Louise

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  • Birthday 09/03/1966

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  1. Rape Conception: Mind your Language While Defending My Rights © 2013 Pandora's Aquarium All rights reserved, except that permission is hereby granted to freely reproduce and distribute this document, provided that it is reproduced unaltered in its entirety and contains this copyright information: © 2006 Pandora's Project, http://www.pandys.org - an online support group, message board, and chat room for rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse victims and survivors. This article is written anonymously out of respect for my daughter and her family. I will commence this article with a brief history: In my late teens, I became pregnant by rape. I opted to keep my child. Here is my actual story if you would like to know more about what this time in my life entailed. I have never been sorry for my decision. However, I am pro-choice, and for me that means that women who find themselves pregnant by rape must be free to choose what will be right for their life circumstances, be that termination, adoption, or keeping the child. Although it was very tough to be put in the position of having to make such a choice at all, keeping my child was for me, the most empowering choice. Decades later, I remain convinced that had I terminated the pregnancy, or relinquished my child for adoption, I would have been more severely traumatized. I am talking about me here; I do not attempt to extrapolate on what is true for others. In turn, I would like others to not make assumptions about what is true for me, and other women who keep rape-conceived children. This is what this article is really about. No Comfortable Place Since the time I was pregnant by rape, I have been very aware that people have strong opinions about rape-conceived pregnancy. I feel the utmost disgust and disdain for the Todd Akins of the world who pontificate about “legitimate rape” shutting down the possibility of a pregnancy, together with those who insist that the pregnant rape victim must view the rape as a “Gift from God.” These people selectively ignore situations that do not fit their political agenda. It’s a fact that some women (and their children) do experience very great hardship as a result of being made to continue a rape pregnancy – for example, some excerpts of women’s stories from Andrew Solomon’s excellent book, Far From the Tree may be found here. Importantly, as a mother who kept her child, I refuse to be held up by the pro-life movement as a heroine at the expense of my sisters who terminated. To tell a woman who has experienced sexual assault how she must feel or what she must choose denies choice to her yet again. Hence, some of the language used by the “other side” – the pro-choice side – my side, over the years has saddened, angered and frustrated me too. It is not possible to view any online debate these days without hearing that carrying and giving birth to a rapist’s child is a dreadful woe without any redemption. Invariably, the poor mother has to live with that reminder, with horrible consequences for herself and the child. Professionals may generalize in this way too. For example, Linda Ledray’s book, Recovering from Rape, reluctantly tells us that a woman may choose to keep a rape conceived child, and then cites one disastrous example. I have found myself being silenced over the years when I suggest that raising the child may not in fact be so dreadful for all of us. I have been howled down and dismissed by people who felt that speaking about my choice meant that I was “encouraging” pregnant rape victims to have their babies, or was inherently judging other women who hadn’t had theirs – something I have never, ever done. It seems to me at these times that I am the one being judged! Evidently, having a positive story makes me a rabid anti-choicer by default. What do I do? Sometimes it really has felt as though some people of the pro-choice persuasion want me to take my positive story and go away because it doesn’t fit with the scenario they want to create. It is fair enough if they are just focusing on the very real negative impacts that can result from rape-related pregnancy. But quite often they are more fixated than focused. I do not wish to imply that I have met with these attitudes in all pro-choice settings, but I have noticed them sufficiently often. And I have had enough. What Hurts the Most I raised a beautiful child, and I have become most wearied and saddened by reference to rape-conceived children as “spawn”, “evil seeds” who are in some cases conflated with the perpetrator. It is right to talk about the consequences of forcing women to bear rape-conceived children. I absolutely do understand and empathize with a survivor who may see a rape pregnancy as spawn or part of the perpetrator that she could not possibly contemplate having. I have supported such women. It is not what I felt, but I am just me, and I respect that what is for me isn’t for another. What I would like is understanding and sensitivity for the fact that I love my child more than life. I am writing this article because I recently had a very unpleasant and upsetting encounter, and it pushed me towards what I would call Critical Mass. I had read John Scalzi’s blogged article, A Fan Letter to Certain Conservative Politicians (PLEASE be aware that this article is triggering and disturbing), in which the author casts himself in the role of a rapist who has impregnated a woman. I wasn’t too crazy about his tone of unmitigated horror with respect to women who have rape-conceived children, but I understood that Scalzi was attempting to generate empathic thought about the plight of such women. I think the satire was an effective vehicle for his points even if it was rather unsettling, and I was in the main quite pleased with the article until I made the mistake of reading the comments. Some were great, and there were the usual references to “spawn” coupled with generalizations about the impossibility of keeping the rape-conceived child. But then I read this: “Do the folks who oppose abortion even in the cases of rape really want our genetic pool populated by these individuals? On a strictly pragmatic note, the perpetrators of rape are violent criminals who do not possess qualities that I would want propagated through our gene pool.” This first chilled my blood, and then I cried and cried, feeling as if I would never stop. One of “these individuals” is my child, my little girl who is about as far from her biological father in nature as two people can be. What she has “propagated through our gene pool” is love and light She's funny, spunky and generous. She has given me a beautiful, smart little granddaughter with an uncanny empathy, whom I welcome home from school every afternoon, and for whose presence I had to calm myself down on the day I read this. Words as Ongoing Consequence Many people who champion a raped woman’s right to make her own choices in the case of pregnancy, quite rightly speak about the “reminder” that the woman will have to live with if she keeps the child. Beyond a certain point though, the sepulchral tones about “reminders” begin to flick on the raw. All rape survivors have to bear reminders, and for some of us, a child may be far from the worst. I am asking that champions of choice please understand that seeing my child vilified as a monster or as dirtying up the gene-pool of humanity, is far more hurtful to me than any reminder of rape could ever be. You may mean well, but your assumptions and generalizations hurt. You are a reminder of times when I was made to feel like a freak for keeping my baby, or she was treated as not good enough because of where she came from. Please think about how distressing that can feel. You speak of the dire ongoing consequences for women who have rape conceived children, but words like the above, and actions like muffling those of us who are happy with our choice are also deeply hurtful consequences. When you defend women’s rights to choose, you defend my rights. But you need to be respectful of all women’s choices. You do not truly defend choice when you make blanket statements about parenting rape conceived children. You can convey respect by making sure you clearly mark the difference between choosing to have a rape-conceived child, and being forced to have one. These are not mutually inclusive, they are not mutually repellent. Do not wave me away with lip-service, drowning me out with talk about how terrible it is. When you talk about rape and abortion rights, be aware that it is deeply hurtful to me to have it suggested that my born child is less than human. Stick to the point and stick to what you know; women must be allowed to choose termination because that choice is their right, not because a resulting child would be no good anyway or because a woman couldn’t ever possibly parent such a child. You don’t know this. Be factual. I hope my beloved daughter never reads the statement quoted above. She found out about how she was conceived some years ago, and was heartbroken. I truly feared for her at the time. It was apparent to me that the rape had harmed somebody else, and she didn’t deserve to hurt because of somebody else’s actions. You people who use passionate but injudicious words, help to ensure that rape goes on hurting others. Please don’t. Just don’t dictate how we must feel, and don’t level dehumanizing terms at the children we love. Yes, it is appalling for a politician to suggest that rape is a gift from God. But, without attempting to foist my view on others, don’t I have the right, personally, to call my child a gift; the only decent thing I got from my ordeal? May I not revel in a choice that brought me healing? Maybe this article will help other women who may be feeling very alone with their choice. You are not alone; I stand with you. Where to Get Support When I stated above that I have had no comfortable place, I meant within the political paradigms of pro-life and pro-choice. I have, of course, been lucky to receive loving support from other survivors of rape at Pandora’s Aquarium. If you’re facing rape-related pregnancy now or in the past, you will be very welcome to ask and receive support there. Here, also, is an article with links to help.
  2. ((((((Willow))))))) You poor darling, you have my utmost empathy. I have been living with agoraphobia for about four years - I have had great therapy so I can live well with it even though it isn't gone, and you are very very welcome to talk to me anytime. The really bad stages where it seems to be worsening are hell. But you can, and will beat it with the right help. Take care, Lou
  3. How to Support a Person Being Abused by Their Partner Lundy Bancroft This article is a reproduction of copyrighted work, thus it has been published on Pandy's as it appeared and the reader should add the appropriate gender pronouns as it relates to them. Giving Support: 1 The principle to keep foremost in your mind when you want to make a difference to a woman in an abusive relationship, is to be the exact opposite of the abuser. Here’s how: The Abuser: Pressures her severely So you should: Be Patient. Remember that it takes time for an abused woman to sort out her confusion and figure out how to handle her situation. It is not helpful for her to try and follow your timetable for when she should stand up to her partner, leave him, call the police, or whatever step you want her to take. You need to respect her judgement regarding when she is ready to take action – something the abuser never does. The Abuser: Talks down to her So you should: Address her as an equal. Avoid all traces of condescension or superior knowledge in your voice. This caution applies just as much or more to professionals. If you speak to an abused woman as if you are smarter or wiser than she is, or as if she is going through something that could never happen to you, then you inadvertently confirm what the abuser has been telling her, which is that she is beneath him. Remember, your actions speak louder than your words. The Abuser: Thinks he knows what is good for her better than she does So you should: Treat her as the expert on her own life. Don’t assume that you know what she needs to do. Sometimes, suggestions that even experts think are exactly right turn out to be terrible for a particular situation. Ask her what she thinks might work, and, without pressuring her, offer suggestions, respecting her explanations for why certain courses of action would not be helpful. Don’t tell her what to do. The Abuser: Dominates conversations So you should: Listen more and talk less. The temptation may be great to convince her what a “jerk” he is, to analyze his motives, to give speeches. But talking too much inadvertently communicates to her that your thoughts are more important than hers, which is exactly how the abuser treats her. If you want her to value her own feelings and opinions, then you have to show her that you value them. The Abuser: Believes he has the right to control her life So you should: Respect her right to self-determination. She is entitled to make decisions that are not exactly what you would choose, including the decision to stay with an abusive partner or to return to him after a separation. You can’t convince a woman that her life belongs to her if you are simultaneously acting like it belongs to you. Stay by her even when she makes choices that you don’t like. The Abuser: Assumes he understands her children and their needs better than she does So you should: Assume that she is a competent, caring mother. Remember that there is no simple way to determine what is best for the children of an abused woman. Even if she leaves the abuser, the children’s problems are not necessarily over and sometimes abusers actually create worse difficulties for the children postseparation than before. You cannot help her to find the best path for her children unless you have a realistic grasp of the complicated set of choices that face her. The Abuser: Thinks for her So you should: Think with her. Don’t assume the role of teacher or rescuer. Instead, join forces with her as a respectful and equal team member. Notice that being the opposite of the abuser does not simply mean saying the opposite of what he says, If he beseeches her with “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me,” and you stand on the other side badgering her with “Leave him, leave him,” she will feel that you’re much like him; you are both pressuring her to accept your judgment of what she should do. Neither of you are asking the empowering question, “What do you want to do?” On Neutrality and not “Taking Sides” 2 People who take a neutral stand between an abused woman and her abusive partner, are in effect supporting him and abandoning her, no matter how much they may claim otherwise. People cannot claim to be apposed to partner abuse whilst assisting their own son, brother, friend or partner is his abusiveness toward a woman. Everyone should be very, very cautious in accepting a man’s claim that he has been wrongly accused of abuse or violence. The great majority of allegations of abuse – though not all – are substantially accurate. And an abuser almost never “seems like the type.” The argument that “he is a human being, too, and he deserves emotional support” should not be used as an excuse to support a man’s abusiveness, Our society should not buy into the abusive man’s claims that holding him accountable is an act of cruelty. Source: Bancroft, L. (2002)Why does He do that: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men, Berkeley Publishing Group, New York, USA, pp. 370-372 Bancroft, L. (2002)Why does He do that: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men, Berkeley Publishing Group, New York, USA, p. 290
