to harbor a rich diversity of fish and corals. Unfortunately, he said, most have already been fished.

Still, those seamounts in the Papahānaumokuākea and Pacific Remote Islands marine monuments remain mostly pristine, said Chris Yesson, an expert on ocean floors at the Zoological Society of London.

“Saving the ones in the American marine monuments is extremely important, because the NW Pacific is particularly rich in endemic corals and other marine life,” Dr. Rogers wrote in an email.

Paul Achitoff, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s mid-Pacific office in Honolulu, said many legal scholars had concluded that the Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to designate and protect monuments without congressional approval, is a one-way street.

“It does not allow presidents to remove restrictions or protections from a previously designated monument,” he said in an interview. “Only Congress can do that.”

He acknowledged that several presidents had changed monument boundaries and tweaked restrictions without court challenges.

That may change soon. “If any of the protections to the Pacific marine monuments are lifted, we will be filing lawsuits, and we expect to win,” Mr. Achitoff said.

That's Very Weird


The London Review of Books  Gavin Francis Vol. 39 No. 21 · 2 November 2017

photo © Geonni Banner

‘It must be a full moon,’ colleagues remark when a night in the emergency department is particularly blood-soaked or there are an unusual number of psychiatric admissions. It’s an ancient and widespread belief that the moon has a transformative effect on the mind. A 1995 study in the US found that 40 per cent of the general public were convinced the moon had an influence on the mind; an earlier survey put the rate for mental health professionals at 74 per cent. But statisticians haven’t been able to substantiate the claim: the number of admissions for trauma, or for mania or psychosis (‘lunacy’), are unaffected by the phase of the moon, and there is no connection between a full moon and the frequency of suicide attempts, road accidents or calls to crisis support telephone services. My colleagues in emergency medicine, and those 74 per cent of American mental health professionals, are all wrong.

In a study from 1999 entitled ‘The Moon and Madness Reconsidered’, three Californian psychiatrists suggested that before the advent of effective artificial lighting in the 19th century, the full moon probably did affect those whose mental health was precarious, by depriving them of the sleep they needed. They cited evidence that resting in the dark for 14 hours a day can bring to an end or prevent episodes of manic psychosis, and that even a mild reduction in sleep duration can aggravate mental health problems or cause epileptic seizures – something patients of mine with bipolar illness and epilepsy have confirmed.

Before artificial lighting, people took advantage of the nights around a full moon. The light was powerful enough for them to be out and about. The Lunar Society of industrialists and intellectuals in 18th-century England named itself not for its object of study but because its members found it easier to meet on evenings when the moon was full. But moonlight was also shadowy enough to give a prompt to the fearful imagination. ‘The insane are more agitated at the full of the moon, as they are also at early dawn,’ the French psychiatrist Jean-Etienne Esquirol wrote: ‘Does not this brightness produce, in their habitations, an effect of light, which frightens one, rejoices another, and agitates all?’


Joanne Frederick was brought in by ambulance; ‘agitated delirium’ was written across the top of her triage sheet. The medical history came from her flatmate: she’d been suffering with a head cold for a few days, feeling weak and under the weather, and had gone to the pharmacy to buy medicine. It didn’t work: she became weaker, had abdominal pains, and her skin felt as if it was burning. Her urine felt hot, and was painful to pass. She’d had urinary infections in the past, but this was different: a bodily unease had possessed her, spreading up through her torso and out into her limbs. Her legs trembled, her arms lost all their power, and she had a persistent low-grade fever. She made an appointment to see her GP, but never made it: her flatmate called an ambulance when she began hallucinating giant lizards on the walls. On the way to hospital in the ambulance she had a seizure and when I met her in the high-dependency unit, she had been sedated.

There are hundreds of reasons someone might end up with an ‘agitated delirium’: drug overdoses, drug withdrawal, infections, strokes, brain haemorrhage, head injuries, psychiatric disorders, and even some vitamin deficiencies. But all of Joanne’s blood tests came back normal, and the CT scan of her brain was unremarkable. 

