SL Letter of the Day: Been There, Survived That


This is a terrible, terrible story, and I'm sorry LiL had to go through it. But I'm not sure "I just grew up and moved on" is the best advice for women (or men) who've survived the same torture.
@1, spot on.
@1 That wasn't advice, that was a recounting of LiL's experience.

And sometimes people need to be told that they're allowed to just grow up and move on, if that works for them. That's not being prescriptive, that's just saying, "it's okay if you aren't torn up about this for ever and ever."
Thank you, @3.
"Life is as long as it is short..."

I like that.
I didn't listen to the podcast, but I have to ask: Why would you ever confront someone while at a third party's wedding?
yes at 3.
@3 Good point. But based on my (admittedly limited) experience with friends who've been the victims of abuse (or any other really traumatic experience), I think the bigger danger is that the pressure to move on and get on with one's life can overtake the grieving and healing process--especially true if the person is in a family, social circle, job, etc. that's unsupportive and uncomfortable with dealing with other people's traumas. I do agree that different people respond and heal differently and at different rates--and a message like the one you cite (assuming it's not a sneaky way of saying, "Just get over it") can be a really good one.
nope, black olives are gross, now and forever.

best of luck to you LiL
@3, good point, and one that is not often made. @8, I see what you're trying to do; but since the default assumption in American culture these days is that it's impossible for a victim of sexual abuse to just 'move on and grow up' without external help, I think 3's observation is very pertinent. What you said -- that different people respond and heal differently -- together with what 3 said above are things that Americans should think about more often when they're considering the topic of abuse.

Speaking as a survivor of abuse myself, even though I had 'help' in the form of therapy, it never did anything for me. I eventually realized that the therapy in question was an extra obstacle, not really help. I don't blame the therapist or his methods and methodological preferences; I simply think that I was not the kind of person to whom this would be beneficial. I wished I had understood that earlier.

I've met other sexual abuse victims, and a few of them had a similar experience. As the LW writes, children -- people -- may (not: necessarily are, but: may) be more resilient than we think.
@10 I'm going to chime in as another sexual abuse survivor who pretty much "moved on" without therapy afterwards & who pretty much hasn't had more hangups than I've observed in most folks around me. That said, everyone's experience *will* differ.
Black olives taste like vomit.
I was sexually abused for less than a year by my father (my parents divorced [for unrelated reasons] not long after I hit puberty, thank god). I'm still feeling the aftereffects of it today, 15+ years later. Other abuse victims may be over what happened to them, and that's great. I'm really happy for you guys and girls.

But no matter how much my father suffers--and I know he's suffering--it will never be enough. I will never be whole again until I can scrub all of it from my memory (so, never).

I wouldn't even be content if I were the god-believing sort (I'm not) and believed he would burn in hell forever (I don't, more's the pity). He robbed me of my innocence, a normal childhood, a normal perspective of sexual relationships, and the potential of a wonderful life where I'm not bogged down by flashbacks and mental illness and unceasing suicidal ideation.

Must be nice :(
People, you really have to understand what is being said.

If you have been sexually abused and it (quite rightly and often) is still causing you issues, you MUST seek professional help. Please do not willfully misunderstand this.

On the other hand, some people are not as affected and should give themselves permission to get on with their lives without dwelling too much.

In either case it shouldn't be a life sentence.

There are definitely therapists out there whose starting position is that you are irrevocably damaged. If you are, then that is a good starting point. If you are not, then trying to make you believe that there is something wrong with you because you are NOT damaged, is another kind of abuse with further shame added to the mix.

If you do need help, speak to a therapist and if they do not understand you from the get go where you are on your abuse, fire their ass and find somebody else. Find somebody who does not tell you how you feel, but rather listens and finds out who you are and what you specifically need to address these issues.
@10, 11... I agree. Though lots of people say they're "fine" and they truly ARE fine. Lots of people say they're fine and put on a happy face when they really aren't fine at all; I don't think you have to take someone's insistence that they're "over it" at face value per se. There's such a fine line to walk between not wanting to pathologize people and turn them into some Perpetual Victim, and also challenging people to not simply bury things and smile and pretend things are OK. But I think we all agree that everyone is different, responds and heals differently, and that when dealing with sexual abuse we should look at their holistic, individual experiences and treat them accordingly. Some people walk away with minor scars, some people are irreparably shattered.
I've been there and feel both the "grew up and moved on" thing and the "my relationships will always be affected" thing. It's sad, but given that sexual, violent, or otherwise traumatic incidents have affected the vast majority of all humans at some point in their childhood, I have to go with the resilience.

