Essay by Rachel Mallino Fowley

I Am Jane Doe’s Daughter

In the aftermath of the most horrific mass shooting our country has ever seen, a courageous woman wrote about her own nightmare and burden, comparing herself to the slain mother of a mass murderer. The article, entitled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” blew a hole through our fractured mental health system. Her intent, as I understood it, was to show the world that, despite all of her attempts to seek help, the “system” continues to fail her and she is frightened – very frightened – of her own son. And she wants help.

Monsters really do live in closets.

I am Jane Doe’s daughter. I, too, have sought help. My first therapy session was at age 13. By 35, I had seen over a dozen psychotherapists and psychiatrists. I’ve had more diagnoses than fingers. But there is one constant diagnosis with regards to my ill functioning brain – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I once begged to be checked in to a psychiatric hospital. In 2012, I was eligible to participate in a drug trial at The National Institute for Mental Health in DC, where I stayed as an inpatient for four months. Why? Because as a child, I was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused at the hands of a woman – my mother.

For the sake of this story, I am referring to my mother by her current married name. Before Doe, she was Smith, and before Smith, she was Jones. My mother is a public school teacher, currently teaching middle school children at Palm Springs Community Middle School (formerly, Jefferson Davis Middle School) in West Palm Beach, Florida. Yes, I’m outing her. Because, despite the crimes of which she made me a victim, she also had sex with a sixteen year old boy when I was fifteen years old, in our home. I was there, with my boyfriend at the time. There was an investigation, but nothing ever came of it. She continued to teach and still does to this day.

I was abused on a daily basis, but because this is not a book, I will stick to the most damaging atrocities. Between the ages of eight and ten, every weekend, my mother forced me to visit her pool- hall junkie boyfriend, a man by the name of Jimmy Doe, whose living situation consisted of various cheap motel rooms. During those visits, I was forced to watch Jimmy and my mother have sex. In fact, that’s all they did. It was a curious situation – every motel room Jimmy rented only had one bed. I had few options: either sit on the same bed where they were having sex, sit in a chair that faced the bed where they were having sex, or hide in the bathroom. I can remember instances while hiding in the bathroom, my mother calling out, “what are you doing in there” – as if to say, “Why aren’t you out here watching us fuck?” Beyond the sex, their interactions were always sexually gratuitous – it was normal for Jimmy to grab my mother’s vagina while kissing her good-bye.

On the car ride home from several of these sexual exploits, my mother would find a reason to scream at me, I had engaged in some imaginary wrong doing that would cause her to become irate. My punishment was my mother flooring the gas pedal as we traveled down a busy road and her threatening to “slam the car into a brick wall and kill us both”. I believed, without a doubt, that my own mother was going to murder me.

What makes this situation a purposeful crime against my innocence is that during these years, my mother and I lived with my grandparents. There was no logical reason I had to join my mother to these motel rooms and watch her have sex. She could have easily left me with my grandparents. This is sexual abuse – at the hands of a woman.

Along with the sexual abuse, my mother was violently physically abusive. She has punched me in the face and blackened my eyes – to which I was instructed to go to school and tell people that I accidentally“ran into the stationary bicycle”. I was strangled on a number of occasions and once again, instructed to lie when I went to school. This time, it was a “sun rash”. Many times my mother publicly dragged me by my hair down the street as I screamed for help, but no one ever came. I was beaten more times than I can count with wooden salad spoons and told that if I cried, she would beat me more. I was slapped, back-handed, knuckles protruding, on a regular basis. Her knuckle bones seemed as round as globes. I was forced to sit on my knees, facing a corner, for hours. I am embarrassed to admit that I was beaten numerous times for not being able to have a bowel movement every day when I was a little girl.

As for the emotional abuse, she spewed it out as if she were vomiting up spoiled food. I am my father, I will grow up to be nothing, I am useless and ugly. One Christmas, she refused to purchase a Christmas tree or presents, but offered to pay for a nose job. This was her way, once again, to beat down and crush my already fragile self esteem. If I made an A- on a test, I was berated because it wasn’t an A+. As punishment, she took scissors to all of the clothes in my closet. She cut and cut until there was nothing left. She cut until there was nothing left of me.

