Monday, August 16, 2010

The Pretending Game

"People only see what they are prepared to see." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the worst things about being a victim of a sex crime is that you end up somehow shouldering some of the blame, and your experience is downplayed, minimalized.

It is in your perpatrator's best interest to not admit all that he's done, even to himself. Those who love the abuser or want to acccept him back into their lives, will also make less of the abuse, possibly even blaming you. This has been done to me, even by my own family. It is easy for them to live in this denial. You see, my family has no idea what abuse I endured. The simple reason is that they never asked. They have no idea how far he went or for how long it went on. They don't want to know because then they would have to deal with the truth, and my family doesn't deal well with reality.

One family member told me that in order for her to be around my abuser, as she often is at family gatherings, she must mentally pretend that it never happened. My years of abuse are pretended away for the sake of peace within the family.

I was sexually abused, by my brother-in-law, for 7 long years of my childhood and it started when I was 9. I was a little girl when it began and it only ended when I physically removed myself from the country to be an exchange student in England. (Sweet freedom!)

My sister stayed married to this sexual predator, even after he admitted what he had done, and my siblings (for the most part) and parents accepted him back into the family unit immediately. There was no outrage. Once my parents and sister accepted him, everyone else followed suit. No one seemed shocked or annoyed that they were expected to allow this man back into their lives with no boundaries.

And there truly are no boundaries. No boundaries with a man who they know has been sexually attracted to a child. They send their children to spend the night at his house. Seemingly, they are not concerned that they are risking their daughters, possibly sending them like sheep to the slaughter. They are playing roulette with their children's innocence.

One of my sisters-in-law (wife of a brother) once told me that when she sends her young daughter to his house overnight, she makes sure her daugher isn’t wearing reveling pajamas. She makes sure she is covered up, as to not tempt the animal urges buried within my brother-in-law. When she told me that, I stared, open-mouthed and shocked. Are you kidding me? Are you serious? Does she think that I was wearing a slutty nightgown as a 9 year old and I shook my assets in front of my brother-in-law and he just couldn’t resist? Subtly, she was saying that it must have been partly my responsibility. I was just too irrestistible and tempting, maybe even because of something I was wearing. Keep in mind that I was 9 years old, and I was no early bloomer. I was a little kid, with a little kid’s body, and any man that is attracted to that doesn’t need lingerie to cross the line.

I recently went to Utah after writing a blog post about my abuse. Most of my family does not read my blog, so I went not knowing if anyone had read it. If they had read it, I wanted to talk about it and be open about our feelings and thoughts. No one said a thing to me, but I felt things were a little off. I felt something was being unspoken and I was very uneasy and just wanted to go home. Halfway through my trip, I was finally told by a family member that everyone had read it, including some of the children of my abuser. This was the first they had heard of their father's crimes. One of his daughters, who I was once close to, didn’t come see me in Utah as planned because of this. I was also told that another one of his daughters was told the whole story by my sister, my abuser's wife. This concerned me because as I've said before, my family has no idea what actually happened. They don't know what he did to me, and as his wife, I'm sure my sister wants to believe that the abuse was minimal. Would my sister tell my niece that it was just a one time thing? Would she say it was a kiss when I was older? Would she say it was a consensual affair? Would she totally discredit me and call me a liar?

I am used to being called a liar by those close to my abuser. It was brought to my attention by a family member years ago that my abuser’s sister had told others in our town that she didn't like me because I was a liar. And the list of examples goes on and on of people protecting him, by tearing me down.

This is the payment of being a victim of a sexual crime. Forever and always it is questioned what you did, if you lied, or if it was consenual. If it was so horrible, why didn't you tell anyone? Those who love the abuser want to believe anything but the truth. The truth is my abuse was horrorific and extensive, and if they knew the stomach churning details I don't believe they could ever look him in the eye again. But instead of wanting the truth, they would rather pretend or blame me in some way.

