The Death of George the Duck Teaches Me a Lesson

The Death of George the Duck

Teaches me a Lesson

I will no longer be silent about the horrors of violence.

George the duck was murdered in July 2013 at her home in River Walk, San Antonio, Texas. Her last minutes were caught on a web cam. Late at night, two men in white t-shirts grabbed George, who was sleeping next to a lamp post. They laughed and shouted as they held her by the neck, kicked her, wrung her neck, and then sauntered down the walk as she dangled dead from their hands. They threw her into the San Antonio River, laughing all the way.

 For years, George was an attraction for tourists and San Antonians alike. She’d walk up to people as if knew them and often posed with them for photos and videos.  She also has babies. Her husband was a mallard, and so the babies don’t look exactly like George, but they carry her genes and hopefully her spirit.

The Death of George as Tipping Point

I just learned the story of George the duck and immediately decided that my decades-long reluctance is over. Never again, not ever, will hold back on telling stories of what violence looks like and how it feels to be the target of violence. Never again will I worry that if I sensationalize violence if I tell the stories I have heard. The death of George, a duck, has struck me deeply as cruel and horrific.  That chord is far too familiar. At times, it has been more than I thought I could bear. I had done interview research with perpetrators of violence since 1985.

The laughing glee of the murderers reminds me of the glee that I heard as people they told me stories of the violence they committed—on people and sometimes on animals, such as sodomizing a chicken. One man told me that he got the best orgasms when he had penetrated a chicken and then slammed her head in a door. The spasm of the chicken was exquisite. Ecstasy.

Get it?  I’m done pussy footing and moly coddling. If readers don’t want to know what violence looks like, I encourage them not to read this article.  Stop right here. Stop when you get to the chicken part. Stop when you get to “George the duck was murdered.” You may have good reasons why you don’t want to read such stuff. Take care of yourself. Do what you’ve got to do. To be honest, another reason I haven’t published most of what I’ve already written because the stories sometimes traumatize me. Well, I just have to pull myself together, don’t I?  I’ve sure worked on myself long enough.

It’s time for me and the rest of us who can bear it to dig in and take a good hard look at violence. Let’s join my Sicilian relatives who say “Basta” when they’ve had enough. I’ve had enough. Basta. The death of George the duck was my tipping point.

Here goes.

Here’s one of the hundreds of stories I’ve written and never published. This story will show you what violence is for one human being. So will all the others I have to tell. Stay tuned. I’m going to publish them. Maybe you will reach your tipping point and do something about violence. Thank you, George. You have many legacies.

 The Story of a Serial Rapist

Who Experienced the Abuse of Children as Love

 I would actually go through mental battles before I raped. It would be like, it was like I was two different people.  I’d be talking.  Sometimes I’d even talk verbally: “You can’t do this.” The one that was saying, “You can’t do this,” was real gentle, docile type individual.  The one that was the, “Yeah, I can do this,” was a real belligerent, evil, what I consider evil type individual.

Eventually it would come down to the dominant one would just tell the docile one, “Fuck you. Shut the fuck up.  We’re going to do this,” and that’s the way it would come out.  That’s the way it would be and (finger snap) the other one would just disappear.

All the time that the rapes were going on, it would be like this one would be standing up there watching and would be in pain about it. The dominant one would feel powerful.  Just seemed like every time I raped that individual got more and more and more and more powerful. The other one got weaker and weaker because it’s like I was losing part of me.

I wasn’t beating them because I would snatch them up by the neck and apply just enough pressure to get them to consent.  They knew they were going to die.  They would give in.  I’d just tell them, “You’re going do every damn thing I tell you to do.  You have no choice.” That’s the way it was.  I didn’t beat anybody up.  I didn’t hit women.  My ma told me, “You don’t hit women,” and I never hit women.

I was the greatest around kids.  You know what I’m saying (chuckle)? That’s  the part that’s so messed up.  I can play with kids.  They’ll all have fun and they’ll all want to be there with me, have a good time.

With kids, it’s weird.  It was like warm, comfortable, gentle.  It was like making love.  I think it’s the other type individual if it’s with children, the one that was docile and stuff.  Kids—it’s where he belonged.  That’s where he fit in.  There wasn’t anybody threatening him.  When it was more powerful, put pressure on him. I don’t know how to explain it.  (big sigh)

It was like, all right, like you could be a threat, okay, if you were there, okay, because you’re an adult.  You could threaten this other type of individual, the small, docile one. When he’s with kids, okay, he could have power over kids because they couldn’t hurt him in any way. So he had his power there because you don’t hit women.  I don’t know why I wanted to be sexual with kids.

The love, the love that I experienced, the gentleness that I ever experienced, the caring that I ever experienced in my life came from Kyle Wallace.  The price for all that was having sex with him.  Okay?  He was gentle with me. He was kind to me. Okay?  He didn’t hit me.  He didn’t threaten me.  That was the same type of stuff that I did with kids.  I enjoyed sex with Kyle.

I went through a thing about being a homosexual about that.  That was really weird.  I was nine, ten, eleven, twelve until I got into the state training school.  Four or five years I was sexual with Kyle.  My father was beating me with a rubber hose.  It’s just a flip flop.  Sex started with Kyle and I.  He used to take a couple of us kids swimming.  Then he just started taking me by myself.

When I was in the state training school, that was incorrigibility but that was for like child molesting.  I was messing with kids that were like my own age.  They really didn’t call it child molesting because it was all the same age.  This was going on like when I was ten, eleven, twelve years old.  I was also being molested at that time, too, by Kyle, who owned the farm next door. He molested other boys, too.  He never got caught.

My mother’s boyfriend used to come home drunk and beat my ma.  I used to jump on him and hide the kids first and then jump on him until he would get off her and start beating on me.  Then she’d get away, and then I’d get away.  That was the normal pattern when he came home.  I shot at him with a shotgun, just beebees, hit him in the back.  He was on the porch, and I shot from the living room.  Most of the beebeees hit the porch.  Some of them went into him.

