I had known about St. Maria Goretti, another young girl venerated by the Church who died of injuries sustained while resisting sexual assault. However, I could not relate very well to Maria, at least at first, because she came from a pious Catholic home. Blessed Laura, by contrast, lived from the age of eight in a home ruled by a violent man who, having her mother under his sway, tried unsuccessfully to make Laura his concubine as well.
Reading Blessed Laura’s story, I was struck by how modern her experience was, even though she died, at age twelve, in 1904. Today we know that children raised in a home where the mother lives with a man who is not their father are about 33 times as likely to suffer sexual abuse than are those raised in intact families.
But it was the end of her story that really brought me to tears. While on her deathbed, she revealed to her mother that she had offered up her life for her mother’s conversion. That act of forgiveness really hit home, because I needed to forgive my own mother for failing to protect me when I was a child. And it hit me: If this child saint’s heroism can lead me to deeper healing, wouldn’t it inspire others also?
LOPEZ: What have you learned about women in jail?
EDEN: I have only begun to learn about the experiences of incarcerated women, but already I see that there are far too few resources available for those who want to rebuild their lives. It was wonderful to witness how the Project Dawn Court helps prostituted women escape the revolving door of convictions, but few municipalities have taken such a treatment-based approach. Project Dawn uses the carrot-and-stick approach. Succeed in treatment, stay out of trouble, and you can have your convictions wiped off your record; fail, and you’re back in jail. Other efforts to prevent prostitution only use the stick.
Another thing I learned is that, contrary to popular belief, prostitutes who are addicted to drugs did not take to prostitution in order to feed their habit. In nearly every case, these are women who suffered sexual abuse in childhood and later became homeless and were taken in by a pimp. Once a pimp takes in a vulnerable woman, he abuses her, prostitutes her, and then gets her addicted to drugs so that she will become even more dependent upon him.
LOPEZ: Do you plan to give more talks in prisons?
EDEN: I want very much to give more talks to inmates and to others who are underserved, including Native Americans, veterans, and anyone in a recovery or twelve-step program. It doesn’t have to be to a female audience, either; in fact, the place where I most want to speak is the men’s prison in New Hampshire, where I’m told that inmates have already been helped by My Peace I Give You.
LOPEZ: Is anyone addressing men in prison on these issues?
EDEN: Some correctional facilities offer psychological treatment, and there are various Christian outreaches that bring in the occasional speaker to talk about healing in Christ. Truthfully, though, I don’t know of any other victims of childhood sexual abuse who are speaking about spiritual healing to inmates.
And I can see why someone who has suffered abuse, especially someone who is suffering from post-traumatic stress, would not want to walk into a jail. You’re at the mercy of authority figures who make seemingly arbitrary decisions about what you can carry, who have the right to pat your down and touch your private parts. And that’s just the guards! It’s like dealing with the airport TSA, only with more trauma triggers.
LOPEZ: You have been doing a lot of speaking since My Peace I Give You came out. How are people responding?
EDEN: Well, I’m a Jewish convert to Catholicism, and perhaps that’s why I take after St. Paul: “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.’” The truth is, I’m a writer before I’m a speaker, and people respond to My Peace I Give You better than they do to my talks. But I give talks because, first, they draw people to my book, which can have a real and lasting impact on them if it draws them closer to Jesus and the saints. Second, the talks help audience members to know that they’re not alone. And they learn this not just because of what I say, but because they hear the questions that their fellow parishioners ask me, and they realize there’s no need to carry around the misplaced guilt and shame that all too often surrounds victims and their families.