Incessant Self-Righteous Ignorance

Thursday afternoon I got a phone call. I had forgotten it was the day before the anniversary of Roe v Wade, immersed as I was in my current writing project. Usually I hang up as soon as the pause-click-click tells me it’s a solicitor.

The woman said her name was Grace. This time I said “Hi, Grace.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m calling on behalf of the Right to Life. We need to stop the killing of unborn babies.”

“Oh,” I said, instantly furious. “Well, you can stop right there. I’m Pro-Choice.”

I hung up.

Then I spent the rest of the evening thinking of what I should have said.

  • Oh really, Grace? Are you referring to an embryo or a fetus? Do know what an embryo looks like or that 67% of abortions occur before eight weeks? So in this image of a human embryo, is this the chicken or egg phase? When you have eggs for breakfast, are you eating a chicken?
  • So are you in favor of government forcing women to have children? Is that part of your ‘smaller government’ plan? Smaller except the part where the Fetus Police want to control what’s going on INSIDE YOUR BODY?
  • Gee, Grace, how exactly would you suggest the government keep women from terminating unwanted pregnancies—should they require them to check in monthly for a pregnancy test? Then if they’re pregnant, the government can keep them in a Safe-For-The-Unborn-Baby Compound until the baby is born, thereby preventing any ‘home remedy’ abortions. Women wouldn’t be allowed to leave, so taking care of other children in the home or providing meals/laundry service for their husbands would have to stop, not to mention finishing school or keeping a job.
  • So you’re in favor of forcing women to produce children they don’t want? Tell me, Grace—do you think those women will be good mothers to those children? Did you know that 70% of abortions are performed on women making 200% or less than the federal poverty line of $11,670? Did you know that this same group of women, without health insurance, are far less likely to have access to birth control? Did you know that children from families with annual incomes below $15,000 were over 22 times more likely to experience maltreatment than children from families whose income exceeded $30,000? Did you know these children were almost 56 times more likely to be educationally neglected and over 22 times more likely to be seriously injured? Did you know that childhood poverty is closely related to the later incidence of crime? Think of prisons, Grace, more and more prisons built to hide away children forced on poor families by the lack of access to birth control.
  • So Grace, since I’ve got you on the phone, maybe you can explain to me how you plan to stop abortion. Ending unwanted pregnancies has been going on for thousands of years. Maybe you didn’t know that. Maybe you thought that it was only after the passage of Roe v Wade that women started having abortions. Maybe you didn’t know that throughout the ages, women have decided who will be born—not men, not governments, not churches. Women are the ones responsible for selecting future generations. I bet everyone alive today came from a woman sometime in the past who terminated other pregnancies. Even you, Grace, probably have a grandmother back in the mists of time who decided to limit the number of children so she could take proper care of the ones she already had.

I’ve got some abortion statistics for you, Grace, showing women’s reasons for obtaining an abortion.

    • 74% felt “having a baby would dramatically change my life” (which includes interrupting education, interfering with job and career, and/or concern over other children or dependents)
    • 73% felt they “can’t afford a baby now” (due to various reasons such as being unmarried, being a student, inability to afford childcare or basic needs of life, etc.)
    • 48% “don’t want to be a single mother or [were] having relationship problem[s]”
    • 38% “have completed [their] childbearing”
    • 32% were “not ready for a(nother) child”
    • 25% “don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant”
    • 22% “don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child”
    • 14% felt their “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion”
    • 13% said there were “possible problems affecting the health of the fetus”
    • 12% said there were “physical problems with my health”
    • 6% felt their “parents want me to have an abortion”
    • 1% said they were “a victim of rape”
    • <0.5% “became pregnant as a result of incest”[1]

Shall we discuss some of this data? You’ll notice that almost all the reasons for abortion have to do with lack of birth control. What is your position regarding birth control? Do you agree that birth control and all related information regarding human reproduction should be taught by middle school level? Do you agree that birth control should be freely dispensed at middle school level to any student who requests it? How about churches dispensing free birth control so there aren’t so many precious Unborn Children being aborted?

Did you know that only 1.3% of pregnancies are aborted after 21 weeks and generally only for medical reasons?

≤6 wks 7 wks 8 wks 9 wks 10 wks 11 wks 12 wks 13 wks 14-15 wks 16-17 wks 18-20 wks ≥21 wks
37.2% 16.9% 12.8% 8.3% 5.5% 4.5% 3.5% 2.7% 3.3% 2.0% 1.9% 1.3%

Grace, did you know that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandated that all employers were required to provide 100% coverage for all birth control methods? The only exception came after religious groups refused to provide such coverage and took their argument to court where they won the right not to provide coverage.

Maybe you can explain that for me, Grace. If the horror is abortion, why is there such outrage about preventing unwanted pregnancies? Because that really doesn’t make sense.

I mean, yeah, I get it. I know the unspoken thought. People aren’t supposed to have sex unless they want a child because sex isn’t for enjoyment. Sex is a duty to produce another generation—period. Because the only reason we’re on earth is make more of us. So if you’re having sex for fun, to feel good, then you’re doing it wrong and God will smite you.

It’s true that in all this, it’s the woman who suffers. I’m guessing that has to do with eating a forbidden apple. That’s on Eve. So she’s the one who has to suffer, all part of God’s loving plan to make people do what He wants them to do, which is, evidently, to keep having babies.

By the way, Grace, I don’t know how old you are, but if you were around in 1987, that’s the year the world population reached five billion. Now picture where you were and what you were doing in 1987 and imagine twice as many people. Because that’s where we’ll be in another thirty years. Twice as many cars, twice as many houses or twice as many people living in one house, twice as many big cities. Twice as many people grabbing that last loaf of bread.

It’s true that much of that population growth won’t be in the U.S. or Europe. The growth will mostly occur in Africa, you know, that “shithole” place where people already born are starving and killing each other. And Asia, of course. Those are the places where humanitarian agencies bring in food and provide medical care, including birth control. So the moral stance of this ‘Christian’ administration is to cut off financial support for any humanitarian health care group that offers abortion counseling along with birth control. So if a woman wants to obtain birth control, she can’t get it because someone in that same facility is answering questions about or providing an abortion.