I am the black sheep of the family, which is pure irony since I was the victim. However, I know my situation is not a rarity. We victims of family sexual abuse represent what everyone else wants to forget. We are an unpleasant reminder of the ugly family secret, particularly if we refuse to go along with the pretense of the perfect family.

People only see what they are prepared to see, and I don't want to be part of a family who aren't prepared to see and talk about the truth of my story.


  1. I am so sorry. I was a victim of emotional and verbal abuse for many many years. Though my experiences cannot be compared to yours I do understand some of the resulting feelings. I still struggle with crushing self-esteem problems and other issues as a result. I know what it's like to feel isolated by the abuse and lose your family...the very people who should be supporting you.

  2. I'll be interested to hear how this blog affects the family dynamic--if anything will change.

    Do you have ANY allies in your family?

    Do they know that as LDS they can (and should) forgive but still NOT put their children in harms way?

    So infuriating...!

  3. I wonder what the payoff is supposed to be for you. Lying about abuse. Alienation? Villification? Gosh, that sounds like fun.

    You keep doing what you are doing, my dear. Your voice, clear and unapologetic and truthful, WILL make a difference for someone. I hope with all my heart it might be you, but if not, know that it WILL be for someone.

    Sending my love to my little friend Alyson, my heart is with you in this endeavor.

  4. Carolyn - I'm so sorry to hear that you endured abuse by your family as well. It is so painful to have to give up your family in many ways in order to be healthy, but that's how it often is. I know for me, it has made me want to be more open and honest with my children. I don't want secrets and pretense.

    Acute - Yes, I do have very, very few allies. Pretty much only a couple. No one else wants to talk through the issues with me. They definitely have a twisted way at looking at forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean we turn off our brains and put our children in danger. It breaks my heart and I'm very scared that one of my nieces will come forward with a story of abuse one day.

  5. Heather - I know. It's insane. I guess it is assumed I lie because I'm mentally ill. I don't know. I know my family knows something happened, but they don't know what.

  6. Alyson -- You are so brave to tell your story, and you are helping others in sharing your experience. My heart goes out to you.


  7. My Dad, Mom and older Brother are all living in denial about what happened when we were growing up. It makes it very difficult to get together, and after decades of pretending we were a happy family and not being real with each other, I couldn't take it any more. That's when I cut off contact with them.

    I am still close to my younger siblings, but my "upline"...well, I don't know at present if I'll ever have any association with them again.

    I do know that my mom has started reading my blog again of late. My brother's wife found it a couple years ago, told my brother, who immediately told my parents about it. When I confronted her about this, she told me she wouldn't any more, but apparently that was a limited commitment contingent on me letting her back in my life.

    So trust is still an issue, but at this point, I'm done hiding from them in cyber space. I'm not going to uproot and go start another blog. I can't keep her from reading it as long as she knows about it, but that's all she will be getting of me for now.

    As far as my dad/brother. I actually believe them when they say they've repented and that they haven't done anything like that since. I believe in the atonement of Christ, and that it can cleanse us from even the most heinous sins imaginable. That's the beauty of the gospel, and I've personally benefited from it countless times in my life. It's amazing.

    But what even the atonement can't do, is erase the consequences of our sins. If we've killed someone and repent, that person is still dead. If we rape someone and repent, they've still been raped and have to work through the impact of that experience on them.

    I've tried to get my upline to see this, but they think that if I've forgiven them, then we can all just carry on "business as usual". They don't understand that there can be forgiveness and healing, but that doesn't necessarily mean we are all palsy-walsy with each other.

    If a stranger raped me, repented, and I forgave him, I don't think anyone would expect me to keep him in my life to prove it. Just because we were a family living in the same house for 18 years and I'm sealed to them, somehow they think that I should.

    I'm not bent on getting unsealed from them, (though I've considered it), but I don't feel like I have to keep them in my life simply because we're related. My sister adopted her kids. They are her family despite no blood relationship. I feel like family are the people who bring you joy in life.