They took me to a state home.  I wanted to kill that man.  I was eight. I went to a juvenile orphanage home.  It was a farm.  I was the youngest person there, too. That’s where I learned to love animals.

I was also raped when I was six.  Three teenagers that I didn’t know. They made me suck them off, and they did me in the butt. Just about anything that they wanted to do.  They told me they’d kill me if I told.  I was with a friend.  I told him to run away.  He did.  I never saw him again.  He lived right across the street from me.  I stopped wanting to live a long time.  I stopped wanting to live when I got raped.  Yet I wouldn’t tell anybody.  They said they’d kill me if I told.  That kept me from telling so I must have wanted to live.

I think I was mixed up because I thoughts when I was a kid to shoot myself and stuff.  I knew how to handle guns.  My father taught me how to handle guns real well. I was a real good shot.  I knew what it would take to kill somebody and what it would take to kill myself.  I think I was in the process of making that decision.  I never let anybody know anything about me.  Why should I?  I figured I wasn’t going to be around long enough anyway.

I know I had a lot of hatred just towards everybody, mainly men. I always felt like I had no power over men.  I think it had a lot to do with why I rape women because I could get power over them but I couldn’t get it over a man.

Then I almost killed myself on drugs when I was about seventeen.  I went to the hospital and the doctor that I was seeing told me, he says, “You want some help?  We got some people who will come up here and talk to you.” They took some tests on me, and these two guys come in, little snooty looking guys.  One of them told me I was paranoid schizophrenic and should be locked up for the rest of my life (laugh).  So I kind of told him to kiss my feet. Then my doctor that was treating me for malnutrition and other stuff that I was into asked me if I really wanted to get some  help.  I said, “Yeah, I do,”

If you let people get close all that results in that is that you get hurt. You either get hurt because they turn around and walk away.  I still have that belief.  That anybody you get close to is

going to leave. Period.  So I’m already prepared for that.  Kind of a real funky way to go into a relationship with anybody but that’s the way it is, you know.

The other part of it is that if it’s men they’re going to want sex from you if they get close.  So you don’t let them close. That way you don’t have to give them sex.  Right?   To this day at 42 years old if I get into a room with a man I’m very nervous.  I don’t allow anybody to know it, but I’m very nervous because I think that’s what’s coming.

I think the day that I stop feeling like that will be the day that I know I have enough power and control not to hurt people.  

Now there’s some bestiality into this too, for about three years in my early twenties. It was bizarre.  I was doing a lot of drugs.  A horse and cow.  That’s having sex with animals.  This is going to be real gross, but this is the way it was.  It seemed like sex to me was just a place to dump your nut. 

I can’t think of a better way to put it.  That’s just the way it was in my head, even including sex that I had with women.  I was living with a girl name Sam. I used to have sex with her two, three times a day.  It was just like a better place to masturbate. I know its sounds weird but that’s the way it was.  I’ve never been satisfied sexually.  It was more like my dick was a weapon, was a gun. This is how I brutalize.  Instead of hitting women this is what I did to them because you can’t hit women.

I would make women give me oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex.  Whatever I wanted, that’s what I did.  Whatever I wanted them to do, I made sure they did.  Powerful.  Nobody could hurt me.

You get the release and the feel good. I think that’s why there was so much sex with my victims.  It was just because I’d give a nut and then two minutes later I’m hard, and I want to go do it again.  My last victim, I had her for eleven hours in a hotel room having sex with her.  You know, that’s (sigh) not normal behavior when you gun several nuts

When I’m in a relationship, it’s kind of the way I show I love–having sex with them. I’ve tried to explain it to people and they have no concept of what that means, but if f you go back to look at what I had with Kyle, that’s the way I expressed what I felt for him is that I gave him sex.

I always wanted to.  I had this thing about wanting to die, but yet, I was one of the strongest survivors that I know.  My mother taught me to survive.  That was the one thing that she taught me real well was how to survive.  “You will survive in any given situation.”  I’ve survived the parish prisons in Louisiana, just being in there for like thirty days.  They are holes.  They are hell holes.  They are hell holes.   I mean they’re nasty.  We’re talking about rats and cockroaches and bugs that you haven’t ever seen, and like movie shit that they show how hard it is.  I survived that and kept mentally focused.


You got to the end. Congratulations. The more we take it in, the more likely we are to stand up to the social forces that shape people who do with this man does. Did this story give you ideas about what to do?  Then do it.

This is a classic case of an abused child becoming an abuser. This man became an abuser because no one helped him as a child. He has experienced complex trauma and NO ONE HELPED HIM.  If anyone had been kind to him and had established a long-term relationship of trust with him and helped him deal with his many traumas, he would not have done what he did. He would not believe what he believes. Think about it, for goodness sake. Do something. Learn about attachment as the foundation for children learning to cope with trauma.

 References and Sources

See a video about George the Muscovy Duck

George the duck gets beat to death by thugs.  YouTube.


Gilgun, Jane F. (2014, January 16). The Ducks of River Walk, San Antonio.  YouTube.

Gilgun, Jane F. (2013). The logic of murderous rampages.  Amazon.

Gilgun, Jane F. (2012) The NEATS: A child & family assessment (2nd ed.). Amazon.

Gilgun, Jane F. (2011) Child sexual abuse: From harsh realities to hope (2nd ed). Amazon.

Kidd, Sue Monk.  (2002). The secret life of bees. New York: Penguin.

Lieberman, Alicia F. (2004). Traumatic stress and quality of attachment: Reality and internalization in disorders of infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 25(4), 336-351.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  Retrieved January 13, 2014.

Trauma Center a Division of Justice Resource Institute. Retrieved 11 January 2014.

Van der Kolk, Bessel A. (2005). Developmental Trauma Disorder: A new, rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. Psychiatric Annals 35(5), 390-398. Available free on-line at  Retrieved January 10, 2014.