That’s so perfect. So genius. So in keeping with the goal of stopping abortion.

~~~

[1] Finer, Lawrence B. and Lori F. Frohwirth, Lindsay A. Dauphinee, Susheela Singh and Ann F. Moore. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitiative Perspectives.”Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Guttmacher.org, September 2005.
White, Angela. “Cost of Giving Birth at the Hospital or at Home.” Blisstree.com, 21 September 2008.
“Why It Matters: Teen Pregnancy and Education.” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, retrieved 19 May 2009.

 

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Medicaid and the Chemical Industry

Figure 4: Medicaid is the third largest domestic program in the federal budget.

As of 2002, the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries (54%) were children under the age of six years. Contrary to the popular myth of aging slackers, drug addicts, and welfare queens sucking at the national teat, this majority of Medicaid provides healthcare to children and adolescents with limitation of activity due to chronic health conditions. Their numbers quadrupled from two percent in 1960 to over eight percent in 2012.[1],[2]

This increase parallels the growth in manufacture and use of agricultural chemicals.

One of the fastest growing patient groups covered by Medicaid is children with developmental disabilities. Over the last 12 years, the prevalence of developmental disabilities (DDs) has increased 17.1%—that’s about 1.8 million more children with DDs in 2006–2008 compared to a decade earlier: autism increased 289.5% and ADHD increased 33.0%.

According to a recently released study, children with special health care needs suffer conditions that include

autism, Down syndrome, and other intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD); physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and muscular dystrophy; mental health needs such as depression and anxiety; and complications arising from premature birth. They may need nursing care to live safely at home with a tracheotomy or feeding tube; attendant care to develop community living skills; medical equipment and supplies; mental health counseling; and/or regular therapies to address developmental delays.[3]

One source puts the annual cost of caring for a child with severe autism at $72,000.

What is happening?

Consider the case of Eva Galindos, a twelve-year-old girl with autism. At age three, she was diagnosed by her pediatrician, but he could not answer the parents’ urgent questions about why this happened to their child. Seeking answers, the Galindos family participated in a study. At the time of Magda Galindos’ pregnancy with Eva, “the family was living in Salida, a small town in central California surrounded by fields of almonds, corn, and peaches. The Galindos could see the planted fields just down the street from their stucco house.” Magda recalled the acrid smell of chemicals sprayed on the fields, very different from the fertilizer odor.

The study revealed that during pregnancy, Magda had been exposed to chlorpyrifos.

In 2014, the first and most comprehensive look at the environmental causes of autism and developmental delay, known as the CHARGE study, found that the nearby application of agricultural pesticides greatly increases the risk of autism.[4] Women who lived less than a mile from fields where chlorpyrifos was sprayed during their second trimesters of pregnancy, as Magda did, had their chances of giving birth to an autistic child more than triple. And it was just one of dozens of recent studies that have linked even small amounts of fetal chlorpyrifos exposure to neurodevelopmental problems, including ADHD, intelligence deficits, and learning difficulties.[5]

The American use of chemicals to eradicate insects both in homes and crops dates back to lead arsenate in 1892, but as early as 900 AD, poisonous arsenic sulfides were used in China.

The search for a substitute [to lead arsenate] commenced in 1919, when it was found that its residues remain in the products despite washing their surfaces. Alternatives were found to be less effective or more toxic to plants and animals, until 1947 when DDT was found. The use of lead arsenate in the US continued until the mid-1960s. It was officially banned as an insecticide on August 1, 1988.[6]

Total global pesticide production and global pesticide imports (1940s-2000) – Tillman et al. (2002)0

DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) quickly took the place of lead arsenate, even though research as early the 1940s had shown its harmful effects. After Rachel Carson’s expose Silent Spring pointed the finger at DDT for poisoning wildlife and the environment and endangering public health, the chemical was targeted by a growing anti-chemical movement. In 1967, a group of scientists and lawyers founded the Environmental Defense Fund with the specific goal of banning DDT. Despite continuing efforts, DDT is still produced for ‘vector control’ and for agricultural purposes in India, North Korea, and possibly other locations. At least three to four thousand tons of the chemical is produced annually.

Like many chemicals, DDT persists in the environment as well as in tissue of all life forms. Its biological half-life in soil is up to thirty years. Organisms at the top of the food chain suffer greater exposure as the chemical and its major metabolites of DDE and DDD accumulate in animals and plants which are then consumed by other animals.[7] Among its effects, DDT is an endocrine disruptor which can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.

Specifically, “endocrine disruptors may be associated with the development of learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems; deformations of the body (including limbs); breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid and other cancers; sexual development problems such as feminizing of males or masculinizing effects on females, etc.”[8]

With the ban on DDT, farmers and other chemical consumers turned to chlorpyrifos.

Estimated worldwide annual sales of pesticides 1960 to 1999 in billions of dollars (Herbicides, Insecticides, Fungicides, and others) – Agrios (2005)0Despite the overwhelming evidence that chemicals lead to ever-increasing negative health effects, chemical companies are willing to spend whatever it takes to discredit the evidence in efforts to delay any meaningful regulation of those chemicals. In a lengthy article published January 14, 2017, in The Intercept, an online newsletter, author Sharon Lerner details the efforts of Dow Chemical to protect its lucrative products from EPA regulation.[9] It’s a staggering indictment not only of Dow’s strong-arm tactics but also of the willingness of legislators and government agencies to ignore their duties to American citizens.

Exposure to chemicals which are wreaking havoc on the nation’s children is suffered disproportionately by the poor. Agricultural workers live near fields where chemical sprays drift in through open windows. Inner-city poor live in housing that is routinely sprayed with pesticides despite the presence of children and pregnant women. Long-term exposure plus ingesting food laden with pesticides means that while autism rates among children across the U. S. population is one in 68, for women in poor neighborhoods or near commercial agriculture, the rate of impaired children is one in 21.

Parents such as Magda Galindos can’t afford to move away from the fields where chemicals are sprayed. She also can’t afford to buy organic food, which is often twice as expensive. Her household income and the medical needs of her daughter Eva qualify for state and federal assistance.

Which brings us back to Medicaid.

Figure 1: Type of health insurance among children with special health care needs

Despite compelling and well-documented scientific studies showing the strong link between certain chemicals and a slate of neurodevelopmental disabilities including autism, the EPA has for decades postponed any meaningful action to more strictly regulate (or ban) the culprits. In a recent publication, scientists stated:[10]

In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants—manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered.

This is the tip of a massive iceberg. As reported in a 2016 PBS report on “Science Friday,”

There are more than 80,000 chemicals registered for use today, many of which haven’t been studied for safety by any government agency. But that’s about to change…somewhat. President Obama today signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, named after the late senator who introduced a version of the bill in 2013. This marks the first overhaul in 40 years to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the nation’s main law governing toxic chemicals.

Absurdly, the law only requires the EPA to test twenty chemicals at a time and each one has a seven-year test deadline before a five-year period during which industry is supposed to comply with any new regulation. At that rate, it will take over a century for all the current chemicals to be tested, all while about 20,000 new chemicals hit the market each year.

New EPA head Scott Pruitt, who voted for the Lautenberg bill, has stated that the law “guarantees protection of the most vulnerable by placing emphasis on the effects of exposure to chemicals on infants, children, pregnant women, workers and the elderly.”[11]

This should be a hopeful note, but even in a best-case scenario where President Trump’s EPA enacts swift meaningful restrictions on chlorpyrifos and other chemicals saturating our soil, air, and waterways, the incidence of fetal exposure and the resultant impairment of so many of our nation’s young will not abate any time soon. These chemicals wash down our rivers and linger in oceans where we harvest seafood. They soak into the walls and floors of our homes, survive in cropland that produces our fruits and vegetables, and become even more concentrated in livestock feeding on those plants.

Since developmentally disabled children form over half the nation’s Medicaid caseload at an estimated cost of about $300 billion (2015), legislators looking to reduce Medicaid expenditures should turn first to the nation’s agrochemical industries. In 2015, for example, Dow AgroSciences reported a full year profit of $962 million. In 2016, even after some losses, the company still enjoyed an $859 million profit.  Monsanto and DuPont reported similar numbers.

Why not impose a 50% tax on such profits? This would yield a modest $1.5 billion toward the Medicaid costs resulting (in part) from their products and serve as a powerful incentive to ensure such products are safe before they’re marketed.

