The Family and Healing From Child Abuse
(San Diego, California, USA)
I am currently engaged in moving from a focus on academe to a focus on policy. I am glad that the Red Cross has been useful in the creation of this web site.
I was sexually abused by my stepfather from age 6-14. The abuse stopped because my mother divorced him and within a couple of years, he committed suicide. I told mother when I was in my 20s and my father decades later. I made a multi-media art piece about it that was part of a travelling exhibition in the 1970s ("Bedtime Stories," Women's Building in Los Angeles, 1979). The title was "Brush and Flush." However, decades later, I have still not recovered completely, although this is changing. I recently tried to tell my story and that of my brother's (he was physically abused--beaten--by the person who abused me) on a web site. A family member used legal language to intimidate me into taking down what I had written.
I have had low-self-esteem my entire life until recently. In the last few months, I have decided to write about how the body can be healed, even after incest and rape. I performed a piece about healing from sexual abuse in southern California at an alternative school (The MAAC Project). I am using the strength I am gaining outside of my family to continue with this project and to fight for my rights at the university where I teach. Often, women, who are abused run away from home, have a difficult time completing their educations, and find themselves bullied and mistreated at their places of employment. This has been my experience. This can even happen to activists.
I have spoken to ex-prostitutes who have told me of the high percentage of sexually abused young people who run away from home and enter the sex industry. Speaking out about incest may encourage parents to listen to their children. Instead of punishing or criticizing run-away children, therapists and parents might consider trying to find out why children run away. Many have been sexually abused.
I suffer from bipolar illness and my brother suffers from borderline personality disorder. In order to manage our mental health issues, we are trying to be supportive of each other. We are in our fifties. It has taken us many years to become strong enough to help each other. Our support includes discussing the abuse we endured as children.
One of my family members cannot imagine why I would tell "everyone" in cyberspace about what happened to me. For anyone reading this who would like an answer to this
question, it is because many family members would rather silence those who would speak out about abuse than to be supportive. Their reasons may include embarrassment, fear of lawsuits, or more deep-seated psychological reasons. Incest survivors should not let themselves be made to feel ashamed for speaking out; they may be being bullied by people who may not be strong enough to face their own pasts and past indiscretions/actions.
In some family situations, some family members due to advanced age and/or their own medical/medication issues (including Alzheimer's, schizophrenia or other mental health concerns) may not be in a frame of mind to deal with incest issues. Each case is different. Nevertheless, incest survivors need to keep telling their stories until they find those who will listen. Since some therapists and health care professionals have written that children can distort the past, the incest survivor needs to be prepared to have his/her memories challenged. It can be useful if two family members can discuss experiences that they remember. Even when two or more members remember details in the same way, it may be the case, as it is in my family, that some family members do not want to deal with "the past." Incest survivors should keep remembering, writing, talking and healing despite such reactions.
I know that by telling my story, I can help other women, even if the price of doing to is to make relationships with my own family very difficult. More importantly, we all deserve to express ourselves and to lead full lives, including full sexual lives. This can be difficult for incest survivors. We should not give up.
Rape is a political weapon used against women, and by healing ourselves, we can move beyond our own situations to deal with the situation of women globally. An example of a mental and emotional shift is from our own situations to women who have been victims of sexual violence and murder in Juarez. I cannot be held hostage by my family members who want me to be quiet. We all need to support the rights of children, and especially abused children. Those who try to silence others might look into why they are doing so.
Note from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.
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