• Mary O'Sullivan

The Children Behind The Wall

Updated: Oct 13

The statue on the cover of the book is called “Reaching Out,” and it was created by Dr. Michael Irving, a sculptor and abuse survivor who became Chris’s therapist.

#childabusemonument #survivormonumentproject

For years, while Chris was too ill to take the subway by himself, I would drop him off at Dr. Irving’s house (his office was in the back), and take a few minutes to study the massive sculpture sitting in his front yard. It sat there for years, while Dr. Irving tried to interest various organizations in sponsoring a memorial to abuse victims.


On one trip to pick Chris up from therapy, I brought my grandsons along; we were all going back to my house afterward. Kevin was nine years old, and Shawn was four, and they were both fascinated by the statue. They circled it several times; Shawn playfully measured his hands against the handprints in the squares, while Kevin studied the designs and words with a puzzled look. Finally, he turned to me and asked, “What are the pictures about?”

I opened my mouth to answer him, and I swear the words froze in my throat. I was looking at two children who had been loved and cared for all their lives, who had probably not even been spanked as far as I knew. How could I explain that the squares represented children who had been molested by adults, some of them by their own mothers and fathers? How could I describe what “molesting” meant to children who may not even have much of a concept of sex? Would they even be able to understand what I was explaining? And if they did, what would it do to their view of the world – their innocence, if you wanted to call it that?

I can’t remember what lame explanation I finally blurted out, but the feeling stayed with me. I could suddenly understand the parents who worried about sex education in schools, even though as a parent I had not been concerned about it. Knowledge is a responsibility, and it can be scary to burden a child with that particular knowledge.


Then I remembered a study I had read about while working with speech-impaired clients. The people in the study used symbol boards to communicate. At first, there were no symbols for genitals or sexual terms. After the board makers belatedly added those symbols, they found that people overwhelmingly used them – to report sexual abuse! It wasn’t being reported because there were no words to describe the experiences.


Like the board makers, I felt more comfortable keeping a wall between my grandchildren and the difficult subject of sexuality, especially sexual abuse. The problem is that there are children on the other side of that wall, children who are horribly aware that something very bad is happening to them but who lack the words to express what was happening, or the understanding that it is not normal or okay. And if the price of our children’s “innocence” and our own comfort is to sacrifice the innocence, safety, and futures of these other children, then it is a price we do not have a right to negotiate. That is the very definition of a devil’s bargain.


As I was mulling this over, my four-year-old grandson called, “Nana! Come look!” He showed me one of the squares, and exclaimed proudly, “Look! That hand is the same size as mine!”


#childabuse