As she lay sedated in the high-dependency unit, her flatmate told me more of her story. Joanne lived a fairly quiet life, with a few close friends but keeping largely to herself. She’d been admitted to hospital with a ‘nervous breakdown’ once before; the hospital notes said she’d had a brief episode of incapacitating panic and anxiety that had resolved after a few days’ rest. She worked as an administrator in the basement of the city council offices – a job she liked because it allowed her to stay out of the sun. ‘She burns really easily,’ her flatmate said. ‘You should see her in the summer – she gets blisters from it.’ In places her skin was mottled with brown pigment, particularly across the face and hands.

I was a junior doctor at the time, and for me and the rest of the medical team Joanne’s diagnosis was a puzzle. When the supervising physician arrived to do his rounds he listened carefully to the story of how she came to be there, and flicked through the hospital notes from her previous admission. He examined her skin carefully, leafed through the reams of normal tests, then looked up with a glance of triumph: ‘We need to check her porphyrins,’ he said.

Porphyrins are critical for both animals and plants: in animals they support the molecular structure of haemoglobin, and in plants they do the same for chlorophyll. They are generated in the body by a series of specialised enzymes that work together like a team of scaffolders. If one of these scaffolders doesn’t work properly, porphyria is the result. Part-formed rings of defective porphyrin build up in the blood and tissues causing ‘crises’, which can be brought on by drugs, diet, or even a couple of nights of insomnia. 

Some porphyrins are extremely sensitive to light (it’s this property that enables chlorophyll to absorb the sun’s energy) and some types of porphyria lead to a blistering inflammation on exposure to the sun, leaving scars. The build-up of porphyrins in nerves and the brain causes numbness, paralysis, psychosis and seizures. Another, as yet unexplained, effect of the accumulation of porphyrins in the skin is growth of hair on the forehead and cheeks. Acute porphyria can cause constipation and agonising abdominal pain: it’s not unusual for victims to be brought howling into operating theatres, subjected to unnecessary operations time and again before doctors reach the correct diagnosis.

When Joanne’s lab report came back it confirmed soaring levels of porphyrins: it was likely that she had a variant of porphyria known as ‘variegate’. Treatment had already begun: rest, avoidance of exacerbating drugs (the cold remedies she’d bought over the counter had probably triggered her crisis) and intravenous fluids. To those we added infusions of glucose and some synthetic porphyrins. Within three days she had recovered, and was sent home armed with a list of drugs to avoid – and with an explanation, at last, of why she’d always been sensitive to light.


In 1964 a curious paper was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine by a London neurologist called Lee Illis. In four eloquent and persuasive pages he suggested that the werewolf myth had been reinforced or even initiated by porphyria. Skin conditions such as hypertrichosis may cause hair to grow over the face and hands, but have no psychiatric manifestations. Rabies in humans may induce an agitated, furious state of mind with biting and hallucinations, but without skin changes. Illis pointed out that people with porphyria avoid direct sunlight, and prefer to go about at night. Crises are precipitated by periods of poor sleep or a change in diet. In severe untreated cases sufferers may have pale, yellowish skin caused by jaundice, scarring of the skin, and hair may even begin to grow across their faces. People with certain types of porphyria may suffer derangements in their mental health and become socially isolated, breeding distrust in the wider community.

In past centuries this constellation of symptoms may have attracted accusations of witchcraft. A French exorcist, Henri Boguet, boasted in his Discours exécrable des sorciers (1602) of the number of werewolves and witches he had tortured and put to death: six hundred, including scores of children. ‘All these Sorcerers were grievously scratched on the face, arms and legs,’ he wrote. ‘One of them was so disfigured that he could scarcely be recognised as a human being, nor could anyone look at him without shuddering.’ It isn’t inconceivable that a light-sensitive, intermittent kind of madness, inflicted on an illiterate, isolated, credulous community, could raise the fear that human beings can transform into wolves. 

As the Enlightenment gained a foothold, ‘lycanthropy’ began to fade along with superstition (and the decline of the wolf population in Europe). But the delusion didn’t go away entirely: it just changed form. In 1954 Carl Jung described three sisters who dreamed night after night that their mother had transformed into an animal. He wasn’t surprised when, years later, the mother developed psychotic lycanthropy: the daughters, he reasoned, had unconsciously recognised their mother’s long repressed ‘primitive identity’.


