originally published at: http://bornepress.com/michael-salter-on-organized-abuse/

Michael Salter on Organized Abuse

Dr. Michael Salter is an Australian criminologist. He is the author of several articles published in journals such as the British Journal of Criminology, Violence Against Women, and Child Abuse Review. In 2012, he published his first book, Organized Sexual Abuse, a culmination of years of research and working directly with survivors.  He is currently a lecturer in criminology at the University of Western Sydney.

I met Michael several years ago—virtually, and using a pseudonym. We were both active members of an online community that gathered in celebratory relief and debate around the highly original political and social commentary of Canadian author Jeff Wells. From first encounter, Michael was an extremely knowledgeable, caring, and outspoken advocate of survivors of organized abuse like myself. My gratitude to him has grown over the intervening years, as he’s helped transform the study of organized abuse from utter marginalization into a respected field of inquiry.

The phrase organized abuse refers to abuse perpetrated by more than one person, usually within a system that facilitates some sort of coordination. It can occur in groups such as families, deviant cults, and criminal networks. I interviewed Michael about the state of the field, and how he became invested in the topic. I’ve included an excerpt from his book, a very moving account about a young woman named Sarah, who with his help, tries repeatedly to extract herself from the powerful grip of a group of brutal perpetrators. It poignantly outlines how justice and health care institutions fail to address her predicament, and leave them both to their own devices.

LS: What led you into researching the organized and/or extreme abuse of children?

Michael Salter: I began researching organised abuse at the prompting of a survivor friend of mine. We met as teenagers and became close friends. I guessed that she had a traumatic history but it took me a little while to piece together that she was still being abused. Things came to a crisis point for her and we made a joint decision to work together to bring her abuse to an end. I’ve written about this period of my life extensively in my book so I won’t go into it here*, except to say that I was confronted with clear evidence of ongoing organised and ritualistic abuse. At the end of it all, when my friend was finally safe, I was left wondering what to do with the knowledge of what she’d been through. She was the one that suggested I enrole in a PhD program and study organised abuse.

*An excerpt of Michael’s book that includes a portion of this story appears after the interview.

LS: Is it true that you wrote your Ph. D. thesis about ritual abuse? How did that go over with the faculty at your institution?

Michael Salter: My Ph.D. used the term ‘organised abuse’ to include all kinds of multi-perpetrator abuse, including ritual abuse, sadistic abuse, child prostitution and the manufacture of child abuse images. I don’t shy away from talking about ritual abuse and I’ve spoken and written about it extensively. However to my mind it is a form of multi-perpetrator child sexual abuse and it tends to overlap with others. A person who has experienced ritual abuse has usually also been subject to the manufacture of abuse images, for example, as well as other non-ritualistic forms of organised abuse. It’s useful to distinguish between these different forms of abuse even though they can cluster together in people’s lives.

I’ve found that my colleagues and the wider academic community have been very supportive of my research. In the wake of multiple sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and elsewhere, the proposition that multiple adults might conspire to abuse multiple children is a familiar one to most people. That wasn’t the case fifteen or twenty years ago, which is why allegations of organised and ritual abuse seemed so bizarre at the time. Now we have a context in which we can understand multi-perpetrator child abuse, including its severe and extreme forms. If those famous ritual abuse cases that collapsed in the 1980s and early 1990s arose today, I think the outcomes would be quite different. There have been a number of successful prosecutions for ritual abuse over the last ten years.

LS: You’ve done a great deal of research on and advocacy for survivors of organized child abuse in Australia, both professionally and personally. Do you feel like you’ve developed a fairly accurate picture of how widespread it is?

Michael Salter: I published a paper in 2012 with a colleague in the Journal of Mental Health in which we reviewed the available evidence and estimated that between 2 to 6 in 10,000 adults have survived organised abuse. This is based on quite conservative estimates, but it would mean that between 4,600 and 13,800 adult Australians and between 63,000 and 188,000 adult Americans are organised abuse survivors. However, it’s difficult to be certain where and how often organised abuse develops as new information and cases are emerging all the time. I think a much more accurate picture of the extent of organised abuse will develop over the next five or ten years.

LS: Survivors and victims of organized abuse in the US have minimal community support, little access to adequate treatment, and virtually no recourse via the justice system. What is the situation in Australia?