About the Author

Jane F. Gilgun, PhD, LICSW, is a professor, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

See a video about George the Muscovy Duck



Brokenness, Beliefs, and Spirituality

Brokenness, Beliefs, and Spirituality

 I’m kind of an expert on feeling crappy and what to do about it. I’ve felt crappy for much of my life. Being a social worker does that, and I’m a social worker who does research on violence. Social workers put themselves in situations where people are suffering. The hurts of others hurt us. For several years, I worked directly with children and families where the children had experienced abuse and neglect. After that, I interviewed perpetrators and survivors of various types of violence for more than 20 years. I also have a long-term research project with children and families who have experienced complex trauma. I had to learn how to cope with feeling crappy if I wanted to continue as a social worker and have a happy life.

Brokenness results from hurts that do not heal. I’ve concluded that many people are broken in some ways.  Who isn’t? There are different kinds of brokenness. In this article, I show how beliefs and spirituality are part of how people respond to their brokenness and go on to live fulfilling lives–or not.


 I can’t imagine that anyone has a hurt-free life.  Being hurt is an equal opportunity experience. Some people have more hurt than others, but no one escapes completely.  Unhealed hurt leads to brokenness. Brokenness is like an open wound that does not heal.  Most of the time, we are unaware of our brokenness.  Then something happens that touches old wounds. We experience the hurt all over again. Some people are so wounded that they are in a state of distress most of their waking hours. Others are in distress sporadically and live most of their lives with varying degrees of satisfaction and contentment.

Most of us enter the world crying. Being pushed out of the womb and squeezing through the birth canal are not easy. Someone wipes us down and places us in our mother’s arms. We are fed and comforted. That is the ideal when we are hurt: an upsetting experience and then comfort. Being hurt and comforted happens repeatedly. We are hungry.  Our diapers need changing. We want to interact with others. Our parents and others respond. Mutual pleasure happens. We are comforted. Eventually, we recognize caring relationships as love. Throughout our lives, we seek to give and receive love. Sometimes people are so hurt and broken, they act as if they have given up on love. Dig deep into their despair, and there is usually some hope of love.

We become broken when we are hurt and not comforted. Lack of response to hurt leads to unhealed psychological wounds. Each of us is hurt in our own unique ways. Examples of hurts that many people experience are parental deaths and abandonments, witnessing parent verbal and physical abuse of each other or of siblings, child sexual abuse, and sibling abuse. Sometimes the hurt results from parental inattentiveness and actions of siblings who don’t realize that they are inflicting hurt on other children in the family. Here are a few examples.

  • A 13 year-old boy mocks his 8 year-old sister’s attempts at doing the same cheers as her older sister who is a cheerleader. He then laughs when she runs upstairs and hides in a closet. The parents are not home. When the little girl tells her mother what her brother had done, the mother says, “Ignore him.”  The little girl says, “I can’t ignore him. It hurts.” The mother does not respond and does not reprimand the older brother. He mocks and teases her for years. 
  • A 7 year-old girl pinches her 4 year-old brother and laughs when he cries. The parents tell both kids, “Knock it off.” When the little boy seeks comfort, the parents say, “Buck up. Don’t be a sissy.”

Sometimes, because of previous unhealed hurts, people begin to expect to be hurt. They interpret actions as hurtful when, from other points of view, they are not. Here’s an example. Daddy comes home drunk. Children believe Daddy must not love them. They feel hurt. They need immediate help to understand that when Daddy gets drunk, alcohol was on the top of his mind. He liked how he felt when he drank. He drank to the point where he got drunk. His mind simply was not on his children. If he had thought that getting drunk means to his children that he doesn’t love them, he might not have gotten drunk.

On the other hand, what getting drunk means to him may often block out thoughts of what his children might believe. Whatever the case might be, children need help in understanding that Daddy gets drunk and Daddy loves them. Both are true.  Of course, if there is convincing evidence that Daddy doesn’t love them, children need help with that. If Daddy doesn’t love them, that means Daddy has a problem with love. The children remain loveable even if Daddy doesn’t have what it takes to love them.

Many events cause wounds, but if other people are there for us, we learn to cope. The wounds are manageable, if not healed.

So far, the discussion has centered on children and young people. Adults, too, are not immune to hurt. Those who get fired from a job or laid off, who go through a divorce or a break up of a relationship, or who experience the death of a child or other tragedy have obvious hurts. How adults cope depends a great deal on how others helped them to cope when they were children and teens. Difficult events in adulthood can trigger memories of old, unhealed wounds. We experience a cascade of events, emotions, and thoughts.

As we work with managing our emotional wounds, we gradually can experience hurt and love at the same time. That is, we can experience hurt, sadness, loss, and love simultaneously.


Each person is hurt in her or his own unique ways, but the beliefs about the hurt are surprisingly similar.  Many children who are hurt believe they are bad and did something to deserve being hurt. Other common beliefs are “No one likes me,” “No one loves me.” “I’m stupid,” “I’m different,” and “I’m ugly.” Some say, “I hate you,” to their parents or others. Still others say, “I’m going to kill myself.”  Often, it seems as if we will feel this way forever.

What children believe about their hurts depends upon how parents and others have treated them in the past. If parents and others have been sensitive and responsive to them previously, they will seek comfort from others.  They trust that others will help them sort through the meanings of the hurts, such as whether or not they are bad kids who deserve to be treated badly.  Such children have experienced consistent, responsive care, although rarely are other people there for us all of the time.  We learn the word love as the name of experiences of caring, affirmation, and tenderness. I believe the desire to love and to be loved is built into our genes.

If parents have been of the “buck up” type, then children may not seek others out. They are stuck with their unshared beliefs about why they were hurt. Some of these children might seek to be with people who like or love them, but they don’t talk about their beliefs about being bad, ugly, and unloved. They get comfort but these kinds of actions don’t get to the wounds themselves. They wounds remain unhealed.  For wounds to heal, it’s as if someone has to place a healing finger of love on them. This is an exquisite experience.

