Some kinds of help are the kinds of help that helping’s all about, And some kinds of help are the kinds of help we all can do without.
My abuse happened in the 1970’s. To say that it was a different time would be a massive understatement. We have come a long way in the manner in which we deal with issues of sexual abuse. We have an even longer way to go.
Do you guys remember Something about Amelia? It was a made for tv movie that came out in 1984. It starred Ted Danson and Glenn Close.
The father is molesting his daughter. That alone was groundbreaking- that people were talking about this taboo subject. When Amelia becomes worried he might do the same to a younger sibling, she tells. The excuse given is that his wife wasn’t being intimate with him. He doesn’t get jail time because the judge didn’t want to break up the family.
I am certain it was considered progressive.
Actually, he was molesting his daughter because he was a pedophile, and that is what pedophiles do. It’s a CRIME. It’s not a “family problem,” it is a LEGAL and SOCIETAL problem.
And this just in, that family was already broken.
I got some help after I told my mother about the abuse, but the help I did get was, in retrospect, of questionable value.
That’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way things were.
I remember the counselor asking me to tell her what happened. As I was recounting it, she asked me if I’d said, “No.” I replied that I had, and she said, “OH, that’s good! You said no!”
Yes. I said no. And then he abused me anyway. Explain to me, please, how that’s good.
What that taught me was that my no had no power. It taught me that my no didn’t mean no. It taught me that I could assert my wishes in a sexual situation, and that it would not make a damned bit of difference.
People sometimes don’t understand why some victims of sexual abuse go through periods of promiscuity- it seems counter-intuitive. That’s it, right there- all wrapped up in a neat little bow. If the word no is meaningless, if refusal is futile- why do it? Just go somewhere else in your head. It’ll be over soon enough.
And what lesson would I have taken away from that conversation if my answer had been that I’d NOT said no. Would that have made him less culpable? Me more so? Did I need to say no for this grown man to understand that he should not be molesting his granddaughter? What- he didn’t know it was wrong unless someone told him? Then why so much effort to conceal it? Why not out in public instead of on secret walks, and under stairways, in cabanas and utility rooms?
I don’t blame the counselor. She was trying to help me, and honestly- therapy for this kind of abuse was really in its infancy. I don’t write this because I am angry at her, but because I want us to think about what we say to children who have been traumatized. The fact that more than three decades later I remember that conversation so clearly speaks to that.
It was a different time. I think the counselor was well intentioned. I think the movie was well intentioned. I think there’s a reason the expression, The road to hell is paved with good intentions exists.
The words we choose wield enormous power. They have the power to help, and the power to further traumatize. We should remember that.