Michael Salter: It’s mixed. We have a better funded public health system in Australia but mental health receives only a fraction of the health budget. Psychiatric care is covered by the public health system so if survivors can find a good psychiatrist then they may receive affordable long-term support. However this is a pretty big “if” since the treatment of severe abuse is on the margins of psychiatric curriculum. Most psychiatrists (and, for that matter, psychologists) with the specialisations that survivors need are in private practice and much more expensive.  Survivors with private insurance have more options, such as psychotherapy and residential or out-patient programs in specialist facilities.

The Australian court system is pretty conservative about accepting testimony of sexual abuse from either children or adults so there have been relatively few attempts to prosecute organised abuse compared to the United States. This has had both pros and cons. Fewer court cases has meant less ammunition for backlash activists and less media exposure for self-styled experts on ‘false memories’. Of course, it also means that perpetrators of organised abuse are not being prosecuted or the organised component of the abuse is being overlooked at trial.

LS: In 2012, you published your first book, Organized Sexual Abuse. Please tell us about it and what you hoped to achieve.

Michael Salter: Organised Sexual Abuse was based on interviews with twenty-one Australian survivors of organised abuse. My aim was to explain how something as horrific as organised abuse can develop in everyday places like homes, suburbs, churches and schools. By documenting the life histories of survivors, I was able to show how abused kids can ‘fall through the cracks’ so the signs of severe abuse are missed by adults. I also wrote about the ongoing abuse of survivors as adults because some of the survivors I spoke to were abused into adulthood, and for some, their kids were also abused. This issue of ongoing abuse in adulthood is something I’m keen to do further research on. My book has just been re-issued as a paperback which is great, because it makes it much more affordable.

LS: Tell us about your experience on the Board of Directors of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (ASCA). Did you hold that position in 2009 when their PSA’s on sexual abuse went viral? What did you think of the ad campaign?


Michael Salter: I was a board member of ASCA for three years and learned a tremendous amount about the problems that survivors face in getting access to health care, legal redress and community support. I was an ASCA Director when our infamous ad campaign was released in 2009. I know that a lot of people, including survivors, objected to the ad, which depicted the father of the bride at a wedding making a joke about abusing his daughter when she was a child. At ASCA, we felt that the advertisement confronted the community and politicians with their own hypocrisy. In effect, the advert said: If you don’t think that the lifelong impacts of abuse are a joke, then why aren’t you doing more about it? For years, we had run advertisements containing the expected messages about child sexual abuse to very little effect. Another video of a sad child transforming into a sad adult would have sunk without a trace. The 2009 advert cut through the complacency and got people talking. The organisation has since gone from strength to strength, making important national contributions to the development of trauma-informed policy and practice.

LS: Over the past two decades, survivors of extreme and/or organized abuse have attempted many programs of advocacy to change the status quo. Although these efforts may have had a profound effect on the lives of individual survivors, they have yet to substantially impact the views of society at large, and its institutions. Do you have any special advice about how survivors might advocate for themselves in more effective ways?

Michael Salter: In my experience, social movements of trauma survivors can find it difficult to tolerate ambiguity. What I mean by this is that there can be a predominance of black-and-white, us-vs-them thinking rather than an appreciation of the grey areas and a more constructive interest in opposing arguments. While black-and-white thinking helps people feel confident and validated in a group environment (which is of course very important for survivors) it can also push survivor groups into positions of false certainty in which a strong stance is taken on an issue where the evidence is weak or unclear. This position is of course vulnerable to being discredited or attacked by others.

I think it’s really important for survivor groups and movements to find ways of validating and supporting one another that includes a space for uncertainty. This allows survivor groups to engage with, for example, evidence around the unreliability of memory while still asserting that memories of abuse are very likely to be accurate. This disempowers critics who like to malign survivor groups as one-note or simplistic, and it enables survivor representatives to speak in a clear and authoritative way about the issues that affect them. It also helps survivor groups to move beyond null-sum competitions over whether severe abuse “exists” or not. The evidence clearly shows that organised, ritual and sadistic abuse has occurred and is occurring, and my view is that people who deny it are not serious commentators and should be ignored at this point.