One of the elm trees near my clinic seems to me different from all the others not because of its size, or the pattern of its limbs, but because one of my patients once fell twenty feet from it. Gary Hobbes wasn’t normally a tree-climber: he was a young man with schizophrenia who, after taking a cocktail of MDMA, became convinced he had transformed into a cat. Witnesses recounted that on the day of his fall he had been prowling the local streets examining the contents of bins, before scaling the elm to hiss at passers-by. The police were called; he climbed higher. A dog-walker approached to watch; Gary recoiled and screeched, demonstrating a previously unexpressed terror of dogs. The police were debating how to get him down when he slipped and fell, breaking his wrist on impact. He knocked his head too and lay mewling on the grass, concussed enough to be transferred to the emergency department.

The following morning Gary woke up on an orthopaedic ward with a plaster cast on his arm, reluctant to talk to the hospital psychiatrist. He was discharged back to his supported accommodation – a complex of small apartments with a warden on hand to help. On visits I’d see opened cat food tins in his kitchen and wonder if he might be eating them. From time to time I’d ask him about that night, but he changed the subject. The last I heard, he’d adopted a pair of street cats as pets, and had cat flaps put in the apartment door.

Psychiatrists have broadened the use of the term ‘lycanthropy’ to include any delusion of having been transformed into an animal, though the correct term is ‘therianthropy’, from the Greek ‘therion’: ‘beast’. In the late 1980s a group of psychiatrists in Massachusetts published a paper in which they described a series of 12 cases they’d seen over 14 years at a clinic in suburban Boston. Wolves were prominent: two had suffered true lycanthropy, two had become cats, two had become dogs, and two were ‘unspecified’ (their behaviour was ‘crawling, howling, hooting, clawing, stamping, defecating’, and ‘crawling, growling, barking’.) 

Of the remaining four cases, one had transformed into a tiger, one a rabbit, one a bird, and one – a lifetime keeper of gerbils – became his favourite pet.

There was no predominance of schizophrenia among the patients: eight were categorised as ‘bipolar’, two ‘schizophrenic’, one had a diagnosis of depression and one was described as having a ‘borderline personality’. There were no implications that things would get worse or last for a long time. ‘The presence of lycanthropy had no apparent relation to prognosis,’ the authors concluded. ‘The delusion of being transformed into an animal may bode no more ill than any other delusion.’ The most persistent transformation of all was of a man aged 24, who, following a period of alcohol abuse, became convinced, like Gary Hobbes, that he was a cat trapped inside a man’s body. At the time the series was published this man had lived in his feline persona uninterruptedly for 13 years. ‘The patient stated that he had known he was a cat since this secret was imparted to him by the family cat, who subsequently taught him “cat language”,’ the psychiatrists wrote.

He held down a normal job, all the while ‘he lived with cats, had sexual activity with them, hunted with them, and frequented cat night spots in preference to their human equivalent.’ The psychiatrists had little hope for improvement – his belief had persisted despite various trials of antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics and six years of psychotherapy. ‘His greatest – but unrequited – love was for a tigress in the local zoo,’ they concluded. ‘He hoped one day to release her.’

Yes, It Does Happen. A Lot

The Effects of Silence: Unheard Outcries of Child Sexual Abuse
The Nervous Breakdown  by Chelsey Clammer

“I have a secret,” David said. Then, silence. No secret spilled. Not for another three months.

Next, his outbursts, explosions of anger. Throwing glass on the floor, acting up at home, punches thrown, and goes to preschool with the same attitude—rage snapping at random. But he still couldn’t say what he had to say, and even if he did, would anyone listen? 

Children are to be seen, not heard. Though actions, of course, speak louder than words. When a four-year-old throws his puppy across the backyard, it’s hard not to hear how he needs to speak.

Though there’s the fact of that antiquated thought, a belief born and raised in the Victorian era, one that has sustained centuries of adherence: Children should be seen, not heard.

In other words, this ageist slogan is saying that children are inherently unruly. Disruptive. Each one of them. And rude. 

Absolutely. They run around restaurants and twirl around stores, cartwheel down aisles breaking every social more, every code of conduct we’ve put in place to police our interactions. Kids are inconsiderate and cause breakables to crash to the floor, because they insist on seeing with their hands, not with their eyes.

But we were all children at one point—have all experienced the ways in which kids are shushed. We all know how it feels to be seen as just a kid who gets on adults’ nerves, especially when shouting just to be heard. So what’s a kid to do if he needs to speak up? Speak out? What’s a kid to do when an adult sees him with more than just his eyes and then he’s told not to tattle—or else? 

