Truths, Trials, and Tribulations in Spotsylvania County

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A story of abuse spanning generations

My parents had a messy, turbulent marriage and an incredibly destructive divorce when I was very young.  I have only one memory of them in the same room, and it was a very tense and strange experience, like my double life was overlapping in a weird way.  I had two separate families, two separate homes, two separate personas.  The separation was a strain on me, and at times could be frustrating for me to navigate.  I don’t mean to dwell on my past, but context will be key in understanding the far reaches of the abuse that has taken place here.

Life is so strange.  In a moment, the past can shift from a figment of memory, to something much stronger and unavoidable.  I have always been drawn to loose ends as a kid, and I generally concerned myself with very adult matters, much to the irritation of the adults in my life.  Despite being an old soul, a child who never stopped prodding at the well meaning lies of the adults around me, I started to realize cracks in my grandmother’s explanations of why I couldn’t play outside by myself, why I wasn’t allowed to play with certain kids, but others in the neighborhood were totally fine.  Her answers were shallow, and I wanted to understand her reasoning, but as usual my questions went unanswered.

Despite being only a few houses down and having children my age, my Grandmother forbade me to play with members of the Galyen family during the summers I spent with her in Virginia.  My constant questioning of this rule eventually wore her down to give me a few more details each time.  It seems one of the Galyens, specifically, would sit at her kitchen window and try to watch her undress in the evenings while touching himself.  I was shocked, but still couldn’t understand why his kids would be off-limits to me, and I had a feeling there was much more to this story.  

Over the next few years, I was able to piece together small bits of conversations that I overheard, and mentions of this family’s past taboo behavior.  It was known in the community that members of the Galyen family had a penchant for incestuous relations, and were prone to display this behavior in front of others in the neighborhood as a weird perversion that they enjoyed together.  In the mid-nineties, their lewd behavior began to escalate and become public.  One of the Galyens was found masturbating outside a restaurant, and managed to have the charges reduced to indecent exposure.  His brother was convicted for the incestuous rape of his thirteen-year-old daughter.  There were many more incidents like these that would crop up in conversation, or the local newspaper, many of which were downplayed, and most of which went unpunished.

It’s been years since I thought about any of this, but this summer it came flooding back when I received a phone-call from my dad, who is currently fighting stage-4 cancer, and dealing with a lot of grief, and life reflection.  He told me a story about abuse by several members of the Galyen family that started when he was just five years old.  The stories he was able to tell me were horrific; I couldn’t imagine these things happening to him.  The acts that he described were unspeakable, and I was filled with anger and rage, sorrow, regret, and more anger…But mostly, I experienced a deep understanding of who my dad really is, why he turns to alcohol and violence to silence these demons that prod him every day of his life; He has been running away from his perpetrators and their wide-spread abuse for 50 years.  He told me of other victims that we both know, and my heart was shattered at this harsh reality lying just beneath the surface of my understanding.  I had spent time with both the victims and perpetrators.  I had been manipulated by these people too, and I was furious. 

My reaction toward my dad was nothing but acceptance, and support, but underneath my blood was turning.  I wanted action and I needed to do something.  I was going to take these fuckers down by exposing them to everyone they knew, but my anger was poisoning me.  I couldn’t get out of bed.  I stopped creating new work.  I became seriously depressed.  I wasn’t taking care of myself.  I turned to substance to cover my emotions and my vivid understanding of what had gone unspoken.  I was completely detached from reality and living in the past, experiencing the crimes carried out on my father’s adolescent body again and again.

My first plan of action is one I’m not particularly proud of:  I created hundreds of fliers with information about these serial-rapists, many of whom still have access to children on a regular basis.  I included their criminal records to show that these were not empty allegations, but that several victims lie in their wake.  I collected addresses for family, friends, community members, pastors, and church congregations, and I was ready to burn them all to the ground and uncover the secrets they had been keeping for decades.  But something happened, and I woke up from this nightmare with the realization that being aggressive and angry wasn’t going to solve my pain.  I understood that wanting to shame them and get revenge was a path that only led to my own demise.  After much thought and serious discussions with family and friends, I made a plan to advocate for the victims of these heinous crimes, and to leave the perpetrators to live with the knowledge that their secret was no longer safe.  

My main concern was for the two young girls living with members of the Galyen family, Granddaughters to my dad’s main abuser, who were adopted into his household.  During a few of my childhood summers, my mom picked me up for a week long vacation spent with members of the Galyen family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  She was completely unaware of their secret sexual indiscretions, despite my dad’s vehement protests against my attendance.  Because of their combative relationship, the disagreement seemed to be founded in jealousy, or anger.  My mom had no way of knowing the deeply seated reasons for my dad to be so against spending time with the Galyen family.  Before each vacation, both my dad and grandma would repeat warnings to stay away from the senior Galyen, and to never find myself in a room alone with him.  Unfortunately, it was his son that tried to touch me under the water while we were swimming in the ocean.  I fought off his advances, leaving welts on his back, as he ran to his mother crying that I had attacked him.  He manipulated the situation to make me the attacker, landing me grounded, confined to a chair next to the adults, where I could be better supervised.  On several later occasions, I was propositioned for sex by the same boy who was a few years older than me.  His advances started when I was ten years old, and I was lucky to have been confident in my voice as a young girl which kept me safe and unharmed.  I can only imagine what these girls have experienced living in a household with these predatory men.  I’m under no illusion that they have been able to evade the sexual aggression that I’ve been so lucky to avoid during vacations spent with the Galyens.  

