Thursday, December 31, 2009

Son overcomes years of abuse, torture by father (Apple Valley, California)

We've reported on abuser dad (and school psychologist) RICHARD SWANK before.

Standing tall: one young man overcomes years of abuse
December 30, 2009 8:49 AM

Today we continue our 10-part series profiling some of the people who made a difference in 2009. Those profiled were nominated by Daily Press readers, with the finalists selected by the Daily Press staff.

APPLE VALLEY • Someone once said it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down. It only matters how many times you get back up.

Resilience is an amazing trait — a trait embodied by a 24-year-old Apple Valley man who, as a boy, suffered years of unspeakable tortures at the hands of his father, Richard Swank. He was beaten unmercifully, fed table scraps like a dog, and forced to sleep in a coffin-like box or in a shower stall with the water dripping all night long. His name is being withheld because he is a sex crime victim.

But from this living hell, he made the choice to overcome.

Instead of inflicting his pain on others, he decided to make something of himself. He joined the Army and, as a tank crewman, he served in combat in Iraq and was decorated for helping to keep fellow soldiers alive.

While testifying in August, he was asked to describe his military decorations.

“This is the Good Conduct Medal,” the Army specialist 4 said. “It is given to soldiers who have never had any disciplinary action whatsoever for more than three years.”

He continued: “This is the Army Combat Action Badge. It is presented to any soldier that is under direct enemy hostile fire ... I am very proud of all my medals and ribbons. I have earned each and every one of them. It shows what I have become since leaving home.”

Most of those in court were moved to tears.

Dr. Craig R. Lareau, a forensic psychologist with a private practice in the Los Angeles area, said individuals have varied responses to abuse and trauma. The choice to overcome is usually a combination of an individual’s strong constitution and or environmental factors, such as a positive role model or counseling.

“Sometimes the person with a strong constitution and a strong moral compass ... with the help of a good role model can succeed (in life) despite horrible, horrible, traumatic experiences,” Lareau said. “We are largely what we are influenced to be.”

For all its senseless tragedy, this is an example of a victim who has triumphed, said Patricia Loy, a marriage, family therapist registered intern with the High Desert Child Adolescent and Family Services Center in Victorville. He’s probably used the anger inside him in a positive way to motivate not only himself but also other people, Loy said.

“It could just be our spirit,” she added. “I think that each of us has some kind of spirit or light within us that keeps us from going in the same path that maybe our mother or father did,” said Loy, who deals with crime victims. “It’s just something in their spirit, their personality. It’s the choice they make — I’m not going that way; I have good in me.”

Moments before his father was sentenced to life in prison plus 96 years, the young soldier spoke to the court.

“I can’t begin to describe the hell I endured as a child and missing all the simple things in life that should have been there but never were,” he said. “I hope my father lives for a very long time so he will be reminded on a daily basis of what he did to me. But he never broke me, he never conquered me, all he did was improve my resilience.”