A Sexual Assault Conversation (Part One)
Our Call to Advocacy
A Sexual Assault Conversation (Part Two)
1. Briefly describe your experience with sexual assault. (You do not need to go into great detail. Ex: I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor. I was sexually assaulted in college.)
2. How did this experience influence how you felt about yourself? Did it influence the way you felt about motherhood or your abilities as a parent? (You can speak to how you felt before/after becoming a mother.)
3. How has your experience with sexual assault affected the way you interact with your children (if at all, positively or negatively)?
4. Have you (or do you plan) to disclose the experience with your children? Why or Why not?
5. What have you learned from your experience with sexual assault that you would pass on to someone struggling to heal from sexual assault? (Is there anything related to motherhood, parenting, disclosing, healing, etc. in particular that you would want to pass on?)
1. I am a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of my father. From about 9 or so until I was 18, and I was also assaulted by a man who was a “house parent” at (a teen home), while “interviewing” to be able to have visitation with a friend of mine who lived at (a teen home).
2. This influenced EVERYTHING about me, and still does. I have never felt as though I was really good enough for anyone…damaged goods. I don’t trust anyone, not totally, and I keep most people I know at arm’s length. And if someone does me wrong, I shut the door on them. I have a hard time with forgiveness.
I was pretty scared to be a mother, because my own mother never taught me what that means. She was on the cold side of things, and didn't really care much what was going on in her household, as long as she wasn't affected. So, I didn't really know HOW to be a mother. After I became a mother, I was blown away by how vulnerable children are, and I think it made the anger I had in me come out a little more.
3. I was never taught boundaries as a child. The parent/child boundaries were non-existent in my household, so when I had my own children, I was really unsure of how to keep those lines from being crossed. I probably erred on the side of being stand-offish because I was afraid someone would think I was being overly affectionate with them. I was horrible when they were in diapers, because I didn't want anyone to ever think I spent too long on that area…so I wasn't very good at the cleaning of the diaper area. However, I did become much more assertive with my father…he tried to discipline my son once. ONCE. I took my children and left his home. He called me to berate me for “embarrassing him” by standing up and saying “do not touch my child” and I (for the first time ever) told him that if he ever touched my children again, he would never see them again. I realized, watching my children, that I was just as vulnerable at their ages as they were, and even though it was put upon me that all of what happened to me was my own fault, I was no more at fault than those small children God gave me.
4. I did discuss with my children that I had been hurt by my father. My daughter knew the most, because she was older at the time my father was put on trial. And since she was highly intelligent, she was very aware of what was going on. I realized much later that while she figured most of it out on her own, she was still not prepared for that burden. I wish I had handled that better. I also discovered that I had not really told my sons very much, because my older son asked me for details when he was in his 20’s…because he said, “I know you were hurt a lot by your dad, but I just don’t know what he did. I would like to know this.” My youngest son maybe knew a little more, because (honestly) he paid more attention what went on around him than his older brother did. I do think that children should know about this type of thing, especially if it’s a family member that they could come in contact with. It should be age appropriate, but they should not be shut out of why mom acts sad, or angry at, or scared of a relative. I just believe children should not be treated as though they were unable to handle truth. I worry for my nephews who have never been told about the abuse my sister suffered at our father’s hands, even though he has since passed away. What happens to their relationship the day they find out that the grandpa they were raised to respect and care about is the same man who abused their mother? I worry they will be angry at not being given the choice to be around him or not. They know he had a mean streak, and their mom would be highly angered by him a lot of the time, but they do not know why, so I worry they will feel she lied to them.
5. I do wish (even for myself) that women trying to heal from this would know it was not their fault. I have always felt that somewhere in there, I did something to make it happen. And since nobody but my sisters have ever told me it wasn't my fault, it feels like it was. To the point that when someone “comes on to me” in a social setting, I feel maybe I did something to cause it, even if I had nothing to do with their actions. A “normal” woman would just feel “what a dirt bag…” and walk away. I would feel “what did I do to make him think that about me?” and worry about it. There are just people out there that are incapable of NOT inflicting some sort of pain on other people, it’s not that you invited them to hurt you. I wish that part of me would go away, but it is there. And if you do feel as though you need to talk to someone, do it. Even if everyone around you thinks it is embarrassing to the family. It’s not about them, it’s about YOUR mental health and well-being.
1. I was sexually assaulted by my boyfriend's friend when I was 25.
2. The experience made me completely paranoid about personal safety. I hate being out after dark and being home alone and those things never used to bother me.
3. I think the sexual assault has made me more paranoid. I worry obsessively about my baby daughter's safety and well-being I'm concerned that because I was sexually assaulted I will be overprotective of my daughter when she's older.
4. I do plan to tell my daughter when she gets older. I just want her to know that if anything ever happens to her, it is not her fault and I will be there to help her. I never told my mother what happened to me.
5. I would tell someone else who experienced sexual assault that they should not think of themselves as less pure or valuable than other women. My husband still thinks I am wonderful despite what happened to me!
1. What I experienced would best be called as "date rape" because, unfortunately, there really is no terminology for being raped by the boy you had been dating for 3 years.
2. The experience changed how I thought of myself. I felt an immense amount of guilt and shame.
3. I don't think it's affected me at all THUS FAR. My daughter is only 8 and I haven't really seen much of an interest from her in boys yet. I do know, though, that it will affect how I parent her as I get older. I grew up in a staunchly Catholic household, and my boyfriend was Catholic as well. In fact, we were on Diocesan youth boards, active in youth ministry, etc. One youth minister actually called us a "perfect model of a faith-filled teen couple." But we were given too much freedom. I will definitely be more in touch with how my daughter's dating life progresses.