Violence is suspended in the onslaught of his silence. What about when that adult doesn’t know how to keep his hands to himself?

A child is told to speak up about abuse, even though he’s instructed not to be heard. This is where a new type of listening comes in. The boy finds his voice through his body, his movements incited by his anxiety rising. See that bizarre and troublesome behavior?

Something had to have happened.

And something had to have led up to that moment when the puppy left David’s hands and soared across the length of their backyard. 

Prior to this telling gesture, Emma had been concerned about her four-year-old son’s behavior. “David had been saying that he and my ex had secrets together. He had been breaking glass all over the house and was having severe separation anxiety that kept escalating.” 

But David still wouldn’t tell. Without her son speaking up about his secrets—his mind knotted in indecision about what was safe to say, what wasn’t, what would happen if his secrets were spoken—the only clues Emma could listen to were those expressed through his actions. “He was having severe nightmares, couldn’t sleep alone, and was peeing on himself,” she explains. It was obvious that David had something to say but didn’t know how to say it, or perhaps was too frightened to tell. As her son continued to act out—dragging his older sister, Hannah, across the floor and punching her tooth out—Emma put her son in therapy. Still, only his actions spoke.

And then he threw the dog and then Hannah screamed and Emma ran out to the backyard and asked him what was going on. “He said he didn’t want to tell me,” Emma explains. “After sitting in timeout and crying silently, he then said, ‘Okay, I really have to tell you something.’ I told him no, that he needed to tell his therapist. Then he said, ‘No Momma, I really have to tell you something.’”

Okay. Go.

What do you do when your four-year-old son tells you that your ex-boyfriend took him into the bathroom?

“And then what happened?” Emma asked David.

What do you say when your four-year-old son tells you that your ex-boyfriend then peed on him?
“And then what happened? Emma asked again.

What do you do with this response: “Why was his pee white, Momma?”

“And then what happened?” Emma kept going, not answering her son’s question, not wanting to risk his talking to stop. “And then what happened?” Emma asked and asked and asked until her son said definitively, “And then I went out and played.”

In that moment, Emma hugged David, told him nothing was his fault.

Now, two years later, her son’s words are still burned into her brain. 
“I tried to get in touch with his therapist and my lawyer,” Emma says. “We knew something had been wrong, but I wasn’t prepared for that. I didn’t know what to do.”

Because, yes, what do you do when your son finally speaks, when you at last know that what happened next was a sexual assault?

* * *

In his article, “Seen and Not Heard,” David Wilson explains, “We don’t listen to child victims or how they have tried to overcome abuse because we don’t listen to children….We want our children as passive, quiet, grateful, designer accessories to suit our needs and to reflect well on our sense of self.”[i]

Who wants their sense of self to be bogged down by someone else’s trauma? No one. Enter the trauma- and truth-avoidant trilogy: ignore, deny, and deflect.

“Right from the very beginning, people doubted me and accused me of coaching my kids to say these things,” Emma explains. “Law enforcement has refused to explore the case in any way. They aren’t listening.”

By acknowledging a child’s outcry, by listening when a kid says he was sexually assaulted, by believing that a mother is protecting and not coaching her children, we put ourselves in the position where we have to not only listen and respond, but also recognize a frightening and sickening fact: we are a species that rapes and abuses our offspring.

So disregard stranger danger.

We keep it all in the family now.

David is the middle child of the family. He and Hannah have the same donor father, but Esther, his younger half-sister, was an unplanned result from what should have been a rebound relationship. And although Emma only dated the man for five months—which, taking his abusive tendencies and bizarre behavior into account, was, in hindsight, five months too many—she was already in the process of separating herself from this man when she found out she was pregnant.

With blue-green eyes and fuller lips, Esther’s physical features aren’t shared with her two older siblings. She gets it from her father, who is also the person who will rape her. In 2014, a year after Esther is born, the man is “kind enough” to agree to babysit Emma’s kids one summer while she’s at work, which is when he starts sexually assaulting his daughter and her siblings. This is when David’s behavior first started to decline. How he’d frequently scream and cry when Emma had to leave in the morning. By the end of the summer, Emma started to separate herself as much as possible from Esther’s father, who seemed to be the source of every problem. A court-ordered visitation schedule had been in place for a while, and now Emma made sure it was followed. Within the next year, David began to have PTSD episodes during the supervised visitations until it was abundantly clear that something was going on—though what?—and his therapist gave dire warnings that he needed to never attend another visitation, because he was being traumatized each time he went.  More PTSD episodes occurred, including that one climatic afternoon when David threw his puppy across the backyard.