If parents have responded indifferently or punitively to hurts in the past, children may not seek others for fear of feeling even worse. Sometimes children of over-reacting parents do not share their own hurts because they are protective of their parents.  They see their parents as having their own problems and don’t want to add to them. They may feel lost and alone with things that trouble them. Children who were sexually abused and adults who were sexually abused in childhood sometimes don’t tell their parents out of a desire to protect.  They know their parents love them, but they don’t tell them about the abuse because they don’t want to upset them further. They also are afraid that their parents might stop loving them.

Beliefs Underground

Most of us bury negative beliefs about ourselves so deeply that we don’t realize that we have them. They stay with us throughout our lives. Only during times of high stress we realize that we beliefs about ourselves and what we deserve or don’t deserve. They are beliefs that begin to develop when we are babies and young children. When we bring them to light, we can deal with them and see that they are untrue and hurtful. When we see them as leftovers from earlier ages, we are on our way to liberation from them. If we don’t bring them to light, these baby beliefs influence how we think and feel today.

The Experience of Brokenness

When wounds are touched, raw emotion and beliefs are triggered. Memories of old hurts spring back to life. Many people go into a tailspin. Their thoughts and emotions are often chaotic and confusing. Their heart rates and blood pressure go up. Stress hormones are released into the blood stream. Brain circuits are so active, they practically are on fire they are so active. Even seemingly mature and well put-together people may have this cascade of memories, emotions, beliefs, and bodily responses. Researchers call this state dysregulation. Dysregulation hurts so much we do whatever it takes to get some relief.

Coping with Brokenness

Fortunate adults have learned since childhood that there are no easy answers to these powerful states.  They have to run their course. Before we get to this constructive mind set, we usually first do things we later regret, such as taking things out on others, over eating, or driving recklessly. Some people make seek relief through drugs, alcohol, or sex. In fact, these unkind and self-destructive acts may prod us into realizing that we are dysregulated. Fortunate persons do something constructive, such as finding someone to talk to, meditating, journaling, and doing vigorous exercise while allowing themselves to experience whatever is going on for them. Through such means, the dysregulation comes to a natural end, and we can let go of the painful emotions and beliefs.

Many people learn too late or not at all that dysregulation is a process that has to run its course. Because dysregulation hurts, we short-circuit the process and push our emotions and beliefs underground. We are at risk to develop health problems, like chronic depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addictions, headaches, poor eating habits, heart trouble, and diabetes. We may become preoccupied with our own problems or numb to them. As a result, we become emotionally and psychologically distant from others. The underlying issues may develop a life of their own, popping out in inappropriate situations with inappropriate people.

When we push our issues underground, we are at risk to develop additional beliefs. For example, rather than facing down beliefs about ourselves as bad, ugly, stupid, and unworthy, some people view others this way.  When we see other people like this, we may believe that we can treat others as badly. We can think that they are jerks, or ugly, stupid, and unworthy and therefore deserve to be mocked, ignored, and disrespected. We then are at risk to be abusive and cruel.

When we don’t grapple with and let do of negative beliefs about ourselves, we may put ourselves on a pity pot and feel sorry for ourselves.  We now have a good excuse not to do much with our lives.  We may then develop other beliefs about how incompetent we are and how pathetic. We spiral further downward, creating self-fulfilling prophesies.

In states of self-pity, we are at risk to develop a sense of entitlement. We give ourselves permission to take whatever we want without regard for what others might want.  We believe we deserve whatever it is we want.  In grocery stores, we pop grapes into our mouths without paying . We snip a rose out of a neighbor’s garden. We buy silver tableware we know is stolen. When we have beliefs of entitlement, we not only are out of touch with our own inner beliefs and emotions, but we also out of touch with the inner beliefs and states of others. We don’t think about the effects of our behaviors on others.

Sadly, we put ourselves at risk, too. What, for example, might happen if someone sees you nicking the neighbor’s rose or the cops trace the stolen silver to you? Common sense becomes uncommon when we have beliefs of entitlement and act of them.

Affirming Beliefs

Fortunate adults don’t develop self-pity and beliefs of entitlement. We know through our own experience that bad things happen to good people and that we are good people. We see ourselves and others as flawed and broken, and we love ourselves and others for our brokenness and our goodness. We are in touch with our beliefs and emotions and have regard for the beliefs and emotions of others. We spend time promoting the interests of others without seeking recognition or reward other than inner satisfaction. In short, we are capable of love.

We also know that we are deeply flawed human beings who are capable of hurting others and ourselves. When we do, we take corrective measures. We may talk things out with other, first perhaps others not involved in a difficult situation. We may meditate on what we did and journal. Then we talk to the people we may have harmed. We listen to and accept whatever others have to say about our behaviors. We take full responsibility for our actions and take appropriate measures to repair the damage. If others don’t want to deal with us, we respect that.

We know what love is because we have experienced love; that is, we have experienced sensitive and responsive care and have experienced the satisfaction, peace, and contentment that come along with such care. We believe that feel loved and loving give meanings to our lives.

Dysregulation and negative beliefs about the self are part of being human and have nothing to do with worthiness or unworthiness, being good or being bad. To live as if this is true requires effort.  No matter how well put-together anyone is, we have much to learn about our deeper selves and other persons. Our search for meaning and for understanding does not end.

Entitlement Unrelated to Brokenness

Some children appear to develop beliefs of entitlement that are unrelated to self-pity and to brokenness.  Maybe their parents and other adults did not help them to develop beliefs and values that sensitize them to the dignity and worth of others. Maybe no one taught them to think about the well-being of others. Maybe they never learned to share, but parents and others allowed them to take what they wanted without reminding them that they really do have to think about what other people might want.

