Invalidation Project: Scrolling Sign #1 pertains directly to my personal experience. However, the goal of this ongoing project is not only to express my own story, but also to find many different individuals to collaborate with, for the sake of creating similar signs that reflect on their individual experiences of suffering and invalidation. The series aims at shedding light on not only traumatic events and circumstances, but also on the common invalidating responses that we often receive when we finally do tell someone. Invalidating responses may include minimization of the severity of the trauma or event, blame towards the sufferer, and/or simply acting as if the person expressing their story is lying or mistaken.
The scrolling Led sign titled Invalidation Project: Scrolling Sign #1 reads as follows: “Shortly after turning 15, a teacher who had taught me only weeks earlier invited me to his house and touched me inappropriately. This happened 3 or 4 times. It took me ten years to report the incidents via telephone to the Department of Children and Family Services. The social worker, with whom I spoke, was very concerned for the teacher’s well-being. She told me that he might lose his pension. She also told me that it was my fault too and encouraged me to leave the matter alone. She did pass certain information on to the police. When I was contacted by an officer, he told me that the social worker had given the police an incorrect address for the school. I don’t know if the school administration was ever alerted. it’s been 19 years and it appears that he might still be there at the same school. I recently spoke to a teacher who told me that the Department of Children and Family services has a tendency to minimize the behavior of abusive individuals.”
UPDATE: The school has closed down due to financial difficulties. I did talk to the Dean of the former school, and he said something about the teacher getting let go from the school a couple years before it closed. He confirmed that it had something to do with similar inappropriate behavior, but he didn’t give much detail. It seems that one element of trauma, associated with being sexually violated, is that one may find themselves feeling guilty that they didn’t do more to prevent the perpetrator from abusing others. Why didn’t I go to directly to the school earlier? That’s what the Dean asked me. Obviously this is a bad question to ask someone who has been sexually abused, because the question implies that they are to blame for for something. This will likely make someone feel guilty, invalidated, or bad in other ways. I’m sure that the former Dean wasn’t aware of this, but it is worth mentioning, because it did make me feel bad. Quite frankly it was something that I had blocked out of my mind for nearly a decade. I told myself that the teacher’s behavior was an isolated incident. I couldn’t even admit to myself that I was violated until many years later. My negative experience with the DCFS social worker caused me to give up on pursuing this for about 8 more years (on top of the 10 years that it took me to initially come forward). It’s very difficult to come forward in these type of cases. I don’t think anyone should be judged for not coming forward fast enough. Obviously, it’s extremely difficult for people to do so. For some people, I think that it’s almost impossible because still our society shames people for being vulnerable.
COLLABORATIONS: It’s important for the viewer to know that each collaboration sign is being programmed with only the words of my collaborator. Each sign is made with a separate LED sign (sizes of each sign may vary), and I am working with my collaborating partners to create signs that reflects their personal preferences in terms of colors, graphic effects, size, fonts, etc. The second sign in this series is titled Invalidation Project: Scrolling Sign #2. The individual who is collaborating with me on this sign chooses to remain anonymous.
Invalidation Project: Scrolling Sign #2 reads as follows: “When I was about 12 years old, I began to suffer from panic attacks, which prevented me from being able to keep a steady attendance at school. I had no idea what was wrong with me, because my family didn’t know much about mental health. I would visit doctors, saying that I had chest pains, stomach pains, and nausea. I even went to the ER 4 or 5 times. The doctors would always send me home, because they could not find anything to be physically wrong with me, and they consistently implied that I must be purposely ditching school. My primary care physician even called into the ER and told them not to bother with me because “she always thinks she is sick.” My parents and grandparents, as well as some other family members behaved as though they didn’t want anything to do with me, and treated me as though I was purposely being a brat. I really felt sick, and no one seemed willing to take my claims seriously. To this day, I cannot understand how the doctors seemed to have no idea that I was suffering from a panic disorder, and were so quick to blame me for something I couldn’t understand, which was completely out of my control.”
Invalidation Project: Scrolling Sign #3 is a collaboration anonymous artist, and reads as follows: “When I was five, I lived in a very quiet and safe neighborhood in Seoul. I always felt safe playing alone even if the other kids had already gone home. One day, I was alone in the playground and I was on a swing when I realized that an older man was approaching me. He was only a few feet away from me when he asked me if I wanted some candy. I looked around to see if there were any other adults around besides for him, and there were none. I told him no and I immediately ran towards my apartment building. As I ran, I looked back and I saw him running after me. I lived on the 20th floor at the time and I recall running up the stairs. I kept running until I was exhausted and halfway up the stairs, I realized that the man had quit chasing me. Due to my exhaustion, I pressed the elevator button despite being afraid that the man might be in the elevator waiting for me. Thankfully no one was in the elevator and I was able to get home safely. When I came home and told my parents what had happened, neither of my parents believed me. They both told me that I just have a big imagination. I always wondered what would have happened if my parents had believed me that day.”