How we silence sexual abuse
Posted on 01 March 2015
Sexual abuse has cast a shadow over my family’s life. My mother was abused as a child by her step father, the man I grew up knowing as my grandfather. My cousin was also abused by him (repeatedly, for years). Friends I went to school with were abused by him. Children I met when I was with my grandmother while she babysat them were abused by him. In fact, I have no idea how many children my grandfather has abused over his lifetime but I suspect the numbers are huge since he is still alive and in his 90s.
I am grateful that I was never abused but what has happened around me has still affected me deeply. My grandmother and grandfather lived very nearby and we saw them regularly – actually, we saw grandma nearly daily. They were an integral part of my childhood and I always held two conflicting emotions regarding them. The first was love and the second was caution. Mum had explained to myself and my sisters from a young age that grandad had molested her and we should not be left alone with him. She added that if he (or anyone) ever tried to touch us that we should tell her immediately and she would believe us. Of course, it seems strange that we were involved with them at all given what had happened, but as I’ve researched this topic a lot of the years I’ve discovered it’s not uncommon at all that victims can take a long time to come to terms with their abuse. Even though mum did her best to protect us, I’m sure there were still occasions he could have taken advantage of, so I feel rather lucky both to have been protected and to have somehow avoided an experience that would undoubtedly have shaped my life.
However, mum’s experience still shaped my life somewhat. Her over protective nature sometimes felt claustrophobic to me. Her negativity towards men felt unfair and unreasonable to someone like me who simply wanted equality, for both genders. Growing up around my mum’s low self worth hurts me in ways I’ve only begun to understand as I’ve struggled with my appearance and self worth also. I can barely begin to comprehend how it has affected my parents’ relationship too, but they are still together, still strong. They’ve endured so much, it’s quite incredible how they’ve managed to get through it all. I learn a lot by seeing what they have achieved.
In 2010 I had returned to Australia for 10 months after many years living abroad and during that time my mum had started to unravel in light of what she was discovering – the extent of abuse this man had committed. Prior to that time she had convinced herself that perhaps it was just her and her sister and then she was silenced over many occasions, in many ways. She had continued to work on her relationship with her own mother, desperately wanting her love, attention, affection and acceptance but ultimately it always undermined her self worth even further as she allowed herself to accept what she never wanted to – that her mother was complicit in everything that had happened. It was so difficult for all of us grandchildren to accept also, but the more we understood, the more we had to come to terms with the fact that she had known and even enabled the monstrous things her husband did. It was during this year that I suggested taking it to the police. I felt mum needed resolution before granddad died. I thought people should know what he had done. I thought all of his victims should be given a voice. Unfortunately, by the time it all got to court granddad had become ‘unfit for trial’ and is practically free to live his last years and justice can not be served.
I’ve decided to write this post, which interviews my mum, to give her a voice. To stop the silencing that occurs around sexual abuse. Recently I watched Teri Hatcher hold back tears while telling her sexual abuse story at United Nations event – she told her story about ‘the dangers of silence’ and it struck a chord with me. Teri mentions a girl who had committed suicide because of her uncle’s sexual abuse and I too know a girl from my childhood who committed suicide as a result of my grandfather’s sexual abuse. One in three women are forced to accept violence as a part of their life story.
I’ve noticed there’s another way survivors are silenced. I’ve noticed that my friends don’t want to talk about this topic because it upsets or disgusts them. Others simply don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to consider it could happen to their child. I believe that true friendship and love is about being able to share the tough stuff – to work through your own uncomfortable feelings about a topic, to really listen, understand, learn and grow. I believe it enriches my relationships, my understanding of the world and my empathy. My mum and I have had a lot of ups and downs but understanding her very difficult life experiences has helped me a lot. Ultimately, no one is perfect and we are all struggling with whatever life has thrown at us so simply listening can help everyone.
My way of dealing with things I struggle with is to read, watch, learn and explore the topic. Over the years I have found some really insightful resources, blogs, personal accounts and projects that I have shared with my mum in an effort to help her. One of those blogs is called Finding a Healing Place. Clara was married to a paedophile for almost forty years. She has eleven children and eighteen grandchildren. Her blog tells her unbelievable story. Project Unbreakable is a photography project aiming to give a voice to sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence survivors by featuring images of survivors holding posters with quotes from their abusers – my mum has entered a photo to the site.