We're all messed up, but most of us are ok.
@13 I'm so sorry for what you have suffered. Please do find a good therapist to talk these issues over with. Have you tried cognitive behavioral therapy? Like beccoid says - we're all messed up. But like JJinAus says: Find somebody who [can help you figure out] what you specifically need to address these issues.
This just hits really close to home for me, because I buried the shit out of what happened to me for the entirety of my teen years. I really thought I HAD moved past it by the time I was 18. I hardly thought about what had happened anymore. I was doing well at school and in band, and I went off to college with the vicarious hopes and best wishes of my wonderful teachers buoying me up. Only when I first attempted being sexually active (at age 20) did the memories start to resurface as symptoms of PTSD.

So, I guess I worry that the view, "Oh it totally sucked, for a while, but meh life goes on," can lead to future victims being downplayed or overlooked. And, as @15 says, lots of victims will automatically say they're fine (as a defense mechanism) when they're not. It's hard even for a therapist to tell which of these types you are. A big part of early therapy sessions is sussing out the client for any signs of a personality disorder, and part of that is trying to sift through lies or twisted perceptions vs the truth (side note: a good therapist should never make anybody feel like they aren't being believed 100%, no matter WHAT bullshit they're saying, but of course not all therapists are good).

My point is, I think it's safer to err on the side of over-pathologizing victims than under-. Not that anyone doesn't have the right to share their experience with recovery, of course. I don't want to tell anyone they don't really feel how they feel, because that's patronizing bullshit. But if someone who's truly moved on is wrongfully over-pathologized, they just stop going to therapy and think the therapist was shitty. If someone who hasn't moved on is under-pathologized because they lie or they rationalize and the therapist buys their bullshit, they could kill themselves.

So don't take it personally if you're over-pathologized. Just stop going to therapy if you don't need it anymore, or seek a second opinion if you think you don't but aren't positive.
Near rape by a relative was the icing on my litany of bad things in my childhood cake. MY problem was that I was alright, just fine thank you, right until I broke. I won't go into the rather harsh details of my family dynamics leading up to this, because the important part was that I just buried everything. My rigidity of (more lack of awareness than) denial acted like a container that allowed my emotional wounds to pile up, till I final collapsed under the weight (and literally stopped functioning. I couldn't get out of my car for a whole day after driving to work because of anxiety attacks). It wasn't an overnight occurrence either, I had been getting more and more distorted over years.

Therapy allowed me to piece by piece reveal and sometimes remove the sources of my emotional pain and anxiety. I spent a few weeks in an outpatient facility working on mindfulness techniques (amongst others). In my case parts work has been extremely useful to isolate the sources of anxiety, using mindfulness technique to "break down the cascade" of emotions following a triggering event. Once I was able to face triggering the anxiety responses (fear of fear really is the biggest hurdle. When your fright doesn't kill you, it's a lot easier to face the pain), identifying and talking about the sources of the problems became possible, and then (more) manageable. Not surprisingly, guess what I found buried in the tangle of defensive triggers: that night Uncle Ernie wanted a snack (of course I saw it coming, and tried to sleep in another room, but was ORDERED to stay by his sister, my stepmom). The sad part was, physically I could've easily beaten him, but the shame and betrayal limited me to threatening to yell for help. A year or two ago I could barely stand to think about the event, let alone deal with it.

In the interim between the incident and now I had my entire number of adult sexual experiences, without interference in my performance. I have come to the point of some forgiveness, because I believe he was made a pedophile. My step mother's responses about her brother's behavior towards me and my sibs ranged up to near violent denial. I can only presume her family of origin's home life lead both of them to take up self destructive behaviors that ultimately killed them (very slowly and painfully). So, yes the perpetrators can suffer worse than their victims (but where did they learn the behaviors?).

SO, please consider therapy to decrease the painful defensive responses, which in my case got triggered by seemingly totally unrelated stresses. The problem being, once a defensive response is laid down, similar and even minor new stress events can cause the major (older?) cascade to be triggered. That was the nasty surprise I found in the mindfulness trapping process, but it meant I could isolate and remove some of the "interconnected" trigger points.

In short, get therapy, it works.

I love both. (although Kalamatas are extra awesome)
Man - I dunno. I could see too youngish kids doing something once or twice that crosses the line into sexual abuse and being accepting of the "he feels remorseful" lets grow up and move on.

