During some of my speaking engagements and discussions, when I mention how being molested as a young girl set the stage for domestic violence in my life, I’ve actually been told to “stick to the subject at hand.” Woah! Hold everything! Is it too farfetched to actually comprehend that once a little girl has been molested, any abuse in her future cannot be separated from the fact she was abhorrently mistreated at such a tender time in her life?
Today I was asked to watch a taped segment of an Oprah Winfrey program where she interviewed four child molesters as a source of useful information in my work as an advocate for child molestation and domestic abuse/violence awareness. I’m certain it took a lot of courage on the part of these men, as well as Oprah, to televise such a segment. I was riveted by the vast information being shared. The alarming statistic that over 90% of all those who molest children are known by the victim and/or their family caught me off guard. It did not shock me, though. It surely fell in line with all I personally experienced or what I have observed and heard from other victims since my book was published and I have begun speaking publicly in this regard. It just opened my eyes wider. The news hounds jump at each of the horrendous stories of young children who first come up missing, their poor little bodies later found and, often, their murderer later apprehended. Sometimes they even mention the pre-existing relationship the monster had with the family. Do they go into how the victim is often a lost soul? Or how the perpetrator attacked their sense of self-value? And why is the label of “pedophile” more commonly tagged to the scandalous news reports, but not so often when it’s “just” your sister or cousin who was molested by an extended family member? And why do they steer away from using the term “molested,” but rather, you seem to hear, “messed with” or “touched” when family is involved? I was even told by numerous people, “Well, you know, that happens in all families. It’s no big deal.” Has society changed at all over the last 50 years?
During the television program so many valuable questions were asked and answered, so many patterns were discussed and/or brought to light. A consensus seemed to be that the perpetrator preyed on their victim until they won their trust, then moved forward to commit the crime all out of a pleasure motivation…pleasure for the victim as well as the abuser. The comment was made toward the end of the show that if it had hurt, the victim would have always told, hence the “pleasure” motive. I found myself terribly confused, as my experiences never matched those described. I never trusted my molester any further than I could throw him. I never adored him or thought him anything special. I just knew I was expected to live in his shadow, and he was a golden child in the family, off limits to criticism or scorn. I knew that if it came down to it, I would never be believed over him. I was riveted in fear, not flowing in trust. I felt like a harmless animal that had been caught in a trap. Yes, I suppose I felt no more valuable than a mere animal at the time. So, I find myself dealing with the thought, “Why did I allow it to continue?” Was my silence the driving force in all this? I was 8 or 9 years old, and I’m thinking it was my own doing that allowed this perpetration to continue on my fragile little mind and spirit? Where would I get such an idea?
At one point the question was posed as to what would have caused them to stop the molestation, and one of the interviewees said, “If she had told me to stop, I would have.” How many times upon times did I say, “Stop!?” Again, I began to wonder and question. How many times did I plead with my victimizer to stop what he was doing to me? How many times did I say, “I don’t want to do this!?” How much sleep did I lose wondering, time after time, “What if he penetrates and gets me pregnant? How will I explain it to the family?” It was always presented as my problem, my trauma and my fault. He reminded me constantly how I would never be believed, they would always believe him. After all, we were considered the inferior part of the family. Maybe that’s why I lived most of my life trying to prove to myself and the rest of the world all I truly had to offer, if given a chance. Maybe that’s what motivated me to hide behind that Merry Sunshine Pure as the Driven Snow Always in Church Good Little Girl, desperately playing my juggling act to hide from my family, friends and schoolmates what was really going on in my life. As the show was reaching its conclusion, I was asked what I thought. Was there useful information there for me? Absolutely! But then all I could do was begin to weep uncontrollably, experiencing similar emotions of those from 50 years before. My scenario didn’t fit what had just been presented to me, and I felt the damnable demon of guilt re-emerging within my spirit.
Most certainly the molestation had a lot to do with the domestic violence that came later. When a human being is given the message over a period of time, no matter how subliminal it may be, that they are inferior or as expendable as yesterday’s newspaper, eventually they begin to believe it as truth. At far too young an age I was convinced I was worthless and unlovable. When someone came along with too many flaws to count and red flags began to unfurl one right after the other, all I saw was someone who found me attractive, a good catch and someone to pursue. I set the reasons hiding behind his alcoholism aside. There was someone who needed me. He needed a savior to help him break free of the demons he carried, and this good little Baptist girl was just the one to do it. I could be Jesus to him and get him healed. Oddly enough, I never stopped to consider whether or not he actually WANTED to be healed of his dependencies. So, I entered into marriage for all the wrong reasons, and was once again trapped. Religion told me that I had to stay, leaving was not an option. The innumerable confrontations with verbal, emotional and eventual physical abuse only reinforced the lessons I learned as a child molested – you aren’t important enough to have better, you are getting what you deserved by having not married inside your faith, nobody will believe you, silence is golden, speaking out will only bring potential for greater harm, retaliation will be hell to pay… Tell me, how do you possibly tell a victim of years of child molestation that it is not connected to the domestic violence being endured in the now? If I take my shoes off, will you walk a mile in them and then let’s talk some more?
So, when I am told to “stick to the subject” about domestic violence, I am resolved to address the full picture, the entire story, not just the last half of the book, if you will. I know and speak it all too often, we can’t go back; we can’t live in the past. My exhortation has been for so long, “Learn from the past, but don’t live in it.” I plan to heed my own advice. But, for the sake of others, I have to question how different my choices in relationships and life decisions would have been if I had not succumbed to the fear that perpetrated my young life, and how can I use those experiences to reach out and help others who quite possibly were subjected to long term molestation as a child, against their wishes and without any trust or admiration for their victimizer? How can I impress upon them the need to realize it was not our fault, it was not our choice and it was not acceptable, under any circumstances or conditions? More importantly, it does not define us! We can get through the trauma and insanity, we can get past it, we can move forward and grow from it. We can also utilize what we went through as a tool to help others battling their own set of demons, trying to understand those two simple words we have asked ourselves far too often: “Why me?”
I want to hear from anyone and everyone who has endured both being molested as a child and victimization of domestic violence. I can’t believe I am the only one on this planet who was, and there must be a fellowship of others out there brave enough, even anonymously, who will at least raise their hand and say, “I’m one.” Will you?
And to Oprah Winfrey – I have had so much admiration and appreciation for all you have done to bring this topic to the forefront, and your efforts to make a difference. This program helped me realize I can help those who are affected in perhaps a different way by their own experiences similar to mine. Kudos to you for this program. I can’t wait to watch the entire 2 hours online. And, thanks for wearing the beautiful purple on the show!
Please visit Carolyn’s Everyday Health blogs, or visit her website: http://www.orangeblossomwishes.com.