I transformed from an unwilling bystander to someone who is a vocal advocate, researcher, consultant and writer about child abuse and the system that enables it.
In the picture above, you can see that I am calm and surrounded by copies of my wine thriller Crush that was a lot of fun to write. There I am, signing copies at an event held at Burrowing Owl Winery in the Okanagan—a wine-growing region in British Columbia, Canada—where the thriller is set.
This is my former life that I had to give up when I spoke up.
From the moment I set forth on the grim path of the whistleblower, I stopped being calm, having fun, and writing thrillers. Instead, I found myself frustrated at bureaucratic inertia, fighting for at-risk child-rights, and researching what the experts know about abuse.
I was struck by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who compared Instagram to tobacco, because I used this same comparison in a TEDx talk I gave on child abuse. Kids are drawn to Instagram as they’re drawn to smoking especially when both acts are promoted by adults who profit from it and market it. Haugen encourages Congress to take government action as it did with cigarettes since Facebook, like the tobacco industry, is hiding the harms its platform causes to children.
After my whistleblower experience, I have little faith in government and their commitment to child safety.
Where I hope to see change is through scientific knowledge and technological innovation. Once X-rays showed lungs blackened and cancerous from smoking, laws changed. Now, brain-scans show children’s brains harmed by all forms of child abuse – verbal, psychological, emotional neglect, physical and sexual. I am working double-time to see this break-through finally change laws and protect children.
On March 8, 2022 my new book The Bullied Brain: How to Heal Your Scars and Restore Your Health hit the shelves and the airwaves. Due to my whistleblowing journey, I went from being an author focused on literature and psychology to being a writer who was having regular conversations with one of the world’s top neuroscientists. My academic, research and authorial focus shifted from the literary to the scientific because brain-scans were the only way people started to really understand just how much put-downs, yelling, humiliation and all other forms of abuse scar kids’ brains.
I still love Italian medieval literature, modernist novels, and psychology that I dedicated so much time to studying while doing my PhD and working on my first academic books. I still love wine and thrillers, it’s just that now I spend most of my time reading brain research because kids are being hurt and lots of adults don’t know it.
I never planned such a serious life for myself as I am an amused and curious person at heart, but in that terrible moment that I stumbled onto the whistleblower path, there was no going back.
Scientific research is simply a part of being serious. My goal is to apply the insights of scientists to the profound concerns I have about today’s youth populations who are suffering from high levels of mental illness most of it caused by traumatizing adults.
I believe that understanding our brains better is going to help us change into a society that does not cover up child abuse at every turn and instead addresses it, protects kids, holds abusive adults accountable, but also supports them through rehabilitation (if possible).
This blog recounts the painful and empowering tale of why we must all speak up, especially when children’s health and lives are on the line, while it also reveals that if you find yourself being a whistleblower, even an unlikely one like me, suffering can give way to great gifts. But first, you must survive the onslaught.
Because the suffering is so monumental for whistleblowers we tend to focus on it, but I assure you that if you can bear having the blinders torn from your eyes, it’s worth the enlightenment.
It’s much easier to believe blindly in the goodness of our leaders than to gaze into a systemic, entrenched, bureaucratic heart of darkness, but if you can bear to actually see complicity and corruption, hear hypocrisy and complacency, and still speak up about injustice and harm, you may well find yourself in a position to create positive change.