Children like this grow into young people and adults whose beliefs go like this. “Big me. Little you.”  “If I can take advantage of you or of a situation, I will.”  “I have so many interesting things to say. People love to hear my stories.”  “If I can make someone else do something, then I’m on top.”  “What’s mine is mine. What’s  your is yours.”  People like this are difficult to deal with and can become clever at getting others to do their bidding. They may have intuitions about the emotional wounds and hurts of others. Rather than being compassionate and empathic, they use the vulnerabilities of others to get what they want.

Children, young people, and adults who are like this take advantage of the power they have over others. They continually hurt others and appear unaware, indifferent, and self-congratulatory. Children, spouses, and employees of persons who have these beliefs and who act this way require a great deal of help to learn to cope with the hurts that develop.  People who have these beliefs and who act this way may or may not be seeking peace and contentment but they do seek excitement and a sense of accomplishment at being more powerful than others. Even they, maybe, are seeking what most everyone else seeks: a spiritual connection.  For the rest of us, a self-protective distancing and hope that they will change appear to be the compassionate responses.  Compassionate, too, is the hope that they can find their way to some appreciation of spiritual connection through respect for the dignity and worth of others.


Spirituality is a sense of goodness, love, stability, connection, and meaning. Human beings begin their lives with a kind of inner gyroscope that seeks this lovely state.  In infancy, this state of being is survival. When infants cry, they are uncomfortable and seek the pleasure and even bliss of touch, food, interaction, and clean diapers. They seek a loving, lovely state of being. When they run toward daddy and mommy with arms outstretched, they are seeking this state of being.  They seek love.

 I believe this state is being is a kind of “set point,” meaning we are made to long for and to seek for this state of being. This state of being includes not only love, but affirmation and a sense that I’m ok, everyone else is ok, and all is right in the world, even when we also know how sad and difficult things can be and how flawed we and others are.

There are many other definitions of spirituality that are connected to various religions, religious faith, and ethnic identities.  In this article, spirituality is unconnected to religion and ethnicity but is a state of being associated with love, lovingness, and affirmation.

Cruel Acts and Spiritual Longing

When we experience brokenness, we are in an uncomfortable state of being. We seek to re-establish connection to with a sense of rightness, of peace, affirmation, contentment, happiness and sometimes excitement. I first saw this with child molesters, of all people. Many described a sense of feeling crappy as a step toward seeking a child to abuse. When something went wrong, the first thing many of them thought of was to have sex with a child.  It worked.  I heard men describe the experience of child sexual abuse as “bliss,” “the greatest feeling in the world,” and a “love affair.” One man called it a fix, because it “fixed how I was feeling.”  Talk about selfish entitlement. They wanted to feel better. They did whatever it took. They had callous disregard for the children and for those who loved the children. They didn’t even think about long-term consequences for themselves.

Men survivors of childhood abuse and neglect and who were sexual addicts and not abusers told me that since childhood they had masturbated several times a day in order to feel better.  I then began to see harmful and self-destructive behaviors as attempts to cheer themselves. Other men and women I interviewed cheered themselves up with food, alcohol, gambling, dominating others, going on spending sprees, embezzlement, and getting into fights in bars. These are efforts to find that “set point,” that state of being where all is right in the world.

Applications to Myself

As I did this research, I began to see myself in some of the stories the participants told. I realized that I sometimes used food to cheer myself up, to feel better. Anger at other drivers on the road, dancing, swimming, playing the flute, and going for walks were other ways of cheering myself up. Other ways I developed over time were going to church, joining Al-Anon, learning ways of developing conscious contact with something spiritual outside of myself, within me, and in all of life. Some became part of me naturally and some with conscious effort.  Like the men I had interviewed, I chose actions that worked, that cheered me up, that helped me feel stability and peace.


As I talked to men who committed violence and men survivors who did not commit violence, I saw the similarities and differences.  Men of both types often had negative beliefs such as “I’m no good.”  “No one loves me.” “I can’t do anything right.” “I’m worthless.”  Many from both groups also had great capacities for dysregulation. They could go into seemingly endless tailspins and weave fantasies about what other people are doing to them and what they’d like to do to others.  In these negative belief systems, these men are no different the rest of us.


The first difference I noticed between men who acted out in violent ways and men survivors who did not were that the men survivors had the capacity to share their emotions and beliefs with others, and they sought people out in order to do so. They sometimes waited for years until they found someone they trusted. They also were in touch with their own emotions; that is, they knew and named their emotions. On the whole, they did not distance themselves from their inner states.

The men who acted out in violent ways did not share their beliefs and emotions. Man after man told me that they simply did not share. Some had no idea what emotions are.  A few had shared instances of abuse and neglect with people outside of the family but the people they confided in reported back to the parents who abused them for telling. They stopped talking to others about things that bothered them.

The next difference I noticed were beliefs about entitlement. In seeking to feel better; that is, in seeking a state of bliss, stability, connection, happiness, and love, the men who committed violent acts had beliefs of entitlement that they could do whatever they wanted to in order to get to this state of being. They disregarded the effects of their behaviors on others and the long-term effects on themselves.

Some believed themselves to be monsters to behave this way, but whenever they were about to sexually abuse again, thoughts of being a monster evaporated.

Others, especially those who committed acts of physical aggression took pride in the amount of damage they inflicted and the physical damage to their own bodies. Broken jaws and black eyes were marks of courage and manhood.

A few men survivors told me that they had had sexual fantasies about children. This alarmed them so much, they not only avoided being with children, but they also sought therapy. Their beliefs about the dignity and worth of children stopped them from acting out their fantasies. They didn’t want to have to view themselves as child molesters. They didn’t want the disgrace when the molestation came to light. They didn’t want to hurt children and others who loved the children. A few others said that they had hit their wives and girlfriends and sought treatment because they did not want to be that way. Rather than finding bliss and fulfillment in physical aggression, they were horrified at what they had done and found reason to change their ways. Several of the men survivors were active in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They realized that their attempts at coping through drugs and alcohol hurt themselves and others. They sought other ways of attaining the bliss, contentment, love, and connection they often wanted desperately.