When it comes to advocacy, it’s important to think practically and act strategically. While there are particular challenges that are specific to organised abuse, many of the obstacles faced by survivors are shared with other people impacted by abuse and violence. A lack of health services and limited access to the criminal justice system are common to victims of child sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. These are indicative of major systemic failings that can only be changed slowly, over time, through collective social and political pressure. I know many survivors of organised abuse are working within organisations that aim to address these problems and I’d encourage others to think about the kinds of partnerships they can strike up with like-minded social movements.

LS: How do you see the voices of survivors overcoming the legacy of the false memory campaign? Do you have a philosophy of human behavior and western culture that might account for our current predicament?

Michael Salter: My view is that the false memory campaign is a spent force. It failed to realise its key goals, failed to renew itself and has largely faded away. Of course, the false memory campaign has left behind the sedimentation of doubt and disbelief that we will have to keep chipping away at. However it is important to recognise that we are witnessing an increasing, not decreasing, number of investigations and prosecutions for cases of organised and ritual abuse. Adults and children who disclose sexual abuse are more likely to be believed now than they were ten or twenty years ago, and that includes victims who describe organised and ritual abuse.

I come from a feminist perspective, and I believe that the inequalities of contemporary societies are gendered in ways that empower some men to commit sexual violence against children and women (and, sometimes, other men) with little likelihood of detection.

There are many factors that make organised abuse possible, but there are also multiple points of intervention to prevent or disrupt organised abuse. In general, I’m optimistic about the direction of social change which I think is shifting the power relations that keep children and adults trapped in abusive groups.

LS: I’ve read some statements from survivors you’ve interviewed expressing their gratitude to you not only for your work in general, but in giving them a sense of hope and relief in knowing that there is someone who is willing to listen and is concerned. What would you say to those who may feel hopeless and isolated?

Michael Salter: A life worth living is an achievable goal for every survivor. So imagine the life that you want to live and then start planning and taking practical steps towards it. Every step forward counts, no matter how small, and if you keep walking forward you’ll be surprised how far you will go. If you take a step back every now and again, that’s OK. Never give up hope. You’ll get there.

LS: What helps keep you sane and healthy in the face of all this trauma and despair?

Michael Salter: It’s a privilege to be able to do work that is meaningful to you, and I don’t take it for granted. The research is grim sometimes but the survivors I’ve spoken to have valued the chance to, finally, document what they’ve been through, and that’s a wonderful thing to help facilitate. I’ve gained so much from the survivors that I’ve met who have been caring and empathic towards me, often doing everything they can to make sure that I won’t be traumatised by what they have to say. This process of mutually assuring one another that it is safe to talk and listen is like a slow dance as both people find their feet and begin to feel comfortable with one another. It’s an honour to be given the trust of people who have been betrayed so many times and I take it very seriously.

I’m a Buddhist and I meditate every day. One of the first teachings of Buddha is that our life at the moment has the nature of suffering and we can’t escape this suffering without first controlling our mind. This helps me to accept the suffering that I see, but also to try and transform it by offering what I can: patience, understanding, compassion.  We often underestimate the power of caring for others. I teach a weekly meditation class for my local Buddhist centre which I love to do. It’s great to be able to teach simple meditation techniques that people can apply in their everyday lives. The support of my partner Paul and my family and friends has also been invaluable.

LS: What are your plans for the future?

Michael Salter: I have way too many plans! I’m currently editing a special issue on organised sexual abuse for the International Journal of Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. The journal issue will bring together papers from all around the world on the subject of organised abuse. It’s going to be open source which is fantastic, because it means that anyone can access it online, especially survivors who I think are going to find it a really validating resource. The issue is scheduled to be released late 2015 or early 2016.

I’ve just submitted a grant application to undertake a major study on multi-perpetrator stalking and violence. I want to interview people who have experienced ongoing physical and sexual violence from multiple perpetrators in adulthood, and also the health and welfare workers that they are in contact with. This is a major issue for adults who are escaping organised and ritual abuse, since they can find themselves stalked by family and other perpetrators.  However women trying to escape from gangs and also women from some cultural and religious communities can find they are being tracked and stalked by multiple people if they try to leave an abusive relationship.

There is lots of work still to do to make sure that ritual abuse is being recognised when it occurs, and that victims and survivors receive they support they deserve. I’m quietly confident that we will get there but it will take time.

The following is an excerpt of Organized Sexual Abuse, by Michael Salter, Ph.D., published by Routledge, 2012.