    That said, I am trying to employ the admonition to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." with them. There is truth in this verse that is key to our happiness. I've been prying open my heart to actually pray for them some days...and as we all know you can't pray a lie, so when I manage it, it's real. But forgiving and associating with people are two different things--at least I think so!

    Okay, soapbox over.

    I'm so glad you're writing this blog Alyson. It will be really interesting to see what happens with it. You should prepare for something to shift because of it...and it may get messy before it's over. But like an infected wound that needs to be lanced so the putrescence can be washed away to allow for healing to occur, by telling the truth, the truth shall set you free. You are amazing!

  8. Alyson. You are so brave to be so painfully open and honest with this blog. I didn't realize the situation had gone this far with your family. It just seems so strange that they seem to be choosing him over you? I want you to know that I love you and I hope you feel like you can count me as one of your "couple" allies - even if I am extended family. This blog has made me think of you more and more, and I am praying for you every day.

  9. Your honesty and raw pain gives me chills and brings tears to me eyes.

    I am so sorry. I can't even begin to imagine the sorrow you carry constantly.

  10. your children are sooo blessed to have a mother that doesn't want them to be sexually abused unlike the rest of your family. your story will be heard for generations for those that choose to hear! thanks for speaking out on such a taboo subject especially in our LDS culture. may God bless you and your family!

  11. That was a heartwrenching post that was beautiful in its honesty, and very well written. It addresses so many of the things victims of abuse have to deal with. You NEED to write a book for others, I really believe you could be a benefit to anyone who has gone through this experience.
    P.S. I never got your response via email so I will try to figure out what happened.

  12. You are amazing. I hope that you can continue in your pursuit of justice, and that the Lord's merciful love will support you through it all. Writing seems to be your balm of Gilead!

  13. THis makes me so angry and hurt. I have to believe in my heart though that he will get his punishment in some fashion. However, it is obvious that though they dont want to admit it, his actions still haunt the back of the family member's minds. And how sad that they cant realize that the hurt and betrayal was on HIS part, not yours. Stay strong!~!

  14. I found you.

    WOW! I am so proud of you for outing yourself and your family.


    And deep sighs.

    Missed you in Utah. We'll get together one day.

    I am so happy you have the courage to tell it like it is. I hate protecting and pretending. And in your case it's outrageous. Your nieces are in grave danger.

  15. {{hugs}} wow. Sadly I can imagine the truthfulness of this...
    I have a great-uncle who was inappropriate with me-- I spoke out about it early when it was at the stage of inappropriate "touching/tickling/ kissing on the mouth???" at a family reunion...(I was probably 14 years old) and everyting was just dismissed and hush-hushed and down played..

    And I remember looking around thinking-- what kind of whack-parallel universe did I just slip into? Where everyone pretends that is acceptable behavior and the party goes on.... "pass the peas please"...

    It's empowering to talk about it.
    and no shame on your part---
    thankfully and luckily you found a way out-
    and married a great guy.

  16. Vilified that is what my Bishop said I would be by my family when I first started all of this exposing and therapy back in 1996. I was crying and telling him things family members were saying about me. He was so helpful I was so incredibly blessed to have his support. Yes they told extended family that I had mental problems. I can't believe how the story is the same no matter the circumstances. Just so exhausting.

    My heart goes out to that sweet innocent 9 year old you. And you for all the years of his abuse and your whole entire head in the sand family. I really understand and I am here standing with you sister. Whenever you need me.

    I found this though you might like it. Seems to apply to all of our families who live in denial. I won't last forever, I hope they enjoy it.

    "When reality confronts our notion of what reality SHOULD be, reality always wins. We don't like this (that is, we have trouble ACCEPTING this), so we either struggle with reality and become upset, or turn away from it and become unconscious. If you find yourself upset or unconscious - or alternating between the two - about something, you might ask yourself, 'What am I not accepting about this?"

    love you, Vicki