TRIGGER WARNING – the following features sexual assault / rape situations
Excerpted from “Of Scars and Tiaras,” work in progress
I saw on a show once where one of the characters noted that “Stranger Danger” was one of the most dangerous programs ever started. This is because it taught parents to teach their children to beware of people they didn’t know. This took the focus off of those they do know, and the truth is, statistically speaking, most kids who are abused will be hurt by someone they know.
“60% of children are sexually abused by someone in their social circle. Hence, the phrase ‘Stranger Danger’ is misleading” –National Center for Victims of Crime
A stranger has never hurt me, not like people who were supposed to love me have. I’ve never had to fight a stranger not to take my virginity. I’ve never had to fend off a stranger’s hands on my body. And I’ve never had to cover up bruises that a stranger gave me. My scars have not come at the hands of someone I didn’t know. I know all the names of those who have put hands on me, who have whispered lies into my heart, and who have tried to damage my soul.
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So often, I walk for and with mothers and daughters and sisters who never saw it coming from their husband, dad, mother, brother, sister, or uncle. They thought pain, if it ever came, would be anonymous. How could they imagine someone who utters the words “I love you” would also hit, touch, or scream such vile ugliness. And yet…
In these heartbreaking situations, victims and their families are hurt twice. Once by the act itself, and then again because of the dubious emotions that tear wives and mothers and sisters in half. The monster was the husband, and though it should be black and white, the heart is actually torn. What we see on the outside seems obvious, but the inside is where the war rages on. Emotions are damning, causing three times more pain than one might have thought.
When my brother tried to rape me, my first instinct was to be saved, but it was that second instinct that filled me with guilt: protect him. I remember telling the police that it was like my brother snapped, like he wasn’t the brother I knew (and in some ways that was very true). “His face changed,” I told them and anyone who would listen. Yet, even to this day, I knew what I was doing. I was conflicted, filled with guilt that it was my fault he was in trouble, and I was torn between the desire to be protected and the need to protect. My heart couldn’t see black and white. It only understood ambivalence.
His face never changed. That is, he wasn’t overtaken by a monster all the sudden. He was the monster. His previous visits in the night were not known to anyone else, and I shoved them aside in favor of the story…because I loved him. I wanted more than anything to protect him from trouble. I was torn between my complete adoration of my big brother and my disbelief that he would hurt me. I blamed myself in the quiet of the night, telling myself I had imagined those whispered nights of his need, that I shouldn’t have been in a bathing suit, that I tempted him. And no one made me feel any differently, so I shouldered the blame. When schoolmates asked where he was, I felt guilty for taking their friend away. More, when my mother cried, her long sobs that would make anyone beg her to stop, I felt that pain to my deepest parts. Yes, it was my fault.
Again, when I sat with my counselor, I was reluctant to show any anger toward my mom. I shared stories that I should clearly be upset about, but I didn’t want to betray her. I wanted to defend her for never choosing me. Maybe she thought I was strong enough to handle everything, and that my brother was not. But that didn’t explain everything away, and as we peeled back the layers of the years, it became obvious I was once again torn between great depths of pain and loyalty to protect my life-giver. That’s where the anger lived, in those darkest corners that I refused to look into.
So when those on the outside say, “Lock him up! You don’t need that no-good bastard!” to a mom who just found out her very best friend, her soul mate, her partner in life has been touching their child, she just might not respond like we’d expect her to. Because her world just got turned upside down and then shaken and thrown. It’s horrible enough that she is flooded with pain for her child, that guilt overtakes her as she tries to run through every second of life in an effort to catch what she missed the first time around, but now…now she has to also weigh out the monster. It’s layer after layer after layer of emotions that have no quick and easy fix. Justice won’t bring healing. She will struggle with how society tells her to respond and how her heart is ripped into tiny pieces, about how she will want to protect both the victim and the abuser, and how she will feel like she failed everyone. Somehow, this is her fault. She will shoulder this, accept it as truth, and it will become her new reality, especially if no one lets her feel what she needs to feel first without telling her it’s wrong.
Even as I write this, I feel a stirring to understand my mom’s position in the attempted rape. The firstborn attacked the second-born. How does a mother reconcile that with herself? How does she weigh out a choice where she protects one without abandoning the other? How do her actions say to the wrong that she believes he was wrong but loves him anyway, and to the hurt that she understands the pain and will protect her anyway? Ultimately, a person chooses, and it is sometimes not in favor of the broken. In the end, no one wins, not really. Justice equals nothing when the story isn’t black and white. Had a stranger attacked me, I feel more confident that my protection would have been different, that my healing could have been expedited by jail, by counseling, by belief. Others could more readily believe a monster’s actions if they didn’t know him. But the monster we know is the worst kind of attack. There is too much at stake, too much attached. The monster is loved, cherished, and protected in so many ways by layers of truth of who they normally are. No one wins.
“Only 14% of children who suffered sexual abuse were violated by an unknown perpetrator” –National Center for Victims of Crime
Full Document with Above Statistics
Preventing Child Maltreatment