  4. Accepting our Broken Bits: Never “Over It” But Still Healing © 2011 Pandora's Project by Louise For reasons that will become obvious further on, the title of this article is a nod to the wonderful Shy Keenan, activist and survivor of horrific child sexual and other abuse.This article is also dedicated to Susan with love and thanks. Introduction This article is for all who carry the scars of child sexual abuse, other child abuse, rape or domestic violence. It is for those who still experience fallout years or decades later, and it is most certainly for those who castigate themselves for not being “over it.” I hope it brings comfort and kinship to such survivors. Also, what you are getting is my experience and my understanding of it, so take what feels right for you if anything, and leave the rest, okay? About me The first twenty years of my life were filled with violence and threat. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse and rape, as well as physical battering and emotional abuse. Nobody at all was in my corner, and I made a serious suicide bid at twelve years old, which I am now thankful to have survived. Later, I experienced domestic violence from a partner who almost killed me. I am nearly forty-five years old at the time of this writing, and I have had some excellent quality counselling and support over the years, which has enabled me to overthrow some of the serious impacts in my life. Yet, I still have times of being triggered, which can bring about waves of fear, sadness, anger and other symptoms of the Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I've had for a long time. While this can be highly unpleasant, I'm going to share in this article how I've learned to be okay with periods of ongoing fallout. I should say that I have spent many years throughout adulthood feeling apologetic and embarrassed for still being affected by my history. This seems, mercifully, to have drawn to a close; indeed I feel too old and cantankerous and possibly self-respecting to apologise anymore. Do some things never completely heal? At age twenty-two, I commenced counselling for child sexual abuse recovery, and read everything I could get my hands on about the topic. As I began to make sense of my experiences in new and non-destructive ways, I felt very positive. I was sure that I could conquer all, and by the time I was in my 40s my psyche would never register anymore pain about my past. I was very proactive, which is a good thing, but I was also, as I have come to understand, rather idealistic. Two experiences from this time stand out: I was reading Frances Farmer's book, Will there really be a morning? when I came across a passage in which Frances described horrifying abuse, and said that her soul was pushed “beyond all healing.” I went to my lovely, gentle therapist in tears; I told her that I refused to believe there is anything beyond healing – even though she said that for some people, this is the reality. This was unacceptable to me – Frances, I opined, had obviously not had the opportunity to “find the right answers”; answers that I had sworn to diligently keep searching for. I also had a survivor friend in her 40s who told me she thought there were things that never completely heal. I could not believe this, and I told her so. I mean, yeah, maybe people never get over things like the Holocaust or the death of a child, but abuse? Dreadful though it is, if you never “get over it” doesn’t that mean the abusers win? I railed against the thought that some things might always hurt at least sometimes. I will never forget my friend's kind, sad, infinitely wiser than me smile. Over the years, I discovered that it wasn't quite as simple as I'd thought it would be. I have not found answers that have healed me “completely.” Three years ago, my history precipitated the development of panic disorder and agoraphobia, with PTSD symptoms much more aggravated than they had been for a long time. Getting better has brought about a self-acceptance that I never thought possible. Since this time, I have come to agree that there may in fact be no such thing as completely healing from some traumatic events. And let me tell you, my friends, that acceptance of this has been healing in and of itself. It is in fact one of the boldest healing strides I've ever made. Why don't some things heal completely? My understanding is that some of the things I experienced happened in such formative years, and involved so much terror and betrayal that the roots of these experiences – and the messages they gave me – remain in the core of my personality. A dear and healing friend of mine refers to this as the “shame core.” I have worked hard to change the impact of child abuse – for example I know it was not my fault, but there is another level of me that feels irretrievably flawed...a little girl who still asks what she did to be hurt so badly. I “know” that she did nothing wrong, but many of you who have survived will know there is another, deeper layer of knowing that may contradict what our adult selves know, and we need to keep challenging it. At this point in my life, I don't believe that it will ever be possible to overturn this 100 per cent. If I have to nurse the little girl and tell her again and again that she didn't deserve it, that is okay with me. I don't believe I will ever feel completely healed from not knowing what it is to be loved, supported and made safe by Mummy and Daddy. The abandonment was severe; it shaped parts of me. The sexual abuse that occurred has left me with a fear of certain things, fear that I have never completely erased. The losses were greater than a human child should have to bear. I think much of why some things are beyond complete healing depends on factors such as duration of abuse, mental illness, psychological make-up and much more. It is not about how weak or strong you are; certainly I don’t feel weak or defeated for accepting the way I am, I feel a great strength in it. And, the impact of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, can be physical: Part of the reason for feeling traumatized now for events in even the distant past is physical. Our bodies were not designed to handle repeated severe stressors. Research findings indicate that the stress of early childhood trauma such as child sexual abuse, can cause actual physical changes in the brain. Traumatic memory appears to be stored differently than ordinary memory. One consequence of this is that when we're in situations that remind us - even in not-so-obvious ways, of the actual traumatic experience/s we've had, those memory tracts open up, causing us to feel as if it were happening again. Please see this article. You might also like to listen to Dr. Frank Ochberg's webcast, How Does PTSD Affect Brain Function? Aphrodite Matsakis also gives an excellent explanation in her book, I Can't Get Over It, of the biological changes that trauma, especially if it is prolonged or severe, can bring about. These changes appear to be irreversible, but it isn't hopeless (1992 p. 39). Even if we can't change this process, we can get help to manage it to the best of our ability. At this stage, I don't want my readers to mistake what I'm saying as negative or hopeless. Acceptance that some things might never heal still can, paradoxically, hold out the promise of healing – it's just that I have needed to revise what “healing” means for me. What is acceptance? Accepting that we have “broken bits” as a result of the damage done to us, by no means implies apathy or giving up the quest to heal. Certainly, we can and should take steps to get help for issues that are seriously impacting on our lives and those around us. But I think it also helps to accept the fact that all of the damage will not be undone, and that sometimes, this may hurt. It means being prepared, with gentleness and respect for ourselves, for those times when our histories revisit again, triggering us into flashbacks, opening another pocket of grief, or otherwise upsetting us. It goes without saying that if you are experiencing strong negative or frightening feelings constantly, you need support. Acceptance doesn't mean feeling okay with the fact that you feel too fragile to get out of bed. But it may mean accepting the odd period of sliding under the covers, processing the pain and sitting with it until it passes. And does accepting that we may have ongoing affects mean that abusers win? No way, my friends. We are survivors. It's not fair that we have the damage to deal with, of course, and it is healing to express our sorrow and anger at this. What really matters is what we do with our pain. Every time I am able to give the little girl in me the nurturing and comfort she didn't have instead of doing destructive things like drinking too much, that is a triumph. Honouring our pain in a way that our abusers did not permit us to do then, is a victory. If I appropriately exit a situation that is making me uncomfortable in a way reminiscent of my childhood abuse, that is good self-care – a care I once felt I did not deserve. The abusers don’t win jackshit. Acceptance also means that I understand that there are events in my past that I will never “get over” and we're going to look at this next. What is “Getting Over it” and “Moving On”? It can be hard to develop acceptance in an environment full of catch-phrases like “Get over it,” “Get over yourself” and “Build a bridge and get over it.” Blah Blah, Blah. When we hear these things, they can be really hurtful, and lead to us wondering if we are deficient in some way. This stupid cliché, thrown at abuse survivors with boring regularity, is deficient. Survivors of other trauma cop it too – perhaps like me, you've heard the astoundingly insensitive suggestion that Jews should “get over” the Holocaust and it makes your blood boil. However, it seems to be hurled most frequently at abuse survivors – particularly sexual abuse – and there are times this is underpinned by hostility – particularly, in my experience, toward women who are trying to reclaim power in some way. What does this ignorant utterance mean? I take it to mean that we should never feel or express any more pain over events in our history. Those who say it may be ignorant of the effects of abuse and violence; they may be uncomfortable and want us to shut up, and it may even be that they're in denial about damage done to them, but the one thing they definitely are, is wrong. Nevertheless, many of us internalize this drivel and we get angry at ourselves for not being “over it.” We feel embarrassed and ashamed for still being affected by the things that happened to us. Some time ago, I'd been thinking about my sexual assault at age four. This took place together with another child who was and still is very dear to me. Not only did I have to endure oral rape myself, but I had to watch this other little girl, still in nappies, go through it too, and somehow that has always seemed worse. It occurred to me then that I will never get over it. I knew, and accepted, that the sights and sounds of this will probably most of the time chill my blood, send a bolt of rage to my heart and, in some cases, threaten tears. I felt a powerful anger at people who have told me to “just get over it” and gave myself permission, after forty-one years, to openly repudiate that cliché – and not just with lip-service about how dumb it is, but truly from within myself. Nobody has the right to tell me how to bloody well feel over a vandalised childhood, and I don't care how long after it is. However, it’s also important that we don’t do this to ourselves. I do not suggest that it is okay to be utterly destroyed every time one thinks of a past trauma. Obviously, when this happens we need help in containing the pain so that we can have the productive lives we deserve. But if to be “over it” means never feeling any more pain attached to it, this is not possible for me and this I accept. I will feel the pain, I will hold the child. And I am perfectly fine with that. It seems to me to be a much more correct and reasonable response than the years of numbness. “Moving On” or “Moving Forward” are other common phrases, often heard in survivor circles. These are not necessarily bad, but they require careful application and they shouldn't become new clichés with which we give ourselves a hard time. Many of us can evaluate our healing and be thankful that we have moved forward from some difficult challenges that are now behind us. Many of us know what it's like to feel stuck, and to need a gentle push into moving on. But this is not the same as getting over it. For me, accepting with gentleness that I may continue to experience revived pain sometimes is also “moving on” - moving on from a place of angsting about it, blaming myself for it and trying to suppress it in destructive ways. My friends, if you have somebody in your life who insists that it's time for you to move on from this abuse stuff, please let them know that owning, accepting and moving through your pain whenever it pops its head up IS moving on. As for “get over it”, well, the only permission you need to heal in your way is your own. Get over it belongs in the realm of broken fingernails, not broken childhoods. Getting over it is not the same thing as healing. I am over needing to be over it, and there is just such a liberty in that. Whoopee! Embracing Broken Bits: Healing I have always struggled with “broken” as a term for survivors. I came across a (now non-existent) website for rape survivors years ago; it was called “Broken Angels,” and I remember snorting dismissively that I was neither broken nor an angel. I felt that this title sounded very “victimy.” I have always hated sounding like a victim, but I now totally understand my own denial. (For a compassionate and provocative look at acceptance of “victim” see this article: Is it Wrong to Be a "Victim"?) To admit of brokenness seemed to me to give abusers too much power, leading to me feel humiliated, powerless and angry. Hadn't they taken enough already? I had a better time with the word “damaged”, though only sparingly. My other problem with terms like “broken” is that survivors have had enough trouble with being stigmatized as perpetually FUBAR (and if you don’t know what that old military expression means, click here). They are often treated like they should be wrapped in cotton wool or frankly, as if they're nuts. This is also humiliating when the fact is that although abuse – especially repeated and severe, can define parts of who we are, it is not the sum of who we are. We are not what happened to us and we are also loving parents, brilliant scientists, tireless activists, good cooks, great friends, sexy lovers, funny jokers and so much more. One thing that has richly aided me in this journey of acceptance is reading about the life and work of survivor Shy Keenan, and I am most grateful for it. Shy describes herself as “Broken but some bits still work.” And boy, how they do work – Shy's courage and work against paedophiles is amazing. Being “broken” has certainly not given Shy’s abusers power. It occurred to me that maybe there is a way to understand the term “broken” in a way that is an honest reflection of the way things are, and not, in fact, necessarily disempowering. As it turns out, a variation on Shy's self-definition that works for me is, “I work, but bits of me are broken.” I wish I could convey the respect, empathy and tenderness that I now feel for my broken bits. I am no longer ashamed of them. The healing that has taken place is the development skills to take care of them so that they don't impede me all the time. I no longer need it to be none of the time, and I am free to maximise ways of caring for myself when the broken bits hurt. While, as I said above, I have spent much time apologizing to people for my fragility, this healing and acceptance means that I feel okay with asking the people who love me to accept my areas of fragility. This isn't the same as asking people to take responsibility for your feelings, or blaming them for making you feel a certain way. But don't many people – probably most - have corns that the people who love them know not to tread on? Don't most people need others to proceed with courtesy and care in some areas? Why should it be any different for me because I am an abuse survivor, and there are certain things that I don't much like, such as sudden intrusions and inconsistency? I think it's totally fair to expect respect and sensitivity from those I am close to. In appraising the broken bits, there’s also the scope to appreciate the working bits too! Despite or even because of my past in some ways, I’m an affectionate and protective parent, as well as friend. I’m highly literate, passionate and generous. Mucho good stuff in amongst the bruises. And If I'm Wrong? There are, of course, many survivors who feel that they are totally “over” what happened to them. Some of these, at least, may be people who have never had the support they deserve to feel the weight of their pain, and begin to heal. If you are a survivor who believes that you have resolved your pain for all time, that's great. I hope it stays like that for you. If it doesn't, know that you are understood. What If I haven't tried some special therapy, or what if a therapy is invented in the future that totally nukes traumatic fallout forever? The thing is, I actually feel relaxed and happy not striving for more ways to make it go away altogether. I will always be open to wisdoms, of course, when they appear. But I can also live, and live well, without the “answer” that banishes traumatic injury for all time. I will never like people breathing a certain way. I’m down with the fact that I might always be a bit twitchy and hypervigilant. Certain smells might continue to make my stomach lurch. I may even need another stint with a counsellor. And there you go. For now, I have learned to honour who I am, broken bits and all, and live with it. It's okay to be me. While it is not okay for perpetrators to wreak damage, if I must carry that damage further, I would rather do it with as much grace as possible. Lastly, from a wise friend of mine from Pandora's Aquarium, some words that have furthered my acceptance the most and are a perfect summation of this article: This article is copyrighted and unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. If you wish to use this article online or in print, please contact us to request permission.
  5. Child Rape: For Survivors and Interested Others By: Louise © 2010 Pandora's Project Introduction This article is primarily intended to provide information and support for adult survivors of child sexual abuse who experienced penetrative contact. A secondary aim is to give information that may facilitate understanding for people who support survivors of child rape. While all child sexual abuse is serious, there are some specific problems associated with rape. I wrote this article because, while we see that there are many articles and webpages available about child sexual abuse in general, it is more difficult to find information that narrows the focus to rape. A Google-search of the words child rape tends to throw up links about arrested offenders and specific parts of the world in which child rape is sadly endemic, but relatively little on the subject itself. I am a survivor of repeated oral rape as a child of four, and later between the ages of eight and ten, multiple types of rape by a close family friend. If the earlier assaults were bad, the later were most terrifying ordeals; I thought he would kill me. Because I knew what people to do “make babies” but didn’t understand that I wasn’t old enough to have a baby, I lived in constant fear that he would make me pregnant and then everybody would find out. I often felt that I would not survive the next time. The despair and entrapment I sometimes felt caused me to think about suicide. But I am extremely thankful that my life-spirit was stronger. While I have made a success of healing in many ways, the memory of these episodes has proven intensely traumatic at certain stages of my life, as I know that they do for other survivors. It can be comforting to find material that fits our experiences. This article is my contribution to support and understanding for survivors of these gross and terrible inflictions who may be looking for something specific. It’s also true that over two decades, I’ve had the privilege of knowing other survivors of child rape. I have been approached countless times and asked how it is possible to survive and be strong. This article is in part an answer to that question. Having said that, I would by no means classify myself as always able to deal perfectly well with these aspects of my history. But, generally speaking, I have worked hard to heal some of the more grievous aspects of child-rape survival. I would like to share this with you. This article is a synthesis of research by others, knowledge I have acquired over twenty-two years of supporting survivors, and how I have come to understand my own experiences – both of child rape, and the aftermath. If you are a man or woman who was raped as a child, I am so sorry, but so glad you survived. I hope this article will help you to feel less alone. If you have had no help, I’m going to suggest ways that you may get it. Pull up a chair, and please, if you would like to, accept a supportive hug from me. Definitions Perhaps when you were a child, somebody close to your age, or an adult man or woman, penetrated your mouth, vagina or anus with a penis, finger, tongue or object. Boys may have been forced into having oral or vaginal intercourse with a woman – or to penetrate a man. You may have been subjected to grooming by an offender who had, or who cultivated a loving relationship with you and told you lies about the abuse being part of loving you, “teaching you” or other. Or, you may have been threatened and forced with violence. It may have happened once or many times, maybe with different offenders – or more than one offender at the same time. These things are all rape, and if you are a man or woman who experienced it, you may still be carrying a lot of pain. Context Child rape can happen in any context. Children are raped in organized paedophile rings, child pornography rackets, or in one-on one settings by a parent or other relative, family friend, church leader, babysitter or in fewer cases, strangers. It is a heartbreaking truth that children may be made available by their own parents for rape by other adults. Offenders are usually male – though by no means exclusively – and one study specifically about child-rape found that non-related but known perpetrators - such as family friends, comprise the largest group of offenders (Saunders, Kilpatrick, Hanson, Resnick and Walker, 1999 p.193). How common is child rape? We’d like to think that people who rape children are rare. Child rape in places like South Africa has been called epidemic (see below for articles). We should support bodies addressing this tragedy, but we should not be complacent about the incidence of child rape in affluent Western societies. By now, we know that child sexual abuse is appallingly common. What about child rape? The research of Saunders et al (1999, p.187) tells us the following: 85 women in 1,000 are raped at least once as a minor, with the average age for a first rape being 10.8 years 21.5% of rapes occur between birth and age 7 38.3% of rapes occur between the ages of 7 and 12 years 40.2% of rapes occur between the ages of 13 and 17 years These figures do not tell us about child rape on boys and for this reason among other possibilities, they understate the incidence of child rape. However, studies reveal that between 8% and 13% of men have experienced child sexual abuse (Douglas, E. and Finkelhor, D, Childhood Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet). Some of these men will undoubtedly have been subjected to rape. If it happened to you, you don’t need figures to tell you that child rape is a serious problem. The figures should at least tell you that you are certainly not alone. Effects Saunders et. al (1999, p.196) write, “Clearly, child rape dramatically increases risk for the development of psychological problems.” The effects of child sexual abuse on male and female children and adult survivors are by now well-documented. We know about sexual dysfunction, poor self-esteem and more (See below for websites). The effects of child-rape in particular do not differ entirely from those of child sexual assault in general. However, research does reveal some particular areas of impact in child rape: Epstein, Saunders and Kilpatrick (1997) tell us: I’m not going to assume that all my readers know what PTSD, shorthand for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is. PTSD is a condition experienced by many people who have experienced traumatic events which were perceived as life-threatening and over which they had no control. You may be chronically frightened of things that remind you of the childhood rape, and may experience nightmares about it, or flashbacks – very strong memories that make you feel as if you were reliving it. Conversely, you may feel very numb about it all. At particularly bad times, you may have body-memories – or pain in your body (vagina, anus, jaws or elsewhere) that corresponds with the pain caused by the abuse. Please see more links below about PTSD. Survivors of child rape are also more likely to be divorced, and have higher levels of substance abuse and depression issues (Saunders et al 1999 p. 192). I don’t want to paint a picture of people irretrievably broken by child rape. If you are a survivor, it’s important that you have hope for healing, and knowing as I do many triumphant and successful survivors, this would do a real disservice. We do face some stigmatization - where people can deal with more “benign” terms such as “molestation”, calling child rape by its name is something people have a harder time with, and this can rebound on us - certainly in terms of disbelief, which can add to our pain. Also, I have met people who feel that survivors of child rape must be damaged beyond all repair. Although I would not deny the damage I have borne and to an extent continue to bear, I am a university graduate in a successful marriage for 23 years, with five children, all raised in a loving, safe home. I also have an intact, if rather dark, sense of humour. While empathy is always lovely, just let somebody try treating me or my survivor friends in a patronizing way that implies that we are somehow lessened as people! We survived, we’re here and that takes strength. Nevertheless, although I can count my own triumphs and be proud of them, it’s also true that thinking of these events in my life is never easy, and may never be so. Particularly, the rape that occurred when I was eight carries an ongoing sense of bleak fear, and while it is usually much easier now to manage, I have made peace with the fact that this may never entirely go, and I know doesn’t mean I haven’t healed. I have had long-term PTSD, part of which I recognize as emanating from child-rape. I manage it – to the extent that long periods go by without thinking about it and fearing it, but sometimes it still flares up. I have begun to accept that this is a part of the process of survivorship for me. Fortunately I have also had sufficient support and beauty in my life to bring about strength and a renewed sense of my own innocence. If you were raped as a child, you experienced one of the nastiest and most terrifying wounds a child can bear. I suspect I don’t need to tell you that, but you may be in need of some validation. You may have heard sentiments such as “try not to think about it” or “leave it in the past.” If only it was that easy, right? But there are very sound reasons why this is much easier said than done, and we’ll look at that some more below. If you are new to acknowledging and dealing with child-rape, please know that you can heal too. Traumatic Aspects As we’ve seen, experiencing a rape is a predictor of PTSD. The research of Epstein et. al. (1997, p. 583-4) reports that PTSD as a result of child rape tends to be exacerbated by the following