~~~

[1] https://www.nap.edu/read/10537/chapter/4#50

[2] http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865609389/10-common-disabilities-American-children-have.html

[3] http://kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/medicaid-and-children-with-special-health-care-needs/

[4] https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/122/10/ehp.1307044.alt.pdf

[5] https://theintercept.com/2017/01/14/dow-chemical-wants-farmers-to-keep-using-a-pesticide-linked-to-autism-and-adhd/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_hydrogen_arsenate

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endocrine_disruptor

[9] See Footnote 5 above

[10] http://thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(13)70278-3/abstract

[11] https://www.bna.com/trumps-pick-lead-n73014449061/

The Homeschool Plague

dreamstime_xs_6706052

Last week the Arkansas Department of Education announced a public comment period on the implementation of new rules regarding home schooled students. The comment period ends June 29. If you haven’t commented already, don’t worry. Your comment won’t make much difference. These rules are mere housekeeping details in the wake of legislation enacted over the last few years which remove any accountability in home schooling.

Previously the state paid for standardized testing to assess student progress at specified points along the educational path, including home schooled students. But the teeth were removed from that effort when the state failed to institute any meaningful follow-up if the student performed badly on those tests. Now even the testing will cease to exist.

Touted as a money saving measure, the legislation actually satisfies a long-sought goal of the religious right. That is, nobody is going to tell my kid we’re descended from monkeys. And so forth.

As recently attested in a Texas court case, “…A lower court ruling allowed for Texas homeschoolers to legally teach their children absolutely zilch if they believe their family is waiting to be raptured.” Texas counts over 300,000 homeschooled students. There, in a nutshell, is the problem with Texas.[1]

An Arkansas family wishing to home school is able to choose their own curricula, accredited or not, pursue the education at whatever pace they wish, and accept whatever outcome suits their personal whim. The Arkansas law still stands that a child between the ages of five and seventeen must be educated, but for homeschooling devotees, this is sidestepped very easily.  Parents must sign a form stating they will homeschool. Period.

Currently in Arkansas, over 18,000 students are homeschooled. Undoubtedly not all 18,000 homeschooled students are failed utterly by the state’s willful abandonment of oversight. Some parents have reasons other than fundamentalist religion to homeschool—a child’s disabilities, perhaps, or the conviction that non-traditional education better serves their parental goals. Many parents may work hard to ensure their homeschooled child gains skills needed to enter college and/or otherwise pursue a successful life. Many homeschooling parents choose standardized tests to measure their children’s progress.

Unfortunately for the future, recent surveys show that the “most important reason” parents give to homeschool is “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (36%). Typically the religious belief being represented is evangelical Christian.”  In these homeschool situations, modern scientific knowledge—geologic age of the planet, for example—is disregarded. Math and critical thinking are not highly prized. The objective is that the child obtain minimal literacy so he or she can read the Bible.

Or, put another way, the Koran.

Arkansas students in public schools are regularly tested so that if they are failing to learn, their school can provide remediation. No such option exists for homeschooled students. If they are failing to learn, the state doesn’t know or care.

The problem is bigger than homeschooled students. Non-accredited private and parochial schools also escape state oversight. If a school is not receiving tax dollars, it does not have to meet state standards. Whatever they teach and whatever the students may know or not know at the point of ‘graduation’ is beyond the state’s purview.

All this irrational fear of compulsory state education feeds the rising plague of intentional ignorance. It undergirds the success of extremist conservative politics. These folks don’t believe in global warming because they have no comprehension of science. To them, state standards are part of a humanist conspiracy to stamp out religion.

If only.

As far back as Ancient Greece, leaders advocated for compulsory education that started kids learning at age six. By the 16th century, European church leaders enforced compulsory education to ensure that people could read the Scriptures. Colonial governments in early American settlements required education as well, a practice that spread with the growth of the nation. These were largely private, tuition supported efforts. As more immigrants arrived through the 19th century, support grew for tax-supported schools that could provide education for rich and poor alike. The last state to pass compulsory education laws was Mississippi (1919), a circumstance perhaps reflected even today in that state’s continuing struggle to move out of last place in just about everything.

Compulsory education was good while it lasted.

The first challenge arose in 1925 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while the state had the right to enforce certain standards, it could not eliminate the right of parents to place their children in parochial or private schools. Generally, however, it was upheld through this and other legal actions that while states may grant exemptions for home schooling, that schooling must meet the standards required of public and state-accredited private schools.

This is no longer the case in Arkansas, one of fifteen states which require only notification of intent to preschool. As long as a parent signs that one form, they are free to home school in any way they desire. There is no follow-up, no checkpoint, no tests. Nobody looks in to see if the parents are teaching anything. There is no safety net.

While one might assume that parents want the best for their children and that any well-intentioned parent understands that education holds the key to a child’s successful future, one might be wrong. Some parents do not care and may select the homeschool route simply to avoid waking up early and getting the kid ready for school. Some parents may embark on homeschooling for vague reasons and fail utterly in selecting and teaching adequate curricula.

Worst of all are parents who intentionally subvert their child’s education in order to satisfy reactionary belief systems based on religious faith. Such parents are deluded with the idea that God is coming soon, or God tells them whatever they need to know, or that the holy scriptures are all the education anyone needs. (Feel free to substitute ‘Allah’ for ‘God’ in the preceding sentence.) The results are staggering: young adults unable to function even in minimum wage jobs, unable to reason through simple logical processes, and incapable of thinking past whatever dogma is imposed on them.

Which is—sadly—the objective.

That the State of Arkansas has disgraced itself by falling to such a low non-standard in its education of young people correlates exactly with the rise of extremist Republican government. It does not bode well for the state’s future. The greater the number of intentionally ignorant citizens, the higher the likelihood of more extremists being elected to public office. It’s difficult to imagine how far the state might fall.

But wait! We may not fall that far. We’re already damn near the bottom.

Surely there is legal remedy for this descent into religious lunacy. I propose that would-be voters be required to have obtained a GED or high school diploma. Literacy tests were ruled unconstitutional when used in southern states as a racial barrier, but if the standard were applied equally to all races, that objection would fail.

Democracy depends on reasoned political discourse and informed voters. It’s in the national interest that elections be conducted fairly. Neither bribes nor brainwashing nor willful ignorance should be allowed to subvert the democratic process.

We all suffer when young people aren’t taught to read, think, and process information in ways that are necessary in most types of employment. We suffer when people don’t understand and respect differences of race, ethnicity, or gender. We suffer when extremist religion dominates all other aspects of life.

We can see what the rule of extremist religion accomplishes for a nation by looking at the Middle East and even at the acts of extremists here at home. Fear is the first reaction in someone confronted with something he or she doesn’t understand. The next reaction after fear is hate. After hate comes violence.

