[general trigger warning: child sexual abuse, value judgments]
The other day I tried a little thought experiment— say I am the ruler of the universe and I have godlike powers. I have an unlimited supply of money and resources that I can use for whatever I want. How much would I pay myself for the pain and suffering caused by my child sexual abuse?
I’m taking some time off to work on these issues. I needed to figure out some way to pay for that time. So I thought, what if I asked my abuser? I don’t need much. I made a high-end estimate of $25,000 for one year of living expenses. But even that was too much. I couldn’t convince myself that my life is worth it, or that the work I’ve done is worth that.
Sometimes, in courts, when a spouse or a loved one suffers a wrongful death, the court will decide how much money the surviving family gets. They usually base this off of the person’s hypothetical earnings had they not died and continued working, and then they add an additional amount on top for suffering and damages.
Living with child sexual abuse is hard. Living with the disability and productivity issues caused by child sexual abuse is absolutely a measurable cost. So let’s say we put an hourly rate on all of the pain and suffering and work I’ve had to go through just to survive. How many hours would it be? I’m almost 22 now, and i’ve been dealing with this since I was 8. Let’s say I could make $50,000 a year, but being abused has affected my ability to work, so let’s cut that in half. Sure I can’t work from age eight, but let’s keep it this way for that “pain and suffering” cost. 14 x 25,000 = $350,000. This is a decent number and it makes sense considering how this has affected me.
When I actually thought about this, however, in my hypothetical universe where the world is at least more just than this one, I gave myself nothing. $0.00. Even the thought of asking for a puny $25,000 (which, after 14 years, translates to a rate of something like $0.001 an hour) was too much. It was too uncomfortable. $10 would be too much. I’d feel like a leech, or like I was begging for something I didn’t earn. But I did earn this— I have earned far more by just surviving. It was then that I realized that I value the seriousness of my experience, the pain and suffering of it so little, that I can’t even give myself minimum wage.
I thought about what I’d give another survivor— billions, even trillions of dollars if I could. I’d collapse the global financial market. And I’d do my best to get them whatever else they wanted, because these experiences matter. People’s suffering matters. This particular kind, even more so. But for myself— no.
Of course, it is ridiculous to assign values to any of this. It just doesn’t work that way. And no amount of money could ever change things or make up for it all. Money would certainly make my life easier in some ways, though. But I don’t deserve anything. Not even the absolute minimum.