factors: Crime characteristics of life-threat and physical injury: These factors mean that child rape is perceived as more traumatic Aftermath characteristics: Specifically, it appears that having testified in court increased PTSD likelihood for some survivors. Rape types: Rape that was experienced as more “deviant” – specifically oral or anal rape, are shown to elicit higher rates of PTSD. Other factors that may make child rape traumatic are if the perpetrator was a father or father-figure; a series of assaults, and lack of support from caregivers. In referring to rape type, the researchers go on to say “Moreover, it was found that the number of rape types experienced by the child was an even more effective discriminator of PTSD status.” Further, “Number of rape types may be related to more severe rape types (e.g. anal rape) as children who experience multiple forms of rape are more likely to experience the more severe forms” Lastly, “It appears that there are factors inherent to the more deviant acts of childhood rape (e.g. pain) that may exacerbate postrape psychological adjustment.” I don’t question that anal rape is intensely painful, and may generate more shame and trauma. However, I do find the researchers’ use of pain as an example of what generates greater trauma in child rape interesting. For many of us who experienced vaginal rape when we were very young (I was 8 the first time) excruciating pain was certainly a factor. For me, the life-threat aspect of child rape has been the singular worst consequence in my life. When I was raped between 8 and ten, I certainly felt that I would die because of the pain, inability to breathe and sheer fear. The perpetrator actively fostered this with threats. If you’re familiar with PTSD symptoms, you’ll have heard of Sense of Foreshortened Future. For those unfamiliar with this, it basically means that a survivor of trauma doesn’t expect to have a long life. This describes me perfectly. I waited between assaults, certain that the next time it happened he would kill me. Even though I did survive, I have spent most of my life haunted by the same sense of impending doom – waiting for the shoe to drop. If I perceive myself to be threatened or trapped in any way, I can go into the same annihilation panic I felt as a child. I have had some success in therapy working with this, but would acknowledge that further work is needed. If you are a fellow survivor, you may have had dreadful effects that go beyond what has been described above. Some of us feel as if our sanity is threatened at certain times in dealing with child rape. But what we feel are normal reactions to very abnormal situations. If you have not received support or help, you deserve it. You went through all that pain alone – you don’t need to be alone now. We’ll look at getting help below. Why does it come back? If you are a survivor of child rape, it’s likely that you developed an array of skills to help yourself survive psychologically. These may have included numbing, forgetting, pretending it wasn’t happening, or the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Many survivors find that our defenses wear off at certain stages in our lives. Accepted non-wisdoms are that we are surely better forgetting about it and not dwelling on horrible things in the past. Some of us enjoy periods of time where it lays dormant. It’s very disconcerting when the memories and feelings flare up – or flare up again after a relatively peaceful time, suddenly again feeling unbearable. You may not know that part of the reason for feeling traumatized now for events in the past is physical. Our bodies were not designed to handle severe stressors. Research findings indicate that the stress of childhood trauma such as child sexual abuse, can cause actual physical changes in the brain. Traumatic memory appears to be stored differently than ordinary memory. One consequence of this is that when we're in situations that remind us - even in not-so-obvious ways, of the actual traumatic experience/s we've had, those memory tracts open up, causing us to feel as if it were happening again. Please see this article. You might also like to listen to Dr. Frank Ochberg's webcast, How Does PTSD Affect Brain Function? Sometimes it comes back because we may have further healing to do. Although it can be terrifying, it can also be an opportunity. It can take a long time to make sense of such a devastating crime. This frequently happens in fits and starts, and we need to give ourselves the space to do it. You may be addressing child rape for the first time, or finding it has returned again due to another stressor or trigger in your life. This is perfectly normal, but whatever the case, it is important you seek support. Healing There are many, many different ways to heal, and what works for some people may not work for others. You will find your own path to healing. Healing generally does not happen all at once; you may find yourself looping back to issues you thought were over and done but which have thrown a different perspective up at you. You may also find that there are times you feel “stuck.” Many of us need to decide that we have done all we can with an issue for the time being, and relax. If it comes around again – and it probably will – we can deal with it then and walk away with new understanding. Remember that it is okay for you not to be okay, no matter how long ago it happened. If you are anything like me, you spent a lot of time trying to “act normal” and hide your vulnerability – both as a child and as an adult. You need to find safe spaces and times where you no longer need to do that. Now, I’ll share some central things integral to healing: Safety First: Many survivors of child rape experience problems with alcohol or drug abuse. This is not because they are weak or bad, it is just a known hazard of surviving such a shocking trauma. While some survivors are able to disassociate, that is, mentally distance themselves from the trauma naturally, others may have trouble doing so, and so they artificially medicate to distance themselves from the horror. If they are going to heal, these issues will need to be addressed. Attempting to deal with deep trauma before they’ve developed healthier coping skills just worsens addiction issues for some people. If you have problems with eating disorders or self-injury – as many survivors do – you will also need support with these things. I’ll give you an example of my own experience: Two years ago I developed panic disorder with agoraphobia, plus a resurgence of strong PTSD. At this time, I knew it was a priority to become able to cope before focusing too much on traumatic issues, which were helping to cause the panic. It was most important to have support to recover from issues that were affecting my ability to function, before feeling sufficiently safe to revisit traumatic injuries. Attempting to delve into deeply traumatic material before coping skills have been maximized is very dangerous for some people. If you are experiencing problems associated with PTSD such as anxiety or lack of sleep and these are making it harder to function, you may want to speak to your counselor and your doctor about medication, which can make it easier for you to work on your issues. It is very okay to use medication if needed, as long as the underlying issues are not being ignored or minimized by your health practitioner. The other important question is that even if you are feeling internally unsafe, are your external life circumstances safe now? If you abuser is still a threat to you (and I personally know survivors of child-rape whose abusers continued to assault them into adulthood) you need help to get safe now, so that you begin to heal and take your life back. It may be that you can’t see yourself as having any more options than you did as a child; the rapist severely damaged your sense of having a right to boundaries when you were young. This dreadful situation can change, my friend, you just need help, support and encouragement as you find out how. Even if the abuser is no longer raping you, they may be a family member who continues to harass, manipulate or otherwise degrade you. Healing will teach you that you are worth standing up for. Like many survivors, myself included, you may have learned that people who love you hurt you, or that you are simply not worth any better. Revictimization is sadly common in survivors of child sexual abuse (Herman, 1992 p. 111), and you may thus be with a partner who hurts you physically, sexually and emotionally. Even if you don’t believe me right now, you are worth so much more, but you will never find this out while you are still in danger. Please, reach out for help, to a trusted family member, or domestic violence service. You may be unsafe because, like many male and female survivors, you are in a dangerous situation involving prostitution or other sex-work such as stripping or porn, and you are being abused by a pimp or by customers. Having been raped and perhaps even forced into prostitution or pornography as child, this may seem like a natural continuum for you. But you can have so much more. Getting safe from dangerous people is an integral part of healing. This is something many of us learn as we heal. Please see below for links that you may find helpful. Facing it: The simple act of admitting we were raped as children is something that many of us, myself included, feel at different times is just too big an admission. For me, the issue was a mixture of fear and shame. I honestly felt that if I let it emerge, I would go insane. I would have done anything to make it go away, but am glad today that I could not do so. For some survivors, the acknowledgment of child rape can also be an acknowledgment of a terrible betrayal by somebody they loved very much. Some survivors maintain a relationship with the perpetrator, feeling that there’s too much to lose of they acknowledge what happened. There are many reasons for not wanting to squarely face something so awful. If you want to heal, you will need to acknowledge it, perhaps in small increments, and definitely with safe support. Go at your own pace; you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. For me it started with saying “Something happened to me” and then it took me a full year of counseling before I could describe an experience of child rape in full. It doesn’t matter how acknowledgement begins, as long as it does. You may find that you know when you’re ready. Some of us find it hard to use the word rape; we may try to dress it up in “prettier” terms that feel safer or less shameful. I believe that for a time, getting support is more important than what we call it, but in healing, most of us do find that we can come to staring it down and giving it its name. Facing it may also mean facing how child rape has affected you. This is something that you are likely to be able to see as you heal. Many of us make the mistake of seeing effects as negative personality characteristics. It can be wonderful to learn that what we thought were fixed traits or insurmountable personal weaknesses, are not. They were caused by the abuse, and we can get help to overcome them. Getting Support: If you are struggling with your history of child rape, you deserve to have support. It might be difficult to imagine asking for it, but please know that it exists for you. Some ways you can get support are: Telling. This often a terrifying prospect, but without it, it is difficult to find support. For me, there was the need to undo the fear-based silencing inculcated into me by an abuser. Although my adult mind knew that he was long gone and could not know I was telling, much less harm me for doing so, the child in me was still utterly terrified that he would carry out his threat to kill me. Initially, I had panic attacks when making even the most oblique or veiled references to it. I would immediately derealize – and if you have ever had that sense that nothing is real, objects look too large, music is going to leap out of speakers and get you and your abuser is behind the door listening, you’ll know what I mean. I began to tell first by writing, and then reading what I could to a counselor. It was a very slow process, but I was so traumatized that it was necessary to go gently. Telling was difficult, but ultimately so rewarding. Eventually I was able to speak to a national newspaper doing a series of interviews with child sexual abuse survivors. Even then, I remember that the reporter had photographs taken of me with a picture of myself as a child, and afterwards, I called him and asked him please to use pictures of adult me only. I was still afraid of being recognized. It is perfectly okay to do what you need in the interest of your safety, but the more you tell, the more you can challenge the sway abusers hold over you. Child-rape is an abuser’s worst secret. “Don’t tell” is the rapist’s rule, not yours. It is your voice; you can defy the abuser and use it. Another reason that we fear telling is frank shame and embarrassment. We were little when somebody made us do dirty things, and unless we’ve had early intervention and support, we don’t know that we are not dirty. Some survivors of child rape find it difficult to tell even a therapist trained in working with sexual assault, and whom they know to be empathic. It’s as if they fear that their story will turn the therapist’s empathy to disgust – at the survivor, not the abuser. I had a tendency to “protect” my listener, “prettifying” what I wanted to share because I believed that an unexpurgated account was too gross for anybody else to hear. Of course, I was also attempting to protect myself from a disgusted rejection by the listener. If you recognize yourself in this, you may be projecting your feelings about what happened onto others. If you feel full of (completely unwarranted) disgust at yourself, it can be hard to imagine that not everybody else will see you that way. Perhaps you have been shamed, disbelieved or denied support by people in the past. If so, please understand that not everybody thinks the same way as the people who have given you inadequate responses. Telling supportive people will begin to undo the shame. Remember this: You are not what the abuser did to you. If your rapist was a family-member, this may be another reason you’ve kept silent. You may be afraid of “making trouble” or hurting others, or that nobody will believe you (is this something the abuser told you?). It’s an unfortunate fact that many families to tend to support the abuser – largely because they are unable to tolerate the implication of the fact that somebody in the family is a rapist of children. You may also be