During our blogging hiatus the news about Josh Duggar and his history of sexual molestation broke. Following that, an onslaught of media and commentary and discussion ensued, covering everything from the religion that the Duggars belong to, to the names and identities of the victims, to the “counseling” that Josh completed, to the logistics surrounding the future of the Duggars’ popular “reality” show.
There was a lot of coverage. And a lot of information. And as someone who can’t consume scary or explicit news easily, it was tough navigating social media because this story struck a chord that even I couldn’t ignore or deny or shut down.
The story of a young man taking advantage of people in his innermost circle, his family, and then the family dealing with the fall-out. The story of victims who were forced to keep living a lie right beside the nightmare of a sexual experience no person should ever have to experience. The story of parents who tried to do their best but ultimately failed because in this scenario there are no winners. The story of a perfect-looking family, a close-knit community, and their underbelly of horrible secrets being revealed.
A story that looked, felt, and sounded all too familiar. Like my story.
I don’t have 18 siblings and we didn’t belong to an extreme Christian sect growing up. And I don’t have a reality show to put on a face for. But, I do have a story of childhood molestation that although happened at the fringes of my memory, still haunts me to this day. I am also a victim of a young man’s exploration/exploitation. And my molester also walked away with minimal consequences.
I was four, small and innocent as all four-year olds are/should be. I was being babysat. I always went to sleep with a soft, flannel receiving blanket, something cool to put against my cheek. That night, my parents were out and he was watching me. He couldn’t/wouldn’t find my blanket. Instead of looking for it, he offered me his penis, up against my face, my cheek, and said, “This will work.”
There was no rape. There was no penetration. There were no charges. There was no therapy for me or him. But, there was a lingering trauma that has coloured every sexual experience I’ve ever had since. There was a betrayal that extended beyond the babysitter and to the way things were handled afterwards. There will always be anxiety around him and what he did, around my parents and what they did, around my daughters and son and what they will do/have done to them. It will never go away. Ever.
I read this profound piece by a writer I only found after the Josh Duggar media storm hit. It’s by Kristen Mae who makes a case for calling out your molester, abuser, asshole who changed your life without your consent. She talks about the impossibility of dealing with a molester in your family or your closest circle, discussing the repercussions of having one child hurt another child or one family member hurt another family member in a disgusting, illegal way. She speaks about the fact that we need to entirely shift how we handle these impossible moments, how we handle protecting one child yet helping another. How we work at keeping our family together and safe at the same time. How do we do that?
Her suggestion: let’s name them. Let’s take away the power of the hidden crime, the unspoken secret, the family life built on lies. Let’s remove the pretense that because it happened so closely, so intimately, that it must not be dealt with as if it were a stranger because we can’t ruin one life to save another. Let’s redefine what it means to parent an abuser, parent an abused, and horrifically, to do it at the same time. Let’s not sweep it under the rug, but figure out how to make it work for both parties, both broken people, the abuser and the abused. Let’s not just weep until we hope it goes away or hide behind shame until it’s acceptable to come out again. Let’s make a difference. Let’s change the conversation.
She asks that we first call them out. Call them by name. Say their names and their power goes away because they are no longer shrouded or shipped off to a Christian counseling camp. Let’s speak out loud what we have been forced to hide.
My molester, my abuser, the boy-man who affected me forever was Peter. He no longer has power over me because I don’t let him. I don’t know where he is or what he is doing or when I will see him next, because inevitably I will. He is, after all, my uncle. But, I refuse to be alone with him, touch him, or have him go near my babies or my sisters. Ever.
If my parents had better tools, if my grandparents were less worried about their precious son and more worried about their family as a whole, if we had better rules around how to handle your worst nightmare, when the loved abuses the loved, then maybe we’d have fewer abusers and abused, more real help and counseling and rehabilitation, and more healing that actually sticks because it’s not the band aid solution to cover up the gunshot wound.
And if you want to see strength in its purest form, read the comments of the other survivors on Kristen’s post. Calling them out is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the survivors, warriors, wounded who pick themselves back up and refuse to be a victim any more. And for those who can’t #CallThemOut yet or ever, you too are numbered in the list of warriors and survivors. I promise.