The Atmosphere of Abuse
I want to discuss the atmosphere of abuse. I’ve written about the abuses of my childhood. I’ve said many times I was never sexually abused. Yet, there’s been so much written this year about child sexual abuse I find myself questioning my own statement.
When I read how a judge dismissed felony charges against a former child predator priest because his attorney argued there was no penetration I was infuriated.
How can you dismiss the fact that a grown man manipulated a ten year old boy and, I’m surmising here, used his priestly powers to take him to the brink but since he didn’t actually rape him it’s not a felony offense?
This upset me very much. It also made me think about what I have stated before… I was never sexually abused.
I was exposed to sexual behavior at an early age thanks to my mother. She slept around a lot. Her third husband, my second step-father, was in my life from the age of five until I was thirteen. I’ve often said he was one of the good guys.
He and my mother separated four times during those years, but he always put the welfare of my brother and I above all else. I wouldn’t have been able to run away with my baby brother to a safe place without his help.
But something changed the last time they got back together… me. I was pre-pubescent and he clearly noticed.
He walked in on me bathing and commented about pubic hair. I never left the bathroom door unlocked again. One night while my mother was at work he told me she was frigid and asked if I knew what that meant. I said no and he proceeded to explain. It was beyond awkward.
He never touched me, never made any move toward me but everything was different. I knew enough to feel unsafe alone with him. I didn’t sleep very soundly anymore.
One evening when my mother was home he began talking about a book he was reading. He always read trashy novels that I wasn’t allowed to see.
I was washing dishes and heard him say, “This story is crazy, some guy rapes his daughter.” The hair stood up on the back of my neck. He went on, “How could you do that? A step-daughter maybe, but not your own daughter.”
I went to my mother and told her we had to get a lock for my bedroom door. She got her car keys and we went straight to the discount store for a lock. It made me feel a bit more secure.
Here’s the point I’m trying to make. You don’t have to be raped to feel violated. You don’t have to be raped to feel insecure. You shouldn’t have to be raped to prove you were in fact abused.
The judges and lawyers trying these cases have no concept of what it’s like to live with someone you know could violate you at any time. You can be savvy, you can be street smart, but you know who’s got the real power.
Anyone who’s ever lived in a home with abuse, sexual or otherwise, knows there is a distinct atmosphere you have to learn to live with, within, and around. It’s palpable.
The worst step-father ever was all about head games. He really should have been in an asylum. We would all hold our breath when we heard his car pull in the driveway. If he got out whistling you could exhale. If not, you couldn’t be sure how the rest of the night was going to go.
That is no way to live at any age, but children are truly innocent victims by virtue of having no control. If people in authority can’t understand the whole picture they shouldn’t be allowed to try these cases.
Living within an atmosphere of any type of abuse is hard to describe. It’s manic in a way. The highs are higher and the lows are indescribable.
When the worst step-father came home whistling there would be hugs and smiles and lively dinner conversation. It seemed exalting. The other nights I couldn’t eat for fear of him erupting over the slightest perceived infraction.
I understand how difficult it must be to imagine living this way if you’ve never experienced it. It’s not like knowing you’ve done something wrong and you’re going to get a spanking when dad comes home. You may even be able to talk your way out of that spanking. Trying to talk your way out of punishment from an abuser is only going to make the situation escalate.
I believe when so many victims wait until they’re grown before they can acknowledge the abuse speaks volumes. Maybe the legal powers that be should be required to learn more about it before they can pass any judgment.
I know some of you have had similar experiences, but whether you have or not I would love to hear your take on this.