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  • Writer's pictureEmilie Surrusco

Lives lost and found by abuse

Most everyone in Washington knows him by the signs he holds every afternoon and evening at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Reno Road. The words vary but the theme is the same: MY LIFE WAS RUINED BY A CATHOLIC PEDOPHILE PRIEST or CATHOLICS COWARDS or VATICAN HIDES PEDOPHILES. Few actually know his name or the story that has compelled him to stand in front of the Vatican Embassy for the past 14 years, silently bearing witness. This month, Ariel Sabar wrote a compelling profile of John Wojnowski in the Washingtonian that shows in meticulous detail, how one life can be shattered by abuse.

Wojnowski was a child when he was molested by a priest in a small Italian village. He never saw that priest again  and never even knew his name. But the boy he had been, and the potential his life had, was taken by the man who had promised to help him with his studies on that warm summer afternoon.

Wojnowski and I couldn’t be more different. Yet when I read his story I was struck by the commonalities that abuse at the hand of a trusted intimate creates. While I like to think that my abuser didn’t succeed in arresting my life’s potential – I am now, by all accounts, a happy wife, mother and writer – it’s been a long hard fight to ensure that he didn’t succeed. It’s been 16 years since I last saw my abuser, yet the fear still takes over when I see something or someone that reminds me of him. After a suicide attempt, another sexual assault, a PTSD and major depression diagnosis and countless other ways I almost allowed him to win, I have learned to accept that even though what he did to me will always be a part of me, it doesn’t have to control who I am.

Wojnowski and many others haven’t been so lucky. My heart aches for the boy who was taken by his abuser. I can only hope that Wojonowski, who is a father and grandfather, is learning bit by bit to take back what still can be his. For me, it’s taken a mix of anger, pure stubbornness, and the support of family and friends to fight to take back my life. I’ll never know who I would be if my abuse had never happened. All I can know is that even though it did, it doesn’t have to own me. My journey is far from perfect but I can triumphantly say that my life is mine. I can only hope that Wojnowski and the countless other lost souls like him will one day say the same.

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