With violence comes the downfall of civilization.

~~~

[1] Texas is one of nine states where parents are required to give no notice to the state as to their intention to homeschool. Arkansas is one of fifteen states where parents must only give notice of their intent. For a map showing all states and homeschool requirements, visit here.

Photo credit: Credit: ID 6706052 © Ron Sumners | Dreamstime.com

Newborn Abuse — the latest atrocity in our war on drugs

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Another story of government overreach.

In 2003, the federal government began requiring states to develop strategies to deal with drug-dependent newborns. This came in response to an increasing number of babies born with opioid dependence. The government’s concern directly reflects the rise in opioid addiction nationwide.

“The number of prescriptions for opioids (hydrocodone and oxycodone products) have escalated from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, with the United States their biggest consumer globally, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) and 81 percent for oxycodone (e.g., Percocet).”[1] Most recently, tightening availability of prescription opioids has shifted abusers to heroin, an early pharmaceutical derived from the opium poppy and grandfather of the modern ‘codone’ products. Heroin is cheaper and in most cases more available than the pharmaceuticals.

No matter what form, opioids pose a real threat of addiction for many users. According to Wikipedia, “opioid addiction and opioid dependence, sometimes classified together as an opioid use disorder, are medical conditions characterized by the compulsive use of opioids (e.g., morphineheroincodeine, oxycodonehydrocodone, etc.) in spite of consequences of continued use and the withdrawal syndrome that occurs when opioid use stops … The opioid dependence-withdrawal syndrome involves both psychological dependence and marked physical dependence upon opioid compounds. Opioid use disorders resulted in 51,000 deaths in 2013 up from 18,000 deaths in 1990.”[2]

It’s not like opioid-dependent pregnant women don’t know they’re sharing their addiction with their fetus. But like all addicts, these women are severely challenged in overcoming their need for the drug not only because of the nature of the drug but also because whatever led them to abuse drugs in the first place has not been addressed. After all, not everyone legitimately prescribed opiate drugs becomes an addict.

Within one to three days after birth, infants born addicted to opioids suffer neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). This withdrawal experience may require doctors to administer slowly decreasing doses of morphine or methadone to ease the process. Providing medical protocols to deal with this condition was the intent of the federal law.

Despite this initial specific focus on opioid withdrawal among newborns, states have begun implementing laws that target mothers who test positive for any illegal drug use. The National Institutes of Health agree that “Alcohol and other drugs used during pregnancy can also cause problems in the baby. Babies of mothers who use other addictive drugs (nicotine, amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, marijuana) may have long-term problems. However, there is no clear evidence of a neonatal abstinence syndrome for these drugs.”[3]

Notably, millions of American women have used and continue to use alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, and/or prescription drugs during pregnancy with no known ill effect to their offspring. Yet in many states, zealous, usually conservative lawmakers have seized on the situation as yet another way to attack illegal drug use. Newborns and mothers are profiled and drug tested without consent. Infants are separated from their mothers. Mothers are sent to jail.

The State of Arkansas is one of eighteen states which requires health care professionals to profile mothers and newborns to determine who should be drug tested. In 2014, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to pass a law allowing women to be charged with a crime if their babies are born with symptoms of drug withdrawal. Other states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, use interpretations of existing laws to prosecute pregnant women who use drugs.[4]

The potential penalties under Alabama law are especially stiff: one to 10 years in prison if a baby is exposed but suffers no ill effects; 10 to 20 years if a baby shows signs of exposure or harm; and 10 to 99 years if a baby dies.[5]

There is no known law which requires prosecution of fathers for their use of any substance which might have contributed to a newborn’s impairment.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines recommend that in cases where substance abuse is suspected, doctors use a separate form to seek consent for drug testing; women can opt out simply by not signing. These guidelines are widely ignored. In Arkansas, for example, if a health care provider or allied professional such as a social worker believe an infant might have been exposed to illegal substances in utero, a claim of probable cause meets the criteria of child abuse and federal laws protecting privacy don’t apply. Mothers are tested without consent and the case is turned over to authorities.

Such professionals employ a widely varying and undocumented set of criteria to identify newborns and mothers to be tested. Conspicuous symptoms such as premature delivery, low birth weight, seizures, fever, hyperactive reflexes, or rapid breathing are among the more obvious reasons to test the newborn. Yet hospitals also single out mothers who obtained little or no prenatal care even though this unfairly targets the poor or those who live far from medical facilities.

Persons who fit certain cultural stereotypes may also be at risk of greater scrutiny: compare the likelihood for suspicion of drug use in a young woman with dreadlocks and reeking of patchouli compared to that of a well-to-do woman with no counterculture identifiers. Racial profiling is also widespread in these cases as is suspicion of women who have engaged a midwife.

Aside from all the outrages involved in these policies, the fact is that they close the barn door after the horses are out. Once the child is born, whatever fetal harm might have occurred is already done. The rational approach would recognize that a few newborns may need intervention treatment and their mothers need access to counseling. End of story.

Instead, state lawmakers take whatever injury might have occurred to a fetus and explode that into the worst case scenario for the newborn infant by separating it from the mother—no cuddling at the breast for milk (one of NIH’s recommended treatments of NAS is breastfeeding), no mother’s heartbeat, no familiar voices. If we wanted to ensure that an already-challenged newborn suffer the greatest possible harm, we can rest assured that arrest of the mother fits the bill.

[I concede that in a very few cases, the mother’s behavior is so out of control that the infant is better off not in her custody. Very few.]

Legislators eager to punish mothers ignore the fact that the damage is already done. They justify punitive action in the belief that punishment serves as a deterrent. But—point of fact—if threat of punishment served as a deterrent, no one would use illegal drugs.

Marijuana use is not known to result in birth defects or NAS. One study even shows benefits to infants born to marijuana-using mothers.[6], [7] But according to a 12/18/15 report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, of the 970 new Arkansas mothers referred to social services in 2014, 65% were for marijuana use.

Lawmakers also skim past the obvious hypocrisy in screening mothers only for illegal drugs when fetal alcohol syndrome has long been identified as a common cause of birth defects. Many of the distress symptoms in newborns can also result from the mother’s use of tobacco.

If punishment for theorized harm to the child is the state’s objective, then why aren’t alcohol and tobacco included in the screening? Why aren’t those mothers arrested and separated from the child?

I’ll tell you why. Because a driving purpose behind such laws is to punish mothers for illegal drug use.

If the real goal is to reduce the number of impaired newborns, a bureaucracy will need to be established which monitors all women of childbearing age with monthly testing for evidence of pregnancy. Once pregnant, women would be placed on 24-hour watch to ensure proper nutrition and adequate exercise. Prospective parents will undergo genetic testing  and embryos will be screened for congenital defects and aborted when appropriate. Controlled environments for gestating women will need to eliminate potential stressors such as spousal abuse and financial troubles. Any possibly harmful substances such as alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs would not be allowed.

Ah, brave new world with our Alphas and Epsilons.[8]

