"So," the officer (who happened to be female) asked her male counterpart, "Is he a victim, too?"
Knowing the question was not directed to me, but to the police officer who had been taking my statement, the question confused me. My first thought, having been involved in foster and adoptive situations for ten years now, is that she was referring to our sixteen-year-old son, handcuffed in the back of one of the three squad cars parked at the curb of our quiet, residential neighborhood. Looking at me, the officer asked, "Were you concerned for your safety during this disturbance?" It was then that I realized, to my surprise, that the first officer was asking if I would be classified a "victim" of domestic assault as a result of John's barrage of filthy insults and baseball-wielding window smashing a few minutes earlier. Looking to me for my response, the officer noted my "yes" with professional emotionlessness.
It's strange being classified a "victim." In my work over the years, both as a pastor and in diverse forays into the juvenile justice system, I have worked with many "victims." All of my children, adopted as they were, to one degree or another, are victims of something. They have been victims of early childhood traumas -- too little food, too little nurture, too little structure, too little care. Some of my children have dealt with their early childhood traumas by overcoming their obstacles and finding success. We can look at them and feel that we have contributed to their personal good and to the ultimate good of society. But some of our children have to this point been unable to overcome their early years of adversity. They continue to lack trust, or motivation, or attachment or the skills to navigate life with any degree of success. They continue to be victims.
And now I am a victim, too. What a strange world is the one of adoptive parents. And to what or whom are we victims? I refuse to believe that I am solely a victim of a deranged son's abusive outbursts. Yes, I am a victim of domestic assault in the legal sense. The Minnesota statutes are very clear in that way, and an individual can be arrested for domestic assault whether the "victim" presses charges or not. And yes, I am a victim of domestic assault in the emotional sense. Hearing the repeated threats and the words, "This one is for you, fucking Bart" as the screen, window and frame of one of our large kitchen windows is repeately pummeled with an alumninum baseball bat feels quite personal to me. While I have not (yet) been subject to physical injury, I must admit that I wonder when that line might be crossed.
I am victim, and so is our son. He was victimized for years in a household that dealt with frustration and disappontment with beatings, verbal abuse and emotional torture. He has been victimized for the past several years by a social services system that empowered his manipulative ploys and believed his half-truths. He has been victimized by a lack of available and appropriate mental health interventions. He has been victimized by a legal system that knows only to initiate a CHIPS ("Child in Need of Protection or Services" it is called in Minnesota) petition against his parents, in which his parents are made the suspects and in which their motives are impugned.
Make no mistake about what I write. I am not defending our son's behavior. I am angry, I am concerned, I am embarrassed. I am wary. I am angry that our parental concerns of five years ago were inadequately handled by the professionals. I am concerned about what "next time" might look like should he return to our home. I am embarrassed that as his father for eight years I could not break thorugh the early years of abuse and neglect to inspire a different way of life for him. I am wary to trust him, wary of the damage this will have on our other children who deserve more in life than witnessing this behavior, and wary that my spouse and I do not share the same vision of his future.
I am a victim, but I am not alone. My spouse is a victim. Our other children are victims. John is a victim. We are victims together, but there is no victory in such camaraderie. There are no winners when it comes to domestic assault