Overcoming the Obstacles of Abuse

A Sad, Yet Hopeful Story of a Survivor

Laurie B. Timms

April 6, 2022


A friend passed me the link to this article last week.

The story is about Mackenzie Fierceton, a St. Louis teenager. Her mother was a highly-regarded, well-known pediatrician in one of the major healthcare organizations in the city. She was also an abuser.

Mackenzie’s mother physically abused her for much of her childhood. This would have been traumatic enough, but the good doctor’s boyfriend sexually abused her too.

The more I read, the more horrified I became.

Not so much about the abuse (although it was bad). But because of the complicity of the educators, the healthcare community–and the justice system–in covering for Mackenzie’s mom.

I have to say, the staff writer at The New Yorker who wrote the story, Rachel Aviv, did a great job. She gathered all the information and tied it together, including fact-checking each person’s story against the other.

In the end, I had a crystal clear picture of what happened to Mackenzie Fierceton.

  • Mackenzie was a child who was repeatedly subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
  • Mackenzie’s mother ordered her to tell specific stories to cover up the abuse she inflicted on her daughter. She also laughed at the sexual abuse of her daughter, taking place in her own home.
  • Mackenzie had to escape to survive. Afterwards, she found herself in a lonely position without much of a support system.
  • Despite this, she managed to get into a good university. She was nearing graduation with both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and on her way to becoming a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in Spring 2021.
  • But multiple institutions failed her. They eventually accusing her of lying, despite mountains of evidence proving that she was abused, and that her mother was guilty.
  • The systems that should have been in place to protect her subjected her to further trauma. And, they denied her the Bachelor’s degree and the Rhodes placement she’d earned, despite all the barriers she faced.

The justice system failed Mackenzie when it dropped its case against both her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. What’s shocking is that her mother was able to override any privacy or sanctity the university should have provided to Mackenzie. In doing so, they were complicit with her mother in causing more harm.

Mackenzie’s mother had no shame or remorse. She used her position in the community to lie to the court system, her employer, her family, and the university her daughter attended. Mackenzie’s mother was abusing her once again, this time by ensuring her daughter could not move forward with her achievements.

More striking, though, is that Mackenzie did not give up.

She is a true survivor. And I celebrate her, for achieving so much, despite the barriers she’s faced.

And then, as thoughts will do, two doozies came to me. After screaming into a pillow for a half hour, I took a deep breath and wrote them down.

FIRST: All these institutions are broken, and their leaders should all resign. And I mean it. All of them. The university, the healthcare organization Mackenzie’s mother worked for, the District Attorney who dropped all the charges, and the court system that needs a huge overhaul.

All of these people who should have behaved like caring adults, who should have helped a child in danger, completely blew it. No excuse.

SECOND (and this isn’t shocking to me): Family members of abused kids will go to extreme lengths to hide despicable acts. This happens even when the family members hiding abuse aren’t the ones who directly perpetrated it.

Clearly from the story, Mackenzie’s mother was the main abuser in the family. I have a hard time thinking otherwise.

But why, if they aren’t guilty of abuse, does the rest of the family go to such lengths? Mackenzie’s aunt preferred to turn on her niece rather than face the fact that her own sister might be abusive.

Perhaps she simply couldn’t face the truth. Or more likely, she is ashamed because she did notice it and stood by, doing nothing. It’s all about the legacy of family abuse.

Even though families should be sticking together and helping out the abused in their ranks, they prefer to pretend not to know about abuse, or flatly deny it to save their own skin.

[Do I sound angry? YES, DAMMIT!]

It’s time to change this, for the sake of the survivors of trauma.

Despite the anger, I’m very hopeful for Mackenzie. I know from experience that it is possible to overcome extreme obstacles, to learn a better way of living. She can build a new, strong foundation on which to stand. It sounds as though Mackenzie is finding her way. Perhaps she has a better support system now, and she’s built a family separate from her biological one. I certainly hope so.

What would you do if you were in Mackenzie’s spot? Post a comment to discuss.

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