terribly afraid of losing your family. Whom you tell, and how much you tell, is completely up to you. I strongly suggest that you begin with people likely to be safe, and I’m going to suggest a couple of options: Counseling: There are many fine counselors trained in working with child sexual assault and its pursuant traumas. You may want to start with a counselor who works specifically with sexual assault. If you are able to have private counseling, please first ask the counselor if they are comfortable with and knowledgeable about child sexual assault and trauma. You want somebody who is empathic and gently but firmly helps you move toward healing. Beware counselors who tell you that you don’t need to talk about it. This can said be to meet a counselor’s own needs to defend against hearing about it. If there were years of rape in your childhood, you may not need to revisit every single trauma, and of course, if you are severely traumatized, a responsible counselor will help you maximize coping skills before opening up traumatic material. But they will not minimize the trauma, and they will not close you down. You want somebody who can assist you in processing traumatic memory and feeling so that you can begin to heal. I saw a psychiatrist in my early twenties who suggested that the only reason I was afraid of my abuser was because I’d turned him into a monster to “whitewash” my own guilt – guilt which was, he said, caused by the fact that I had possibly seduced the abuser. He assured me that little girls could be very seductive – and no, I am neither joking nor exaggerating.. Then he finished up by saying, “So you were sexually abused, so what? Is it then end of the world? These sexual assault counselors encourage far too much dwelling on it.” I hope it bears no saying that you certainly do not need a practitioner who clings to outmoded ideas about seductive children, much less one who belittles your abuse. What you will not need to do is tell everything at the first session. Spend time seeing if this is somebody you can trust. Please see below for links on finding a counselor. Speaking to other survivors – You may feel very alone in what happened to you – and child rape can feel very isolating, even in a discussion of general child sexual abuse. But the chances are, unfortunately, that there are many other people with similar experiences; other survivors who can empathize, and who can share their healing with you. You might like to ask your local sexual assault service if there is a child sexual abuse survivor support group you can attend. Online support from other survivors is also available. At Pandora’s Aquarium messageboard for survivors of rape and sexual assault, there are many survivors of child rape at various stages of healing. You will be made very welcome. See this link about how to join. (Please note that you must be 16 years or older to join. We believe that younger people deserve more specialized help than an online forum can offer them. If you are under sixteen, please see this link for help.) If this appeals to you, you may like to start by posting only what feels comfortable to you, until you settle in and feel like posting more. Just be aware that online help isn’t a substitute for professional help. which, if you have been traumatized by child rape, you are likely to benefit from at some stage. Please see more links below about telling. Grieving: It takes a few seconds to destroy a child’s sense of safety in the world, and this is an incalculable loss. You may never have been allowed to be a child; somebody’s sexuality forced on you may have destroyed any sense of innocence you had. There might also be other very sad issues like the sheer betrayal by the rapist. You may need to grieve the affects – perhaps you had learning difficulties, addictions or psychological problems that made functioning difficult. I have grieved what the terrible fear generated by those abuses took from me. I have heard survivors beyond count say “I can’t cry! Why can’t I cry?” Like many survivors, you may have been initially so numb that you find you don’t feel much of anything. Maybe you don’t yet see yourself as worth crying for. Some of us mislabel compassion for ourselves as “self-pity.” But just as you would have compassion for any other little one who was hurt so badly, you deserve the same, whether you believe that right now or not. Trauma gave you numbness to help you survive. Don’t worry if you can’t cry now, my friend. As you heal, you will feel safe enough to express your pain. You know what? My first counselor used to call me “the talking head”: because I lived exclusively in my head, rationalizing everything and with no emotion. About the only emotion I could feel was fear. I would plead that I just wanted to feel. My counselor would say “trust your process.” That was frustrating, but she was absolutely right. When I was about 27, I went through a 10-month period that I call my “Coming to Terms with it” phase. I could not think of my child rape history even momentarily without crying. I felt as if my heart was breaking. I cried as I cooked dinner, on the way to night school, under the shower, everywhere. I certainly wondered why in the world I had wished to feel! Yet for me, that was a very necessary stage of healing. The beautiful thing is that now, I can let any tears that need to fall again, come as they will. It may be different for you, but you will know when you’re ready. Don’t be afraid of being vulnerable, will you? Sometimes we are terrified of our own vulnerability, because that’s what abusers used to hurt us badly. In healing, I discovered a beautiful paradox – that there was real strength in allowing myself to be vulnerable sometimes. The abuser can’t hurt you now for being vulnerable; you can be kind and gentle to yourself, and find people who will treat you with respect and affection. You’ll be able to note the difference between grief and depression. When you cry, even if it hurts badly and you feel as if you will never stop, your tears will feel therapeutic. That isn’t to say, however, that grieving may not be complicated by depression. See below for a link on depression, and if you think you are depressed, please do speak to your doctor and/or counselor. Anger: Many survivors have problems feeling anger at the rapist. We feel angry with ourselves, with a non-protective parent; anybody but the damn perpetrator. The anger may manifest as depression. I felt immense frustration – intellectually I knew I “should” be angry at the perpetrators, but just…wasn’t, though funnily enough, I could easily become furious for other survivors. While perpetrators certainly deserve our anger, the word “should” needs to be erased from our healing lexicography. This too, will come in its own time. You have to know that the little one you were is worth being angry for. Some survivors are afraid of losing control by becoming angry. Some people do need safety and support in expressing their anger – especially if there is a real danger they may become homicidal or commit an otherwise criminal act. But, although many of us have revenge fantasies, most of us don’t go down that path. There is nothing wrong with anger; it is a feeling, not an action. Anger is definitely a stage that a therapist can help with. When I say it’s a “stage”, it has not really been one-off like that for me. It has come in fits and starts; I still feel bright flashes of rage that among my first memories of life are those of a penis in my mouth. I am allowed to feel this; I value my little girl-self that much. If you are abusing drugs or alcohol, it may be that you are trying to artificially numb feelings that you’re afraid of. You’ll need to seek help with this so that you can rightfully claim your feelings, and heal. Establishing contact with your abused child-self: I couldn’t wait to grow up and get away from the child whom I felt was to blame for everything. In actuality, I was also terrified of her powerlessness and vulnerability. I frankly hated my child-self, and was convinced she must have done something wrong. Why else would somebody want to hurt an eight-year-old so badly? And this while I would never have blamed another child; I just felt that there was something especially beyond the pale about me. You may identify with this, or you may have actually no sense of yourself as a child at all. Your therapist, and some good books (see below), can help you with inner-child work. You can make your little one feel safe and loved again. It’s okay if you feel as if you don’t want to do it now, but doing so can bring about very great healing. I love my inner little girls, I feel as a parent to them; I love to give them treats, stand up for them, and laugh with them. While they were badly abused, they also contain memories of things that were beautiful; things that still make me laugh. I won’t say it was easy getting there, but I did. Your little one may have been alone for a very long time, my friend. Contact, with him or her, even if it is awkward or angry to begin with, is still contact, and as you heal, will become something wonderful. Establishing contact with your innocence: If you were raped as a child, it hardly bears stating that you are completely innocent of any wrongdoing, whether you can yet believe that or not. But for many of us, innocence is not just a legal definition. Innocence, or that lack of a sense of it, is something that goes to the very core of our souls. It is supposed to be something light, sweet, free of taint. I have often said that I had the knowledge of a whorehouse madam by the time I was ten. It emerged in my play. It’s very difficult to feel that any innocence can have been preserved when you were given knowledge of things a child should never know about. Many of us feel as if we were some sort of child “whores”, and the unjustified sense of dirtiness sticks. Yet if that was true, it was also true that I believed in fairies, golden castles, kindness and goodness, pretty flowers and fluffy kittens. I was an affectionate – or affection-starved - child who loved everybody, and while that was used against me, it was a quality I retained still. I refused to stop loving, and that is a triumph. Can you recall games and toys you liked? I have a whole shelf-full of Little Louise’s favourite books – eBay is great for the out-of-print ones. These bring back to me her innocence that never died, even while such ghastly things were happening. Read these words written by survivor Cathy-Ann Matthews, who was repeatedly raped throughout childhood by her father: I am persuaded to believe that there is in most of us a flaming innocence that no rapist could put out. I hope you will find yours if you have not already. Understanding that it wasn’t your fault: One of the chief absurdities of child sexual assault is that while we would rather die than blame another child, many of us blame ourselves. There are many reasons for this. For some of us, it was easier for us to be bad than for our abusers, especially if they were our caregivers. We could not afford to sacrifice those relationships. Blaming ourselves also gave some of us the illusion that we could stop the abuse. When trying to be different – better – didn’t stop the abuse, I concluded that it wasn’t what I did, it was what I was. I certainly no longer blame myself, and I can spend time reassuring you in this article that it wasn’t your fault, but if you are still blaming yourself, you in all likelihood may not believe me, even if you accept it intellectually. What needs to happen is for that intellectual truth to grow into emotional understanding – that is where it makes a difference. When you begin to understand why it wasn’t your fault, you will feel change happen. And with the right help, you will get there. Counselors, other healing survivors, and good books can be great ways of helping ourselves make sense of our pasts in different, less destructive ways. For starters, please see Katy’s beautiful article, Why Child Sexual Abuse Can NEVER Be Your Fault Sexuality: You may wonder, after surviving child rape, how you could ever like sex again. I hated sex and did a lot of crying after it was over. I had some specialist counseling and in my 40s enjoy great sex that is no longer tied to my history. Sex may be associated with pain and fear for you, so you avoid it. Conversely, sex associated with pain and fear may be the only way that you can enjoy it. This is not your fault, my friend; it is the way you were affected. If this is the case, you may find this article helpful: Sexual Arousal & Sexual Assault If you would like to experience positive sex again, you can do so. You will know when you feel ready – it is often one of the later things we work on. Please see below for an excellent book suggestion. Activism: Judith Herman writes, “Many survivors seek the resolution of their traumatic experience within the confines of their personal lives. But a significant minority, as a result of the trauma, feel called upon to engage in a wider world (1992, p. 207).” When you engage in challenging the forces that tried to destroy you, this can be profoundly healing. Just one excellent example of this is a woman called Shy Keenan, author of the book Broken. This book details Shy’s survival of repeated rape by her stepfather, Stanley Claridge, that commenced when she was four (with the eventual full knowledge and consent of her mother) Claridge prostituted Shy to other paedophiles, often drugging her first, and involved her in child pornography (a term that Shy dislikes). Shy’s work on behalf of other sexually abused children, and against children being abused in the making of pornography, is just wonderful and has accrued well-deserved awards. She is an amazing woman – if you would like to know more about Shy and her work, please visit her website: www.shykeenan.com There are many ways to stand up and fight for the raped children of the world, and I’m going to suggest some links below. Think of it as standing up for you too. Questions Survivors of Child Rape frequently ask: How can rape on a child pass unnoticed? Please see “Myth 5: Children who are being abused will show physical evidence of abuse” in this article, from the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence. The section is too large to quote here, but in short, abnormal genital or anal findings are not common, especially if a child is examined 48 hours after an assault. I know that I only bled for a short time; it was not copious and I hid it. I developed a urinary tract infection after the first rape at 8, but was given antibiotics and conventional wisdoms on wiping my bottom front to back – so even if there are indicators, people