Us and Them

Most of us are not child molesters, wife beaters, and murderers. We many never have hit another person or became alcoholics and addicts of other types.  Our beliefs stop us. Considerations of effects of our behaviors stop us. For example, when we say, “I could strangle her” or “I hope he dies a slow and painful death,” other beliefs and images spring to life, such as how ridiculous those thoughts are and how awful it would be if these things came true.

It took me a few years of listening to how pleasurable violence is to see that I took pleasure in thinking violent thoughts and imagining violent actions, however briefly. I used to laugh for a second when I imagined ramming into a car whose driver had just cut me off. Then images of blood and gore, crashed cars, pain and suffering sprang to life in my imagination. I stopped laughing at the thought of committing such acts and laughed at myself for reacting that way. I believed I was better than that. I believed I had no right to hurt others, no matter what they do.

Spiritual longings appear to be at the root of harmful acts, helpful acts, and most if not all acts. People who harm others and themselves want states of connection, peace, love, meaning, fulfillment, excitement, fun, satisfaction, accomplishment, and bliss.  There is nothing wrong with what they want. How they go about getting what they want is wrong.

I believe that spiritual longings are part of our DNA and are necessary for survival. Beyond the desire to survive, our longings bring depth, breadth, and meaning to our lives when we act in loving ways toward self and others and seek to do no harm.


 I am beginning to think that in many ways, we are not that different from people who commit great harm to others and to themselves. We share many negative beliefs with them. The differences appear to be in our positive, life-enhancing beliefs. We do not act on the evil in our hearts because we anticipate negative consequences and we do not want to harm other people and ourselves. Our beliefs in the dignity and worth of others stop us from acting badly. Others who do harmful things may believe this, too, but at the pivotal moments their life-enhancing beliefs do not activate themselves. Their negative beliefs have no pushback. Harm ensues even as they experience fulfillment, bliss, and even love, at least temporarily.  Most people who do terrible things to others are only part-time mean and destructive. Others often view them as loving members of families and pillars of the community. Of course, it only takes a one-time act to commit great harm to others and to the self.

Some people who are hurt and who develop negative beliefs early on are left pretty much on their own. They develop few if any beliefs to help them handle their hurt. They may only infrequently experience the goodness that is all around us and within each living being.  They may have buried a sense of hope under layers of negative experiences and beliefs. It may take a lot to deal with these layers.  There is always hope.

I can love others who are flawed and broken and who do things I don’t like and who hurt me. I can love myself even as I see myself as deeply flawed, broken, and needy.  I work at loving myself even as I do all of this imperfectly. It can take a lifetime of good fortune and conscious effort to experience life in this way, good fortune in terms of who was with is and is with us along the way and how we responded and continue to respond to the goodness that is all around and within us.


 Barker, Stacy E. & Jerry E. Floersch(2013) Practitioners’ understandings of spirituality: Implications for social work education. Social Work Education, 46(3), 357-370.

Cicchetti, Dante (2012).  Annual research review: Resilient functioning in maltreated children—past, present, and future perspectives.  The journal of child psychology and psychiatry,

Davies, Douglas (2010). Child Development: A practitioner’s guide (3rd  ed.). New York: Guilford.

Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). The NEATS: A Child & Family Assessment (2nd ed). Amazon Kindle. 

 Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). Reflections on 25 years of research on violence. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping, 16(4), 50-59.

 Sharma, Alankaar & Jane F. Gilgun (2008). What perpetrators say about child sexual abuse. Indian Journal of Social Work, 69(3), 321-338.

Gilgun, Jane F. (2008). Lived experience, reflexivity, and research on perpetrators of interpersonal violence. Qualitative Social Work, 7(2), 181-197.

 Gilgun, Jane F. (2006). Children and adolescents with problematic sexual behaviors: Lessons from research on resilience. In Robert Longo & Dave Prescott (Eds.), Current perspectives on working with sexually aggressive youth and youth with sexual behavior problems (pp. 383-394). Holyoke, MA: Neari Press.

 Lieberman, Alicia F. (2004).  Traumatic stress and quality of attachment: Reality and internalization in disorders of infant mental health.  Infant Mental Health Journal, 25(4), 336-351.

Masten, Ann S. & Auke Tellegen (2012). Resilience in developmental psychopathology: Lessons from Project Competence longitudinal study. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 345-361.

Van der Kolk, Bessel A. (2005). Developmental Trauma Disorder: A new, rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. Psychiatric Annals 35(5), 390-398.

Overpriced Vet Care; Underpaid New Veterinarians: What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Three hundred and eighty dollars to clean my dog Jazz’s teeth. Three hundred dollars more to pull a tooth if that is needed. If I wanted the vet to remove a small fatty tumor from Jazz’s head, that was $150 more. This was yesterday.

I was incredulous. The vet tech who explained the fees acted as if these were reasonable charges. I said that’s four times more expensive than my own dental care. She said you don’t need anesthesia. I said anesthesia does not account for the whole amount. She looked at me as if something was wrong with me. I wanted to say to her, the vets who own this clinic lives in a mansion together. How much do they pay you? How can you be a shill for them? I held my tongue.

Then I read in today’s paper that new veterinarians have a hard time finding jobs and when they do, they earn about $45,000 to start. Many have debts of more than $300,000. There is a surplus of veterinarians. New vet pay is only going to go down.
Most new vets are women.

How do these two portraits of the veterinarian professions fit together? My vet takes advantage of people like me who love our dogs and cats. Are the established vets also taking advantage of recent veterinarian graduates by paying them so little? Are they taking advantage of women?


Segal, David (2013). The vet debt trap: Lower pay, few jobs and huge loans. New York Times, January 24. p. B1, B4.

Remove Offending Priests Immediately: What Was the Bishop Thinking?

Remove Offending Priests Immediately

What Was the Bishop Thinking?

