Guest post: Telling the truth

// 28 May 2009

Jake talks through her family’s reactions to learning she was sexually abused by her father

I am an incest survivor; my father sexually abused me during my adolescence. I kept his secrets for as long as I could, swallowing back the knowledge of who he really was and not who everyone thought he was, I kept to my allotted place amongst my sprawling dysfunctional family while going out of my head over the fact that I was apparently the only person in it who could see just how dysfunctional and poisonous it actually was.

But it became apparent that there are things I couldn’t do in my life, in my relationship, in my healing, if I kept this secret, so I broke one of the most sacrosanct rules of patriarchy. I told the truth.

My family narrative is that my father is an intelligent, gentle, nurturing, selfless person, that he is a Good Man, a Good Father, a Good Husband, so the conclusion was drawn, not that he was actually a bad person but that he couldn’t possibly have raped me because he was a good person.

My family narrative is also that I am just wrong, my sexuality, my theology, my politics, that I am manipulative, a drama queen, crazy, so the conclusion was drawn, not that I am crazy in part because he raped me, but that I accused him of rape because I am crazy.

One of the things that terrified me about this experience is how quickly patriarchy strips itself bare of the pretence that women matter, how quickly it rips the sumptuary off to reveal the bones and teeth of a system that sees us as expendable, and must protect the male perpetrator at all costs, up to and including sacrificing female children. Also it shook me to see the practical outplaying of how women, for reasons I really do understand – economic, emotional, social – are often the maintainers and defenders of that system. We sacrifice our friends, our daughters, our sisters, for a place in a system that has nothing but contempt for us.

After I had made the initial declaration of what happened, there had obviously been a discussion that did not include me and did include my father on all the ways I could be wrong about this. And so I was asked: are you sure? Did you mistake him with someone else? Are you doing this to get a reaction?

The absolute, impenetrable wall of denial was incredibly destabilising and crazy making. I think if I wasn’t as old as am, or had the support system I had, or hadn’t been involved in feminism as deeply as I have, it would have succeeded in completely unhinging me, which is the aim really – if the daughter is crazy then the father is innocent.

The whole experience left me shell shocked, I just burrowed deep inside myself and became almost langaugeless, which for me, being a writer, is a really big deal. Just the act of letting go of this truth, of refusing to keep his secrets, which my body has grown around, was a kind of body shock, a kind of trauma, like breaking and resetting a leg, it’s going to take a while for the necessary break to heal, and it still might always hurt.

It’s still too soon to know what I’ve gained and what I’ve lost from this. I may have lost my whole family, almost all my history, all my blood line I have access to, but then much of that history was a poisonous lie, and my family relationships were built on quicksand and toxic fumes.

I decided to change my name, at least for writing, I carry my male partner’s name now instead of my father’s, which is something I never thought I’d do, sometimes we capitulate to the patriarchy to survive it.

Honesty is supposed to be the best policy, but while I’m still licking my wounds after blowing a hole in the roof of the world, I’m not sure. Ideally it is, but then ideally men would not abuse children.

This act of disclosing abuse within the family is not something I suggest anyone does unless they feel they have no option, no other place to turn, make sure you have a really strong support system, I wouldn’t have survived this except for the women who love me.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 28 May 2009 at 12:40 pm

Thank you Jake for have the courage and bravery to publicly write about your rapist father. Sadly it is common for non-sexually violent family members to category deny or even side with the rapist perpetrator.

One common myth is that so-called ‘respectable, white fathers’ can not possibly commit such terrible sexual crimes against their daughters. The consequences when a female survivor dares to shatter the myth of ‘happy families’ all too commonly results in the survivor having to separate completely from her immediate and other family relations. We as a society still adhere to the myth of ‘happy families’ and only so-called dysfunctional, working-class families are supposedly prone to systemic male sexual violence. However, that is not the case because intra familiar male sexual, physical and psychological violence against female children and to a lesser extent male children is far more widespread but is hidden behind the veneer of ‘respectability.’

This is why the female survivor is commonly subjected to minute cross-examination wherein she is immediately disbelieved; told she is a liar; suffers from parental alienation; is the supposed real perpetrator since her sexuality supposedly seduced an innocent man. Oh the excuses and justifications are endless.

Sadly, the long-term consequences of disclosure are often minimalised and the survivor is then told ‘haven’t you got over it yet.’ This is why feminist empirical research is so important because it has systematically disentangled the lies and distortions used to hide and invisibilise male accountability.

It is also why Rape Crisis Centres provide a vital function in that they have specialised staff who are able to give the long-term support and care to women survivors of male sexual violence. However, such services are declining still further which leaves innumerable women and girls unable to access to services which will enable them to understand the complexities of why a male parent who is supposed to provide care, support and respect blatantly abuses his position of power over a female child or adolescent who does not have equal power or respect.

Jake is right – taking the step to disclose to one’s immediate family that a father has raped his child/children should not be taken unless that person has access to a continuing and sustained support system. The fall-out is immense and even family members who one thinks would be supportive and compassionate all too often side with the male perpetrator.

Just in case anyone asks ‘what about male survivors of male sexual intra-familial violence.’ Without a feminist understanding or analysis the issue of intra-familial male sexual violence against female and male children would be far worse because without an understanding of how and why it happens we cannot begin to challenge dominant myths concerning ‘happy families.’ Male members within families commit far higher sexual violence against female children and to a lesser extent male children, but the central issue is male perpetrators’ belief female and male children exist to sexually satisfy adult men’s sexual demands.