There’s nothing wrong with states supporting protocols by which medical professionals can more adequately address NAS in compromised newborns. But compromised newborns should not be used to indict the mothers for real or imagined crimes. There’s no proof that illegal substance abuse alone is the cause of a particular newborn’s problems. A majority of distressed and/or premature newborns come from poor mothers and/or mother who use alcohol and nicotine and/or mothers who don’t exercise or eat properly.

Keep in mind there’s no scientific evidence that an addicted newborn suffers subsequent permanent damage.[9], [10]

The rush to prosecute illegal substance-using mothers of newborns does not assure that their future pregnancies will produce perfect children. Nor, in most cases, does it provide any benefit to the child.

Are women now fetus delivery systems answerable to the state?

Proactive encouragement toward good health and responsible behavior is as far as a free society can go to ensure the best possible outcome in any life pursuit of its citizenry, including parenthood. This approach involves all those abhorrent liberal ideas like sex education in the public schools and easy access to birth control. Access to abortion. Clean air and water. Greater public understanding of proper nutrition. Excellent education. Good job training and job opportunities. Community clinics with affordable, high quality mental and physical health care.

If we want to decrease the American trend toward ever greater substance abuse, we need to take immediate steps to stop commercial advertising of prescription drugs. There is not and never will be a magic pill for most of life’s troubles even if these ads insinuate otherwise.

We need to reorient our medical community toward prevention instead of pharmaceuticals.

We need to devote more resources toward understanding the factors that contribute to substance abuse and addiction and address these problems at their roots: disenfranchisement, poverty, lack of opportunity, low self-worth, racism, mental illness.

Have we done this before rushing to prosecute mothers?

No.

 

Learn more and offer your help at http://www.advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/ 

[1] http://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2015/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opioid_addiction_and_dependence

[3] https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007313.htm

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/pregnant-drugs-crime_5692ea9ee4b0cad15e653dd0?section=politics

[5] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/09/covert_drug_tests_child_abuse.html

[6] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1957518

[7] http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/medical/can-babies.htm

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World

[9] http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/01/number-of-babies-born-suffering-drug-withdrawal-triples/

[10] http://www.adoptivefamiliescircle.com/groups/topic/Baby_born_opiate_addicted&#8230;.terrified/

Jars

100_1173

If I had considered the question in advance, I would have known that cleaning out the barn would precipitate a crisis. Memories long stored away for some magical future moment when that child’s toy, that handsaw, would again be needed—did I keep them simply for the memory? Furniture—small tables, wooden chairs, an ottoman frame, an old piano bench well made of oak and in need of a few repairs—would I someday find time and reason to fix them and return them to my house?

Too good to throw away. Largely irrelevant to my current life.

Becoming relevant at some future point? Probably not.

Determination to survive in a world lost to chaos drove the accumulation of this minor hoard. It was 1975. We had small children who would need to eat and thrive even if the bomb fell. We labored to renew skills our grandparents knew by heart, certain that within our lifetimes we would have to hide in our house until the fallout settled then emerge to plow, plant, and harvest our food, breed our pigs, chickens, and goats for future generations of meat and milk. We gathered meat saws and grinders, steel axes and shovels, nails and wire.

Time marched on. The Cold War ended and fingers moved away from the annihilation button.  The children are no longer dependent babies who might benefit from a collection of books on history, science, math. The goats departed in the late 80s, the garden in the early 90s, and the last of the chickens about ten years ago. The children have gone off like grown children do to find their own visions of the future.

Why do I need eight hand saws, ten hammers (of various sizes), buckets of random nails, screws, washers, bolts, and nuts? Feed scoops and cheesecloth, empty egg cartons, milk pails. What possible purpose could be met by random pieces of plywood or sheetrock, insulation, screen, tile? Why do I think that at some point I’ll make use of a decrepit power saw, drill, or grinder when, for the last twenty-five years, I have not?

I have created two piles. One is for the junkman to haul away. The other is for craigslist ads and friends who operate flea market booths. I am mildly optimistic that someone might buy the old wooden toolbox, child’s desk, or the sturdy small tables, the ten gallon pickling crock or the T-post driver. Never mind that for what I’d receive in dollars, I could restore only a fraction of this hoard.

In truth, what our energy and money bought in those early days was peace of mind. With our collection of tools, books, supplies, and know-how, we’d have a chance. Our kids would have a chance.

It served its purpose. The purpose no longer exists.

Sounds good. But what I haven’t put in either pile is the pressure canner. And the jars. Dozens and dozens of canning jars—quarts, pints, jelly jars. It’s the jars that have brought me to crisis.

When my firstborn child was two, my grandmother died. My dad’s mom, Nora. Always a country girl, Nora knew how to make soap, kill a chicken with a swing and stiff pop of its neck, and would can just about anything edible. She had jars. When they started clearing her property for the auction, I went down to Cane Hill and helped clean out her cellar. I hauled back cases of canned goods.

She had declined for a decade until her death at age 86. I wouldn’t dare eat any of the food in those jars. We had hogs and chickens at the time which allowed me to make use of Grandma’s labors. Each day I’d go out to the barn and pens and open more jars. Applesauce, whole plums, peaches, pears. Grapes and elderberries. Green beans, tomatoes, cabbage, mixed vegetables. Tallow. Jelly, jam, preserves. Juice. The critters were well fed that year.

We grew a huge garden. Neighbors had pear trees. We visited orchards and vineyards. Even with all of Grandma Nora’s jars, I sometimes ran short. My mother gave me jars. I bought jars.

In those heady days, each fall I stood in the storage closet and stared at my larder. The sight of all those jars filled me with the greatest pleasure that once again, by the labor of my hands, I had set aside enough green beans, tomatoes and sauce, peas, corn, and kraut to last a year. The jars lined up in colorful rows, golden tomato seeds swimming in crimson broth, finely shredded green cabbage fermented into tangy white kraut, wild plum jelly glowing fuscia in the dark.

Producing and preserving food challenged me like nothing I’d ever done. Even with a tractor and rototiller, even with liberal applications of goat manure and mulch, plants struggled to survive against drought, bugs, and predation. How many hours did I spend hoeing weeds or picking off potato bugs? How many hours peeling and chopping, sterilizing and packing, standing over the pressure gauge to ensure the right amount of intense heat and adequate time to prevent spoilage.

There’s a sound as jars cool, the snap of the canning lid sucking down, sealing the contents safely into the future—I loved that sound. Then it was time to use the grease pencil to write on the lid—July 1981.

Now I have all these jars. The cardboard boxes have suffered over the years. Faded brown paper hangs in shreds, the sides bow and buckle. Even if I keep the jars, I have to plow through generations of dead spiders and a healthy population of live ones to retrieve the jars from box wreckage. Why would I go to the trouble to re-package all these jars knowing that twenty years from now, it would all be to do over again? Would I be any more willing to let go of them then?

My children have no interest and no place to store jars. I wouldn’t mind storing them if my kids wanted them. But there’s no longer a tractor or rototiller. The half-acre garden has grown up in saplings and pasture grass. There are no goats to produce manure. Everything is different.

But here’s the argument. Certain things haven’t changed. We have to eat. We have the ability to grow food. With jars and a pressure canner, we could store food. Isn’t that incentive enough to save the jars?

