From a review of Kathryn Harrison’s new book While They Slept, about a boy who murders his parents:
When Billy Gilley is 13, stealing cigarettes leads him to the Childrenâ€™s Services Division, where the boy trustingly told a social worker about his family: the drinking, fighting, extreme verbal abuse in a family where customarily, after sentencing by his mother, his father would tie him to a tractor tire in order to immobilize him for beating with a rubber hose. He described for the social worker how his parents were, in Billyâ€™s terms, â€œcrazy and unfit.â€
The child told his story, and the social workerâ€™s response was to repeat it to those abusive parents. Furious, they demanded to speak with him in private, so that he recanted and said he had been lying. The parents threatened to sue the agency, which fired the social worker and destroyed the record of her conversation with Billy, leaving only the annotation that the child was a liar. . . .Having acquired literacy skills in prison, he writes and illustrates childrenâ€™s books. In these books, large-eyed animals play an important role: children are in trouble or distress, and human adults cannot understand or help. The animals understand the children, and bring them to safety.
This reminds me of two things. Many years ago, such as in the 1920s, cancer was a terrible thing and a total mystery. People didn’t like to talk about it. Likewise the social worker’s actions are a terrible thing and a total mystery. What should be done about such behavior? Nobody wants to talk about it. The other thing this reminds me of is the Ten Commandments. Here is something else no one talks about: There is no commandment against child abuse. No stealing: yes. No murder: yes. No adultery: yes. No child abuse: no. Stealing is worse than child abuse? Huh?
Well, at least the review is titled “Speaking the Unspeakable.”