I live in the incest belt of America, that begins with southern Illinois and Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky and tends to move southward. I used to believe that I lived in a place far, far away from the problems that I learned about in the news papers and on the television, but then my perfect "redneck" image of my backwards town was dispelled, by of all people, my father.

No, this isn't a personal story about my struggles with incest. Then again, it is. I can say that I have never had to deal with the pain, and I thank God every day for that. Yet, not all is settled within myself, for I have the haunting knowledge of the ghosts within the community.

Just to start off, I don't intend to help anyone out. I don't intend to give you insight or comfort. This is just something I have to do. It wasn't too long ago that my eyes were opened to a new, disturbing aspect of the culture in which I was raised. Very few arrests pertaining to child molestation and incest had ever been made in my town and surrounding areas. I took this as a sign of absence; I couldn't see the sadness, and I couldn't hear the cries.

I don't know what took my dad so long to tell me about the problems. I don't know if he intended to shelter me or if he merely didn't think of it as extraordinary. Sadly, I believe it was the latter. Sometimes it would come up in casual chat about his work (he worked for many, many years as a school counselor), but he would always mention that the cases reported were very few. Then, one day, he just talked about how many grown women and young girls had not come forward, in order to protect their families, to hide their shame. From there he went on to tell me of friends of his who had suffered, how many of them were taught to respect their abusers, to accept their cruel fates, and to act as if nothing was happening. That was the first time I had felt physically ill due to a thought.