From the moment of that first outcry, Emma sought out ways to keep her kids safe—but no one has yet to deliver their services and support. Child Protective Services questioned the kids, “but it wasn’t until I took them to the Child Advocacy Center that they were actually interviewed about trauma,” says Emma. This act is representative of all of Emma’s actions and interactions: When dealing with under-staffed and under-funded state and government organizations and departments, you have to become your own advocate for any initiative to be taken. Unless you have a degree in child trauma, you will be uncertain as to if you are taking the right steps at the right time—if you are doing the right thing in the right way.

“You play all of the events over and over and over in your head because you’re a mother,” Emma says. “I ask myself what I could have done differently. I did everything I was told to do—I put them in therapy and didn’t influence their opinions or memories. I want to understand how it is that a kid can make a very clear outcry from the very beginning, and nothing has happened that actually protects him.”

From this lack of protection, Emma did the best thing she could to ensure her children’s safety: she applied to and received a job offer at an Ivy League college.

Once they were safe and states away from David’s abuser, Esther then made her first outcry about how The Monster hurt her. Esther’s outcry: he touched her private parts while she was in a hotel room with him during his first 8-hour unsupervised visit. In their new home state, Emma continued to fight for her children. 

She immediately set up meetings with the college’s safety administrator, and an advocate who got each child set up with a therapist. She also sought out a number of organizations and state departments to help her navigate different social services. Within four months, though, the safe haven was stolen from the family. 

Because although The Monster made exactly ZERO attempts to see his daughter during those four months, he then started to stomp his foot and demand for visitation rights because how else is he supposed to be able to assault his daughter if she’s in a different state? Emma and her children were court-ordered back to Texas.

She returned because she had to, because her “choices” were Texas or a jail in Texas. Even though she would be jobless and homeless, even though she knew The Monster would abuse her daughter, even though multiple professionals made multiple reports about the horrors of this man, he continued to have unfettered access to his daughter, and Emma still had to move her family back.

Upon return, The Monster was awarded bi-weekly, 48-hour unsupervised visitations with his daughter.

But how is that possible? Why would that happen?

Simple: a judge insisted Emma was still lying about the sexual abuse and refused to hear or acknowledge any new evidence.

In his article about the court system’s mistreatment of protective mothers, Barry Goldstein says that, “courts disbelieve 94% of child sexual abuse reports….this means in a majority of domestic violence custody cases the courts are sending children to live with dangerous abusers and rapists.”[ii]
Emma became part of the 94%.

* * *

It’s a weekend when Esther gets to stay home with her mom and siblings. She’s lying on the long cushion that sits on the window sill in Gauge, a yarn store in Austin. Esther’s a few months shy of being four years old, a few months and one day shy of making another outcry. But first: yarn. Emma’s looking around. David’s playing on his tablet. Hannah is doing the same. Esther lays supine on her back, holding two stuffed animals from the basket full of puppets and plush animals the yarn store has for just this reason. 

Mom needs some quiet time to shop in the peacefully hushed yarn store. Kids need to play.

Esther is laying down, a story mumbling out of her lips. No one really hears what she’s saying because she’s three and hops around topics without any logic. Plus, her tongue is still practicing the fine art of pronunciation, which can make comprehending her statements a challenge.

But she’s saying something about The Monster. Something about how The Monster can’t hurt her. Something about keeping The Monster happy. Even if you don’t hear her, you can see how her actions explain everything.

Grasping a ladybug finger puppet around its abdomen in one little-kid hand, and the end of an octopus’s tentacle in the other, Esther apparently knows what to do when you have a hole and something cylindrical. Insert mass into abyss. She does this. Now her voice turns inward a bit more as she continues to talk about The Monster, about how she knows how to put a smile on his face. Even with this obvious statement, the way that Esther plays with the puppets is exponentially more loquacious than the combined shards of her fractured sentences.