Organized Sexual Abuse - SalterChapter 5, pp. 79-85

Being a carer
With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems to me that Sarah’s experiences of stalking and violence were very similar to those reported by women escaping domestic violence. She was being terrorised by threats she received over the phone and via email, and periodically men could be found waiting for her at home or work. To keep her safe we made sure that she was dropped off and picked up from work, either by me or by friends. Our new rental property was as secure as we could make it with our limited funds. We began formulating strategies to ensure that she was eating and sleeping well and accessing health services when she needed them. With encouragement, Sarah was skilled at finding the supports that she needed, and my role was to provide an anchoring and stable presence in the house so that she was not alone when she felt overwhelmed by depression or memories of abuse. Much of my ‘caring’ time was spent in her room at night as she struggled through another flashback, holding her hand and trying to coax her back to reality. The ways in which her memories could manifest in somatic ways was nothing short of startling. During one incident, her body temperature dropped dramatically and her lips turned blue. She was freezing cold to the touch and began speaking about a childhood memory of being submerged and nearly drowned in a tub of icy water. It was only when she began responding to some hot water bottles and several blankets that I decided not to call an ambulance.

I must confess that, until Sarah and I came to share a house, I had harboured some lingering doubts about Sarah’s reports of organised abuse. The degree and authenticity of Sarah’s distress was not in question but I wasn’t entirely certain of its source. Nonetheless, it was not long before I was confronted with irrefutable evidence that Sarah’s history of organised abuse was continuing in the present.

A month or so after Sarah and I moved in together, she didn’t return home from work. Later that night I received a text message from her, and I eventually found her, semi-conscious, on the side of a city road. She was wet, as though she had been recently washed, and she had deep marks on her wrist and ankles where she had clearly been bound with a cord or rope. I immediately called an ambulance and rode with her, but once in the hospital, I quickly discovered how fluid and relative ‘evidence’ can be. In the eyes of the doctors and police, the marks on Sarah’s wrists and feet were less significant than her refusal to permit them to examine her for a sexual assault. In the hospital, she became terrified at the prospect of an internal exam and her non-compliance was interpreted by both the police and the doctors that she could not be believed. In interview, Sarah recalled:

One of the big things with me at hospital was that I didn’t want the doctors taking photos of me, or touching me. And if I’d said, ‘Yes, you can examine me’ – I think they would have believed us more. But it was the fact that I wouldn’t let them … and any other proof [such as the rope burn] that didn’t fit into the specific things that you look for in a sexual assault was not seen as real.
I remember them looking for – because you are meant to look under the finger nails, you are meant to look for defensive wounds – and of course I’ve got no blood under my finger nails, because in that situation [organised abuse] I don’t defend myself. And things like that. I remember them getting my hand, and going ‘Nah, there’s nothing under her nails’ as though the only alternative is that I’m lying.

This was a pattern of disbelief that would reassert itself with each subsequent hospital admission. Despite our best efforts, Sarah ‘disappeared’ once a month or so, only to appear semi-conscious in various parts of the city or outside the city limits in the bush. For the first three or four times that this occurred, I called an ambulance to take her to hospital. She often had welts and bruising, and I had no way of knowing the extent of her injuries without a qualified medical assessment. Importantly, I wanted a record of the attacks on her and some official acknowledgement of her plight. I held onto my faith that, as the evidence of Sarah’s abuse accumulated, the doctors and police would intervene to improve a situation I was beginning to find intolerable and out of control.

However, the attending physicians and police had a standardised approach for assessing the credibility of complaints of rape. Since Sarah did not conform to this model, she was considered to be a malingerer who was not a legitimate focus of attention or concern despite her injuries. They made it clear that there were questions about the nature and legitimacy of my relationship with Sarah, questions that, particularly for the hospital, came to eclipse what was happening to Sarah. Since I was present at each of Sarah’s admissions, the hospital staff accused us of engaging in some kind of folie a deux or, worse, they suggested that I was responsible for the injuries that the abusive group inflicted on Sarah. Sarah described the efforts of hospital staff to substantiate their suspicions about me:

It was such a mind-fuck at the hospital. They got this psychiatrist to talk to me. And first off she’s saying, ‘So, do you think that Michael believes you?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘Do you think he believes you too much?’ And I didn’t know how to answer that question.
And then there’d be ‘And do you think Michael cares about you?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘Do you think he cares about you too much?’ And I said, ‘Maybe.’ Because I was feeling guilty. They seriously asked me these questions.
And then she asked, ‘Well, why do you think he cares about you too much?’ And I said something like, ‘I made a mistake, I shouldn’t have done it’ – because I was feeling guilty, I was ashamed that I’d slipped up and the group had—gotten to me, and it was four in the morning and you were awake and scared and worried for me.
But the hospital had gotten the answer from me they wanted, and I didn’t realise what they were doing. And the next time I ended up in hospital, the same psychiatrist came to me and said, ‘Well, you said some really interesting things about Michael last time. Do you remember?’ And she had all these notes, saying ‘Michael cares about me too much.’ There was another note, something like ‘I’ve made a big mistake.’
And I was just going ‘No, no, you don’t understand.’ And at the same time, I was thinking—god, this is like a TV show. This is like an interrogation sort of thing. They totally cornered me when I was completely vulnerable. But they wanted to believe so much that we were completely delusional.

During this hospital admission, we had been separated for several hours whilst staff attempted to encourage Sarah to implicate me in her abuse. Reassured by the amount of time they were spending with her, I had fallen asleep in the waiting room under the false assumption that, finally, she was receiving the care she needed. It was a great shock when I was finally permitted to see her and I found her limping to the toilet, hunched over in pain and shame. She had wrapped the hospital blanket around her as tightly as she could, like a cocoon, with only her eyes showing. Her eyelids were fluttering from trauma and dissociation as she inched down the corridor, desperately trying to cover the scant hospital gown with the blanket. Two police officers were leaning against the wall, watching her without offering assistance. The looks on their faces as they joked about her made it clear that we should never come back.

This final hospital admission was, as I wrote in my diary at the time, an event that fundamentally changed my perception of the ‘way things are’. The fantasy that some outside force or agency would intervene to protect Sarah was gone. We soon discovered that we had no recourse to the police. Having been designated persona non grata during those hospital admissions, there was no amount of evidence that could convince them of the merit of our reports. This included an incident when I came home from work to find the house that I shared with Sarah had been broken into and our walls daubed with red paint and animal blood. Strange red symbols had been painted on our walls and bedclothes, and I found an animal organ lying in my bed. A baby’s ‘tippee’ cup, full of animal blood and offal, was left on Sarah’s desk, with a bright, childish sticker on it reading ‘Drink me!’ I called the police who took photos of the vandalism and did some fingerprinting. The advice from the forensics team was that we should change our names and leave the state. Once they left, we never heard from them again.

We lived in the vacuum created by the neglect of the police and medical services and in such a space the only action left to me was to care for Sarah as best I could. I tried to help her to eat, sleep and build her strength, all the while knowing that the next attack could be only a few days or weeks away. We made contact with local sexual assault services, psychologists and therapists, and found a number of workers who were familiar with organised abuse and sympathetic to Sarah’s situation. However, they were poorly situated to respond to Sarah’s primary need, which was not for therapy but rather safety from the ongoing abuse. It seemed that we were trapped in a vicious circle: struggling to stabilise Sarah’s mental health because of ongoing abuse, but unable to stop the ongoing abuse due to Sarah’s fragile mental health. In order to wear away at Sarah’s resolve to protect herself, the perpetrators would engage in days or weeks of sustained threats via telephone, text message or email. For a few weeks, we heard from a woman who regularly telephoned the house, claiming that her children were being sexually abused in Sarah’s absence because Sarah was not allowing herself to be abused as instructed. Occasionally the phone would be snatched away from her by a man who, in one memorable instance, threatened to kill me. I took to sleeping with a knife under my bed. When Sarah was feeling strong she was able to resist the entreaties, threats and attempts at blackmail, but if she was feeling vulnerable or frightened then she could leave the house and ‘disappear’ for hours.

