Judging Me: One Woman’s Journey From Abuse And Betrayal To Triumph, by Mary Elizabeth Bullock (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, North Charleston, South Carolina, 2013, 162 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
November 30, 2014 (San Diego's East County) - Honorable Mary Elizabeth Bullock’s inspiring memoir describes a hard-won life of achievement. In the face of overwhelming adversity, Bullock – who is blind and has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus – made her name as an experienced trial litigator, respected business law professor, and federal civil rights judge. Her motivation for becoming an attorney and later a federal judge, actually started in East County San Diego, as she became an elected official for a pilot program stemming from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), referred to as Utilities Consumer Action Network (UCAN).
But in Judging Me, the dark suits and proverbial black robes are off. As a helpless child, Bullock suffered her father’s sexual abuse for ten years. She was beaten and molested in physically and psychologically unbearable ways. Perhaps worst of all, her father taught her to believe this evil was her own fault.
This heart-wrenching memoir takes the reader from a childhood of horrific abuse where Bullock, despite her chaotic home life, garners high academic honors and earns the necessary education to advance her from the degrading life she grew up in. As a young woman, she is driven to succeed, attaining a successful career where she makes conscious choices to build a life that would make anyone proud. Donning the armor of achievement and success, she rises to a position of power and influence. However, ghosts of the past continually pursue her, as evidenced in her relationships.
At last finding her own peace, Bullock made truce with the unforgotten past and gained the self – concept to build genuine relationships. Judging Me is a vital story – passionate, terrifying, inspiring, penetrating, insightful, and sensitive – with the intensity to change your life forever.
Having written more than 150 book reviews, I thought that I had read and heard it all, but Bullock has written a book that is so graphic and candid that it makes me blush. She actually caught me off guard with this well-written and insightful memoir, as I actually expected something different from a former federal judge. The author is unflinching in her candor in the telling of this story about the horrific acts perpetrated against her starting as early as 6-years old, as she gives us “A PRIMER ON CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE”, stating: “Childhood sexual abuse is not a disease or disorder but rather an experience. A sexual act is imposed upon a child who lacks maturation and emotional and cognitive development. Authority and power, silence and secrecy enable the perpetrator to coerce the child into sexual compliance.”
This well-researched and documented scholarly work, that balances eroticism and morality, is the most profound book that I have ever read. Certainly not to condone or rationalize childhood sexual abuse, it does give us insight as to why and how something like this might occur. Bullock indicates by statistics, and states: “This book is further dedicated to the forty-two million survivors who, according to the Center for Disease Control, suffer from sexual abuse: a malignant cancer that still manages to lurk in our society relatively unnoticed and that victimizes one in every six young boys and one in every four little girls.”
She further emphasizes a study comparing the post-traumatic stress symptoms in Vietnam veterans to adult survivors of childhood abuse, specifically stating: “The study revealed that childhood sexual abuse is traumatizing and can result in symptoms from war-related trauma. This study was done by J. McNew and N. Abell in 1995 in an article titled ‘Posttraumatic Stress Symptomology: Similarities and Differences between Vietnam Veterans and Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse,’ published in Social Work (Volume 40, Issue 1, pages 115-126).” From Marvin Gaye’s iconic song Sexual Healing to Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades with Monica Lewinsky in the White House, our preoccupation with sex and eroticism is emphasized in this book, although grossly perverted.
Additionally, the author has shared with me medical documentation; "Chadwick's 'Child Maltreatment' 'Sexual Abuse And Psychological Maltreatment" which has direct bearing on her experiences, and the "Adverse Childhood Experiences" (ACE) study, championed by Dr. Vincent J. Felitti.
The author further states, and it puts her story and this book in perspective: “This book focuses on familial childhood sexual abuse. Familial relationships – such as incest (for example, father and daughter or son), uncles, other close family relatives, or close family friends – are one type of abuse. Incest is the most common type of childhood sexual abuse. Most sex between children and adults involves a grooming process in which the adult, known by the child, skillfully manipulates a child into participating in a sexual act.”
What Bullock describes happened to her as a little girl borders on the barbaric, and she is unflinching in her graphic detail and depiction of it. She speaks of being beaten and sexually violated by her father thru every orifice of her young and tender body. And for punishment, she speaks of being tied to a tree in a snake-infested swamp by her father overnight.
Bullock makes an “Author’s note” which is significant, by stating: “This book was not written as an intellectual endeavor, per se. The author concludes that the definitions that experts hale as necessary and sufficient for sexual abuse are weak and pathetic. Where, I must ask, are the outrage and the bloodcurdling screams that come from such an atrocious act perpetrated on a child? Where is the horror? Significantly absent. The author understands that any definition is flatlined and can only be aided by proper adjectives and further explanation; even then, the definition remains two-dimensional. Since this book is not an academic treatise, the remaining sections of this chapter delve into symptomotology.” With that said, this entire book by Bullock reads like “A Primer On Childhood Sexual Abuse.” She bares her body and soul in the telling of this memoir.
This is the most horrific and depraved story that I have ever read or heard about, and done by a father to his little girl. My heart goes out to the author to have endured so much over her early years, and yet to have accomplished so much thereafter. It is nightmarish and hard to conceptualize that man’s inhumanity to man can carryover to these acts against their children. Sigmund Freud would be turning over in his grave after reading this book.
The author states in Judging Me: “My father sadistically raped me, and forced me to have sex with total strangers and physical objects for ten-plus years. He made me have sex with the family dog.” Bullock’s story reads like a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. She further states: “My family – all but me – usually ate what was cooked for dinner. My father made me eat hamburgers from Skippy dog food. In a tension-filled dining room I sat down with everyone else. My father made me to eat these horrible Skippy dog food hamburgers every night.”