But for for years? That had better be a ton of guilt he's having to make up for the lack of jail time.
This shit is complex. I too have been there and back. It's ok to be resilient and it's ok if it knocks you off your feet. I choose to live and to live well -- it's my best revenge/remedy. It's ok to be ok.
My heart goes out to LIL, Mrs. DePointe, Married in MA, and all the other survivors of abuse. Thank G-d we lived, and hopefully we will do what we need to do to thrive, in our own way.
Folks, I don't think anybody is saying that one shouldn't look for help. At least in my case, there was help; it's just that figuring out that help wasn't what I needed was part of the process.

Everybody had a different story, with different details and characteristics, and a different solution. No solution was better than the others, and there's no need to play 'tough guy/gal' or 'shut up and move on' or whatever. You have to find your own path (which is I think what therapy, cognitive or not, tries to help you do at its best). Maybe the only common thread is that you have to find a good internal narrative that incorporates your experience into the rest of your life, and allows you to see it for what it was, in a correct perspective (rather than giving it mythical powers over your behavior by repressing, sublimating, exaggerating, or otherwise manipulating it).

In my case, it really helped to realize that what happened to me was small potatoes when compared to what happened to my sister; and being there for her did a lot more to help me understand what had happened to me than any amount of therapy. But that was me, my case; others will have followed other paths, and that's fine, too.
Happened to me, too - my Mum's half-brother, who is only 6 years older than me, lived with us for a few years and abused me, progressing to rape, when he was a teen and I was…god, I'm not sure, because my mind slides off it when I try to think about it, but well under ten. I mentioned some of what was going on early on to my parents and grandmother, and the shitstorm that ensued made me never mention it again. I haven't mentioned it to my parents in adulthood; my fragile Mum wouldn't cope well, and to be honest, I don't think there's be any motivation in bringing it up for me outside revenge (on them for not taking it more seriously, as well as on him), which isn't a way I want to live.

I have a great husband and a really satisfying and pleasingly kinky sex life. I've had some half-assed therapy about the enormous anger I feel towards the guy (whom I can't mentally class as "my uncle" - he's just a total asshole I happen to know). Occasionally I get unpleasantly vivid flashbacks, which tend to happen out of nowhere - nothing horrendous, but enough to get me feeling a bit bunched up and queasy. Anger, accompanied by the odd bit of quease, isn't the best outcome (I'd love to just be able to brush the whole thing off), but I think it's much better than it could have been and so I'm OK living with it.

I have to see this guy once every few years at family events like weddings. I just ignore him (to the point of rudeness; my mother complains about it. I ignore her too. She's either wilfully blind or very dumb. I suspect the former). He never tries to talk to me now, and always looks shame-faced; *he* knows why I avoid him and why my husband and brother avoid him, and I hope the guilt gives him sleepless nights. There is also a degree of pleasure in giving him the stink-eye when nobody's looking.

It is satisfying to me to have watched my own happiness and success flourish as an adult while he's had a really shitty life. I don't believe in karma, but it's nice when something that looks like it happens. Oddly, the anger/quease/flashbacks aren't anything like as bad when I'm having to deal with being near him in person, perhaps because now he has no power over me, and because he's a pretty pathetic and weak specimen of a man/husband/parent/provider compared to the men in my life now.

I don't really know what I'm trying to say here. I think it's broadly that yes: there are lifetime repercussions, but for some, like me and some of the people above, they're manageable and don't intrude on getting on with living a pretty fantastic life. Although I will admit that having written this has made me both angry and queasy.
I think of us humans as narratives; because we try to make sense of what happens to us in life ('my relationship with X or Y failed because...' 'I have such a terrific job that I love because...' 'I don't like pit bulls because....') so that we feel we know who we are, at least enough to have some level of comfort being who we are. As everyone knows, there's pain and there's pleasure (and boredom and comedy and pathos and...) in being who one is, and it seems the more we become able of looking at the whole with some sort of perspective (so that it doesn't feel like totally unconnected elements), the more control we have on ourselves.