After Sarah’s ‘disappearances’ it could take days or weeks for the bruises and burns to heal. These were not simply the marks of violence but of torture. After one particularly awful episode, she reappeared at the front door at dawn having gone missing the night before. She was having difficulty walking and she winced when I tried to support her to walk to her bedroom. The skin on her stomach and back was red and inflamed, but I didn’t ask why and she didn’t tell me. It was a few days later, when the inflammation had gone down, that I saw the lines on her skin where someone had traced symbols on her body using a red-hot implement. My reaction was a horror compounded by despair. Here was further physical evidence of her ongoing abuse, but where could we go with it? What could we do with it? A previous email to the local detectives had ‘bounced’. They had given me the wrong email address. They didn’t return phone calls or messages. We were cut off from external assistance, and the hospital had made it clear that they suspected I might be responsible for the injuries Sarah incurred during abuse. We had to do our best between the two of us.

My initial optimism that I could affect a decisive break in Sarah’s contact with the abusive group, and my faith in the authorities, now seemed to me to be hopelessly naïve. In this diary excerpt, I reflect on this dawning realisation:

I thought I could make more of a difference than I can, in the immediate present anyway. She must be free to negotiate the terms of her contract with the torturers. It is a private world that I have no entry into.

I was becoming aware of the complexity of our struggle to keep Sarah safe, which in effect was a war fought on two fronts. The first was the world external to Sarah, a place where men could wait patiently for her outside our house or her work with the intention of pulling her into a waiting car. This was a world that might be frightening but at least it was a place where I could make some difference by, for example, arranging to meet her at her workplace to make sure she was safe as we made our way home. However, the second front was Sarah’s mental environment which, I was slowly coming to realise, harboured forces that wished her harm just as forcefully as those anonymous men did. Sarah’s attachment to the abusive group was anchored by the sedimentation of terror, shame and loyalty that had accumulated over many years. These were emotions of such intensity that they were often beyond articulation, compelling Sarah to place herself at risk despite her own deeply held desire to find a life free of pain and abuse.

Reading over my diaries from this time, it is undeniable that my time spent as Sarah’s carer was often grim and frightening work. However, my feelings of exhaustion, despair and anger served as an important counterweight to Sarah’s habitual response to her abuse, which was to numb and dissociate herself from the emotional after-effects. Even when Sarah felt vulnerable to the manipulations and threats of the abusive group, she knew that she could not obey their instructions to meet them for abuse without causing me great distress and anxiety. This sense of responsibility to me served as an anchoring point that Sarah could use to combat the compulsion to put herself at risk. Furthermore, my sense of horror at the predations of the abusive group enabled the expression of Sarah’s own long-suppressed emotional responses. The very fact that I found her abuse unbearable validated her own intrinsic experience of victimisation as excruciating rather than something she deserved and must learn to bear. This served as a bridge from the secretive world constructed by the abusive group, with its predetermined logic of torture and exploitation, to a freer state in which she could determine the direction of her own life.

These were circumstances that should have eroded our friendship, and they were probably intended to. The abusers had crafted an unbearable situation in which we felt isolated and alone. They tried to turn us against one another, telling Sarah that I was one of them, and telling me on the phone that she was a ‘slut’ who ‘wanted’ what they did to her. However, our resolve held and strengthened and over time it became clear that we were incrementally but irrevocably altering the cycle of abuse and shame that had bound Sarah to the abusive group. In the context of our friendship, Sarah was shifting between the identities that had been constructed through dehumanising abuse and an emergent set of possibilities based upon a view of her as valuable and deserving of love: a view that she could trust me to hold even when she could not. As a friend and carer, I related to her as someone of intrinsic worth and so I served as the stable reference point for a different sense of self than one grounded in the humiliation and deprivation of abuse. Over time, the threatening emails and phone calls that Sarah received no longer seemed so compelling to her. The logic that the group used to manipulate her still resonated but she did not instinctively assent to it any more. She could distance herself from the threats and entreaties and consider the most constructive way to respond.

Sarah began to make important gains in many areas of her life. She found new friends. She began dating. She enrolled herself in an intensive programme for trauma survivors and made considerable improvements in her mental health. She began eating and sleeping more regularly. Her day-to-day conversations were increasingly concerned with mid- to long-term plans about her education and career. Over time it became clear that Sarah no longer needed the kind of intensive support that I was providing. She has always been fiercely independent by nature and she was determined to move forward with her life. In the meantime, I needed time and space to recover from a period of anxiety and exhaustion, and to consider the implications of what I had witnessed. Our lives had shared a common trajectory for a period of years and now we needed to follow different directions, although we parted with the mutual understanding that, together, we had achieved something very important.