Note: My story is unfortunately not atypical for a youth in foster care. Rape, abuse, neglect and emotional harm are all rampant in the system. If you'd like to help please don't hesitate to search for your local foster care groups -- even if you can't parent, you can still volunteer, become a CASA, or otherwise make a difference.
It's funny how the past fragments sometimes. Mostly I just have two big bundles of my shitty childhood. There's "home" and "foster care." Foster care consisted of home after home after home, and subsequent disappointments (of mine and my foster parents'...) it really just blurs into one miserable lump until something comes into my consciousness that demands attention. That's usually when my therapist learns about it, I get to revisit it and process it, and occasionally rant about it here because that's how I do. When it's time to share, well, it's time to share.
The foster care system just about breaks its neck getting parents and kids reunited, even though logic would dictate that isn't always a reasonable or good thing. Some families suck. If "reunification with bio parents" (I remember all the shitty legal terms) isn't possible, sometimes an alternative in the State's eyes is a permanent guardian in the child's family--think aunt, uncle, grandparent. The theory here again is that family=better than strangers. I might even argue for that one, but on a case by case basis. Sorry, but blood does not guarantee safety, as I unfortunately learned when I was sixteen.
I was placed with such a family member. The State and my caseworkers all breathed a huge sigh of relief and told me this was it, this was the place I would graduate from, the place I'd say until I was old enough for college and my amazing wonderful life. Never mind the fact that an older sister was placed with this same family member years earlier, and moved "because they couldn't get along." Oh.
My focus today isn't the abuse that went on inside that home; it was there and plentiful, but the real issue stems from the notion that this was "a good place for you" despite all of that abuse. Monthly visits from caseworker? Nope. Assurance that I was being taken care of, private conversations and the ability for me to share any concerns? Nope. Any sort of interventions or therapy or god forbid, those fucking life skills classes? Nope. I was with family, you see, I had to be doing great!
For brevity's sake, I will refer to my male abuser my uncle, though he wasn't. He started off innocently playing the "cool parent" card, letting me do things and go places the other parent wouldn't. I got the impression that he really wanted me to like him. For a month or so there were no sinister undertones, likely because he was 'testing the waters' with me. His spouse confided in me during this time that before I moved in, a note had come attached to their car from a young woman threatening charges and pleading to have something done about this man--he was sending her flowers, leaving her messages, stalking her. My family member basically admitted this was true, after her own investigation. It blew me away that she was still with this man whom she knew had stalked a young girl.
This was significant as not only a warning of what I could expect in the future, but a warning that even if I presented evidence or stories of abuse, it wouldn't matter. Every time I considered opening up to this family member, who I had zero interest in opening up to or trusting, I remembered the reaction to a blatant stalking issue and refrained. There was no one else there to listen.
Again I'm not going into details here, but I think most sex offenders toe the line and see how far they can get with no resistance, and that's what I experienced. Lucky him, I was a terrified and confused and disgusted teenager with no support, no one telling me to stand up for myself, and zero intrusive adults who would protect me--in foster care, opening your mouth about anything leaves you vulnerable to attacks, the threat of a group home, your juvenile judge finding out and punishing you, and so on.
He was grooming me for this time period. Things like forcing me to watch porn, making me wear lingerie and subsequent "topless lotion massages" in the lingerie...you get the gist. But the turning point, the really scary part, happened at the flea market he worked weekends at. I was inclined to go with him to help him sell old, out of date candy--at first I thought it was fun, and a break to get out of the house--but I learned to dread it really quickly once he introduced me to his "friend."
The flea market was a huge gathering in an enclave of mostly Latinos, with a few white salvagers sprinkled in. We fit that category, as well as this "friend." Friend was an older, wiry man in his 50's who peddled boxes and boxes of VHS porn. I mean this stuff was straight out of the 80's, down to the explicit and sun-faded covers. At first my "uncle" introduced us and combed through the VHS tapes, eagerly instructing me to pick out something we could "watch later". This was in broad daylight, in front of crowds of people. How embarrassed I felt, halfheartedly digging through the damn things and knowing what came next at home.
One weekend we were at our booth when Friend approached, and blatantly began asking me about my sex life. He was thrilled that I was a virgin. "But you haven't done nothin'?" Nope. "What about tongue kissin'?" That, I had done. "Oh, good. That's good." My uncle seemed to be taking notes as he looked back and forth excitedly. I knew he was inexperienced at whatever this guy was experienced at. It got around to, "Those are nice clothes. You buy those clothes yourself?" Most are given to me, I'm a charity case. "You want some money? Buy you some nice clothes?" Regrettably, all of the booths around us were Latinos, and they couldn't understand a word of what we were saying. Even though it was a sunny summer day with crowds of people walking by, I felt so cold, and terrified, and alone.
I told him I didn't need money, that I got an allowance from the State. (I was supposed to, but my family member never gave it to me, but that's besides the point) He segued the conversation farther, into asking me if I wanted to leave for a bit that afternoon and see his "art studio." A swift nope. I walked away and pretended to do something stupid like sort through candy or make a sale, and I heard the two of them talking. I heard specifics--it's not like they were quiet about this. Friend reassured Uncle that he could have me back in a week or two. Uncle expressed that I was a foster kid and couldn't miss school. We could do it during one of the school breaks, maybe. Wherever he was taking me wasn't far, he said. He suggested pulling the van up one day at the flea market. Their view was essentially that a weekend criminal event (as they viewed it) would be full of people who would turn their heads. He discussed that I was "Less valuable" as an "older girl" but I still looked "pretty young" especially with my braces. Outfits were discussed, cameras.
I stormed off and made sure to stay in plain sight. I had no idea what to do. I ended up at a vendor who sold ripoff Nike beanies, a young Latino who spoke about three words of English. In broken Spanish I tried to enthusiastically tell him I wanted to better my Spanish. I had no idea what else to do. He was eager to improve his English he said, so he and his booth-neighbors struck up conversations with me. I wished more than anything to have a way to tell them "please help me" or "watch for me in case I'm not here one day" but we didn't have google translate back in the day.
Every Saturday after that was pure torture. I tried to fake sick. My uncle was adamant about dragging me out of bed on a Saturday morning--there was no stipulation or requirement of child labor from the State, but I guess that was far above his morals. I would set up candy and make my way over to my beanie vendor and his friends. I nervously stayed in the heart of the market, never going too close to the dirt roads that encircled it, in case that unmistakable white van was waiting to pick me up. I did see it cruise by several times. I heard Friend, at his booth, call me over, several times. I played deaf. I got chewed out by my Uncle for being lazy and "flirting with the Mexicans instead of working." He tried to intimidate me into staying at the booth, but I was too afraid.
After around two months worth of weekends spent in perpetual fear, Friend, Friend's booth full of old porn tapes, and all mention of him disappeared completely. I looked over my shoulder from summer into fall, but he never came back and was never mentioned. I don't know what happened to him and only hope it was something in the realm of what he deserved--unfortunately the universe rarely works that way. But a girl can still hope.
It wasn't soon after the Friend debacle that uncle moved out of the house we were in to be with the woman he was having an affair with, and I honestly could not have rejoiced more.
There were other incidents in that foster home (and subsequent ones, though nothing that dramatic I'm happy to report!) but this ends the tale of the time I dodged being used in child porn. These horrible rings and circles are closer than you'd ever imagine--take care of yourself and your kids.