What is my responsibility? For countless generations, as far back at least as civilization, my ancestors have planted, cultivated, harvested, and stored food. These are skills we’ve learned—how to measure the right time to plant onions or corn, what seeds to soak before pressing them into the dark earth, how to dig potatoes without piercing them. We raised our kids to know these things.

Do I simply walk away?

Why not? There are books. There are others still farming, still canning—the knowledge won’t fade simply because I relinquish my jars.

Even with the best of hoards, with all the tools and seeds saved and an endless supply of jars, at the end of the day, survival in a world gone mad would be a tenuous venture. What about grain? No bread, no pasta, no crackers. What about oil, salt, soda, sugar? We’d be dependent on venison and that requires guns and ammunition. My .22 rifle won’t bring down a deer.

At some point, even the most vehement survivalist will face what I face. How many times in your life do you restock your rations and water? How much is enough ammunition? Who are you prepared to kill to protect your hard won ark?

I’m working on a compromise with myself. Today I think I will keep a few jars as mementos of my grandmother, the tall green half gallon jars and a few of the older square-shoulder quarts. I will wash them periodically and keep them up on a shelf, decoration that tugs my heartstrings when I look up from my daily tasks. I will acknowledge the hard work and dedication that touched these jars, my hands, my mother’s hands, my grandmother’s hands.

All the grandmothers. All the jars. All the tomatoes and fine plum jam will not save the world.

The Report Is In

Child's hand 0001Initiated in early spring, a study of Arkansas’ Department of Human Services (DHS) is Governor Asa Hutchinson’s first step in addressing systemic problems within the agency. The driving force behind this initiative was the ‘rehoming’ and subsequent rape of a six-year-old girl originally adopted by Rep. Justin Harris and his wife Marsha of West Fork, owner and operator of a pre-school, Growing God’s Kingdom.

Harris’ excuse for their ‘rehoming’ of two already traumatized little girls was that he had asked DHS for help and they had refused. He stated that the girls had been “damaged by previous abuse and he couldn’t manage them,” according to Friday’s coverage by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (July 17, 2015).

Unfortunately, the governor failed to require this study to investigate whether Harris abused the power of his legislative position to coerce DHS approval of the adoption in the first place.

The couple fostering the two girls prior to the Harris adoption have voiced their belief that Harris had done exactly that. More than one observer cited local caseworkers’ opposition to the adoption. Harris was warned that the girls would not be suitable for his household. He pushed the adoption through anyway and immediately included the girls in a photograph used in his reelection campaign.

Less than a year later, when he and his wife decided the girls were too much to handle, Harris ‘rehomed’ them to a Benton County couple, Eric Francis and his wife.

Harris may have believed that the Francis household would serve as a suitable home. He cited the couple’s adoption of other children as evidence of their suitability. In hindsight, an observer might suspect that the couple’s eagerness to adopt had to do with the husband’s predilection for molesting children rather than any altruistic urge.

Prior to a stiff “I’m sorry for what happened to the girls” statement in June, Harris has admitted no wrongdoing. Now that the governor’s study is complete, it seems no blame will be assigned. We can take small comfort that Harris won’t run for another term.

State police investigating the extent of Francis’ abuse forced Harris to acknowledge to parents of his preschool students that a former employee had been convicted of sexually molesting children. Investigators found no specific evidence that Francis abused any children at the preschool, but several parents removed their children from the program anyway.

A year passed.

Without a reporter digging into the matter, the link between the conviction of Eric Francis and the role of Justin and Marsha Harris would never have been made public. Harris had reasons not to want any of this known. Not only was he holding elected office and operating a religious pre-school, he served as the co-chair of the House committee with control over the Department of Human Services. The whole debacle reflected poorly on his judgement.

Apparently none of this lit up on Gov. Hutchinson’s radar when he commissioned the study of DHS even though the trigger for the study was Harris’ accusation that he had to rehome the girls because DHS wouldn’t help. There has been nothing from the governor or in the report to criticize Harris for ignoring DHS advice and pressing for the adoption. There’s been no known follow-up on whether Harris held up the DHS budget request as part of his coercion as alleged by some observers. There’s been no statement by any of Harris’ Republican colleagues in the state legislature as to his ethics–or lack thereof.

Yes, DHS has problems and the report confirms just how bad they are. None of that excuses what Harris did.

Gov. Hutchinson brought in Paul Vincent to conduct the study, an experienced career man who formerly headed Alabama’s social services department. Vincent has conducted similar studies in numerous states. His analysis reveals a state agency in deep distress, understaffed and suffering long-term problems, all of which fell under Harris’ purview as Vice Chair of the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth and as a member of the Joint Budget, a powerful committee which approves all appropriations for state agencies.

The study found that caseworkers in Arkansas are expected to handle twice as many cases as the national average (29 versus 15). The state has only two foster homes for every three children who need them which results in one of every five children in need being placed in a non-family living situation. Some caseworkers are forced to hold the child overnight at the office or at their own home.

The problem gets worse by the day. The number of children in foster care increased in just the last two months from 3,875 to 4,323. Fifty-five percent of fostered children are placed outside their home county because adequate arrangements aren’t available locally. With this kind of pressure within the system, the default option for caseworkers is to ignore cases where abuse is not clear cut.

The outcome is horrific. In 2011, 23 children died in families where social services had been in contact but had not taken the child out of the home. By 2014, the number jumped to 40. Most recently, a six year old boy died of intestinal rupture after being raped by his father. Social services had previously visited the home twice and found nothing to justify removing the child from the home.

The six-year-old raped after being rehomed by Justin and Marsha Harris came from an extremely troubled home situation. According to reports, this middle child of three daughters had already been through hell.

  • The girls had been taken into DHS custody in early 2011 after suffering through a staggering sequence of chaos and abuse. First, [the mother Sarah] Young discovered her husband sexually assaulting Jeannette, the oldest of the three girls, and turned him in; he is now in prison. (Other sources claim Young waited for days to turn the husband over to the police.) Young then became involved with a man who cooked and sold methamphetamine; a fire started by his meth lab provoked a police investigation that sent that man, too, to prison. The child abuse hotline soon thereafter received a call from an individual concerned for the girls’ safety, and investigators found the children in the care of a woman in a house with multiple adults who tested positive for meth; one man at the home had been sexually abusing both Jeannette and Mary, and he is now serving a 120-year sentence. When DHS collected the children, the eldest was 5, the middle girl was 3 and the youngest was under a year old. (More here)

Vincent pointed out the frustration experienced by caseworkers who want to help children and yet are left without sufficient resources and methods by which to do so. In response to the report, Gov. Hutchinson estimates it will mean hiring an additional 200 caseworkers at a cost of at least $8 million. No one knows where that money will come from.

Price tags remain unknown for the report’s recommendation for better and more accessible mental health care for foster children and others in the state’s care. For years, law enforcement and prison administrators have called for better mental health interventions for troubled offenders who end up incarcerated. The death toll among mentally ill prisoners continues to climb along with deaths of abused children while to date the state legislature has made no real strides in addressing this need.