may, quite naturally look to other causes. Also, please remember how good abusers are at making sure they carry out the abuse so that it remains a secret. Will I ever get over it? If by this you mean what people usually do – that your history of child rape will never hurt again after you take certain steps, the answer is maybe not. Many of us experience times after major healing work where fear or other angst around it can be triggered again. I have a friend whose focus has never been to get “over it”, but, wisely, to deal with symptoms causing her pain. I like this approach; it is proactive and yet fosters a self-acceptance that I believe is good for us. If you are experiencing a painful time with child rape I promise you that with the right support, you will know peace again. You will know that you are a strong and worthwhile person. While there may be continued times when your history will hurt, these will become easier to manage. And what you most certainly can “get over” is the destructive meanings you may have carried away from child rape, such as the belief that you deserved it or that it makes you worthless. Please also don’t listen to people who tell you that you should be over it by now. This is a cliché, nothing more. You lived through it, not them. If my body responded to the abuser’s touch, does that mean I liked being raped or wanted it to happen? No. Please read this article: Sexual Arousal & Sexual Assault and have compassion for yourself. I actively participated - I lay down when the abuser approached, took my clothes off; sucked his penis willingly and without protest etc. Surely I was a bad child and it's my fault? You may be surprised at the number of survivors who believe they "actively participated" in their own rape as children. Getting children to feel complicit in their own abuse is, for a start, a common dirty trick of some perpetrators – who may ask a child if he or she “wants” to engage in certain sexual activities, or if he or she “likes” it, knowing full well that the little one is too intimidated to say no. Such abusers act as if they are not in control of everything; in fact they are. You did what you knew the abuser expected of you, out of fear of harm, loss of the abuser's affection or other. Like many sexually abused children, you may have been "trained" to perform on cue, or may have been simply too young to know that this was not part of a special "game" or a special relationship. You may have been groomed to believe that "participation" would accrue rewards or approval - poor little baby, how could you know otherwise? The book Cries Unheard, by Gitta Sereny, tells the story of Mary Bell, convicted of murder when she was a child of ten. Mary had experienced chronic sexual abuse and rape up until this time, and recounts the story of visiting an elderly male neighbour and spontaneously taking his penis out to “see whether he’d be like all the others (1998, p.337).” Fortunately, the neighbour responded in an ethical way, which was his responsibility, irrespective of anything the child Mary did - a child who, through no fault of her own, was acclimatized to sexual abuse and the approval it might bring. But active participation is what takes place between consenting adults, not between a child and an abuser. You were raped, and it was not - ever - your fault. Why did this happen to me? Many of us feel tormented by that anguishing question, and the normal explanations about how some people are attracted to or exploit children, just don’t cut it. It’s like a deeper, spiritual questioning, and I don’t know that it has an answer. For me, it was freeing to let go of the need to know why. Was it my fault that because I didn’t tell? No – no way, no how. Please read Katy’s article, Understanding Why You Didn't "Tell" What if nobody believes me? Being disbelieved is very painful and is a form of Secondary Wounding (see below for a link). But people who can’t or won’t accept rape on a child are not really your problem. Please be aware that there are many people who will believe you. Engage a good therapist, and look to other survivors. If I liked the abuser’s affection, does that mean I am to blame for the rape? No, my friend. Children need affection like they need food, and for some of us, the only affection we got came through abusers. Just as a person dying of thirst will drink from a poisoned source, so too, did some of us accept love from wherever it came. There’s a very good reason why an Australian colloquialism for child-molesters is “Rock-Spider” – kids don’t know what is hiding under the façade presented so manipulatively and skillfully by an abuser, and once they’ve been “bitten” it becomes more confusing. The abuser is to blame for using your need for affection to get you to accommodate abuse. Please see Kate's article, Child Sexual Assault and the Grooming Process. Why didn’t anybody care? Am I really worthless? I mentioned above that some survivors as children were given over by their own parents to be raped – with participation, or cold indifference. If you were devalued so badly, my friend, it’s little wonder you question your worth. You should have been loved, cherished and protected, and you were not. But this doesn’t make you worthless. It is about everything from bad luck to criminal dereliction of what it means to be a parent. It was not about you – another child would have experienced exactly the same fate. I told about the oral rapes when I was very young; my mother simply said she didn’t want to hear about it. She was probably shocked, but that didn’t help me much – especially as she later said it was my fault. I learned that what happened to me didn’t matter, and that was indescribable. It will take time, support and grieving, but healing will overturn these messages. Surround yourself with as much beauty as possible, my friend – surviving child rape earns you that. Resources Crisis Links: If you need help right now or would like to speak to a counselor, please see this page of international links and hotlines. Other Useful Links: Telling – Written by Jes, this webpage will give you some important tips Child Sexual Abuse and Depression The Silver Braid Survivors of Sexual Exploitation Network – The website of survivor and activist Anne Bissell. Addresses children used in prostitution, trafficking and pornography Making Daughters Safe Again – Site for survivors of mother-daughter sexual assault ISA - The Incest Survivors Association - for survivors, friends of survivors, and those affected by incest and childhood sexual abuse. For male and female survivors The effects of childhood sexual abuse – Good article by Australian organization North-East Center Against Sexual Assault Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) – An Australia-wide support network An Infinite Mind – Excellent educational site on DID Sidran Foundation - Helping people understand, manage, and treat trauma and dissociation. Gift From Within – Excellent articles and PTSD resources Rape, Sexual Abuse, Grief, and Loss – Transcript of a Pandora’s Aquarium-hosted guest-speaker chat with Allyson Maida, CSW - Therapist, consultant, and speaker MACSAS: Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors Sexual Assault and The Body – Research on the impact of early sexual assault on women. Includes information about body memories. Trusting Your Memories of Sexual Abuse - Advice for survivors who doubt the accuracy of memory Childhood Sexual Abuse: Body memories - Excellent article by a survivor of child rape Louise's Story of Childhood Rape – If you would like to read the stories of what happened to me at ages three and eight, you may do so at this link. But please be aware that they are triggering. Free Webcasts by Psychiatrist and Trauma expert Frank Ochberg: Advice for the survivor looking for a trauma therapist Trauma Memories Are you at risk for more abuse after being a survivor of incest? How Does PTSD Affect Brain Function? Nightmares Versus Flashbacks Articles Pandora's Project Articles & Essays Go to this page and scroll down to the Child Sexual Abuse section, where you will see some very good articles, with PDFs to print off if you like. You will also see other articles on healing, self care and trauma. Please see articles under Self-Care on finding a counselor, and making the decision to get help. Child rape: A taboo within the AIDS taboo – The heartbreaking truth about child-rape in Africa Child Prostitution – an excellent article explains the scope of this problem Child Pornography & the Internet Child Rapists Speak – This is a Youtube of clips from a documentary by BBC Newsnight, in which Shy Keenan so bravely agreed to wear a wire whilst confronting the rapists of her childhood. The behaviour of “child protective service” workers at the time of Shy’s abuse will infuriate you. Warning: The video is graphic and disturbing, but essential viewing for anybody seeking to understand the rationalizations paedophiles use. I think it is also validating for survivors in a strong enough place to watch it. Activism The Phoenix Chief Advocates – The organization of survivors Shy Keenan, Sara Payne and Fiona Crook – working to combat the evil spread by paedophiles, and to improve social responses to survivors Childtrafficking.com – Fighting child prostitution and child marriage Anti-Child Porn Organization (ACPO) SNAP - The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests Child Porn Star…Please don’t call it that – a short Youtube by Shy Keenan Suggested Reading (Members of Pandora’s Aquarium can borrow some of the titles below from US and Australian branches of our Lending Library. If you choose to purchase books using the links below, you will benefit Pandora’s Project) The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse - Ellen Bass & Laura Davis Rockspider: The Danger of Paedophiles - Untold Stories - Chris O’Connor and Vikki Petraitis I Will Survive: The African-America​n Guide to Healing from Sexual Assault and Abuse - Lori Robinson Victims No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Sexual Child Abuse - Mike Lew The Inner Child Workbook: What to do with your past when it just won't go away - Cathryn Taylor The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse - Wendy Maltz Monsters and Men – Bob Long and DCI Bob McLachlan: This book is a terrifying but necessary look at the world of paedophiles and child pornographers. Broken - Shy Keenan Our Little Secret: A Father's Abuse, a Son's Life Destroyed - Duncan Fairhurst References Epstein, Jeffrey N., Saunders, Benjamin E., Kilpatrick, Dean G., (1997). Predicting PTSD in Women with a History of Childhood Rape, Journal of Traumatic Stress, vol. 10 no. 4 573-587 Herman, J. Trauma and Recovery: From domestic abuse to political terror, BasicBooks, USA, 1992 Matthews, C. Breaking Through: No longer a victim of child abuse, Albatross Books Pty. Ltd, Australia, 1990 Saunders, Benjamin E., Kilpatrick, Dean G., Hanson, Rochelle F., Resnick, Heidi S., and Walker, Michael E. (1999). Prevalence, Case Characteristics, and Long-Term Psychological Correlates of Child Rape among Women: A National Survey, Child Maltreatment, vol. 4 no. 3 187-200 “Look in the mirror and say to yourself, 'I am innocent and I am beautiful and I am pure. And I am not what happened to me.'” - Carlos Santana
  6. Gift from Within has a number of terrific webcasts by trauma expert and psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, that you can watch for free. They are useful for survivors, secondary survivors and professionals. They are not very long, and Dr. Ochberg has a gentle, compassionate and not at all jargon-laden delivery. I thoroughly recommend them - and please pass this link: www.giftfromwithin.org/html/webcasts.html onto anybody you feel may benefit from these webcasts. You'll need Realplayer to view these clips. If you don't have it, you can download it free here. Click the following links: How Does PTSD Affect Brain Function? Can therapists incorporate the religious beliefs of their patients to help in the healing process? What is your advice for the survivor looking for a trauma therapist? Should spiritual leaders learn about abuse, trauma, and PTSD to help them in their pastoral roles? What do you say to your clients when they feel they have been retraumatized? What is a psychopath? Are you at risk for more abuse after being a survivor of incest? The Color Wheel: Positive And Negative Emotions Are trauma survivors more likely to be revictimized? PTSD & Depression: Who is on your Board Of Directors? Sexual Abuse And/Or Assault: Advice For Husbands And Significant Others Sexual Abuse And/Or Assault: Advice For Wives And Significant Others Should PTSD be considered an injury? Non-Lethal Triggers For PTSD Trauma Memories Nightmares Versus Flashbacks How can a health professional best support a patient that has been traumatized? Surviving Interpersonal Violence: Creating Opportunities for Personal Empowerment Part One Part Two
