Nine Little Girls 

Some years ago, deep into a confounding research assignment for which I had been combing through the website of the South Dakota legislature, I stumbled upon the recorded testimony of a woman describing in detail her own rape and torture, and the tortures of her sisters by the same hands. In her account the acts, which allegedly took place in the 1960s and 1970s, continued for several years and had begun when they were all children some fifty years earlier. The discovery of that testimony was a thing that happened to me, an event in my life, in the way realizing for the first time that my parents will grow old and die was an event in my life. The sound of her voice, the stories she told, gripped me, and attached me to a group of people I had never met, to a story that, before that evening, had nothing at all to do with me and my world.  We are surrounded, of course, by reports of atrocities of various kinds, and the mass of them often has the unfortunate effect of inuring us to many hells. But on that day I encountered a human voice and, despite our cultural preoccupation with trauma, which should have readied me to understand what I heard, I did not know how to think about what the woman’s voice was saying. In a confrontation not with data points, but with a personal account of extreme cruelty, I was without adequate resources. I recognized the problem of my human unpreparedness.  The horrors needed to be studied and reflected upon over time. There were implications that I needed to work out, and understandings that I needed to develop. Framings that had seemed sturdy and fundamental now felt flimsy. I experienced the testimony of those abused

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