Meanwhile, in their 2015 sessions Harris and fellow legislators spent countless hours fomenting unconstitutional laws to restrict abortion rights and to allow a Ten Commandments monument to be erected on state capitol grounds. And they’ve given themselves a pay increase from $15,869 to $39,400 per year.

If the Justin Harris case hadn’t been brought before the public by a reporter at the Arkansas Times, it’s questionable whether this study would have occurred. Because that’s how things are done in Arkansas. We don’t want to go looking for trouble.

We know trouble is out there. We know we are among the poorest states but other than appropriating scarce tax dollars to bribe companies to locate here, we can’t figure out how to do better.

Nearly 17% of Arkansans never graduate high school and less than 14% obtain a college degree. We have the next to lowest per capita income in the nation. Our crime rate is significantly higher than the national average and our prison population is growing accordingly. We also rank high in poor health, obesity, and use of tobacco and other dangerous drugs.

Despite the continuing lousy achievement levels in Arkansas, we seem incapable of trying to change anything. The conservative voters of this state loathe national standards in education; they want local control and tax dollars for programs such the Harris preschool where children are taught that their misbehavior is the result of demon possession.

Conservatives are outraged by the Affordable Care Act and legislators promise to end the state’s participation despite its progressive reforms including increased coverage for mental health care.

The governor says he will take the DHS problems to the faith-based community to increase foster care resources and improve care. Because religion helped Justin and Marsha Harris make good choices? Because religion guided Eric Francis? Because religion saved those little girls?

Why am I not reassured?

The Devil Within

ID-100214173(1)In my last blog post, I wrote about Josh Duggar, Justin Harris, and Arkansas’ continuing stream of revealed perversion by rightwing religious and political leaders. I thought I said it all. I turned off the light and went to bed.

Then came responses in defense of Josh Duggar. Oh, he was a kid. It happened a long time ago. It wasn’t that big of a deal, and anyway he confessed and asked forgiveness. They prayed and he became closer to God.

So let me first address those points.

There is no evidence that Josh Duggar came forward as a penitent to admit his wrongdoing. The heavily redacted police report allows for multiple interpretations of who said what. “Someone” tearfully came to the Duggar parents, stating that “someone” had been sneaking into “their” bedroom at night and that it had happened “four or five times.”

Another objection to the public airing of the poor boy’s ‘minor offense’ is that he was only fourteen. Yes, when first reported in March 2002, Josh was fourteen. His parents considered ‘discipline’ a sufficient response. Four months later in July 2002, Josh was found to have resumed his incestuous behavior. He was again ‘disciplined.’

Because if it didn’t work the first time, it’s sure to work the second time.

This too failed to achieve the expected results. Once again apparently oblivious to potentially permanent psychological and emotional harm suffered by Josh’s prey, the parents continued life as usual. A full year after the first report, in March 2003, the now-fifteen year old Josh’s incestuous abuse again came to the parents’ attention.

Clearly Josh sought opportunities to ‘cop a feel.’ Just as clearly, his targets did not report every single incident at the time it happened. Josh knew how far he could go without triggering a complaint. This is not the behavior of a child, but rather a person capable of calculated predation.

It was only after this third complaint that Josh’s father Jim Bob Duggar consulted with church elders. That’s because everyone knows that in cases of sexual deviancy and incest, church elders are the experts. According to the police report, the initial consensus was that Josh should be placed in treatment. On second thought, Mr. Duggar voiced concern about the possible negative effects of exposure to other youth at the treatment facility. It was this threat of contamination by troubled non-Christian peers that drove the placement of Josh with a known Christian friend in Little Rock.

Apparently the overriding concern focused on Josh. Get him away from his tempting sisters. Place him with an understanding adult male where no such temptation existed. Put a hammer in his hands and set him to hard labor for a while.

Based on statements made to date, we assume the possibility of mental health care never came up. Evidently a treatment program was initially viewed as a punishment, not a means to access therapy that might have helped Josh understand why he felt such urges. Counseling for his victims also apparently never entered the discussion.

A different face of the same problem awaits appropriate closure in the failed adoption of three sisters by Rep. Justin Harris and his wife Marsha. Certain that God guided them to bring the girls into their home, the Harrises pushed through a private adoption against the advice of therapists and caseworkers for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, who warned that the girls had endured significant sexual abuse in the home. According to the foster parents who had kept the girls in their home for over a year, Harris used his position as a state legislator to pressure DHS to sign off on the adoption.

Almost immediately, the oldest of the three, age six, was sent away after the Harrises experienced the extent of her disturbed behavior first hand. For the next year, the two younger girls suffered through the twisted parenting of Justin and Marsha which included being locked in a room stripped of books, toys, and other diversions and allowed no contact with her sister. The girls were signed in as ‘present’ at the Harris preschool, ‘Growing God’s Kingdom,’ but often were not present. And despite denials by the Harris attorney, former and current school employees have described Marsha Harris’ practice of ‘praying out demons.’ [The Arkansas Times’ ongoing coverage of the Harris adoption/preschool story has included use of assigned names for the three girls. The youngest, age four at the time of the incident described below, has the name Annie.]

The former classroom aide recalled a specific incident in 2013 in which Marsha Harris voiced a conviction that her adopted girls’ behavior was fueled by demonic influences. “I remember [Annie] was in the classroom just crying and crying, and [the other teacher] couldn’t even talk to her. I sat on the floor and started saying, ‘I see a purple dinosaur,’ or whatever was around the room. She’d cry, and then stop and look, and cry again, and I kept talking and kind of brought her out of the little tizzy she was in.

“I finally asked her what’s wrong. She said she wet her pants, and I said, ‘That’s OK, we all have accidents,’ and I went out, took her wet ones off, and was getting some other ones. About that time, Marsha came storming in and said, ‘What’s going on in here?’ I said [Annie] had an accident, and she said, ‘That was no accident.’

“And that’s when she told me that it was one of her demons that was making her do that. Then that afternoon or maybe later, she told me that they’d already driven out nine demons, but [Annie] still has one that’s making her do those kind of things.”

It wasn’t long after, in late 2013, that the Harrises gave up entirely on the girls and shuffled them off to another family, Eric and Stacey Francis.

Evidently God had changed His mind.

Only a few months after that, the middle girl now age six was raped by her new ‘father.’ After that incident and several other revealed instances of sexual abuse by Mr. Francis, he was ultimately sentenced to forty years in prison.

Just as the Duggars kept Josh’s secret for twelve years, so did the Harrises fail to notify parents of their preschool flock that a former instructor, Eric Francis, had been convicted of child rape and molestation. Harris also failed to mention that his and Marsha’s adopted girls had been given to the Francis household. Undoubtedly they would have preferred their role in the whole sordid mess never see the light of day. Only the careful journalism of an Arkansas Times reporter uncovered the mess.

Harris has yet to apologize for his role in this little girl’s rape, for his utter and abject failure as an adoptive parent. Instead, his only response has been through an attorney and an occasional Biblical quote on social media such as: The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.

Oh poor Justin Harris!

Which brings up the bigger problem.

The crushing outcome of the Harris involvement in the lives of these already horrifically traumatized young girls didn’t earn Mr. Harris any censure or removal from office by his rightwing colleagues in the state legislature or a rebuke by the rightwing governor. Based on Mr. Harris’ most recent public appearances and remarks in social media, he continues to view himself as the victim. It surely has not occurred to him that he and his wife might benefit from mental health care in addressing Justin’s god complex and Marsha’s belief in demons.