These, too, are actions that Emma not only hears, but addresses to keep her kids as safe as she can. From David’s first PTSD episode in April 2015, to Esther’s most recent outcry in August 2017, Emma has relentlessly acted to protect her children. She’s a proactive, caring, protective mother who wants to engage with anything and anyone who will relieve her family’s lives of this madness.

Therapists, psychiatrists, ER visits, rape kits, CPS reports and visits, reports filed, more outcries reported, forensics interviews, computer forensics analysts, private detectives, three lawyers, countless calls to advocacy centers, lab tests, NGOs sought out, visits to police stations, a move across the country, a move back across the country, and time time time time spent on figuring out which route will lead to her children’s safety.

She has been doing this for the past two years.

Yet Esther is forced to see The Monster every two weeks

And every two weeks The Monster forces himself upon Esther.

After all of these actions and outcries, how is it that this situation persists, that a four-year-old is forced into unsupervised visits with the man who she is currently and consistently making outcries about, and how every time she has to go she screams and screams that she doesn’t want to?

Because no one wants to hear about something so atrocious, let alone believe it. And God forbid somebody do anything about it.

“For decades,” Goldstein writes, “protective mothers have been complaining that family courts are tilted to favor abusive fathers and that they face corruption. Court officials have tended to respond defensively and dismissed the domestic violence victims as disgruntled litigants.”

Which is to say that there is another perspective on the matter of the protective mother. She’s not an advocate, but a vindictive lunatic.

“All of law enforcement doesn’t believe anything that I’m saying,” Emma explains. “Wood County said that it doesn’t make sense that my daughter would say one thing happened to her one day, and then say something different the next day. That’s not because she’s lying. It’s because she’s four years old. And, most likely, she’s talking about multiple events. She’s not lying, she’s describing experiences—plural. Plus, she’s too young to know time. 

Everything to her is yesterday.”

But Esther’s bruises on her leg, the dark purple-greens that are the perfect shape of an adult hand, are easy enough to see. The green-yellow, sticky substance that can only be described as semen that discharged from this three-year-old’s vagina and into her diaper is easy enough to see, too. These are the signs of abuse that no one is listening to.

The body keeps records of these moments, these incidents of stolen innocence.

The therapist who has worked most with the kids can testify to the abuse they endure. She can tell you how you can’t coach a child into playing at PTSD. You can’t teach a kid how to get that look in his eyes that says he’s gone. A trigger leading to dissociation. You can’t teach a child how to act like he’s having a flashback. You just can’t teach that type of terror.

Goldstein reports that, “evaluators, judges and lawyers without the specific training in domestic violence [that] they need tend to focus on the myth that mothers frequently make false reports. This is not based on valid research, but rather the stereotype of the woman scorned or the angry woman.” What this means, is that our society needs specific training to listen to (and, if we’re lucky, validate) what a woman has to say.

Here’s the flow of logic: Children are to be seen, not heard. A woman’s place is in the home. And now that we’re keeping it all in the family, silence has started to strangle the truth.

Society doesn’t want to see the truths that mothers speak because no one wants to hear about how in more than 90% of child sexual abuse cases, the perpetrators are family members or people close to 
the family. Because if we ignore what’s being said, then we don’t have to face what’s being done.

The court is dead-set on protecting a father’s right to his child, regardless of the fact that no child can defend herself at age four, nor does she know how to call 9-1-1. And this isn’t even to mention what happens when the child doesn’t want to go, what happens when those who don’t want her to go have to watch her handed over to her abuser for regular visitations. The victimization of this situation ripples out, its effects terrorize the rest of the family.

All because we can’t take a woman’s word for it.

The results: inadequate services, missed opportunities, evidence just sitting there untouched, more lies than facts, and an incredible lack of follow-up. None of this is helpful. All of this is because we dismiss a mother’s distress. Goldstein explains that, “The courts were routinely treating mothers as if they were not credible but…scientific findings [support] other research that found protective mothers rarely make deliberate false complaints.” With stereotypes and sexist judgements against them, a mother can never do anything right.

“Anyway I react,” says Emma, “is going to be wrong. If I sob, I’m called hysterical and uncooperative. If I stay cool, I’m suspected of lying because I’m not showing any emotion. I can’t do anything right.”