Because of this, it seems to me all healing has to do with finding a way of incorporating a traumatic event into one's life in its true place -- seeing it for what it is, seeing its connections to other aspects for what they are. By doing this we avoid the two extremes: either denying that anything important at all happened (and therefore repressing the whole thing, so that the emotions end up being transferred to other areas and go on throughout life making us suffer in other ways, like alcoholism, bad relationships, assholey behavior, perhaps even making us hurt and traumatize other humans in turn), or then exaggerating it out of proportion, till everything we do, and everything we are, seems to be only a reflection of the pain and suffering caused by that traumatic event, in which we then keep on living day after day, per omnia saecula saeculorum, without hope of escaping.

If we succeed in integrating the traumatic event into our lives as it was -- if we succeed in understanding it, in finding its rightful place in the narrative tapestry of our existence -- then we have successfully navigated between the Scylla of denial and the Charybdis of exaggeration. That is what I see as healing, and whatever path takes you there is a good path.
@25 Centopar, and any and all rape or abuse victims:

It's not your fault. Say it to yourself: "It's NOT my fault".

I firmly believe that my uncle's pedophilic behavior was created by a generations long cascade of abuse and victimization. Well, I and my sibs have decided it stops with our generation. We did so by NOT GIVING IN TO SILENCE and shame. The rages, the panic, the shame don't have to be buried, or carried in mindless fear. It is ridiculously powerful, and for me therapeutic, to be able to state out loud "this is what happened to me" in front of someone who cares for you. I have also been on the other side as witness, receiving that message from a former girlfriend. It wasn't pleasant, but it needed to be done to help set her free.

It's not my fault, I don't have to carry this, and I can help set others free.

@14 FTW. Really loved the "fire their ass" line. You gave great advice: if you're not happy with your therapy, try another therapist.

@3 & @10 spot on.
I agree the therapy is absolutely necessary for some, and a fruitless exercise for others. It's done wonders for my sister. My summary of therapy I've tried so far is: "We get to the flying potato story and it's curtains from there." If I didn't live it, I'd also denounce the flying potato story. Unfortunately I was there, and therefore cannot reside safely in denial. I've done much better working through things on my own, or over coffee with friends.

It also helps to have friends with equally "you'd only believe it if you'd been there" experiences to talk to. (I think abuse often defies others' belief, no matter how 'typical' it might be.) But sometimes therapy works better than that, for some. It's certainly worth a shot if coffee dates and close friendships don't seem to be doing the trick. And I'd definitely say take your time picking one.

And if they say anything inappropriate or too woo-woo, get out of there right away!
I have to respectfully disagree with 18. Overpathologizing causes serious harm to many - it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy leading the person down the road to chronic victim status, and a lifetime of being unnecessarily traumatized and unable to get over it. I see this a fair amount in my profession.

Of course, everyone should get the help they need. But that help rarely should end up reinforcing some "you can't understand it if you didn't experience it" sort of special "no one has suffered like I have and I can never get over it" victim status.

Dan himself said in a long ago column "It takes the time it takes". and it does.
@13: Thanks for sharing that.

Although one ultimately has to get beyond denial and repression to heal, I have to wonder if they play an important role in the process. I suspect our minds sort of "know" when we are ready to confront trauma and when we just need it out of our heads so we can function.
Ooops, meant @19.
I suggest that family events are not a great time for confronting former abusers. If your family dynamics are anything like mine, everyone will blame you thereafter for "ruining" things. This is particularly the case if you do it at a wedding, since you are stealing attention from the bride, and of course it's ::her:: day, how could you be so insensitive, etc.

