For me and for anyone who knows or loves someone who was sexually abused, this may be the most important part of the sharing my experience on this topic.
There was no support, validation or comfort, it was just an experience to be hidden from the world because it became my mother’s shameful burden. To this day, I can remember telling my mother about two abuse situations while she was giving me a bath and for the life of me, I can’t remember the words I used or any reaction on her part. That doesn’t mean there was no reaction, it just means that it was so minimal that I, as a young child, never saw it. My mother tells me that she protected me by not allowing the baby-sitter or the neighborhood boy to have access to me or my siblings but was that enough? She says back then people didn’t talk about “such things” and certainly didn’t take legal action. But she never even told my father. Never, ever.
I love my mother. She has made a lot of mistakes and bad choices in her life that I know came from her growing up in an alcoholic home with a pedophile father. As they say, shit rolls downhill. All my life, I have tried to force her to tell me why she did things she did because her actions or in-actions have had a huge impact on who I am or am not. She is only now that she is 84, forcing herself to give me answers. She has given me permission to ask her anything I need because she doesn’t want to leave me with questions. Unfortunately, my blocking out painful experiences is also my mother’s way of coping so while she knows things happened with her father, she cannot recall the details. Like mother, like daughter. She has gone through her whole life blaming everything bad that happened to her on alcohol. Her father had alcoholism, her life changed when she, my dad and their friends started to drink and she was affected by alcoholism and all the mistakes that go with the release that alcohol gives from inhibitions and pain.
I believe that my mother hid my molestation because she was afraid that her secret knowledge about her father would come out. She loved her father so deeply that she sacrificed her children’s well-being for that love. She said we never showed signs of his having molested us without even realizing what she was saying. What I heard was that she knew what he was but she believed he never did it to us. She remembers him being drunk and french kissing her goodnight and her saying to him, “You are not my daddy!” Coincidentally, one time the words “You are not my daddy!” came out of my mouth as an adult. I think I might have been angry with my dad at the time but he was no where around. I remember being shocked and confused that I would say such a thing. Mom’s sister told her that their father molested her but my mother wouldn’t listen. When you put someone on a pedestal, they can’t stay up there and you often can’t let yourself see them fall. She tells me that she knows something happened to her but she has blocked it out. I have encouraged my mother so many times to seek counseling but she is so filled with shame that she just can’t.
When I worked for a police department, I was filing and came across a card that told me that my grandfather had been arrested for child molestation. My grandfather was dead at the time and I guess I had a need to totally remove his existence. I went to the evidence technician who is responsible for criminal reports and let him know of the death so he could remove the record, which was standard. Lest you think that the entire history was removed, no, it wouldn’t be as the records were put onto microfiche at that time. In fact, that is why I couldn’t read the actual report on the incident, it was on microfiche in storage. I am not a rule breaker but I would have looked up that report if I could have. The evidence tech asked me if this man was a relative and I told him that he was my grandfather. I have never forgotten that he looked at me kindly and said, “We can pick our friends but we can’t pick our relatives.” and told me that he would take care of it. Since that time, I have learned from my mother that my father actually bailed my grandfather out of jail. She says they believed that the young girl was lying. Reading between the lines, it is easy to see that my mother couldn’t have believed the girl was lying. Another child sacrificed. My aunt was very angry that the judge dismissed the charges though she probably kept this to herself until she told me. My father’s naivete has often frustrated me but not more so than in this instance. However, my mother hid so much from him. Once when I told my parents that I was very uncomfortable around the husband of a family friend, my father told me that he knew the guy would never do anything to my father’s children. So Dad, he would molest his stepchildren but not your children? Wake up and smell the coffee! I was actually hurt that he would not proclaim to stay away from the man in order to help me feel more comfortable. Naive or lacking courage? The man ended up shooting his wife and stepson. You can read about it in my post “Tragic Endings”.