Where is oversight—government or church—that could intervene? The Harrises are daily in charge of over one hundred vulnerable young minds in an operation funded by our tax dollars.

The failure of the Harrises, Duggars, church elders, and even a state police officer and elected officials to understand the need for mental health care for abuser and victims stems from the pervasive practice of willful ignorance among fundamental/evangelical extremists in general. They view mental health caregivers in the same ilk as witches and ‘godless pagans.’ There’s a belief that what a person ‘thinks’ is between him and God. Prayer is the cure for all ills.

For most extremists, practice of faith has moved a few steps away from refusing all medical care. But anyone can see a broken arm. No one can see the terror and confusion inside little girls who have lived with sexual abuse by meth addicts in their family home, then suffered moving through foster care to finally be adopted before learning—from their new parents—that they are demon possessed. No one can see emotional trauma that results from sexual molestation such as anxiety, fear, or post-traumatic stress disorder likely to surface years later in the Duggar abuse case. No one can see the obsession controlling the abuser’s acts, the neurochemical and dissociative high produced by intense sexual fantasy likely to surface at some point in Josh Duggar’s future.

This willful ignorance and inevitable negative results hold true not only in Christian fundamentalism-evangelism, but also in Amish communities and populations of orthodox Jews. One Israeli study confirmed that “…religious Jews who were in prison were more likely to be in for sex crimes.”[1] A study of freshmen at a southern university in the U.S. found that “…those who had been sexually abused by a relative were much more likely to be affiliated with fundamental Protestant religions.”[2] It probably goes without saying that Catholics have a sordid history along these lines. A study of religious affiliations among adult sexual offenders found that persons who maintained religious involvement from childhood to adulthood had more sexual offense convictions, more victims, and younger victims, than other groups including atheists.[3]

Studies in social dynamics have long shown that placing a person in absolute authority over others often leads to tyrannical behavior. The set-up for sexual abuse is inherent in patriarchal environments required by fundamentalist religion. The all-powerful male gains a sense of divine empowerment: “I can do anything. God is with me.” Abusers believe forgiveness through confession and prayer solves any problem. The abuser struggles with obsessive responses to sexual repression. The victims are within easy access, either siblings, children in a church group, or a church member seeking emotional support for some personal crisis. The victim trusts the abuser and accepts his authority. Fear and shame often prevent the victim from talking to anyone about the experience(s).[4]

In 2001, Dr. James Dobson’s evangelical radio show “Focus on the Family” hosted a discussion about a “crisis” among pastors of evangelical churches. A study had found that 21% of evangelical/protestant pastors had had inappropriate sexual contact with members of their congregations including children and youth. Sixty percent had a problem with pornography. Victims were pressured not to report the abuse—it would harm the church, harm the mission. God does not want you to tell, the Bible says to handle such offenses privately.

It’s almost as if sex offenders self-select for extremist religion because (a) they don’t understand their secret desires would be more appropriately addressed by mental health care, (b) God will cure/forgive them, and (c) they are more able to indulge their illness in an environment rich with molestation opportunities.

The rot goes all the way to the top.

After a particularly threatening scandal came to light in a 2011 20/20 report, the nation’s flagship fundamentalist institution Bob Jones University commissioned an internal study by a group called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE). GRACE was founded by Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham and a professor at Liberty University. In 2003, driven by his experiences as a sex crimes prosecutor, Tchividjian set up a team of investigators including lawyers, pastors, and therapists. He sums up his work over the intervening years by stating that evangelicals are worse than Catholics at covering up sexual abuse.

[An extensive article about the work of GRACE can be found here.]

GRACE spent over two years working on the Bob Jones University case. They found that men in top positions at the school, one of them charged with providing counseling to students, routinely engaged in victim blaming and shaming in order to suppress complaints. After BJU reviewed preliminary copies of the GRACE study, they attempted to cancel the study. That too became public and they re-engaged. Released in late 2014, the study revealed that Bob Jones III, chancellor and grandson of the founder, and Jim Berg, counselor and dean of students for thirty years, earned the harshest criticism. (Typical for such cases, Berg had zero professional training in counseling.)

GRACE found that students who reported abuse were blamed for bringing it on themselves and that proper authorities had not been notified. The organization said Jones, as the president from 1971 until 2005, and Berg, who stepped down as dean in 2010, were primarily responsible. The report recommended that Jones be disciplined and that Berg be banned from both counseling and teaching counseling and that the school no longer use or sell his books or DVDs.

To date, BJU has ignored these recommendations. Berg remains on staff. BJU ‘investigated’ and found that his teaching materials followed the Bible and there was no reason to discontinue them. The school evidenced no concern for the emotional or psychological health of the victims, not only students at BJU, but people everywhere who relied on Berg’s teaching materials for guidance on how to handle such problems.

What did GRACE find at BJU that caused them to recommend the dismissal of Berg? Here’s a small sample from the report:

[BJU student Cathy] Harris said she was counseled by Berg for six months in 1996 after she started to have flashbacks of childhood sexual abuse. She said she’d go to his office on the second floor of the Administration Building weekly and sit in a wing-back chair. He remained seated behind his desk.

She told him she wanted to go to the police, she said.

“He said the police wouldn’t believe me,” she said.

He told her a report would bring shame on the cause of Christ.

Berg also asked whether she felt any pleasure during any of the abuse and, if she did, she needed to repent, she said.

[See more here ]

Tchividjian says the goal of GRACE is to avoid a major scandal for Protestants similar to what happened over a period of years within the Catholic church. He wants churches to be more open, more responsive to the victims’ needs. Tchividjian worries that while a few larger institutions and even a few homeschooling systems have accessed GRACE and followed its recommendations, many who commission studies refuse to accept the final report. It’s a perfect storm of denial and the inability to comprehend the full extent of the problem.

Even worse, many churches and homeschooling networks in particular continue to operate with the traditional patriarchal framework that leads to such abuses in the first place: authority of males over females, an obsession with sexuality, tribalism, hostility to science and anything else modern, and an extremely literal interpretation of the Bible.[5] The persons in charge are those who have the most to lose. They won’t let go easily.

Coming Soon: The Threat of Willful Ignorance

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

[1] Ben-David S, & Weller L (1995). Religiosity,criminality and types of offences of Jewish male prisoners. Medicine and law, 14 (7-8), 509-19 PMID: 8667998

[2] Stout-Miller, R., Miller, L., & Langenbrunner, M. (1998). Religiosity and Child Sexual Abuse: A Risk Factor Assessment Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 6 (4), 15-34 DOI: 10.1300/J070v06n04_02

[3] Eshuys, Donna and Stephen Smallbone, “Religious Affiliations Among Adult Sexual Offenders.” August 2006. http://static1.squarespace.com/static/500ee7f0c4aa5f5d4c9fee39/t/53e90d54e4b07e6a4418caff/1407782228523/Religious+Affiliations+Among+Adult+Sexual+Offenders.pdf

[4] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/07/03/does-religion-and-not-just-catholicism-produce-more-than-its-fair-share-of-child-abusers/

[5] “The Duggars: How Fundamentalism’s Teachings on Sexuality Create Predatory Behavior ,” Diary of an Autodidact. May 23, 2015. http://fiddlrts.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-duggars-how-fundamentalisms.html