By Jane Gilgun

For the first five months of this year, a Roman Catholic bishop in the United States had in his possession photographs that a priest in his diocese had taken of little girls’ genitals. The bishop did not remove the priest from his parish and did not report the priest for more than five months. By his inaction, the bishop harmed children and their families in his diocese. He harmed faithful clergy. He also alienated countless people from the Roman Catholic Church and confirmed beliefs that it is better to stay away from church than to go. In his own mind, the bishop may have had good reason for his inaction, but he did not see the whole picture.

This article argues that the bishop and other clergy do not understand sexual abusers of children. Sexual abusers must be removed immediately and permanently from the presence of children. It’s as simple as that, for God’s sake. Next comes the report to the police and possible trial and conviction. Then there are apology, reparation, penitence, and personal and institutional reform.

About the Author

Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW, is a professor and writer who has done research on perpetrators of child sexual abuse and other violent persons for more than 25 years. See Professor Gilgun’s other articles, children’s stories, and books on, Kindle, & iBooks.

Remove Offending Priests Immediately

What Was the Bishop Thinking?

For the first five months of 2011, a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church held onto photographs that a priest in his diocese had taken of the genitals of girls, ages 2 to 12, many while they slept.  During those months that the bishop had the photos, the priest had unlimited access to girls and boys. Families in his parish had no idea that the priest had sexual interests in children. So, they invited him into their homes and allowed him access to their children.

“All those parishioners just feel betrayed because we knew nothing,” said a member of the priest’s former parish. “We were welcoming this guy into our homes, asking him to come bless this or that.” Parishioners were outraged that the bishop, Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, USA, allowed Shawn Ratigan to continue his usual priestly duties when the bishop had photos that showed the priest’s sexual interests in girls. In May of this year, Bishop Finn gave the photos to police. He did not explain why he waited more than five months.

A computer technician found the photos on the priest’s laptop in December 2010 and handed them over to the diocese that day. The next day, the priest attempted suicide by running his motorcycle in a closed garage. He survived. He left a note of apology to the children, their families, and his church for his sexual interests in girls.

What Was the Bishop Thinking?

What was Bishop Finn thinking?  It’s only fair to assume that he thought he was doing the right thing. He decided it was best to wait months to report the photographs to police and not to remove the priest from contact with children. That he made this decision points to a need for more education of the clergy in the Roman Catholic Church and probably in other religious institutions, too, about sexual abusers of children.

Bishop Finn failed to protect children. He did the priest no favors by his inaction. The priest needed someone to rein him in. Bishop Finn failed to do that.  Mr. Ratigan was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, attacking the lambs. Bishop Finn knew this.

I would have thought that Bishop Finn already had the kind of education he needs to protect the children under his care and also to watch over the priests in his diocese. I would think that his vocation and education as a priest and his consecration as a bishop would be enough. In addition, three years ago, he settled a $10 million lawsuit with 47 survivors of clergy abuse. He agreed to several preventive measures, including the commitment to report to police immediately any clergy or other church people suspected of sexual activity toward children.

Why didn’t he do what he had promised to do? Why didn’t he report Mr. Ratigan immediately?  Why didn’t he protect the children? Why didn’t he remove Mr. Ratigan from contact with children?

The Whole Picture

Bishop Finn did not see the whole picture. He could not have thought about the welfare of the children in his diocese. He could not have thought about the soul of Mr. Ratigan. Every act of sexual interest in children not only hurt the children, but damaged Mr. Ratigan’s soul.

[By “soul,” I mean spirit, which in turn means to me openness to the spirit of other people, including children, and all other living thing.  Openness to the spirit also means love and desire to promote the well-being of others and in times of threat to protect the well-being of others. Every thought or act of sexual interest in children damages the soul/human spirit of those who think or act that way, no matter what they think they are doing. The damage to others is blazingly obvious. Bishops and other priests are official and public in their duties to promote well-being of others and protect threats to well-being. They have made a public pledge to promote and protect well-being. The rest of us have the same obligation because we are human beings but we have not make public pledges.]

During his months of inaction, Bishop Finn could not have thought of the damage he was causing not only to the people of his diocese, but nationally and globally. For many, Bishop Finn’s inaction was once again evidence that the Roman Catholic Church protects predators and throws children to wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Bishop Finn could not have thought of the damage his inaction did to priests who respect children and who would never harm them sexually or in any other way.

These are pieces of the picture that Bishop Finn could not have seen. Had he seen these aspects, he would have turned the photos over to police immediately. He would have pulled Mr. Ratigan from his parish immediately and sent him to effective residential treatment. He would have barred Mr. Ratigan permanently from any duties that allow him any contact with children whatsoever.

I cannot account for why Bishop Finn did not see these parts of the picture, or, if he did, why he did not act to protect children, did not act to protect the priest’s soul, did not act to protect faithful priests, did not act to protect the faithful from further alienation from their church, and did not act to protect his church from further harm.

The Bishop Does Not Understand Sexual Abusers

The bishop may have felt sorry for the priest and thought the priest’s suicide attempt was proof of repentance.  Mr. Ratigan’s letter of apology may have been heart wrenching to the bishop. The bishop may have talked to the priest, even heard his confession, and gave him absolution. The bishop may have thought Mr. Ratigan was a good and holy man who had repented and would never again seek sexual stimulation from children. The Bishop could have been conflicted for many difference reasons. As a result, he may have been unable to make up his mind about when to notify the police.

Maybe the bishop’s bosses ordered him to wait. If so, the bishop does not understand that an unjust law or command does not bind. That is a basic principle in Christian ethics and perhaps in all ethical systems.

Bishop Finn may have thought the priest would never again sexually harm children.  If he thought this, then he is very much in need of in-depth education about child sexual abusers.  Child sexual abusers require external controls. A surprising number want to stop but don’t know how.  Mr. Ratigan’s suicide attempt and letter of apology suggest that he did want to stop.

