**I'm putting this at the top again as the reactions from Mommy to Ander and Wife to Box and my best friends really make me realize how much I want people's input/reasoning on this. I think silence can be outright dangerous in certain situations. And, as ABW's post reminds me (to paraphrase Audre Lord), silence will not protect us.**
A few days ago, I noticed this story on Shakesville about another father who held his daughter captive and repeatedly raped her over a period of 11 years. That in itself is incomprehensible; there seems not to be an adjective to describe the horrible fact that she was abandoned by her other family members:
[Eleuterio] Soria's trial revealed that he began abusing his daughter in 1992, when she was 12 years old. The following year she became pregnant by her father, prompting her mother to leave their home in La Matanza, a working classSome commenters there expressed outrage about the family's (in)actions. But I couldn't help thinking that, while I hope this actual physical abandonment is the exception, it's quite common that people abandon the survivors of sexual abuse--not by leaving, but with their silence.
district. Buenos Aires
The family's five other siblings eventually left as well, abandoning the daughter to Soria.
There’s this feeling that I have that I can’t shake. It is this sense of guilt that I abandoned two of my younger cousins to a life of pain and humiliation. Their father, my father’s brother, molested me. Eventually, I told. But my cousins still lived with him. I have always felt that, once I reached adulthood, I should’ve done more to save them. It was and is an open secret in my family and this community that this man is a pedophile. Yet, despite my own pain, I followed the lead of the adults in my family, and stayed silent.Why do we do that? In part, because we don’t value the lives of our girls and women. And unbelievably, we worry more about the "damage" that would be done to rapists—their lives and reputations. We can excuse abusers who are in other ways “good people.” We don’t want to ruin their lives because of “a mistake.” And remember the judge who banned terms like "rape" and "sexual assault" because the usage of them might be prejudicial to the defendant?
What I also see is the unwillingness to become involved in “other people’s business,” especially in cases of intrafamily sexual abuse. At one time, I would have argued that people don’t like to think or talk about incest, but that’s not quite right, because we do talk about it. In hushed whispers and behind closed doors. Last night, my best friend, Mrs. O, and I sat at my computer and fought back tears as we talked about our abuse, the abuse of our sisters and girlfriends, the abuse of women and girls in our community. And since we know, I know other people do, as well. All these "secrets" that are not secrets, "unspeakables" that are spoken about quite often.
Yet, we are often publicly silent. I think it is a cultural silence—the response of people who live in what some would call a “rape culture.” In such a culture, incest is an unpleasant thing but is accepted, in a sense, as something that invariably happens. The best we can do is hope to protect our children from it.
Just as our silence shields rapists from the consequences of their actions, it also eases the discomfort and pain of everyone except the victim. We have sympathy for family members who don't want to rend their families apart or who can't stand the idea of confrontation or who don't, often for good reason, trust the police, the courts, or other authorities. Talking about sexual abuse and assault is painful for people who know it has occured because they often feel they are caught in a dilemma. And so, we don't talk out loud about it, trying desperately to render it invisible. In a more general sense, Melissa writes a lot about how our media refuses to call rape what it is. Euphemisms are presumed to be much more palatable to our sensitive ears and eyes.
I think, after a while, as a survivor, your goal becomes protecting others’ feelings as well. It as if your own pain is relegated to some small, deep part of you as you try to shield everyone else. For example, I have made peace with the fact that my mother simply could not handle hearing about my abuse. Could not deal with it, refused to do so, in part, because of her own past traumas. And rather than demanding that my family address this open secret, I simply do not attend gatherings of the family on my dad’s side. It would be awkward, and wrongly or not, I identify myself as the cause of that awkwardness and choose not to cast a pall over their celebrations.
And I try to make invisible the abuse by silencing myself, as well. I can tell that my cousin, the older of the two (they are both grown now), wants to talk to me, ask me about "it." But I just can't.
I talked to Mrs. O again today about this subject, this post, and how I was struggling to write it. She was quiet for a minute and then she asked me did I remember when we read The Green Mile? When I nodded, she asked me did I remember John Coffey explaining how Wild Bill was able to kill two little girls--why didn't one of them scream or run away to tell? John Coffey's line was something like, "He killed them with their love." Neither sister would scream for fear of endangering her sister's life.
Mrs. O believes that is one reason some family members refuse to tell sometimes. They fear negative consequences for the survivor. Not just in a retaliatory sense, but in how the survivor will be perceived once the fact of sexual abuse is made public. In a culture obsessed with women's "purity" and "innocence," female survivors of abuse are often portrayed as somehow "damaged" or "soiled." And then there is the prurience. I told of my abuse when I was 13-years-old. Three of my eighth-grade classmates cornered me to ask if I "had just been touched" or if I'd had to "you know." I have no doubt they heard those questions from much older gossipers.
I think that prurience plays a role in the constant quest to blame the victim, to explain away the abuser's behavior. Many people have written about the need some people have to find something the victim was doing that demonstrates s/he "was asking for it" or "consented." In the context of this post, what stands out to me most right now is a post Cara did at The Curvature about an article about Natascha Kampusch, a girl held captive for eight years, headlined "Victim 'had sex with her captor willingly'." According to police, "She admitted that she had had sex with him and that she had done that voluntarily." One of my first thoughts, when I was able to think again, was about the language choice--we usually say people "tell" the truth; they "admit" guilt.I don't pretend to have all the answers for why people remain silent. I can't even explain why I've remained silent. But it's something I'm trying to work through.