Thank you again Jake for publicly speaking out about an issue which is too commonly dismissed as ‘victim feminism.’ The one who is accountable and responsible is the male perpetrator never the victim/survivor.

sianmarie // Posted 28 May 2009 at 3:26 pm

hi – thanks for such a brave and moving post.

Josie // Posted 28 May 2009 at 3:35 pm

Thank you for writing this article Jake – you are very brave. I’m so sorry that you have had to cope with years of abuse from someone you should be able to trust completely. I’m almost more sorry that your experience of disclosing has been so horrific, to the extent that you end your article by warning others in a similar situation to think extremely carefully before following in your footsteps.

I have not suffered sexual abuse, but there has been PLENTY of emotional abuse in my family over the years. I feel like I’m the only one who recognises it. Last Christmas, we were all together for one of those ‘happy family’ moments and my brother said something hateful and homophobic, which I called him out on. He called me a c*** in front of everyone and stormed out of the room. Every other member of my family acted like the incident was 100% my fault, that evening and all of the next day. My mum spent considerable time (after I had come back from the brink of hysteria, I’m a domestic violence survivor and don’t cope well with being verbally abused, especially in front of others) trying to convince me that I had over-reacted and that he ‘hadn’t meant it really’. The whole situation was designed to make me feel like a crazy, attention-seeking drama queen. I have rarely felt so isolated and desperate in my life and I still feel sick to my stomach when I think of it. I doubt seriously whether I can ever trust my brother again.

I’m mentioning this episode because your article brought it all flooding back to me. I love the phrase you used, ‘family narrative’ – sometimes it really does feel like these narratives are written in stone! I honestly feel that some people are better off without much (if any) contact with their families, though I’m not underestimating how traumatic it can be when you realise that they are not the people you hoped they were.

Grab the people who really love you with both hands and hold on tight! I really hope that the situation with your family is resolved in a way that is best for you. Whether that means contact with them or not, only you can decide. You told the truth – the bravest thing anyone can do. No-one should be allowed to shame you into thinking that was wrong.

Jess McCabe // Posted 28 May 2009 at 4:14 pm

I’d just echo what everyone has said so far – thank you for your courage in speaking out about this

jess // Posted 29 May 2009 at 9:15 am

Thank you so much for posting on this – I am so sorry this has happened to you. To a degree I can empathise with this – I was “messed around” with by a much older family member between the age of 6 and 12 (It only stopped once I’d started menstruating). I have a younger sister and so as to stop the same happening to her I spoke out about it when I was 14/15. Nothing happened. He just wasn’t spoken about much and certainly not to me, although I know that everyone in my family knows what happened. Its been brushed under the carpet. I haven’t seen him since, but I feel angry that nothing ever happened, no-one ever suggested going to the police. Now I have been put into a situation where my grandmother is turning 90 and having a party. He has been invited which shows such a disregard for my feelings and just brushes it under the carpet once again. I won’t be going – I don’t want to ever see him again, but the fact that I won’t be there (I love my grandmother) breaks my heart.

Once again, thank you for posting this.

Laura // Posted 29 May 2009 at 3:03 pm

I hope you are able to heal, Jake, and thank you for sharing your story; I’m sure it will help others who have been through a similar experience feel less alone.

Annika // Posted 29 May 2009 at 8:52 pm

Hi Jake,

Well done for writing such a powerful piece, and thank you for inviting us to read such a painful part of your life.

I was abused as a child, but it was by my stepfather. He was already an established bastard, alcholic, incredibly abusive towards my mum and my siblings. I was about 6 when it started. Never told. Wish I had, instead of keeping it to myself all these years. I’m 22 now, and have no end of ‘issues’, all of which stem from that abuse. I told my sister and my nan last year, and have since been more open about it. My reasoning being “Why should I keep HIS secret? I never did anything wrong.”

Wouldn’t have done it without any kind of support system, which came from my friends and partner.

It isn’t easy to tell, and when you get a response like you have done, it’s bound to cause even more harm.

If you ever want to talk, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Rachelle // Posted 30 May 2009 at 11:00 am

I’m really glad that you posted this, and that everyone had such lovely things to say about.

Thanks for writing this, you’re really brave.

Just Be Real // Posted 13 June 2009 at 6:20 pm

So very sorry for the abuse and pain you endured. Thank you for sharing your story and being transparent.

Sophia // Posted 1 July 2009 at 6:41 pm

Dear Jake – well done for having the courage to come out and speak the truth. Sadly, this is a truth that society still does not want to hear, and I am dismayed but not surprised at your family’s attitude to what you have disclosed. (I have been through similar experiences myself. My family knew right from the start, but chose to blame me and protect my father because his “acting out” apparently showed that he was more vulnerable than me. Since then I have been further traumatised by society’s rush to believe in “false memory” etc.)

You sound like a strong person, but I just wanted to let you know that if you need any extra advice or even just a listening ear, you could perhaps try the organisation I work for, NAPAC – the National Association for People Abused in Childhood. You can find them on the net (www.napac.org.uk) or call them on 0800 085 3330. I hope that helps.

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