My grandfather molested my cousin, sister and me and we never told anyone. My not telling about me was understandable, I blocked out the details, but my cousin and my sister told me about it happening to them. I was the oldest girl grandchild so chances are that I had the experiences prior to theirs. The three of us talked about why we didn’t tell anyone and we all agreed it was that we didn’t want to hurt our parents who had so much love for this man, a love we all resented. If we couldn’t tell how could I expect my mother to tell. She and I have had several very honest conversations about this and while her answer has hurt me, it was extremely honest. She says she would never have taken action because she would not have wanted to split up her family. I don’t think she is alone in that, after all, isn’t that why my sister, cousin and I didn’t tell. She says not only did she love her father but her mother was a woman with no education, means of support and had 5 children. It strikes me that she said her mother had 5 children which says to me that she was not talking about my molestation but hers. However, she made it clear that she would not have told anyone had she known about me and my sister. She was not the exception, she was the rule during those times. If we look the other way, it didn’t happen. I was hurt when my mother made her admission to me and told her that it was her responsibility to protect her children, we weren’t capable of protecting ourselves. A few days later, she called me and told me that she was haunted by what she said and that she would answer any questions I had. Oddly enough, after that it was difficult to want to bring the subject up. It was like I finally had what I needed, her acknowledgement that she was wrong not to protect me. However, we have talked about it since and while she knows she was wrong, she still contends that she would not have split up her family. I have to accept that because nothing is ever going to change it but it is hers to live with. So my dad died never knowing the family secret. He never knew why I pursued therapy, he never thought I needed it. He didn’t know that my continuous talking, talking, talking and difficulty not filling the silence were symptoms of a person with a painful secret.
There was no education when the abuse took place. People were truly ignorant, willfully so. I don’t mean they were ignorant of the fact that it took place, they were ignorant in the fact that it would matter. There was no courage when it came to emotional situations. It was easier for a man to kick his daughter out of the house for having sex than it was to try to understand why she had sex. It was easier to turn her away than to listen or talk with her. I know of several situations even within my own extended family where the child was blamed for being molested. The thinking was that the child brought it on herself by being promiscuous. So much easier to sacrifice you own family than to have the courage to confront. A child cannot be held responsible for an adult’s actions. If a child is promiscuous, there is a reason in my opinion. The word “incest” is abhorrent to most of us. Its creepy that a relative would have sex with their child relative. However, when I was in therapy, I attended Incest Survivor meetings and incest was considered to be the term used in relation to any adult who is responsible for a child and betrays the trust of the child. If a child is dependent on an adult, he/she she has to place their trust in that adult so the child doesn’t usually have a choice in what happens between the child and the adult. I can tell you that I have been to several different genres of support meetings and I would have to say that the people in the Incest Survivor meetings appeared to have been the most damaged emotionally and mentally. There is so much shame, anger and sexual acting out. Each person thinks another pers0n’s experience is worse than their own but they are all horrendous because they were so very betrayed by someone who they were supposed to be able to trust to take care of them.
I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if my mother had the courage to step up. What if my dad had known? Would he have had the courage to fight for me? Sadly I doubt it. My brother was angry with me for telling him about my grandfather because my grandfather was his idol. He didn’t say that he didn’t believe it, just that he didn’t want to know about it. Can I judge him? No, I can be angry but I cannot judge him. Our whole lives have been complicated by the dysfunction that has passed itself down but the one thing I know is that we survived. In spite of all the dysfunction my siblings and I lived through, we all survived and have gone on to live productive lives. The odd thing is that I attribute that to the love and support of our parents. No matter how crazy things got, the three of us hung on to the knowledge that our parents loved us and wanted the best for us. When my mother was in a downward spiral, she was still our anchor because dad was the supporter and she was took care of the children. She took on all the burden to protect him from worry and responsibility and his children were shortchanged.
We somehow knew that we had to hang in there until our parents grew up enough to come back to us. Because in our very early years, we had a good, solid family and it stayed with us. My mother said to me recently, “I always wanted to be a good mother.” and I was able to tell her that in some very important ways, she was. Even during the chaos, when we made mistakes our parents didn’t punish, they talked and we actually listened. They always let us have our say and if they felt we were right, they would concede. We were rewarded for honesty by having our parents let that be enough to convince them that we were aware of our misdeeds. We were never shamed. We have all had our trials but we have our own families and we try to do our best for them.