Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dear Ehren: There is no shame

Dear Ehren,

For the past 23 years, I've been hiding a big dark secret. I've been ashamed. I've lived in fear of what other people would think of me. My entire adult life, I've held this secret close and rarely let a colleague know. My inlaws and extended family and 99% of my friends have no idea that I'm hiding something. So, here it goes:

For nearly 3 years I was raped in my own home repeatedly.

That it. That one statement has owned so much of my life. I have given it so much power over my existence. My life has been ruled by fear and shame of what others might think of me. So, dear son, I told you grandma and grandpa about this, and some other abuses, and this is how the conversation went.

Grandma G: You really seem upset with your mother about something
Me: Yes, I am. This isn't going away anytime soon.
Grandma G: It really can't be that bad.
Me. This is something I've hid for a long time in fear and shame.
Grandma G: (Gives puzzled look)
Me: For most of my childhood I was physically abused by my mother and her partners. And I was sexually abused by a live-in baby sitter for years.
Grandma G: Oh, I'm really sorry to hear that.
Me. Yeah.

And then, you know what happened? Nothing. There were no repercussions of telling these people about the abuse. They loved me for me. The horrendous response I always feared was all in my head. I realized something that day, I have nothing in my past to be ashamed of. I did nothing wrong. That's it. I. DID. NOTHING. WRONG.

What happened to me were the actions of an adult who wrongfully pursued a 6 year old for sexual pleasure. An adult man who violated parental trust and raped, molested, sodomized, and assaulted an elementary aged girl repeatedly in her own home, bed, living room, and parents' room. A man who knew I wasn't related to him and justified it because "it wasn't incest." This man had previously been accused of abusing another child. This man would have continued to abuse other children had a teacher not been bold enough to teach us about inappropriate touching.

I reported the violations of my innocence to my teacher. The resulting years of the trial and all of its accouterments were hard. They were miserable and demeaning, but the process allowed me to take someone who preyed on young girls out of my community. I was cheated out of the financial settlement of the trial (enough to pay for 1/2 of my tuition) and I was heckled and bullied by ignorant classmates. I did not have much of an understanding on how these incidences would impact my life at 12 years old. I just knew that present time was awful and that I was miserable.

Looking back, there were so many markers that should have told my family I was being abused. There were so many ways a more attentive set of parents could have helped me. There are so many things that could have been different, things that I would change if I could. However, I no longer regret standing up and defending myself. I recognize today that what I did was brave, that how I handled it was mature and adult-like, and how I responded in my own life has been remarkable.

I learned from this horrible time in my life. You will still have baby sitters, you will still get to visit other people's houses, but we won't have any secrets. You, son, will not be intentionally exposed to this abuse, nor will you be naiive to inappropriate touching. I will make sure that you know that your body is your own, that you control who can and cannot touch you and where. I will empower you to be bold enough to say no if in this awful situation and teach you to be resourceful enough to end the abuse before it can even start. Most importantly, I will show you so much love and respect that you will never fear telling me about anything. You will always know that you will be met with love, no matter the subject matter.

I am not the first generation in our family to be sexually assaulted as a child, but I will be the last. This is my promise to you.

With much love,