  7. Older People Surviving Child Sexual Abuse Written by Louise © Pandora's Project 2010 Note: While it's true that some older survivors of child sexual abuse can have experiences that trigger a powerful resurgence of past trauma, this article is not meant to state that this will be the case for all. Rather, I hope it will be a comfort and offer support to older survivors who are experiencing a hard time with their pasts. You are not alone, and it is not hopeless. Introduction It is well-documented by writers and researchers that there are times in the lives of abuse survivors when they will be more prone to thoughts and feelings about their histories. Circumstances that can instigate the re-opening of abuse-related wounds include pregnancy, a fresh encounter with sexual assault whether against the survivor or somebody close, children becoming the same age the survivor was at the time of their assault, or being in a safe relationship and no longer needing to merely survive. Another context for the arousal of early abuse-related trauma can be approaching, or having entered, middle-age. You may be a survivor of child sexual abuse who is now in your late thirties, forties, fifties or beyond, and you may be finding that your feelings around what you experienced are worse than they have ever been, or at any rate worse that they've been for a long time. You may be confused as to why this is happening now. Life changing events such as medical scares, dying abusers, bereavement, retrenchment and ill spouses are things older survivors must often contend with. You may not expect such events to have triggered off earlier trauma, and you may be shocked and frightened by the strength of nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms. Or perhaps there's no precipitating event you can pinpoint as starting it all, but you've found that you suddenly can't stop thinking about what happened when you were younger. It may be that you've retired, your kids have left home and life has fewer extraneous distractions. This can be a time when traumatic issues begin to clamour for attention. If this is you, please know that even if you feel anything but normal right now, what is happening to you is not at all unusual. This appears to be a common aspect of survivorship. In writing about adult survivors of child abuse, trauma expert and psychiatrist Judith Herman says: As the survivor struggles with the tasks of adult life, the legacy of her childhood becomes increasingly burdensome. Eventually, often in the third or fourth decade of life, the defensive structure may begin to break down. Often the precipitant is a change in the equilibrium of close relationships: The failure of a marriage, the illness or death of a parent. The facade can hold no longer, and the underlying fragmentation becomes manifest. When and if a breakdown occurs, it can take symptomatic forms that mimic virtually every form of psychiatric disorder. Survivors fear that they are going insane or will have to die (1992 p. 114). I'm going to tell you about how this happened to me, then we'll look at other important aspects of this process, and getting better. About me I am a survivor of child sexual and other abuse who had undertaken successful healing work. Yet, two years ago in 2008, when I was 41, I experienced a major event that was for me the catalyst for developing panic disorder and agoraphobia. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) returned with such a vengeance that I was certain I had never before experienced it so badly. I could not allow myself to think about my history of child sexual and other abuse without experiencing the most dizzying terror about it all. I wondered if my past had finally defeated me. If you would like to read more about this part of my journey, here is a link. Two years later I am much stronger and have a greater appreciation of why this happened. I also know that I am part of a much larger group of older survivors to have felt such an impact - my older friends at Pandora's Aquarium have been a major source of reassurance and validation to me, as was returning to therapy, and I'll say more about this below. Survivors who may never have addressed their abuse You may be an older survivor who has managed, through a variety of means, to hold your past in check for decades so that you could raise kids, work, or whatever else your younger life entailed. You may have not recognized the impact of abuse on your life, or you may have believed you were "over it." Perhaps you felt that you were better off forgetting about it - or maybe you actually did forget it. For whatever reason, you are now finding that you cannot hold the memories and the pain back anymore, and this is probably frightening. Beverly Engel, author of The Right to Innocence: Healing the Trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse, writes, If you were sexually abused as a child, you are still suffering from its impact as an adult. Childhood sexual abuse is such an overwhelming, damaging, and humiliating assault on a child's mind, soul and body that he or she cannot escape emotional damage. The abuse invades every facet of one's sexuality, one's ability to be successful, one's ability to trust others, and physical health. It causes its victims to be self-destructive, overcontrolling, and abusive to others, as well as addiction to alcohol, drugs, and food and attraction to love partners who abuse them physically, verbally, and emotionally. Its victims come to feel ashamed, guilty, powerless, depressed, afraid, and angry. Whether you actually remember the abuse or not, the damage caused by the abuse only increases with time. This is true for several reasons. First of all, when you are younger you often have many things to occupy your mind--a busy social life, the goal of completing your education and planning a career, a new marriage, starting your own family. Such endeavors are fairly time-consuming and distract you from your feelings. But as time passes, pressure mounts: You must deal with more people, cope with more responsibilities and further problems, and soon the stress grows to the point where something has to give. As the damage becomes even more noticeable, your life becomes progressively more unmanageable. You begin to realize that time alone cannot heal the wounds, and that a history of sexual abuse is not something you can "learn to live with." On the contrary, as time goes by, the emotional damage takes a heavier toll on you. Pain that has been hidden for years suddenly becomes unbearable. Anger once successfully repressed begins surfacing, causing those who have been abused to become abusive themselves-either to others or to themselves. Feelings of dread suddenly turn into panic attacks, agoraphobia or paranoia. Chronic depression increases in intensity, causing longer and longer periods of suffering; suicidal thoughts become suicide attempts. Battles with eating and weight control, unresolved since childhood, result in anorexia, bulimia, and obesity. That tendency to drink a little too much has become a need to drink (1990) It's also true that older survivors may have come from an era where sexual assault was not spoken about, myths abounded unchallenged that kept them ashamed and silent, and there were no resources, meaning that people victimized in this way could not find counselling. If you are experiencing any of the above, it's important that you know it's not too late for you to get help now. You will have to stop and take care of the little boy or girl inside you who was abused. You may be bothered by thoughts that you should be over it, but as the above quote says, child sexual abuse is a wound that time alone doesn't heal. I once spoke to a rape survivor new to healing in her fifties who said to me, "If I have only twenty years left, I'm going to make damn sure they're good ones." You deserve good years too - you have been through enough - both the abuse and the decades of its impact on your life. You have been through this alone - you don't need to be alone with it anymore. Break this long silence, my friend. We’ll look at how below. Survivors who have addressed their abuse It’s also not unusual for older survivors who have perhaps had lots of good therapy and who are fairly advanced in healing, to find that something triggers a powerful and deeply distressing resurgence of traumatic memory and feeling. You may find that events that you have been able to think about with more ease for years, have suddenly become unbearable again, and maybe you begin to employ the same avoidance or numbing strategies that you used before you began healing. Or, you thought you knew all about containing flashbacks, but find just for now that the old methods are useless. For me, this was most disconcerting, and caused me at first to question whether any of the hard work I'd done had actually amounted to anything. I'd had a perky sense of self-assurance in my twenties that working through my abuse history then, would ensure that I would hit my forties a glowing model of psychological good health. I spent a lot of time crying about perceived failure because that expectation was not met. My therapist, who works with traumatized people, told me she sees many survivor clients who present saying that they'd been getting along nicely and were rarely bothered by past traumas anymore, and then something happened to bring it all back again. They feel, she said, that they're back to square one. But this isn’t true. For sure, it can be shattering to find that issues we thought were dealt with can still be so overwhelming. But, if this sounds like you, you need to be assured that you have not somehow "unhealed." You are feeling terrible now, for reasons you'll begin to understand with the right support. It may help you - as it did me - to think about the progress you have made - for example, although I was again feeling absolute dread around abuse memories, I had not reverted back to blaming myself for the abuse. The work I had done on that did not “change back” just because I was afraid again. You might like to spend a few minutes watching this webcast, in which Psychiatrist and trauma expert Dr. Frank Ochberg gives reassurance for retraumatized people who may feel that they have lost any ground they made. At this stage of my own process, I have much more understanding about how it was possible - indeed, probable - for a meltdown to happen to me, and I know that it doesn't make me weak. My sense of strength and belief in myself has returned. You will make it too, my friend. But shouldn't I be "over it" by now? This is the bugbear of even survivors who were raped a month ago, let alone older survivors for whom it was perhaps decades ago. Two years ago, I was dreadfully embarrassed about being seen to malinger, or to still be going on about my child abuse in my forties. I now know that the fact that our experiences can still hurt so badly at times says nothing negative about our characters. It tells us much more about the nature of trauma. And we are not failures because we are hurting now. That we have managed to live full, though affected lives is testament to strength. What does "get over it" even mean? We know that this is a cliché offered to abuse survivors with boring regularity. I believe that one of the reasons we give ourselves such a hard time is through a process of internalizing the shame attached to statements like "get over it." For those who don't know, internalization is the process through which we come - usually unwittingly - to adopt social messages as our own reality. If you did not otherwise know how to make sense of the abuse you experienced, or how you felt about it, you may have been handed platitudes that you felt compelled to accept as correct. Frustratingly, some of us find that even if we’ve intellectually rejected clichés such as “get over it” and would never say them to another survivor, that message often still resounds inside us, causing us to feel inadequate about ourselves. It shouldn’t, but it’s something many of us need to keep working on. Remember that if people have shamed you by telling you to "get over it" or questioning the fact that you aren't yet "over it", not only are they wrong, but you have experienced Secondary Wounding, which is the messages trauma survivors receive from others that compound their pain. You'll see a link below if you would like to read more about secondary wounding. And, is getting "over it" the same thing as healing? I am recently persuaded that the answer is no. I saw and experienced things that I have done so much healing around, but I am not "over" them in the sense that people generally mean that, and I don't believe I ever will be. And that feels very okay to me. A lovely older survivor from Pandora's Aquarium with whom I recently discussed this, has given me permission to quote her: Getting over it has never been a goal for me. I told my therapist that the first time I saw her. I wanted to be able to learn how to deal with the symptoms like the nightmares, the constant stress of being hypervigilant, all the things I couldn't rid myself of, but not the memories. I really didn't expect those to go away. And don't think I'd want them to if they could. It's all too integral, I'd have to deny most of the first 15 years of my life. All of the abuse from the incest on through the gang rape shaped a lot of who I am today even though it happened 34 to 45 years ago. I still have issues to work through. I might always have issues to work through. I don't see that as a bad thing. Not as long as it moves you forward. I wish I'd had that wisdom 20 years ago; I believe I would have been less embarrassed and shocked by the horrible time I had two years ago. Child abuse can be such a terrifying ordeal, such a profound betrayal. It accrues tremendous losses, and getting "over it" may be neither possible nor desirable, certainly not when it means we beat ourselves up for failing to be "over it." We don't hang onto our histories for the fun of it; we want to heal and learn to manage the worst ravages. We strive, we have victories, and yet if memory and feeling recycle later in life, we need to respect that this is part of being a survivor, and get through it, not over it. You may also have experienced traumas after the child sexual abuse, such as domestic violence and/or adult rape that are adding to the weight of what you now feel. Why should you be over it? It may be that we need to accept that a history of child sexual abuse can have longer-term impact on us than we might once have thought. This is sad, and it isn’t fair but isn’t it better – and fairer - to approach it without castigating ourselves? Remember that where you are at has less to do with how old you are and more to do with factors such as how long you've been addressing your abuse - you may be new to the process. If you aren't, we've already seen that numerous other factors can stir it up. Either way, you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. So, I would like any survivor reading this to take pressure off him or herself to be or to get "over it." Trauma is physical, too. Part of the reason for feeling traumatized now for events in even the distant past is physical. Our bodies were not designed to handle repeated severe stressors. Research findings indicate that the stress of early childhood trauma such as child sexual abuse, can cause actual physical changes in the brain. Traumatic memory appears to be stored differently than ordinary memory. One consequence of this is that when we're in situations that remind us - even in not-so-obvious ways, of the actual traumatic experience/s we've had, those memory tracts open up, causing us to feel as if it were happening again. Please see this article. You might also like to listen to Dr. Frank Ochberg's webcast, How Does PTSD Affect Brain Function? Aphrodite Matsakis also gives an excellent explanation in her book, I Can't Get Over It, of the biological changes that trauma, especially if it is prolonged or severe, can bring about. These changes appear to be irreversible, but it isn't hopeless (1992 p. 39). A good therapist can work with us on managing these responses. The trauma of childhood sexual abuse can impact physically in other ways too - for example, a study found that middle-aged women who survived child sexual abuse have greater health-care costs that their non-abused counterparts (Bonomi, Anderson, Rivara et