My final beating occurred when I was fifteen. My mother leapt from a chair, grabbed me by my hair, tossed me to the ground face-first, forced her knee into the small of my back and proceeded to slam my face numerous times against the floor. As she did this, she screamed, “I’m going to kill you”. I was fifteen and thought, finally, my life is over. Finally.

It was at that moment I was able to escape. I ran away and lived on the streets of Florida for six months. I’ll spare you the sad stories of what a fifteen year old girl sometimes has to do in order to not sleep in a park bathroom. (Something I’ve actually done.) But I lived. And at sixteen, the father I never knew flew to Florida and put me on a plane to Pittsburgh, where I lived until I was eighteen.

As for my mother, I have never spoken to her again. During the years she abused me, I was summoned to the school office once and asked about my home life situation. I lied. I lied because I was terrified of what my mother would do if she found out I told them the truth. During those years, not a single family member stepped in to rescue me. Now that I’m older, and no longer under my mother’s thumb, I have no way of prosecuting her for her crimes. The justice system surrounding adult children of child abusers is a fractured system. The statute of limitations removes the possibility of prosecution once an adult is willing and able to confront the crimes caused by our perpetrators. The bruises are gone. All that remains is a brain injury. Adult children of child abusers are the only group of victims told to “forgive” their perpetrators without any real justice served. My mother will never see the inside of a jail cell. She continues on with her life, now remarried and with a son who is about to graduate high school. I’ve made several attempts to contact him and make him aware that if he ever needs a place to run, that my door is always open to him.

Unfortunately, my life has not continued. I am still my mother’s prisoner. I am Jane Doe’s daughter. I do not leave the confines of my bedroom. I have tried and taken more psychotropics than I can count. I’ve been to therapy. I’ve seen the bleached white walls of psychiatric institutions. I don’t sleep. I am unable to properly convey to the best man in the world, my husband, just how much I love him. I am emotionally absent yet filled to the brim with resentment toward a system that does not acknowledge the crimes that were made against me, crimes that severed part of me and now I stumble around as if I have a phantom limb. I can feel that part of me that is missing. I am a phantom person. But now I’m ready for as many people to know who this phantom person is:   I am Jane Doe’s Daughter.

I do not want anyone’s pity. I want, what I believe many adult children of child abusers want – acknowledgement. I can no longer carry this abuse around in silence. If the current justice system is unable to acknowledge the fact that I have been a victim of numerous crimes at the hands of my own mother, then I feel that I’ve been forced to create my own justice. That justice, for me, is to OUT the sadistic and dangerous criminal slithering about her community, working at your public schools, and still abusing.

My mother is Jane Doe.  And I am her daughter.

Piece by Rachel Mallino Fowley, accomplished poet and writer, and founder of the organization IACHD, dedicated to assisting adult survivors of child abuse through support groups and legal assistance. You may find and contact her online through their website or on Facebook (under her name.) 

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If you’re in an abusive situation, or a homeless teen, and need help, please call one of the hotlines here: http://teenadvice.about.com/library/weekly/aa070500a.htm

National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800- 448-4663

Provides counseling and referrals to local drug treatment centers, shelters, and counseling services. Responds to youth dealing with pregnancy, molestation, suicide, and child abuse. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.

For young adults (18-24) who are homeless or abuse survivors, you may contact Covenant House, the Larkin Street Youth Center (San Francisco) or Safe Horizons (New York City.)

Here’s a link to a book on how to create safety and hold perpetrators of any kind of interpersonal abuse accountable through community-based methods, if you need or would like alternatives to the legal system: http://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Starts-Home-Confronting-Communities/dp/0896087948 (this is NOT vigilante violence or revenge stuff, it’s a guide to building a community that makes violence and bullying unacceptable. Creating safety in ways that go beyond relying on the criminal justice system.)

Also, Rachel Mallino Fowley recommends two books: Trauma and Recovery, by Dr. Judith Herman, MD, which explains how and why adult survivors can continue to be affected psychologically and physically from childhood abuse. Also Understanding the Borderline Mother by Christine Lawson, which describes the psyche and actions of some mothers with mental illnesses that can leave them prone to abusing their children, and gives a sense of what the children can experience being raised in those situations.

Finally, and most of all, Rachel encourages any young person who’s being abused to speak out and tell a responsible adult (another parent, a teacher, a counselor, scout leader, neighbor, etc.) as there are often people who care and can help you get out of the situation. This is not easy but as she knows, you are not alone.