As soon as I found an opportunity, I booked a trip home to Virginia to meet with community leaders to share the information my dad had passed on to me.  After much discussion with family, this was deemed the most responsible thing to do as I had information that could serve to protect others in the community from this family.  My dad was not fit to endure a lengthy court battle given his terminal cancer, and most other victims of these crimes had been threatened and manipulated into silence.  This was the best path to resolution given the circumstance.  As almost every member of the extended Galyen family is active in the church, I took it upon myself to notify each of their pastors.  I grew up under a youth pastor who was later convicted for distributing child pornography, so I have a complicated relationship with organized religion because of the experiences I had with my church as a child. For this reason, it was a difficult endeavor to go speak with pastors of different churches.  It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but it was something I had to do. 

After emailing pastors at several churches, I met with each of them and received so much understanding and empathy; I felt so heard and understood.  I was looking to share meaningful information that could prevent more abuse and save someone’s life.  The first church I visited was the most difficult, and also the most rewarding.  The pastor there met me with an open mind and spoke with me as a victim.  He prayed for me, and offered me kind words of encouragement.  I left the church with tears in my eyes, knowing that I was meant to come back home and share this experience with him, an emotional experience that will be with me for many years to come.  That was the push I needed to power through and create the meaningful impact I hoped to see.  I called Child Protective Services and shared with them all the information I had regarding the family, if only to have my account recorded if something ever happened to the girls.  Everything I was doing was lifting me up and making me feel lighter.  I had one more church to attend before I burned the fliers ceremoniously in an attempt to cleanse away my negative feelings and move on.    

As I pulled up to the quaint church in rural Virginia, I noticed only one car in the parking lot.  I was a little early, but I figured this was either the pastor, or the deacon he had asked to have present for our meeting.  Getting out of the car, a huge man awaited me and let me know he was there for the meeting and that we could sit inside until the pastor came to join us.  Upon sitting down, he began to ask me questions about who I was and where I was from.  He asked me which Coopers in the area I was related to, and finally let me know that he lived just a few doors down from my grandmother.  He was the only Galyen I had never met, and I had not recognized his face with a mask on.  I sat in the realization that this man was one of my father’s abusers and rapists - I could reach my hand out and touch him.  He was clearly there to stop me from speaking out about his past crimes.  I calmly let him know I left something in my car, and I left abruptly.  I was not about to be intimidated, but my imagination was running wild with all the ways this situation could easily become violent.  I frantically emailed the church secretary and Pastor, letting them know that they had just put me alone in a room with my father’s rapist.  This was their only reply:

“The accusations you are making should be delivered to the police department for formal action.  After that the church will respond based upon the investigation by the police department.”

No questions about whether I had proof.  No questions about my safety.  No apology for their clear misconduct in showing members of the church an email that was meant specifically for the pastor.  No care at all.  I was honestly stunned, and informed them that I meant not to disparage anyone in their congregation, but to pass along information that could be used to protect the members of their parish.  No reply.  This man is a deacon at their church.  A man who is supposed to exhibit strong moral character, chosen for devout attributes who assists the pastor, preaches to the congregation and reaches out to the community.  I could see that it was no coincidence that he was waiting there for me and that he knew I was coming.  

The idea that the law is the final say in these kinds of matters is laughable to me.  If history is any indication, we know that court rooms can be biased and aggressive toward victims who speak out about sexual assault.  Many members of the Galyen family have been caught for crimes for which they were not prosecuted.  Others have been prosecuted, and yet they still attend church and have access to children in their family and in their communities.  In this way, it’s important for members of a community to have knowledge of sexual abuse so they can protect themselves and their children from further abuse.  How many cases of sexual abuse and violence could be avoided if people were informed and armed with the truth?  I went to Zoar Baptist Church with proof of these crimes, but I was not heard or even listened to, compelling me to share this story in full.

These events are not at all unique.  Abusers are hiding in plain sight throughout our communities, and it’s unfortunately very common for them to take positions of power in order to have easy access to victims.  We all need to open our eyes and advocate for the victims of these acts of control and manipulation.  That night, I burned the fliers I had made earlier in the summer with my sister and cousin in a big fire, along with my parent’s divorce deposition that I had been carrying around since I was thirteen years old. I was looking for a sense of freedom from the knowledge I had of my father’s abuse, something neatly wrapped with a bow, but instead I had this nagging feeling that I hadn’t done anything to stop this chain of assault.  Instead, I was subjected to sit face-to-face with my father’s abuser.  Sometimes there isn’t a satisfactory ending to a story of abuse.  Sometimes the story just continues.  Whatever happens, I am here to support all victims and survivors of sexual abuse in any way I can.  I want them to know they have an advocate in me.  We are all capable of speaking up and advocating for the victims of abuse in our lives.  Several adults and other children were silent in the face of the atrocities committed against my father.  I sincerely hope this story can serve as a single link in a chain of ongoing communal awareness and vigilance.  By speaking up and standing strong together, we can end this cycle of sexual assault once and for all.  

by mlekoshi