But we all do dumb things at 17. Good thing ::his:: life skidded into booze and drugs, the bride's marriage fell apart in 18 months (she's remarried to a great guy now), and my future is brighter than ever.
@26: thank you very much, because it's a very useful contribution to this discussion, IMO, and because I can very much identify with what you're saying. Repression/downplaying due to pressure from family and others, and the converse wider social pressure to testify to one's suffering by being permanently broken can both be major barriers to healing/managing/moving forward with stuffs.
I agree with ankylosaur, at least I found healing when I allowed the abuse to become part of the greater narrative or the greater painting. There was a time when I felt like I was spoiled, scribbled upon, and when I could finally put the incidents into a larger and greater picture, then I could find beauty and not for what was done, that was evil, but for the compassion it inspires. It is a journey and you have to find the right balance between acknowledgement and forward motion, or at least I did.
i stopped thinking about it for years . didn't have a place to put it and then on a visit to chicago for my 20th high school reunion i coolly and calmly decided that i was going to burn his house down. not that i was still angry. i didn't think i was much emotionally anything about it, but it seemed that he owed me this. a payback for the times it did confuse me. i went to the apartment where it happened. naturally he didn't live there. i tried looking him up in the phone book
( i'll never ever forget his name ) but he wasn't listed. i finally asked about the pastor of my church, the church were i met this man, the church that empowered him to do what he did. the pastor was the only person i told. when i told him the pastor simply said ' he shouldn't be doing that to you '..ihe said nothing else. i thought ' this man could hurt me further . he could kill me and nobody would help ' and i left the 20 years later i figured i could locate him through that church . the church was still there but shuttered and closed. i discovered that the pastor himself had propositioned an 18 year old . i was told that when he refused the pastor humiliated him. so.. the 18 year old went out and bought a gun and shot him dead.
i thought to myself ' if you continue to pursue this , this is where it will end up, somebody will be dead. maybe even you'...
i think that's when i finally thought ..' i guess i'll move on'
that was 20 years ago.. i guess i've moved on.
Perhaps narrative therapy is worth a shot for some survivors.
Just randomly noodling, here, but I wonder if the age of the perp has something to do with the recovery process in a statistically significant number of cases. Not that anecdotes are data, but from what I've seen in this thread (and heard from victims elsewhere), it's "easier" to get past relatively nonviolent abuse perpetrated by someone near your own age. I think it has to do with whether there's a violation of trust in the power dynamic between the victim and the abuser. Babysitters, parents, step-parents, aunts/uncles--there's an explicit violation of trust that they make from a position of power. When it's a sibling or a cousin or a schoolmate who's nearer in age, they don't break quite the same level of trust.

Of course, violent abuse is a whole other can of worms, no matter how old the perpetrator is. And this whole post could be totally off-base. Just noodling...
@39 Mrs. Depointe,

Certainly in my case you are dead on.

If nothing else, becoming an adult has allowed me to realize the mythical status of "being right" I associated with adults when I was a child just wasn't reality. Understanding that doubt and fallibility never go away, no matter what the age, has helped with (something that is approaching) forgiveness. The bottom line is no longer being owned by the incident(s), and using my healthy adult relationships to repair the damage as best I can.

@29: What does the expression "the flying potato story" mean? I've never heard that one before.
Regarding LiL - after years of ups and downs in coming to terms with sexual abuse, I had an epiphany that I was acting damaged because it was expected - and when people say "come as you are," it doesn't necessarily mean "come broken." That was more healing than anything else has ever been for me. YMMV.
"Kids are much more resilient than we think."

OMG, LiL, you're just begging for the sanctimonious wrath of those who believe that children who have been sexually abused are 'damaged,' as if they were goods, rather than people who have been wronged.
@42, I also had a similar moment (though, curiously, it happened before the sexual abuse...) :-)
I highly recommend EMDR therapy for anyone who has been sexually abused. You want your memories to fade for real? This is how you do it. No big emphasis on talking, all emphasis on getting the shit to go away. And it really does. "It's like a miracle," a friend told me, and I agree.
@41 (Blackrose): That's what my friends and I call it: the flying potato story. It's not a slang expression or anything. It's exactly what it says on the tin: a story about something roughly the size and shape of a yukon gold potato that was flying. I didn't define it because I thought it would make the post make more poignant by pointing out that something happened to me (granted, not a bad thing) that people don't get because it's not instantly classifiable.

My experience with therapists is that they want each event to be first, instantly classifiable and secondly, given a definite importance. My friends have been less worried about those concrete facts and more concerned with the outcome of the event (positive). Therapists seem to look at events that are not instantly classifiable as negative because they all seem to make the assumption that indefinites = bad. Even if I classify it as positive, they doubt my feelings on the matter because I can rightly say I'm not sure exactly what happened, and while I can say it was important, I certainly can't say which events were more important and which were less. Therapy is too granular for me. It was important, and how important doesn't matter to me, so I certainly haven't thought about it that way. And trying to think about it that way doesn't really seem very valuable to me.

And, to loop back to the topic at hand: that's the issue I think is happening here: some victims of abuse need to classify and assign importance to an event, or events in order to find closure. Others don't need to ascribe such granular details, and hounding them for it actually makes it worse. "Well, why don't I know these things if this is what I need to get over this....."they might ask themselves. In trying to define something for a therapist that doesn't really matter to them, they end up, I think, in more trouble than they started because they try to fit their experience into some theory. Or they waste money spinning their wheels and wasting their time. Not everybody, mind you. This in no way is a blanket statement. But for some, I think therapy is absolutely the wrong venue for resolution of past traumas.
@ 43 -- I hate that attitude. I had a therapist that acted like my whole life was a knife, cutting off parts of me that I had to go find and rescue. In fact, my mother took that approach for awhile. I guess I see myself as more tree-like: a branch got sawed off. Another branch grew thick and lush elsewhere. Still a perfectly good tree. Just different. To act like children can't have that same perspective peeves me.

