Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Who is worth protecting?

Last July, I wrote a post going public with a secret I had kept for nearly 25 years, about my experiences of being sexually abused when I was a young child.

This was not something I did lightly. For a period of nearly 25 years, I told very, very few people. And often once I had told someone, I almost always regretted it. I felt marked. Like as if that person now saw me with a scarlet letter, A for Abuse. I was marked as a victim. Who wants to be thought of as a victim?

I have shared the actual physical details with even fewer people. Because really, who wants to talk about them? Certainly not most normal people. Certainly not me.

But overall, it actually felt good to blog about it last summer. Weirdly liberating to share my shameful secret with the blogosphere. Maybe it's because I didn't tell people face to face, so I didn't have to experience their looks of "what do I say to that?" but when I wrote this blog I didn't feel the same burn of the scarlet letter, even though I was opening myself up to not only close friends and confidants, but to all my friends and family. And even some people who I only knew in real life in a passing fashion. Heck, even to strangers, if anyone passed the link on.

The first few days after posting the blog, I waited with some trepidation to feel that same burning shame, but it never came. And really, I kind of just forgot about it after that. My secret was out. No big deal. What had I been so afraid of?

You see, I am actually pretty lucky, as far as sexual abuse victims go because I don't really feel my life has been too affected in the long run. I didn't turn to drugs or other forms of self abuse (cutting, etc) to punish myself. I don't have messed up relationships with the opposite sex. In fact, from what I've read about typical abuse survivors, it seems the only stereotypical way it affected my life is that I was overly curious as a child about sex, leading me to becoming sexually active at a younger age than most of my peers.

Maybe it is because my abuse was temporary, unlike many who suffer at the hands of their abusers over long periods of time. Maybe because my abuse was not violent. Maybe because my parents did not know, so I never felt the betrayal of witnessing them turn a blind eye, or worse blaming me, as some kids do. Maybe because in all other aspects of my life I felt loved, supported, safe...

But wait, there is one more way my life has been affected. As I said before in my previous blog, my childhood experience does affect my parenting. It has made me what some deem overly protective. We did not let our children go to daycare or be babysat by anyone other than their grandparents or godmother. Within the past few months we have allowed them to be watched shortly by their good friends' parents. But we are careful not to open the flood gates on this one. Going into their neighbor friends' houses whose parents we do not know is still a huge no-no, and will be for a long time!

But even though I know I'm lucky that overall my emotional scars don't run too deep, as evidence that I can type out blogs like this without retreating into hysterics or regressing on whatever progress I've made, I am not immune from getting worked up when I hear about abuse. Of course I am referring to the current headlines about Jerry Sandusky.  Obviously I think he is a monster.  Obviously I'm sickened by what he did and my heart goes out to those children.  But, here are my three main take aways.

#1 The media needs to learn the difference between molestation and rape. Many commentators and news outlets reported that Sandusky had allegedly "molested" or "inappropriately touched" children. That is wrong. He is being accused of raping children.

Molestation is touching and inappropriate behavior.

Rape is actual penetration of an orifice (anus, mouth, vagina).

To me, this is an important distinction. Not to say that molestation cannot be traumatic, because it certainly can (especially when experienced over long periods of time and by someone you are supposed to trust), but it is not the same thing as rape.  Both are sexual abuse.  Both are reprehensible, but let's call a spade a spade. He didn't just look at the boys with wanton eyes. He didn't just rub their butt over their football pants. He stuck his nasty man penis in places it should never have gone. There is a difference and it should not be glossed over because it is uncomfortable to think about.

I am a bit of a hypocrite on this one. For years and years, I referred to what happened to me as a child as being "molested" because honestly to me it sounded less vile. In my mind, it seemed like when you say the word "rape" people visually think of the physical acts. The penetration of orifices. And as I've said before, I didn't like think of people thinking of the physical acts. I didn't like feeling marked. Like a victim. So I said "sexual abuse" or "was molested" as a weird euphemism, because those could mean something as little as some creepy mall Santa once rubbed me inappropriately. But the truth was, I was raped. I need to learn to use that term, even though it isn't pretty. Even though I don't like what it denotes. And so does everyone else.

#2 TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Thing 1 and Thing 2 are only four years old, but I have already talked with them about the importance of not letting people touch their pee-pee or butt. These are called "private parts" because they are private. Mommy and Daddy can touch them only to help them clean them, but even we don't need to touch them outside of the bathroom. And NO ONE else should be touching them. And that they should tell Mommy and Daddy is someone does, or tries.

I hate having to talk to my four year olds about this. I worry about scaring them. I worry about taking away their innocence. But, I worry more that someone would touch them and they wouldn't know a. that it was wrong, b. wouldn't know how to tell us, or c. would be afraid to tell us. So, I talk to them about it, even though I wish I didn't have to. And I strongly feel all parents should.

#3 I am angry. I am so angry at the adults who knew about this and did not protect these children. Instead they chose to protect the reputation of their colleague.  Of their schools. Of their football program. When given the choice of "Who is worth protecting in this situation?" Not one of them chose the children. So yes, I believe the whole lot of them deserve to be fired, and brought up on criminal charges.

And I'm angry at the people I see defending these people. Because when presented with the facts of "Who is worth protecting?" they too are not choosing the children.

Let me give you a hint people: when the choice is "Who is worth protecting?", the correct answer is always going to be THE CHILDREN. If you have chosen anything are on the wrong side of the argument.


  1. I found your blog from First United's FB page. Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, am a rape survivor, and the recent news has hit me a bit personally as well. I was comforted to read your post, not because I would ever wish rape on another child, but because it's good to be reminded that I am not alone. Thank you for talking about it, even if it's difficult.

  2. Thank you, Jenni. Thank you for your strength telling your story as well.