There are lots of other projects out there also giving survivors a voice because they know how important it is.
Here is my mum’s voice….
Question 1: Who are you today?
That is a really hard question. Mainly because, I really don’t know who I would have been or how I would have viewed people and world if I hadn’t been molested and had my mother taken action on my behalf against my molester. I do know that I have trust issues, I have trouble believing that anyone could love me. I have always thought that if your mother doesn’t love you then why would anyone else. I have trust issues with men too.
I find myself being very intolerant of people who lie to me and if I am called a liar or perceived to be lying I will go to great lengths to prove my truth. I especially get very stressed if those people are members of my immediate family. Honesty is so important to me and I crave it from my family. I think that I am a very complex individual because of the molestation. I hate conflict and these days I just shut my mouth to avoid a conflict but in saying that if my integrity, honesty or morals are ever in question I will jump in to defend. For 40 years I was ignored but I won’t be ignored anymore. I am not talking about topics that are open for discussions but rather my truths. My honesty, integrity and morals are all I have and I will defend them.
Question 2: What was your upbringing like?
Up until my father left the family home, when I was 11, I think I had a great childhood when lots of fond memories were formed. After my dad left the family home I really don’t remember too many happy times. My mother was severely strict and cruel. We never went on family outings or holidays after dad left. We were just there in a loveless home with a mother who couldn’t care less about her children. She provided for us but there really wasn’t any loving interaction. I don’t ever remember being hugged by her or being told that I was loved.
My mother was only interested in her boyfriend and as such she used her children for what they could do for her. I remember vividly getting into trouble, being belted with a wooden coat-hanger and then having to do her ironing as she could never ever keep that up to date. There were always 3 steps to her punishment – yelling, belting and some physical job to do for her. I had my hair cut off by her in a episode of rage and she made me go to school with this dreadful looking hair that the kids laughed and made fun of me for. I never told them how or why my hair ended up like it had but I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I knew that if I told anyone what had happened I would be in for another round of her rage. I dreamt about how I could run away from home but I really had nowhere to go. My mother always threatened us with suicide if and when she was in a rage and I vividly remember thinking that I could slip her some of the many pills she took and nobody would ever suspect me because she was always threatening us with her demise.
She would often argue with her boyfriend (my molester) over the phone late at night about his womanising and then without warning she would burst into my sister’s and my room, drag us out of bed, bundle us into her car and drive to his place to continue her argument face to face with him. We were never ever her first or second consideration. She was first and he was second or maybe even he was first and she was second. Either way her young family never rated.
Question 3: When did you become aware that you had been abused?
I am unsure really. I know at the time that I just wanted to run away from my abuser which I actually did. I don’t remember how long after being abused that I told my mother but I think it was a couple of years. I say this because my sister had finished school and was working at the time which means she was roughly 15 years old which made me 13 years old and I was molested when I was 11. I had talked to my sister about being molested when it happened and she confessed that she also had been molested on the same day as me by the same person but she told me to keep quiet about it which is why it took me a while to speak to my mother about it. I thought about what had happened and talked to my sister about it a lot. My sister made me feel that I would be doing the wrong thing if I told on the molester. Anyone who knows me well knows that I will eventually bring things out in the open, it may take a short time or it may take a very long time but it will happen.
Question 4: How did life proceed after your abuse?
My life was not a happy one after the abuse. My mother was an adulterer, my father left the family home after he learned of her affair, my brother seemed to think that he was now in charge and became a bully. My sister and I were very close though and we confided in each other about everything. My life was very lonely, as my abuser was now in my life, my home and he had driven my father away and had taken my mother. I could never have friends over to play or visit in case people learnt that my father had left. I never saw any of my Aunts, Uncles, cousins or Grandparents again. They were all devoted Christians and as a result of my mother’s affair they had disowned her. The only people I got to talk to outside of my mother’s and my abusers friends were the kids at school and that was only while at school. My abuser told my mother what I was allowed to do, wear, say and think. It was control I think. I think he was indirectly letting me know that my mother would listen to him over me. It was his way on ensuring my silence for ever. It worked for 40 years.
