Last week marked three (3) watershed moments in the eating disorder community. Three moments characterized by:
The very definition of courage, resiliency and strength.
Intelligence, commitment, determination and hope for the future.
And finally, a chance for a fresh start for a greater tomorrow.
Three separate events impacting the eating disorder community to its very core. Three events which can, and should have far reaching consequences and ramifications for the future. A better future. A future in which our loved ones afflicted with this illness have greater hope.
Courage and Strength take down a Predator
Seven women patients in a residential treatment facility alleged that between December 2017 and June 2018, Michael Jacksa, a therapist employed by that facility, engaged in “inappropriate sexual behavior” during therapy sessions at the facility. Prior to the last victim stepping forward, Jacksa faced a total of 62 charges from six different cases, including charges of criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual abuse.
Jacksa was accused of committing heinous sexual abuses; patients say the therapist digitally penetrated their buttocks and vaginas, placed his hands beneath their clothing, fondled their breasts and forced them to give him oral sex.
Last Friday, November 5, 2021, Jacksa pled guilty to criminal charges perpetrated against all seven (7) of his victims. Seven (7) young women entrusted to the care of that facility. All of his victims were betrayed in the worst possible manner. And whereas, the criminal cases are concluded, the horrific emotional scars left by this subhuman monster will undoubtedly linger for years.
The legal system does not make it easy for victims to stand up and be counted. Demands are made of those victims. In some cases, having to relive the trauma. And yet, those seven (7) young souls stood up in court, many still in the grip of their eating disorder despair, looked that monster in his eyes, told him how he had so wounded them. How he had betrayed them. How he had violated them. But, how he had failed in destroying them.
The civil cases against the treatment center, the monster and others are still pending. Monetary damages will undoubtedly be paid to Jacksa’s victims. But, their mental and emotional damage will linger.
Betrayal of our most vulnerable cannot be tolerated. Treatment centers must step up their vetting process and background checks to decrease, if not eliminate outright, the likelihood that predators like Michael Jacksa will ever be able to prey upon our sons and daughters again.
And to Jacksa’s victims, stay strong, stay resolute. You have endured so much. You will overcome the obstacles placed before you. YOU will overcome. Because you have shown more courage and strength than most people in the eating disorder industry or community can possibly fathom. YOU define having resolve. YOU define strength. YOU define courage.
Legacy of Hope
On Thursday, November 4, 2021, the Journal of Eating Disorders published an article entitled, “The Legacy of Hope Summit: A consensus-based initiative and report on eating disorders in the U.S. and recommendations for the path forward.” This article showcased a consensus based report on eating disorders.
Between January 24 through 26, 2020, some of the foremost recognized experts in the eating disorder industry and community assembled in Dallas, Texas at their own expense. Research scientists. Medical doctors. Chief Executive Officers of eating disorder organizations. Craig Johnson. Elissa Myers. Carrie McAdams. Carolyn Costin. Carolyn Becker. So many others. A veritable “Who’s Who” in the industry. Other professionals attended via Zoom calls. Its motto was, “Many Voices – One Hope; Healing.”
It was the brainchild of and organized by Don Blackwell. Mr. Blackwell has been a stalwart advocate in the eating disorder community for many years. His book, “Letters to Ashley” has been read by many. He spoke at a number of NEDA conferences and other events.
The Legacy of Hope focused on five (5) separate work groups: (I) Prevention, Early Detection, and Intervention; (II) Accessibility, Affordability, and Accountability; (III). Standards of Care; (IV) Research and Research Funding, and; (V) Advocacy, Education, and Legislation. Each section contained an overview of the status quo for each topic area, a Consensus Point, and a list of goals and strategies.
The Legacy of Hope demonstrated a new era of cooperation, collaboration, communication and greater wisdom. By being published, it is now available to all. This report may very well be the new treatise on eating disorder treatment and evidence based practices. Undoubtedly, it will require revisions and amendments.
Those professionals who contributed to this report demonstrated intelligence, commitment, determination and hope for the future. Hope for all of us.
A Fresh Start – NEDA
As many people know, I was one of the attorneys who filed a lawsuit against NEDA in December 2020. NEDA employed a very reputable attorney to represent its interests. In May 2021, we went to mediation and reached an equitable resolution.
On Wednesday, November 3, 2021, a Stipulation of Dismissal was filed which ended the case and brought closure to the lawsuit. And so, this begs the question, where does NEDA go from here? “Business as usual” is not an option not just for NEDA, but is not an option for any organization, foundation or business.
Covid-19 has laid bare the fragility of not just life, but the manner in which society conducts itself. Whereas we may have previously thought of ourselves as safe, our future relatively secure, the plans for our tomorrows relatively safe and secure, something so small the eye cannot even see it, showed our wrong we were.
I sincerely hope that NEDA comes out of Covid-19 stronger than ever. That it overcomes the obstacles placed before it. That it fulfills the incredible promise and potential it has to help families and save lives. I hope it is guided by wisdom. By vision. That it finds the courage and strength demonstrated by those seven (7) victims of Jacksa.
Transparency. Emphasis on those whose needs are the greatest. NEDA can accomplish some incredible deeds. The future is in front of it.
As it is for all of us.