How old were you at the time of the assault (s)? The assaults began when I was at a pre-verbal age, when I was about 3 months old. They continued in one form or another until I was 24.
How old are you currently? I am 54 years of age.
Where did the assault(s) happen? In the family home, and later in my own home and anywhere that I was with my father.
Did you know the person(s) who committed the assault(s)? Yes, they were committed by my father.
Did you tell anyone about the assault (s) at the time? No, I didn’t tell anyone until I was married. I told my husband when I was 24 years of age. At that point, my husband forbade my father from coming to our home. That sense of respite made it possible for me to begin the healing process. I felt validated.
Do you think they will commit sexual assault again? My father is dead. But I know he committed other sexual assaults, both physically and with inappropriate remarks to girls. When he was 69 years of age, he was living with a 16 year old girl who was a run-away. He made sexual suggestions to my friends and to the neighborhood girls.
What would you like to say to people about sexual assault? In my experience, sexual assault can come in different forms. It can be overtly physical and it can be verbal. As I grew older, the physical assaults lessened but the inappropriate remarks became more frequent. Sometimes I think that sexual assault, due to its prevalence, must be covertly condoned by the inherent power structure of our society. I belong to a 12-step program and whenever I am in a mixed-sex meeting and a woman shares that she was assaulted at some point in her life, I look around the room to see so many of the women there nodding their heads, empathizing with the woman who is speaking. And then I look around again, this time at the men, and I wonder how many of them are perpetrators. I was also assaulted by a group of boys when I was in high school. Since then, when I see three or more boys or young men walking together, I think of a pack of dogs. When separate from the others, one dog can be the loving family pet. Get him in a pack of dogs and they will tear apart a less defended animal. The emphasis in our society needs to be a focus on teaching men how not to rape rather than teaching women how to prevent rape.
How have you started to heal? I started to heal by telling a trusted, closed-mouth friend (my husband) the truth of what had happened to me. That began my journey of writing about my father, talking to others, getting help through therapy. At the age of 34, I talked to my mom about what had happened and we went to therapy together, so that I could work through my anger and shame with her. I began remembering more and more about my childhood. It was as though the flood gates opened up. The reasons for my current behaviors became apparent and I was able to change my reactions to situations. I stopped drinking and using drugs. I began to respond to life in the present, without bringing all the past hurts and defenses into the current situation. My father died and it took 11 more years and a lot of therapy sessions before I was able to forgive him. Then I was able to say that I loved my father and I knew that didn’t mean that I condoned or cosigned his behavior. But what I finally decided to believe was that my father, many years ago, was an innocent little child who had something terrible happen to him that drove him to do the things he did. That knowledge doesn’t mean that I approve of what he did or that I’m giving him a pass. It just means that I know we are all frail, flawed human beings. And I know that healing is possible in all situations. It just may not look or feel the way we think it should. What advice would be helpful for others going through the same experience? Tell someone as soon as possible, someone who is a trusted friend or counselor. Seek help through a therapist and a women’s crisis center. Press charges if at all possible. Find a support group. Work at moving through shame, blame and anger so that you can begin the process of healing. Don’t decide to become a victim. Learn how to thrive, not just to survive. Come to know that you are not at fault. Seek to forgive, which doesn’t mean you condone, but carrying an unforgiving heart can weigh you down. It means that you are holding onto the thought that you can somehow change the past. The willingness to forgive will save you from living in resentment and fear. Above all, remember that you are not your assault. You are a beautiful, wonderful, unique and special person. Every day, think of 5 things about yourself that you like. Learn to love yourself, no matter what. You are not alone.