Well, I left home at 16 ½ yrs old because by this time my mother was living with my abuser and I was often forced to kiss this man and show affection for him. Like a father/daughter relationship but I hated it. My mother insisted that I love him like a father. She would often tell me that she was so lucky that her children loved him even though he wasn’t our father. It made my skin crawl when she said this. She knew that he had molested me, as I had told her. As a growing adult I craved love but then never trusted it. I married young (18) and am still married to this man after 40 years.
Question 5: How and when have you been silenced over your life?
First of all my abuser silenced me. Not because he said anything but simply because of his overbearing confidence. He seemed to know that he held the power. Then my sister silenced me but only for a time. Then my mother told me that I was lying when I told her. She told me that she would never ever love me because of the horrid things I said about her lover. Her actions silenced me up until I had my own children when I was 24.
Question 6: How did the silencing affect you?
The silencing made me feel like a bad person for wanting to be heard. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me because I thought that being molested was a bad thing. Everyone seemed to think that I should just shut up and move on, get over it and that it was no big deal. Don’t upset my mother and cause trouble. I tried to put it behind me but things happened in life that bought it to the fore. Eg. The birth of my daughters, I had to protect them from him. I still to this day don’t know if he ever touched them – they say he didn’t but again I wonder if he did and that they are protecting me from the shame of having him in their lives.
Silencing me has left me with so much guilt. I feel guilty that my daughters have now lost their grandmother, guilty that I lacked the courage to stand up to him and my mother, guilty that had I not kept silent for so long this man would have been ousted and faced the courts before dementia set in. Even though he claimed he had dementia at the time of his committal hearing there is always a question mark about that fact. To all those girls who came after me I can only say I am so very, very sorry. Going to the police and reporting my abuser was one of the hardest things I have done, and I was terrified when I walked into HQ in Roma Street. I knew that as a result of my actions my mother would again disown me and I stood to lose so much all over again but something inside of me told me “IT IS TIME”. I also feel guilty that I wasted my life seeking something that in reality was never going to happen. She is 85 years old now (2015) and lives just 1.5km from me and we have had no interaction for the past 5 years since I reported her husband. I only ever wanted her to love and protect me like a mother should. Was that too much to ask? Apparently.
Question 7: How did the abuse affect you?
The abuse took my confidence and it made me question who I was. Things like, did I portray any sexual behaviour, at 11 years old, to my abuser that made him think I would enjoy the sexual abuse. It has made me incapable of trusting my instincts because my instincts were to tell my mother and she would make things right but that just didn’t happen. The abuse made me a very protective mother. It has probably made me a not so good wife too. The abuse has made me feel unlovable, damaged emotionally.
It is really hard to explain but even as adult I was frightened to speak of the abuse for fear of not being believed. I did tell my husband and my children but I was never sure if they believed me. I was the only person telling this stuff and I can see how it would very easy for them to dismiss my allegations. I really just prayed that they believed me. When my niece told me about her abuse by this man I was so relieved to the point that finally I had someone who could confirm the truths about this man. I told you before that my sister was also abused by him but for whatever reason she didn’t want me to say anything to anyone about it. She seemed to be like my mother and want to pretend that it never happened. Funnily enough my mother and my sister still have a relationship to this day. This is something that really confuses me because my sister even testified in court that he had molested her.
Question 8: What is the image you project every day? How is that shaped by what happened to you? How would you like to be seen?
For many years I was completely submissive to every situation and I hid my true feelings from everyone including my husband. I cried a lot in privacy. In recent years I have tried to take control of my own life. I won’t let people walk all over me, use me or tell lies to me or about me and I speak out about things that I feel are unjust. I defend myself much better these days even though the guilt comes flooding back after the event and again I hide those feelings to the outside world. My true feelings are for me and me only, I can trust me. I would like to be seen as CONFIDENT, HONEST and reliable and someone who has been a good person – who is respected.
Question 9: How did you discover that others had also been abused by the person who abused you? How many have you discovered?
I had always known about my sister but over the years there had been several allegations against him which were defended rigorously by him and my mother. So much so that the allegations always faded into obscurity. I just had a gut feeling that my niece had been abused by him but I had been too afraid to ask… What if I was wrong? What if she told my mother that I questioned her about such things? What if I was again labelled a liar and trouble maker? But then as an adult, my niece said some very obscure things to me that got my mind working and I mean really working and I thought I need to ask her now! I spoke with my husband about my thoughts to get some feedback from someone else as to what I should do. He wasn’t much help really but he did give me some confidence to follow my heart and my instincts, so I straight out asked her after several months of mulling it all over.
