COLUMNISTS

Here's what happens to a victimized child when the singular focus is on saving babies

This is not just an Ohio problem, but this is where I live, and the attacks here on this child illustrate the depths of malevolence the Supreme Court has unleashed with the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Hello from Ohio, where the same Republicans who insist that every pregnancy must result in the birth of a child tried to pretend a 10-year-old child who was raped did not exist.

In her time of greatest need – she was pregnant and needed an abortion – they were nowhere to be found. How easy it must be to abandon children you refuse to see.

After President Joe Biden publicly expressed outrage over her tragedy, Republicans and far-right media outlets began attacking media coverage and questioned the child’s existence.

This is not just an Ohio problem, but this is where I live, and the ensuing attacks here on this child illustrate the depths of malevolence the U.S. Supreme Court has unleashed on this country with the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has refused to answer questions about the law he signed that prevented the young rape victim, his constituent, from getting an abortion in her home state.

Reeling from ravages of this injustice

Attorney General Dave Yost dismissed her rape and abortion as “a fabrication” and said “not a whisper” of evidence existed. U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan echoed Yost’s claim in a tweet, adding: “Another lie. Anyone surprised?”

On Wednesday, a 27-year-old Columbus, Ohio, man was arrested and confessed to raping the 10-year-girl. Twice. 

Why is this is our country? As a survivor of sexual abuse, and a rape survivor, I felt numb

The ensuing hubris of Yost and Jordan oozed like pus from a festering wound. Yost, without apologizing to the girl, issued a statement: "We rejoice anytime a child rapist is taken off the streets." While the attorney general talks as if he’s celebrating a jubilee, anyone who cares for the well-being of this child is still reeling from the ravages of this injustice.

Meanwhile, Jordan also failed to apologize and, under an apparent delusion that he can erase public comments in 2022, deleted his tweet.

The tweet containing a false accusation from Jim Jordan deleted by the Ohio GOP congressman after The Dispatch showed the story about the 10-year-old rape victim was true.

My marriage to a U.S. senator informs my belief: Every public official should be held accountable, no exceptions. In Columbus, our state capital, this makes me a unicorn.

Jordan and Yost have embraced shtick of Donald Trump. Deny, deny, deny – and when you’re proven wrong, pretend it never happened.

Besides, you know: Sure, they want to outlaw abortion for everybody – but they didn’t expect this to happen. A child raped? A child who needs an abortion? It’s as if they’re hearing this for the very first time. Then again, if you don’t think women should control what happens to their own bodies, why would you bother to learn from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) that 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys "under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult"?  

Abortion travel bans? We're supposed to be a free country, not East Germany

Experience has taught me that identifying these elected officials as Republicans will incite critics to accuse me of making this child’s rape a partisan issue, and of using her as a “political football.” This is the height of false equivalence. Both sides are not equally right, or equally wrong.

Show me a Democratic majority in a state legislature that is attempting to gut abortion rights. Name the Democratic governors who are trying to eliminate a woman’s right to control her own body. I blame Republicans because Republicans are to blame.

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There is no protecting this girl from the monstrous things that have been said about her. Perhaps, in this moment she is isolated from news and cable coverage, and social media, but anyone raising a teenager knows this bubble will one day burst.  

What is it like to be this 10-year-old girl right now? People who should have looked out for her did not. Politicians elected to protect her insisted she did not exist. Editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal, with one of the most influential publishing platforms in the world, dismissed her tragedy as just another “fanciful” tale, under this headline: “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm.” Too good. As if any person who supports abortion rights would want this to happen to a child.

Columnist Suzette Hackney:I mourn the future of women and unwanted babies, who will be ignored by those who 'saved' them

We don’t know her name, groused pundits and some journalists. We don’t know where she lives. This raises another alarm: Is the goal now to publicly identify any child who is raped, any child who becomes pregnant?

Where does this stop?

A child who will one day be a woman

Like so many of you, I keep thinking of that child. If this happens to you when you are 10, who do you become by the time you are 15, 16, 20? What do you believe about yourself?

For two decades, I have quoted two lines from a journalist friend’s interview with poet Lucille Clifton, who is now deceased:

What they call you is one thing.

What you answer to is something else.

But these are the words of an adult, for adults. They are no comfort to a child whose very existence depends on the adults around her.

Our earliest beliefs about ourselves are embedded through interactions with the adults in our lives. Our first opinions about our self-worth are these internalized messages. These narratives take hold, and too often for those who’ve experienced neglect and abuse, they determine the trajectory of entire lives.

Connie Schultz is an Opinion columnist for USA TODAY.

This child will not always be a 10-year-old girl. One day, she will be an adult with her own story to tell. Not for us. She owes us nothing. For herself.

May her story be about how she was stronger than the people who failed her. May it include turning points when hope and support sustained her. May this child, betrayed by so many, one day look in the mirror and see the face of a woman who, against the worst odds, is undefeated.

More from Connie Schultz:

Longing for a return to ‘simpler times’? Here’s what the 1950s were like.

Cassidy Hutchinson has more guts than all the president's men

Who do you become when you learn to look for school exits and places to hide?

USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York Times bestseller. You can reach her at CSchultz@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @ConnieSchultz