This book compares favorably to Joyce Reed’s Hurt Used to Live Here and MJ Payne’s The Remembered Self, two earlier books that I have reviewed, but what separates them from Bullock’s Judging Me is the unbelievable violence wantonly perpetrated against an innocent and helpless little girl by her father during the course of an incestual act. The common core and theme of all three of these books was the fathers taking indecent liberties with the childhood daughters. Bullock’s father would take it to another level, which bordered on bestiality. This book by the author has impacted my thoughts on sex and sexuality and raises questions about morality and spirituality.
Having interviewed the author I am amazed that she was able to achieve so much in life professionally and academically, yet I am left wondering how she kept her sanity through it all. In the case of Reed, she writes in her book that she was molested by her father at the age of 11, and actually impregnated, only to have the baby aborted. Payne alludes to in her book her father allowing indecent liberties to be taken with her by other men at a similar age as when Bullock had her initial occurrences.
Parts of this book reads like a TV police crime drama such as Law and Order SUV, where the author actually admits to exacting revenge against men for the sins of her father, with her body and sexual inclinations as the tool for that revenge. Bullock actually devotes a chapter in this book to that revenge; “Revenge For The Sins Of My Father.” She goes into candid and graphic detail as to how and why she would use sex and her body to punish men, possibly for some perceived act against her by her father. Mind you, this is an esteemed and well versed former federal judge.
The material in this book is definitely movie material, and I would not be surprised to see it on screen one day. I can actually see Natalie Portman in the role of Bullock. Despite the sordid nature of this story, it is so well written and delves into the psyche, that it is bound to resonate with many readers for a variety of reasons. Clearly, there is still some deep psychological drama going on in the mind of the author, resulting from the acts of her father, that the course of time has not removed.
In one particular chapter in this book, Bullock gives a very revealing portrait of herself and the aftermath of her earlier sexual abuse, as she states: “If my bed could speak, it would relay some of the most hair-raising adventures – jungle sex at its best and the most unspeakable acts of eroticism – all that transpires behind closed doors. In my own defense, I am forced to seek out electrical tape to ensure the silence of my bed. I turn shades of red when I flash back to some of the things I have done to pleasure men. The bed was where I waged my wars. I sought revenge, ensured my own punishment, and discovered my womanhood while holding the only trump card I later discovered was mine: addicting these men into a sexually erotic relationship. God help those sinners that thought I was ever so compliant to their desires. I more than met their needs. Men feel that women are replaceable: one easily substitutable for another. About needs, men are clueless. Ruthlessly exploiting these men, I brought a whole new meaning to the word need. Soon, they craved the very thing I had to offer. Men, I learned, are genetically predisposed to sexual perversions – no different from an addict genetically predisposed to drug addictions. This reality is as basic to a man’s everyday ability to survive as the air he breathers and the water he consumes to hydrate. I was wicked, shameless, and deadly. God help them. They never had a prayer.” Mind you, this is from an esteemed and experienced trial litigator, respected business law professor, and federal civil rights judge!
It is perhaps revealing that when I inquired of Judge Bullock as to a particular case that she was involved in that stood out, and why, she pointed to Veronica May Williams v. John E. Potter, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, EEOC Case No.: 340-98-3576X, USPS Case No.: 4F-900-1164-96. Her earlier suffering has made her a champion for civil rights and the disenfranchised.
Throughout Judging Me the author references and speaks of help from a Higher Power, specifically stating: “With your ‘Higher Power’ you will be back on solid footing” and “Only with the help of your Higher Power can you continue to go on in life’s journey, ready for the unexpected.” There is a particular poignant passage in this book when it seems as if God, or this ‘Higher Power’ has deserted her, as she states: “Bad things happen to good people. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus in my late thirties, I was so mad at God that I refused to speak to Him. A friend purchased a book on healing through positive thinking. For the first time, I surprised myself by throwing the book right back at him and with enormous bitterness and sarcasm stated, ‘You think positive; God and I are not speaking.’ To make matters worse, well-meaning people told me: ‘God would not give you more than you could handle.’ I bitterly laughed in their faces. I wept, I begged and pleaded with God; I had not signed up for this. Wasn’t it enough that I was so grossly violated as a child; that I lost my husband very tragically; my brother murdered; that I suffered a battle with cancer; and that I buried the most important people in my life? ‘What did I do in my last life to deserve all of this?’”
In summation, and to borrow from a term often used in the author’s former profession, she states: “A normal woman, for whom there is no benchmark, comes into her sexuality in her search for womanhood: a process that is secret, complex, and often delayed by detours. There is no societal rite of passage or societal etiquette. How much more complicated it is for the sexually abused woman whose childhood was one of violence, betrayal, and torture. Oftentimes, the sexually abused woman is devoid of feelings: both physically and emotionally. Physically, she equates pain with pleasure. Moreover, more stimulation is necessary based on being highly stimulated at such an early age. These facts require an intimate discussion with a partner. She will stay away from any sexual discussions since the operative word is intimacy. A sexually abused woman is fearful of intimacy because she has been betrayed by the very people entrusted with her early care. She feels that emotions are sticky; feelings are best left for others to experience. Abandonment and rejection are two emotions she will do anything to avoid. If she interacts with men and allows feelings to surface, she must deal with issues of abandonment and rejection. She is incapable of doing so. Thus, the sexually abused woman is a participant in an activity that is fraught with overwhelming challenges.” I can’t wait for the movie to come out!
Dennis Moore is an Associate Editor for the East County Magazine in San Diego and the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online newsletter in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, as well as a freelance contributor to EURweb based out of Los Angeles. Mr. Moore is also the author of a book about Chicago politics; “The City That Works: Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.