A Painful Topic, really Painful
While we were in the park yesterday my little one said “I don’t like any games when I am lying down and someone is standing over me because of this” and waved her hand delicately over her crotch area. I said, “Oh, I see”. She continued, “I don’t really like to say the words”.
A few years ago my youngest child told me that two boys, three times her age and size, were sexually assaulting her. The assaults were painful, strangely adult in nature, and, by the time she told me, becoming more bold and bizarre.
She had begun to show signs of stress, like clinging to me and sometimes screaming when she was alone and heard a strange noise. I didn’t know what was causing the behavior, and only put it together when she told me about the abuse. During the next year she would hide under a table when someone entered the room.
Our family’s nightmare experience, the shock, betrayal, stress, social workers, police interviews, medical sexual assault specialists, lawyers and crown prosecutors, is over now, except it is not ever over.
I can’t help but worry. Children keep so many thoughts to themselves and I don’t want her to ever think it was her fault.
Any parent reading this will surely feel the inchoate rage I felt when I realized my innocent baby of four years had been assaulted in my own house.
But you may be surprised to hear that not all friends and family reacted with empathy. We had a range of reactions from skepticism to outright criticism: they were only kids themselves; I should not have let the kids in my house; we should think of what the other family is going through; is she telling the truth?
From neighbours that reaction was painful, from friends it was unacceptable, and from family it was outrageous. Some relationships have been altered forever.
I guess all we wanted was an equally strong expression of outrage and disgust.
But I understand that it is hard to talk about sexual abuse, and I realize that I have learnt, in the most painful lesson ever, that I may have responded to abuse revelations made to me in the past with less outrage than I should have.
During the crisis we found the most empathetic and sensible reactions were from professionals like nurses, social workers and police, and from adults who had experienced sexual abuse as children.
I never really knew how pernicious sexual abuse of children was, and how rampant. When it happened to my daughter I saw it for what it was: a cruel assault on someone weaker.
The sexual element and the fact that it is often done by someone the victim loves or trusts, makes the crime even more destructive. It has a corrosive effect that can continue to burn and dissolve the heart and soul of the victim long after the act.
And this is magnified by our cultures inability to talk about the crime or charge the offenders.
I want my daughter to feel righteous indignation; I want her to feel like the boys are the ones who should be ashamed. And mostly she does.
I don’t want her to be quiet her on the subject, even if it makes people uncomfortable. She has told teachers and friends, and I hope she always feels empowered by our actions against her attackers.
Her experience is a reality that she shares with more school children than she realizes.