(Miami, FL February 17, 2014) Did you know April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)? And if the statistics are right that 1 in 3 girls (and 1 in 6 boys) will be sexually violated before reaching adulthood, it is understandable why an entire month is set aside to bring special attention to sexual violence.
In keeping with SAAM’s tagline It’s Time…To Talk About It, “Maybe God Was Busy,” is an unfiltered memoir of growing up behind the tourist veil of Jamaica, one of the most beloved islands in the world. It is a raw, unaltered look at an idyllic childhood interrupted by chronic sexual abuse. From molestation by one uncle, to incest, to rape by the ‘church brother,’ to rape by the voodoo practitioner charged with saving a dying brother, to a pregnancy and abortion—sans anesthesia—at age 15, to cousins falling victims to incest, “Maybe God Was Busy” chronicles the countless lives interrupted by pervasive childhood sexual abuse (CSA).
“Of my mother’s eight brothers, four are known abusers, one of whom impregnated his own daughter, and another would literally beat his daughter in her vagina after he was done with incestuous episodes,” say author Julie Marie Mansfield. “It makes me wonder if there isn’t a gene they all inherited.”
Mansfield, whose own abuse started at age 8 in Jamaica and continued in New York until her late teens, considers herself a survivor turned soldier in the war against sexual abuse, using her experience to help prevent CSA.
“It’s so important that we do all we can do to help stop CSA. Often people don’t realize the damages, sometimes irreparable, inflicted upon victims of CSA. We cannot afford to keep quiet while our children are being ravaged,” Mansfield said. “This is particularly true in the Caribbean community where CSA is treated as ‘just a little sex.’ It’s not just a little sex; it is a lifetime of shame, guilt, addiction, promiscuity, low self-esteem and a host of life-altering behaviors.”
Mansfield buried the horrors of her own abuse and went on to a successful scholastic and work career. An alumna of Morant Bay High School in Jamaica, she went on to graduate Top Scholar and summa cum laude from Temple University where she majored in Journalism, Public Relations & Advertising (JPRA). In the work world Mansfield was the Public Information Director for the City of North Miami before joining the City of Miami as its director of FACE/Special Events and Cultural Grants for the City of Miami. She has also worked as an esteemed event producer, responsible for the launch of Lingerie Miami, and was an integral member of the 2007 CARIFTA Games (Turks and Caicos) production team.
“Even though I was excelling professionally, something was missing,” Mansfield said. “I wasn’t being fulfilled as a mother, as a wife, as a professional. And how could I when I’d cry myself to sleep or drink a bottle of wine just quiet the demons in my head? Burying and self-medicating were no longer working and I had to commit to therapy. I’d tried it many times before but was never truly committed because I’d been taught to take all my worries to God who would ease the pain.”
With a determination to break the shackles of shame, Mansfield sought therapy at Miami’s Journey Institute (now Family Counseling Services), where for the first time she engaged in group therapy.
“That was one of the best decisions of my life,” she said. “For the first time I saw men not only as predators but also as victims. As ridiculous as this sounds, it had never dawned on me that men were also victims of CSA. Seeing them in that new light was quite the catalyst in my recovery.”
As part of the recovery, Mansfield traveled back to Jamaica to say goodbye to the path where she was first abused, only to find it completely overgrown, so much so she could hardly be sure of its exact location.
“I took that as a sign that it was really time to forgive myself so I could properly heal,” Mansfield said. “If time had rendered that path impenetrable, maybe God was telling me to forge another path. And that’s what I did. I wrote. And I talked to anyone who listened.”
“Maybe God Was Busy” is being hailed as a major work in bringing much needed awareness to the pervasiveness of CSA and incest, particularly in Jamaica. It details Mansfield’s journey as victim, survivor and then heroine. The book has the themes of sexual abuse, pedophilia, incest, survival, forgiveness, heroism, courage, triumph and redemption. But it’s not all doom and gloom, as you might find yourself crying one minute and laughing the next.
“No one’s life is all good or all bad,” Mansfield said. “I had to write about the bad, but I also had to include some of the silliness that made my childhood—and my life so amazing.”
Since writing the book, Mansfield has been sharing her story with audiences both in the US and in Jamaica, and had foundedGive Me Dignity (www.givemedignity.org) a non-profit organization with a dual mission: 1) CSA abatement programs particularly in the Caribbean and 2) Restoring dignity to homeless women by providing feminine hygiene products.
“Everywhere I went, whether it was at the television station Jamaica or dinner with friends or a visit to my high school, people were saying Me Too, it happened to Me Too,” Mansfield said. “It was important for me to ensure that not only was I listening, but to find a way to help with their healing, even if it was just to point them in the right direction.”