4. I will admit right now that I am not sure if I will disclose it. There are times when I think, yes, I want her to know. But there are times when I think, it's better left where it is--in the past.
5. I've learned that it can take a very, very long time to heal. Sometimes you can go weeks without thinking about it and then there are times when it's on the forefront of your mind. It's going to be with you forever, so you have to find a way to make peace with it. For me, making peace meant saying, "Okay, it happened. I can't change that. But because it happened, XYZ happened. I don't regret XYZ, so therefore I am OK that it happened." Also, I'll share one of the things someone told me along my road to acceptance: "You are at your strongest when you feel as if you are at your weakest." So true.
1. I've experienced several types during various stages in my life and often wondered if the later assaults were made more possible by the initial one. (Childhood sexual molestation).
2. The initial experience didn't seem to imprint negatives about my self-image, but later ones over time made me feel insecure, or as other survivors might understand, as if I was defective or wearing a bulls eye As time goes on and you experience more and more interactions, even very obscure ones, you start to blur the line between who is at fault, most especially in our culture of victim-blaming. I began to feel uncomfortable about my introverted personality and even uncomfortable about my body size and things such as my gait.
As a mother, I have the same concerns as any parent. I'm worried about bringing children into a society that protects the perpetrator, mocks or ignores the victim and generally promotes a hushed up environment about sexual assault. I worry that my children will experience what I did, or that I won't be able to encourage in them confidence and skills to avoid these situations.
3. Experiencing sexual assault has given me a deeper perspective about the serious failing of punitive parenting and the inappropriate emphasis our society has on forcing children to obey authority. Forcing a child to ignore his own feelings or bodily signs to obey an authority figure is exactly how early abuse begins and exactly how cycles of abuse continue throughout a person's life.
When we are taught to be "nice" to others even if our brains are screaming in fear, or taught to cover up violation so as not to bring embarrassment to the family, we place the dignity of children on a lower level than social image or reputation. In a different way, this is yet another violation against the victim.
So my parenting method is something I commit to not only b/c I want to avoid disrespectful parenting behaviors, but also b/c I want to encourage my children to have a strong self-will, confidence about their bodily/mental signs and the courage to follow those cues in the face of danger.
4. Yes, I have briefly, in a non-graphic way, informed my children. It's important of course to take care not to scare young children or break their innocence. I feel that my brief discussion with them while reading the body books I purchased was the right mix of information and tact.
For other parents wondering, I made statements such as, "When Mama was 4 years old, a grown up wanted to touch her body and she didn't want him to do it. If that ever happens to you, you can shout no and run to get me. I will always help you."
5. The hardest part is perhaps learning to place full and open responsibility on the perpetrator. It's very easy for a survivor to take on the burden of blame in our culture, and that is a very impairing experience that will halt deep healing. Although it can be extremely painful at first to acknowledge that another person openly and deliberately chose to harm you (and perhaps this was someone close to you or someone who was supposed to protect you) in the end, this clarity opens a path to true healing where you can put the issue to rest, find forgiveness for yourself and begin to move forward.
As parents, it becomes not just a healthy step to healing but a vital, necessary step to take. As long as the survivor holds responsibility and shame/guilt/blame, as a parent, the message passed to the child will be garbled. Hypocrisy is something children can pick up on very easily, even unspoken hypocrisy.
If we cannot face our own violators and accuse them justly and fully, how can we be guardians to our children and potentially do the same for them? Instead, we will only pass on the cycle of abuse to them and give them the continued role of taking on the blame and playing the unhealed victim.
Last year my oldest turned 6. Last year she started Kindergarten and I dealt with the anxiety of knowing she would be going to the bathroom at school on her own. The idea of my sweet little girl walking around unsupervised made me physically ill. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, the fear that my child will end up being victimized is always with me. It is calculated into everything I do. I realize for some people this may seem an indicator of therapy needs. For those who experienced high levels of trauma, they know that the key is to manage these fears. My oldest has no idea that her first year of school brought an entire fleet of emotions up for me. When we talk about safety, we talk in general terms. She is friendly, kind, and full of zest for life. The way a small child should be.
Being a survivor of child sexual abuse makes me a bit different as a mom. Working with survivors on a daily basis changes the way I parent as well. Unlike some, I cannot pretend that the person who poses the greatest danger to my child is the stranger, the new neighbor, and creepy kid down the street. I know that the people I love the most pose the greatest danger. I have listened to far too many parents cry and ask how they didn't see it, how they didn't know, listened to them talk about how their best friend, their pastor, their favorite cousin hurt their child to pretend that danger isn't all around.
The thing is I also have to balance that information with the knowledge that there is plenty of good in the world. I must work just as hard to keep my child full of hope—as I do to keep her safe. She deserves to grow up knowing there is love, and beauty, and peace to be found in this world for those willing to seek it out. Right now, my little girl only knows that her mommy grew in another person’s tummy. Right now, she knows that mommy works with people who have been hurt by others. Someday I will share my story with my daughter. I am not sure when that story will be—or if it will be in bits and pieces. I will share my story because if my daughter is ever hurt, if someone she loves is ever hurt, I want to make sure I've shown her that it is okay to talk about it. That shame belongs on the perpetrator. I want her to know that no matter what has happened in my life, looking at her gives me everything I was always searching for.