Yet she keeps fighting for her children’s right for safety.

A mother’s work is never done.

Note: Over two years later and David’s story has yet to change. Each detail remains the same.

Note: Esther makes new outcries after she returns from every unsupervised visit with The Monster.

From all of this, questions, of course, emerge. Why does a three-year-old not have an intact hymen? Why would Emma put her kids through hell, lose her job, live in impoverished conditions and even go so far as to rape her own children—as one detective claimed—just for a little bit of money? Why are people willing to believe that a mother would rape her own children for money and not believe that a man is a pedophile when, as Goldstein explains, “several studies established that mothers involved in contested custody make false reports less than 2% of the time.”

There’s a high cost for the court system being wrong 98% of the time.

Emma knows this, has 26 months’ worth of first-hand experience.

The high cost for the court system being wrong in Emma’s experience, as of this writing:

   Therapy for three children because of how one man touched them and is still touching one of them: $6000
   Legal matters to gain full custody and restrict The Monster’s access to the child he is sexually abusing: $30,000
   Moving to a different state to keep children safe from The Monster, then moving back because The Monster says so: $3000
   New computer to replace the one that contains evidence of child sexual abuse and child pornography: $2000
   Therapy dog for the children to alleviate PTSD symptoms (Note: the dog had to be left behind when the family was court-ordered back to Texas): $2000
   Lost furniture and clothing and household goods and toys due to the two moves across the country and the children’s destructive behaviors when experiencing flashbacks: $10,000
   Flights for court hearings and unsupervised visits for The Monster: $4000
   Lost wages and career advancement opportunities when Emma was forced to quit her job and move back to Texas: $35,000 (minimum)
   Medical: $5000
   Travel costs for therapy and psychiatry as well as time off from work: God only knows
   Hiring private investigators, getting lab tests done, etc.: $4000 and then some
Minimum total cost and counting: $101,000

Being vindictive sure is costly.

* * *

When will this insanity end? When will the victims stop being victimized again and again?  And at what cost? Not just financial, but spiritual, too.

“People constantly questioning my kids doesn’t change their story, but it has changed the way they interact with people,” Emma explains. “David still has to tell people over and over again what happened—even today, three years later. By now, he has said it all so many times that he’s just kind of numb to it. One CPS worker even commented that she found it disturbing that the kids could talk about it like they talk about playing on the playground.”

Now, as The Monster still has rights, Emma has discovered that her life is structured around a 14-day cycle. How every fourteen days Esther is subjected to spend 48 hours alone with her abuser.

Esther leaves. Forty-eight hours later, Esther returns, not unharmed.

Set the clock. Twelve days to go. Twelve days to find evidence or talk to the right person in the right department with the right experience and right connections that will help Esther to stay home—hopefully forever.

If not, then begin the 48-hour countdown.

Every-other Sunday, Esther returns home with more stories to tell. Such as one about a knife. How The Monster pressed it against her vagina. When Emma hears this, she reports it to the detective the next day. Here’s what the detective had to say: “Well she said he had his clothes on and it only happened once.”

Here’s what Emma had to say: “I don’t care. It shouldn’t have happened at all.”

Which is true.

Esther’s burden, her trauma now clearly seen and clearly heard.

That was a month ago. And still, every twelve days Esther is forced to go, regardless of what she screams about, sobs over.

“We don’t listen to child victims or how they have tried to overcome abuse because we don’t listen to children,” David Wilson says. “Not only do we think they should be ‘seen and not heard,’ but they are also increasingly disliked, scapegoated and hated by an adult world that has turned young people into the human equivalent of dangerous dogs.”

It’s a world that has put these young people in the grasp of dangerous hands and the violence of silence. Because, really, we shouldn’t have to wait for a boy to fling a puppy just so he can be heard.

The names of the children in this article have been changed for their protection.

[i] David Wilson, “Seen and Not Heard,” The Guardian, January 12, 2004.

[ii] Barry Goldstein, “Widely Anticipated Article Confirms Court Mistreatment of Protective Mothers.” Stop Abuse Campaign, July 19, 2017. 

CHELSEY CLAMMER is the author of Circadian, winner of the Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award, and BodyHome (2015, Hopewell Publications). She has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Normal School, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and The Black Warrior Review among many others. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.