Bishop Finn did not fulfill the role he had to help the priest control behaviors he most likely wanted to control. Mr. Ratigan needed swift intervention to stop his behaviors. He had to be removed permanently from the presence of children. His suicide attempt could have been a gesture to remove himself, but he also may have wanted to spare himself public shame and disgrace or to punish himself in an ultimate way.  Bishop Finn did not take on the role he had the authority and public commitment to fulfill. Some believe he had a sacred commitment to protect since he is a human being consecrated as a bishop and as a public shepherd to his flock.

The bishop may have had other reasons not to remove Mr. Ratigan from his parish immediately and to report Mr. Ratigan immediately. The bishop may not understand the depth of the betrayal that clergy abuse is. Members of congregations learn from earliest ages that priests mediate between God and people.  Priests have an exalted and trustworthy position. When God’s spokespersons have sexual interests in children, the religious organization has the duty, for God’s sake, to stop priests immediately and to make reparations to all whom the priests have harmed. Nothing else matters. Nothing, absolutely nothing, comes before the obligation to protect.

Bishops cannot micromanage every action of every priest and church person under their supervision. What they can do is understand the necessity of immediate, permanent removal of the offending priests and immediate reparation. What they can do is screen priest candidates better, do better training of priests in seminaries, and require on-going education about clergy abuse. In addition, with communities of priests there needs to be on-going group and individual spiritual direction at least once a month each and preferably more frequent. With such on-going spiritual support and supervision, it is difficult for priests to hide damaging behaviors.

Understand Subjective Experience

Any training has to include accounts of the subjective experience of persons who commit child sexual abuse. A few months ago, a bishop in Belgium went on national television in France to explain that his years-long sexual abuse of his nephews was a “certain kind of intimacy” that his nephew “were not against—quite the contrary.”  That is his point of view. He did not see the whole picture. Even after losing his job, this bishop had no idea that he had done anything wrong.  In this, he is no different from many other child molesters.

Keeping churches and other religious institutions safe is central to all faiths. Understanding sexual abusers of children is the cornerstone of child safety.

Bishop Finn is an example of how poorly educated some religious leaders are about child sexual abusers. Nothing else matters except the protection and promotion of members of parishes and other religious institutions. For God’s sake.


Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). Child sexual abuse: From harsh realities to hope. or

Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). Evil feels good: Think before you act. On at  or

Gilgun, Jane F. (2011). It’s Time for the Roman Catholic Church to show the world what penitence is.

Gilgun, Jane F. (2011). Perfect: The bishop has no shame.  On at or on Amazon at

Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). Survivors of priest abuse told for 50 years: No one listened. On at or

Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). What child sexual abuse means to abusers. On scribd. com at and at Amazon

Gilgun, Jane F. (2011). What makes the difference?  The link between being abused and being abusive.

Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). What child sexual abuse means to child survivors. On at and Amazon at

Goodstein, Laurie (2011).  Bishop in Missouri waited months to report priest, stirring parishioners’ rage. New York Times, August 15, p. A11.

Michele Bachmann Backs Right to Life of the Unborn and the Born

Michele Bachmann’s politics are not mine expect for her stand on the right to life for children already born. Few anti-abortion politicians take that next step and consider quality of life issues for the born. The mother of five biological children and the foster mother of 23 other children, Bachmann has said many times that she is most proud of her title “mother.” The creator, said Bachmann, endows all people, with unalienable rights.

Speaking for herself and her husband, she said, “we were just profoundly struck by the value of every human being.” Bachmann also said we must “never overlook the weakest and most frail among us.”

In the U.S. today, there are 500,000 children in foster care and millions more children growing up in poverty. The poverty rate has increased every year since far-right Republican-backed policies took effect over the last 10 years. Bachmann is a representative to Congress from Minnesota and former front-runner for the 2012 Republican nomination for president. She dropped out of the race on January 3, 2012.

For many years, there has been little political will to create policies and programs that might have kept these children out of care and families with children out of poverty.  Maybe Michele Bachmann will become a leader in developing policies and programs that show she really means what she says about the value of every human being.

Memorable Bachmann Sentiments

Bachmann is clear about her commitment to child well-being.  Here is one of many statements she has made.

One thing that all of our children, biological and foster children, have taught us is the unbelievable diversity of talent and giftedness that all people have, and they really spoke to both my husband and I to look into the heart of each child and that child might be suffering and eventually they’ll be an adult, but help them get to that next plane because they have something to offer, and they do. One thing that happens often times in family life is that people think maybe the challenge you are having with a child when they are a teenager or even in adolescence that this is going to go on forever and it doesn’t. They get to their 20s, they change dramatically in their 20s. So sometimes it’s just holding on for the ride, and just being there and holding on for the ride.

I hope people throughout the country back Representative Bachmann on her stand for child well-being. Her commitment is clear.  Many people could help her develop ideas that would put her ideas into action. Write to her. Call her office.  Here is her contact information.

Washington Office

103 Cannon HOB

Washington, DC 20515

Phone: 202/225-2331

Fax: 202/225-6475

Minnesota Office–Woodbury

6043 Hudson Road, Suite 330

Woodbury, MN 55125

Phone: 651/731-5400

Fax: 651/731-66500

Minnesota Office—St. Cloud/Waite Park

110 2nd Street, S., Suite 232

Waite Park, MN 56 387

Phone: 320/253-5931

Fax: 320-240-6905

Don’t be too optimistic that you can find her e-mail address.  In the land of the free, voters do not have access to the their representatives’ email addresses.

Also, I’m not optimistic that Representative Bachmann will connect the dots between her social policies and her stated concern for child well-being. For the sake of children, it’s worth a try to suggest to her ways she can put her sentiments into action.


2011 GOP primary debate in Manchester NH Jun 13, 2011

Ballantoni, Christiana (2011/2012). Michele Bachmann Exclusive Interview: “I have not seen gender as a barrier to being in the race.” More.

Campaign website,, “Issues” Nov 7, 2006