Also, I think to some degree, *I* get to define what is or is not broken. And *I*, to a certain extant (again) get to decide whether or not I want to fix it. Because if you talked to my grandparents, it's a big problem that I'm pagan, and it really needs fixing. And if you ask me, being pagan basically saved my life, more than once, so nothing is broken there. Kids have at least some of the same autonomy. And certainly, there is nothing that says that something acknowledged to be broken must be fixed right away. I think sometimes it probably helps to be older and wiser. People are often resilient, we just have to let them be so.
@43: and one other thing.... this society sure has a messed up definition of people. Ugh. "People" is a lot more inclusive than how it seems to used these days.
I wonder if "life is as long as it is short" is LIL's original quote, because that's an amazingly accurate sentiment that I plan to start using immediately.
Hey, abuse victims who didn't report, you aren't the "only one". Your abusive relative is still raping. Maybe not you....but they don't stop at one. Instead of ignoring them maybe you should confront them (with their families present) and report them to police because your abuse may have ended but it doesn't mean their abusing ways have.
@50, that's not always true, at least not as you mean it. But oftentimes it is, so one should indeed consider that. It's just that, as always, the world isn't that simple.
The relavation that once the original trauma has worn off and the nightmares no longer keep you awake you are allowed to move on with your life was the best one I had. It also came without any therapy or counselling, just a realisation that I owned my life and that I had moved myself into a place much better than the one I used to be in.

But I didn't report and never will. If I'd reported at the time there would have been some evidence I suspect, but if I was to do it now it would be only my word and should it go to court then it would be my character that would be pulled to pieces. I've worked hard to get to this place, and I don't want to risk it changing.
@50 there is no obligation for a victim to report sexual abuse. It's not even remotely on the table, unless and until the victim is fully mentally capable of dealing with what happened, as well as the consequences of reporting it. Even then, it's completely voluntary.

Only an ignorant twatfucker would even think to say what you said. You have no idea the amount of victim-blaming that goes on within families when old wounds are opened up. And the victim has to decide how they will deal if their abuser lies to escape culpability (see the Danish Dogme film Festen). Most importantly, confrontation without evidence (and who has evidence of their own sexual abuse except their own memories?) is pointless unless a confession can be forced. If the abuser is sociopathic or deeply in denial (conditions which are highly co-morbid with being a rapist), don't fucking count on it.

If the person that actually molested me, or the person that forced me into the situation, were still alive, your point might be valid. One used alcohol, the other cigarettes, to destroy their bodies in what I believe to be slow and excruciating suicide. Nothing I've experienced could've been worse punishment than the final month my stepmother endured in the ICU (just for the record, my mom died when I was an infant so my stepmom was the only mother I've ever known). My uncle spent the last 5 years of his life with half of his body dead. I realize this post is about confronting the living perpetrator, but in some ways dealing with the dead is worse because the sense of "why bother?" covers everything. On top of that is the fact I love both of them, and never would want to hurt them. I suspect I'm not alone in stating something to the effect of "it's complicated", but I wouldn't hesitate to eliminate any possibility of abuse occurring again.

The existence of this problem is devastating, but we must keep going, and make a life that isn't defined by our negatives. Acceptance by the people that love me, and self acceptance, of ALL of me has been one of the most powerful tools I have to correct my problems and flaws. I am not alone, and that is a very strong reason to want a better me; to not accept the defensive outbursts of bad behavior and deal with the causes. More than ever I want to be able to cherish my blessings and not be defined by my curses.

@53. It's not all about you. Victims have a moral duty to act to prevent others from being abused. There are cases where this duty is outweighed by other exigent circumstances, and the age of the victim is a definite factor in the assessment of such a duty. But this duty is the baseline, not the other way around.