al, 2008) If you didn't know about this already, it's important that you do. At very least, I hope it helps you to understand that you should not be angry with yourself for feeling waves of traumatic feeling even decades after the abuse occurred. Your brain is acting the way that those of many trauma survivors do. Don't be Ashamed I've said enough about how ashamed and deficient I felt for feeling so bad again in my forties, and I've spoken to other older survivors who feel levels of embarrassment and shame about it too. I am no longer ashamed, indeed, I feel prouder than ever of my journey through this testing of my fighting spirit. I do think that there's a general expectation that we'll have acquired sufficient maturity and strength for dealing as we get older. But feeling recycled pain doesn't mean we lack maturity and strength. I also know many older survivors who are able to accept wherever they're at, and be gentle with themselves. They've grown to a place where they don't feel the need to apologise for being vulnerable; indeed they are wonderfully fierce about their right to own what they feel. They are models for all of us who struggle with shame over being older and finding that our histories still present difficulty. Remember that it is not your fault you were hurt, and it is not your fault you are – naturally - responding to that. Don't Despair If you are experiencing another wave of trauma in your later life, you may feel that it will never end. I did lots of desperate crying as I wondered if my history had finally throttled me. You may also feel as if you are going crazy, coupled with fear, anxiety and depression. It can be a time when suicidal thoughts occur. Please, do seek help from a counsellor and/or your doctor. You deserve as much support as possible to ride this out. I promise you it will get better. Take one day at a time, my friend, and reach out for support. It is there. See below for suggestions on finding a counsellor. Positives? I think it's highly possible that the re-emergence of trauma can offer the opportunity to heal at deeper levels. You may have heard of the "onion-skin" allegory to healing - the layers are manifold and as we unpeel them, we may hit the same issues again with stronger feeling. Although it's hard to be grateful for so much pain, this may also offer us new ways of making sense of our experiences and the impact on our lives. At the time of this writing, I'm considering the possibility that I felt my earlier traumas without the usual layers of protection because I actually no longer need them. It's true for some of us that as we get older, we can feel things more deeply because our psyches decide that we are ready to do so. For sure, it was terrifying to feel everything without any buffers. But could it be that I am actually stronger than I think? I certainly did not die or go insane. I have also learned that dealing with childhood abuse is perhaps not as finite as I thought, and I think that's a good thing to have learned. It may take time to appreciate the positives. But they are likely to be there as you come through. Seeking Help I have heard survivors beyond count say that they're embarrassed about going back to counseling and that they feel like failures. I sympathize; I certainly struggled with that - on my first appointment back to counselling, I spent the first half of the session sobbing that I was scared and embarrassed about being there. But there is absolutely no shame in seeking help to recover - it's wise. You would do no less for your car! Whether you've had counselling before and are thinking bout returning, or you have never had it, you will be bound to have concerns and questions. I suggest you watch this webcast from Dr. Frank Ochberg: What is your advice for the survivor looking for a trauma therapist? Please ask any counsellor you're considering seeing whether they are conversant with child sexual abuse and trauma. Even if the counsellor is treating you for other symptoms related to the trauma, he or she should recognize the trauma as important in itself and never minimize that. You deserve to have a safe and supportive place to unfold this pain in. It may also be the first time that you, as an older survivor, have ever spoken about the abuse. A good counsellor will not expect you to tell all on the first appointment if that is not what you wish to do. Spend time getting to know him/her to see whether this will be a good and safe healing alliance for you. Look for a link below on seeking a therapist. Peer Support - Older Survivors at Pandora's Aquarium Would you like to share about your process with other older survivors? If so, let me assure you that you will be in good company at Pandora's Aquarium message-board for survivors of rape and sexual assault. Older survivors who join our community frequently worry about the fact we have a large contingent of younger people; they feel as if they are "too old" to be there. But we in fact do have a big group of male and female survivors who are late thirties, forties, fifties and sixties plus, and we've also had members in their seventies. Although you are welcome to post anywhere that is relevant to you, we do have a forum especially for older survivors. The name given to this forum by our older survivors is the JOY Group, and you'll find this in the "Reaching Out" section of the board under "Survivor Communities." Please consider this as an option - you will be made very welcome. It doesn't matter how long ago or how recently your assault was, you will find support. See this link: What you'll find at Pandora's Aquarium, and don't hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions. Links Bubba Esther, 1888 - Ruth Whitman: A powerful poem about an elderly woman's disclosure of incestuous abuse Secondary Wounding - Identifying and overcoming hurt from others. Finding a Therapist - Tips for selecting a therapist and beginning sessions. See many more articles here on all aspects of sexual assault and survivorship References: Bonomi AE, Anderson ML, Rivara FP, et al. (March 2008). "Health care utilization and costs associated with childhood abuse". Journal of General Internal Medicine 23 (3): 294–9. Engel, B. (1990) The Right to Innocence: Healing the Trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Therapeutic 7-Step Self-Help Program for Men and Women, Including How to Choose a Therapist and Find a Support Group, Ivy Books, USA Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence - from domestic abuse to political terror. BasicBooks, USA. Matsakis, A. (1992) I Can't Get Over It: A Handbook for Trauma Survivors, New Harbinger Publications Inc. California This article is copyrighted and unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. If you wish to use this article online or in print, please contact admin[a]pandys.org to request permission. Visit www.PandorasProject.org for more information and articles.
  8. Hi, Crystal, AJ, our US librarian is having medical issues at the moment that are taking a lot of energy (hope it's okay I said that AJ ) but is doing her best to keep on top of library orders. You will hear from her soon - it just may not be within 48 hours. It may also take a bit longer than a week to get them. Yes, the wrapping is inconspicuous - no gaudy messages about rape and sexual assault survivor message-boards all over it
  9. Hi Welshspirit I'm glad you felt able to share this, and Ihope we can help you heal. Welcome. Lou
  10. SM vs. Abuse by Jay Wiseman excerpted from "SM 101: A Realistic Introduction" SM play differs from abuse in many of the same ways that a judo match differs from a mugging. Consider the differences: SM play is always consensual (according to the definition of consent on Page 3*). Abuse is not. SM players plan their activities to minimize the risks to one another’s physical and emotional well-being. Abusers do not. SM play is negotiated and agreed to ahead of time. Abuse is not. SM play can enhance the relationship between the players. Abuse cannot. SM play can be done in the presence of supportive others -- even at parties given for this purpose. Abuse needs isolation and secrecy. SM play has responsible, agreed-upon rules. Abuse lacks such rules. SM play may be requested, and even eagerly desired, by the submissive. Nobody overtly asks for abuse -- although self-destructive people may sometimes attempt to provoke it. SM is done for the consensual erotic pleasure and/or personal growth of both or all participants. Abuse is not. SM play can be stopped in an instant, at any time, and for any reason when the submissive uses a safeword. The victim cannot stop their abuser in that way. In SM play, the dominant always keeps their emotions under control. An abuser's emotions are out of control. After SM play, the submissive often feels grateful toward the dominant. A victim never feels grateful for abuse. SM players do not feel that they have the intrinsic right, by virtue of their gender, income, or other external factors, to control the behavior of their partners. Abusers often do. Warning signals The more of the following that are present in your relationship, the more likely that it will become, or is already, abusive: Excessive alcohol or drug usage. Isolation, decreased contact with friends or family members. For many years I have had a saying: "If it (the relationship) is going to go bad, it usually goes bad in isolation." Beware especially of the person who will not read books, attend workshops, or go to club meetings, and/or does not want you to do those things. (Some people may need to avoid events because of privacy concerns; this is a different matter.) They may know that such resources discuss safety, consensuality, negotiation, ethics, and limits -- and your hearing that would reveal their abusiveness. Unemployment and/or severe money problems. Strong feelings of jealousy or possessiveness. Unwarranted suspicions of flirting or arranging secret meetings. A history of violent confrontations with friends, family members, co-workers, or others. A family history of being battered or other violence. (Abuse is, to a large degree, learned behavior. They had to learn it somewhere.) Dealing with relationship problems by issuing threats or ultimatums about what will happen if a perceived problem arises again. (Playful "punishments" that have been negotiated as part of the relationship would be an exception.) Non-negotiated, hurtful verbal abuse taking place on an uncomfortably frequent basis -- especially if it's not balanced by a lot of affection and support. Examples may include sarcasm, pointed "interrogation" of motives or behavior, belittling in front of others, frequent “teasing,” or “playful” insults. Furniture violence. This is a major red flag. If objects are being damaged during a blow-up, people may be damaged during the next one. The cycle of violence A basic truth of abusive relationships is that the abuse usually escalates in what authorities call “the cycle of violence.” Emotions reach the boiling point and abuse happens. Following the abuse, the abuser often feels genuinely sorry and asks for forgiveness. This request is often accompanied by promises to change. Unfortunately, the abuser is not usually able to change without outside help. Abusive incidents are often followed by a "honeymoon period" of relative happiness. Unfortunately, the stresses that led to the original abuse are usually still present, and tensions again slowly build. Before too long, abuse occurs again. A major point is that abusive incidents usually become more severe, and the time between the incidents usually becomes shorter. Eventually major destruction, even the death of the abused and/or the abuser, will take place. The cycle of violence must be broken as early as possible. The key to breaking the cycle is simple: Get outside help! A third party must become involved, and both parties must know that. This third party should be someone with professional training in dealing with abuse, such as a physician, psychotherapist, or religious counselor. (Note: Some professionals are better than others at dealing with abuse, so finding effective help may involve contacting more than one person.) Involving well-meaning friends or family members may make the situation much worse. For example, threats by the victim’s friends to the abuser about what will happen “if you ever do this again” are likely to do little except raise tensions, and perhap s even provoke a fatal confrontation. The people involved must not fool themselves into thinking that a pattern of abusive behavior is something they can solve between themselves. In particular, victims and abusers must not kid themselves that “better behavior” on the victim’s part will p revent further abuse. If more than one abusive incident has occurred, it’s time to get outside help. If even one incident occurs involving any physical injury, it’s time to call the police. One positive note: Abuse is learned behavior much more than most people think it is. An abuser is not necessarily evil or weak, but they need to see that their abusive behavior is harming their relationships and driving people away. It helps to view the abuser as someone who needs to learn alternative ways of effectively dealing with frustration and anger. All communities have resources available to help both abusers and their victims. Your telephone book, particularly the front section of the white pages, lists local resources. For additional help contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (799-7233). * Author uses the consent definition formulated by therapist and SM educator Dossie Easton: "An active collaboration for the benefit, well-being, and pleasure of all persons concerned."
  11. "Well, he hasn't done anything to me." Translate: "I reckon he's alright so I don't give a shit what he did to you."
  12. Oh,Bumblebee, it must have hurt horribly to see her sweep it under the rug and treat your rapist as a friend after she'd engaged your trust. No wonder you never spoke to her again
  13. Wow, Becky, your brother called you in the ER to tell you what would happen "if" you were lying??? That must have been horrible, sweetheart. You'll never cop anything like that here. Take care Lou x
  14. Musikalgeak - I hope it's okay to offer you a I was sexually abused as a child but it was not my father. I have always wondered how my fellow survivors survive such a terrible violation; it's the worst betrayal I can imagine and I take my hat off to their - YOUR - strength. I hope you'll use this forum for support, hon, there are many members like you here. Take care Louise
  15. An article kindly sent to us by Gift from Within, authored by Dr. Amy Menna - read it here.