After she broke down and told me about her abuse and the extent of her abuse we spoke openly about it. We talked about who we thought may have also been abused. We came up with a few names. I made contact with a couple via facebook and my suspicions were confirmed. Then, when talking to a friend, she confessed about a relative of hers that had been abused by him. Then you Carly, had your own suspicions about a school friend who lived in the same street as him and you asked her up front. She confirmed she was a victim of his abuse. I also spoke with his own daughter, who told me that he had tried to abuse her but she was able to fight him off. So in total I have 7 confirmed cases of abuse and 1 attempted abuse.
Question 10: Do you feel the legal system is sufficient?
No I don’t think the legal system is sufficient or even fair. The abused is always under suspicion of making it up. Luckily for me I had a detective with many years experience in this field and she believed me up front. I know somebody whose child was abused by my abuser who is now a judge and she would not pursue charges because of the legal system. She knew what females went through in a court in these cases and she felt that her daughter simply wouldn’t have coped with the line of questioning she would have been subjected to. Instead she sought counselling for her daughter but sadly she committed suicide in her early 20s. The sentencing is too lenient and with little chance of these abusers being rehabilitated I can’t understand why more isn’t done to protect people from them.
Question 11: Obviously it would be better that you had not been abused at all, but given it happened, what do you feel could have been done to deal with the situation better? What do you feel should be done for future victims?
I knew that being touched in that manner was not right. It didn’t feel right. You know when something isn’t right so I thought going to my mother and telling her would mean that this man would get into trouble and be gone from my life and ever doing it again. He didn’t do it to me again but he found other victims within our family.
As far as the legal system goes, I feel that the people who lie, protect and deny that these things are happening should also be held accountable. They should be interviewed by the police and statements taken. They should be charged with being accessories to the crimes of their husbands, partners or relatives. When an adult ignores a child who has confided in them that is definitely a crime. Then, if a child is ignored by an adult, especially a parent, there should be other avenues available to the child to have the matter dealt with – every child should know this avenue and they must know that they will be believed. The other thing is that this process should be easy for the child. I remember telling my daughters that if anyone ever did anything to their bodies that made them feel uncomfortable that they could come to me and I WOULD BELIEVE THEM. The “I will believe you “ is the most important thing. These are adult matters that should be handled by adults. The onus must not be placed back on the child. I also believe that if a parent fails to protect their child from such a thing happening then those children should be removed from that home. You cannot believe the abuse and neglect that I suffered from telling my mother that her boyfriend touched me inappropriately and the lasting effect of being told I was liar has had on me.
Thank you for reading my mum’s story. Well, one of her stories. Her life has had a few heart-breaking stories to deal with, unfortunately… along with many beautiful stories, including her accomplishments as a mother, talents in hand crafts, gardening, photography, cooking and more.
Before I finish this post I’d like to share something else I’ve learned about paedophilia. Over the years of trying to understand my mother, my grandmother and my grandfather I’ve ended up in various directions through the internet. One of those was while I was trying to understand if paedophiles are mentally ill, or always come from a background of trauma themselves, or if it is actually like a sexual orientation in that these are attractions and feelings they can’t help. In the process of asking myself these questions I discovered a site called Virped, which stands for Virtuous Paedophiles. On this website, they aim to “reduce the stigma attached to paedophilia by letting people know that a substantial number of pedophiles DO NOT molest children, and to provide peer support and information about available resources to help virtuous pedophiles remain law-abiding, and lead happy, productive lives.”
This got me thinking again. So often, when the subject of paedophilia is raised people quickly shut it down or make unrealistic statements like ‘hang them’ or ‘castrate them’. There are very few reasonable discussions about how to handle this problem in our societies. Imagine if you were born with this problem and you wanted to be able to receive help, support and treatment. It made me consider that we are silencing the perpetrators also. Now, don’t get me wrong… I want my grandfather held accountable for the incredible suffering he has caused so many individuals and their families, and, knowing the person he is I highly doubt he would have ever sought help or felt he was doing anything wrong. On the contrary – he is a brutal man who feels no remorse. However, as this website shows, there are many people who struggle with their feelings of attraction to children and know it is wrong and wish no harm on anyone. These people need to have a voice also. They need to be able to access help. In my view, this will also help protect children from harm.