Listen, what happens isn't a mystery. Victims often get abused twice; once by the abuser and a second time by family and/or society and government. It sucks, and I do what I can to make sure that doesn't happen within my sphere of influence. But that alone doesn't relieve one of the moral duty to do the right thing, and to try to protect in others the innocence one no longer has.
there is a great This American Life episode on the topic:…
@55 No. Fornicate yourself with an iron stick.
@55 -- I think there is only an obligation if there is a reasonable chance of the abuse happening again. Which, from what I hear, there often isn't. Granted, that's anecdotal evidence, but what I hear over and over again from people I know personally is that the victim and abuser were in perfect conditions for the abuse to occur, and once the conditions dried up, so did the abuse. Therefore, there is no real need to doubly victimize someone.
@55 ..'the moral duty to do the right thing.'. .there's an absolute i can't get behind.i was 13 when i was abused and wasn't nearly as concerned about my ' moral duty ' as i was concerned for my life. there was at least another adult who knew what happened before i summoned the almost impossible courage to tell someone else.. my abuser sent me to a doctor who examined me in a hospital. my abuser made the appointment and the doctor checked me for anal damage. at the same time my abuser begged me not to tell anyone because it would ruin his life ( this after he named other boys in the congregation he thought i might be after. 'saying ' if you don't want to be with me, which of these others would you rather be with ? who did you come to church to get ?' ) at 13 the last thing i wanted to do was ruin someone's life. so i didn't tell until i feared for my own life
.. did you get that part about the doctor IN a hospital ? .and the abuser didn't stop after that. so i told someone else, in my case my pastor..and he did nothing.. turns out he was abuser himself. and ultimately paid for it with his life.
.. in a situations where abuse happens in a climate of moral destitution, where in actuality there doesn't seem like there's ANYone to tell ( ask anybody who suffered/suffers abuse at the hands of the catholic church ) things like 'moral duty' get pretty confusing .
@58: How can anyone possibly know that, other than the abuser? Presumably they'd deny abusing anyone at all, and we know that's a lie.
@59. If you characterize the moral duty I posited as an absolute, you must not have read my post very well. The second sentence, in particular, is addressed at precisely the kind of horrifying circumstances you faced as a young teen.

@58 I agree. But when in doubt . . .

@57 Is that supposed to be something I won't enjoy?
@55, "It's not all about you".

Did you realize that your words are one of the prime arguments used AGAINST victims by Blame The Victim perpetrators? Do you normally phrase requests for assistance like an attack?

Let's try rephrasing your first paragraph request:
I know it is difficult, but your actions against your attacker can help save others from what you have suffered. Because you are an adult, your actions may save children that otherwise have no protection. Please don't let your experience hold you silent.

As for the second paragraph about societal abusers, that would be you.

@61, "do-the-right-thing" is a convenient label for a number of actions that one hopes will lead to some improvement in one's (and other people's) situation and prospects, but considering how each case is difficult and complicated, plus the amount of damage one may do to oneself and to others while 'doing the right thing', I really cannot accept that as a "moral imperative" (yes, sir, I'm not a Kantian).

Consider my case: not only was the abuse less violent (it involved sex against my will, but I wasn't threatened with violence; the threat was to tell my parents where I was hiding -- things at home had deteriorated to such an extent that I thought I should go away at least for a while). I felt paralyzed every time he took me, but I can't say he produced bruises, hematomas, or any physical damage. I felt dirty and used, but that was all. (Given that the situation at home was worse, I can't even say I thought at that time that that was the worst thing happening to me.)

Also, he was -- of all clichés -- an Irish Catholic priest, a person of great intellectual capacity (if my English is now good, this is partially thanks to him; and whatever Irish I have I've learned from him). Also, he directed -- still directs -- a project for helping street children in my native town (Recife) learn a trade (he's a musician, so he taught them to play the fiddle) and find foster homes; over 1,000 children have found families in the meantime thanks to his efforts.

If I had any hard evidence of what happened (which I absolutely don't, other than my memories of the five days I spent hiding at his place) -- and it would have to be good, since Brazilian law is more difficult to satisfy than American law in this respect), I could perhaps have done something against him when I was still there, two decades ago. But then I would have stopped the charitable activities, which would mean a number of children who found homes would still be on the streets.

So what's my "moral imperative" in this case?

To me, life is always case-by-case. The only "moral imperative" I acknowledge is our duty to think and see what options there realistically are in front of us, and what consequences they have (to the best of our knowledge). Then choose -- not because of some theoretical injunction to 'do the right thing', but because there always is a 'least bad' option you can pick. (In my case -- not doing anything.)
@61 'But this duty is the baseline, not the other way around.' isn't an absolute but, as others have noted, it feels pretty damned close.
@62 You rephrased that paragraph much better than my original, more inflammatory, version. In retrospect, that would have been a more tactful way to put it.

I confess, I was a bit offput by the commenter at issue calling another commenter an "ignorant twatfucker". It was uncalled for, and a history of abuse is not justification for being a foul-tempered and belligerent person.

As for your suggestion that I am part of societal "blame the victim" problem, I respectfully disagree. I wasn't blaming the victim for the abuse. However, there can be, under some circumstances, blame properly applied in both the legal and the moral sense for one who fails to warn others of impending harm to others.

And, while I have not posted particulars here, I have some personal experience apropos to the question at hand.

@63 Applied morality is difficult. Moral decisions must always be made on a case by case basis of applying the rule to the circumstance. I think if you look at my posts, you will find qualifying language to that effect. I think you and I are not that far apart in our thoughts on this. But I firmly believe that the baseline ought to be protect others where there is a threat, to the extent you can, so they don't have to suffer what you did.

I also note, that people seem to be conflating "report" with "have sufficient proof that a conviction is assured". Sometimes the report can prevent future crimes even if it doesn't lead to conviction or even prosecution.
At the risk of drowning the thread in comments, I would also note (then I'll shut up!), that my opinions are not representative of my personal experience, but of my status as one who advocates for abused children. A fair number of my charges are the ones who are hurt because previous abuse victims - people like you - didn't take action.

To some of you, these kids are nothing more than ephemeral possibilities of which you may wish to deny the potentiality of while you work through your own pain and healing. To me, they have names. And ages. And scars and wounds, physical and emotional, that maybe could have been prevented.

Clearly, the abuser is the bad person, the evil one. But that doesn't necessarily let you off the hook. I appreciate that is rough. Another unwanted pain and dilemma related to your abuse. But it is what it is.

All right, nuff said. peace out.
@60: Like I said, this is anecdotal evidence, from the victim. For example, I lived in a community that made a helluva point minding their own business. People would casually ignore a beating happening across the street, in the front yard. So long as your kid could go to school the next day and your wife could cook the next day, there was no accountability. This same community morally prohibited safe 'destress' valves. There was no going down to the pub for a pint/watch the game. There were no hunting trips with the guy friends (after a certain age). For women, there was little to interrupt the duties stemming from housewifery and too many kids -- women just didn't have jobs where I grew up. Not until much later. Bored, Stressed Adults + No Accountability = Abuse.

I think had those adults had appropriate venues to blow off steam, get away from things, etc, and neighbors bothered themselves with the welfare of the kids next door, then half the crap that I knew about wouldn't have happened. This is the classic psychology test: you are alone in the room with something you really want, but know you shouldn't really have. No one will know what you do but you.... do you take it? Is your own willpower enough. Psychology experiements indicate it's about 50-50.
@66 Alanmt,

I think everyone understands your urgency. What you may not understand is that ANY critique even close to the topic of abuse and responsibility is like emotional needles that at best irritate, at worst agonize, a wound as great as complete loss of trust at an intimate level. Try to understand the children you are trying to help ARE the people you are trying to reach, with better vocabularies. Don't use aggressive language, DON'T use guilt. Appeal to their better nature and how their actions can show their strength. No one knows better the urgent need for protective preemption than past victims. And try to understand some of them just can't do it (and that all the fault lies with the abuser).


Should be protective interdiction, not protective preemption.

@68, very well said. Nothing to add.
@Alanmt, indeed maybe we don't differ so much in how we would handle real-life cases. But there is something in your philosophy that displeases me, and it's this commitment to avoid pain to others when you're in pain yourself.

I think the first and foremost responsibility of an abuse victim is with him/herself. S/he should try to get better (rather than falling into one of the many traps that can keep you lost forever). To some, that would imply doing all they can to prevent the abuser from abusing others. But to some -- those who can't -- it doesn't; it implies concentrating on him/herself and his/her own issues.

I think choosing not to report as part of one's healing process is a valid, acceptable, and moral decision. Maybe you'd disagree -- your ethical system is very other-centered. That is your prerrogative. But I reiterate: the first and foremost responsibility of an abuse victim, in my view, is with him/herself, with finding a way back to life. If you can also save others, that's great, by all means go and do it; but, as with oxygen masks in plane crashes, you should first think of yourself.
@55: " It's not all about you.


Victims often get abused twice; once by the abuser and a second time by family and/or society and government."