Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Some thoughts on religion and sexual abuse and patriarchy and forgiveness

Trigger warning: sexual abuse
I've been thinking for months and months now about forgiveness, and how the expectation for forgiveness or the pressure to forgive is deeply gendered, and how this is particularly true within religious frameworks, and how this expectation for forgiveness is tied together with the expectation that women will be nurturing and accomodating and deeply concerned about the well-being of others, etc. etc. And of course, there's a context for these thoughts.

My uncle G, the molester, is now in prison. Not for what he did to me or (to a lesser degree) my cousins so many years ago, but for what he did to his daughter (E). Four years in prison for pleading guilty to incest. The other charges were dropped in order to spare my cousin E a court appearance.

As you might know, my family is very religious in a fundamentalist, conservative, protestant sort of way. And I have a big extended family that is both a loving network and a suffocating sort of machine that seeks to control you for your own good and keep you "in the fold." For your own good, of course. But also because when they love, they love intensely and completely and cannot stand the thought of someone they love spending eternity in hellfire and separated from the presence of God. And this is something I have to remember in every interaction I have with them. If I believed that my loved one was going to spend eternity in hellfire, I suppose I would be willing to violate their personal autonomy and risk alienating them forever in order to save them from that fate too. But I digress.

So, my uncle, the golden child and darling beloved of my grandmother, the cherished baby brother of my mother and aunts, the spiritual leader who was better than all of us, and a shining example to emulate, and always too damn good for whatever church he landed in, resulting in a string of churches he founded his own damn self based on ultra-conservative, ultra-patriarchal, ultra-legalistic interpretations of scripture, the smug, arrogant, hypocritical, judgmental, smirking serial child molester and (in my case) attempted rapist, who isolated his family from the rest of us so that his abuse of my cousin would go undetected and he could maintain the mind-control over them that was necessary... is now in prison.

But not because of what he did to me and my cousins so many years ago. Why? Well... I can't speak for my cousins, but in my case things were complicated.

I was six years old. I lived in a very religious world in which I already understood that a man's word was much more valuable than a woman's, and an adults word was much more valuable than a child's. He was both a man and an adult (from my vantage point - he was sixteen and fully grown). I also lived in a world in which sex and genitals were dirty and not something to be discussed. I didn't know the phrase "attempted rape." I didn't understand the things he did to me, but I knew they made me uncomfortable and sometimes scared and they seemed kind of naughty, and he didn't want me to tell anyone, and trying to explain it and convince anyone of the truth of what I said would be really difficult and embarrassing.

Embarrassing mostly because I didn't want to embarrass the adults I would have to convince. Because I was already socialized in a feminine role, and knew that it was better to live with something painful than to inconvenience or embarrass someone else. And I was socialized into a very patriarchal religious context in which men spoke and women listened and tried to find a way to be at peace with the decisions men made. I played with other kids on the floor during women's Bible studies in which my mom and aunts and their friends discussed submission and what it meant and how to achieve it and how to really be happy with it. So, needless to say I was nowhere close to having the tools to conceptualize and communicate my experience with G.

And anyway, I was right. At some point several years down the line my cousin J told her mother about the abuse (did I mention that my granddad, G's dad, also molested us all?) from both G and his dad, and the response was exactly what we had expected. My aunt was horrified and confused and had a really hard time believing it. Don't get me wrong; it's not that she accused her daughter (and then later both daughters) of lying. She just thought they must have misinterpreted some innocent behavior as sexual in nature. So she kept her own counsel.
Then when I was seventeen I got knocked up by that beautiful, sweet, but not a church boy boyfriend of mine that nobody knew a goddamn thing about, and I slipped up. I left the pregnancy test in the trash in the bathroom where my mother found it. I was a master of disguise and strategy, and normally would never have made that kind of rookie mistake. I was known for my smooth diversions and wide-eyed innocent front. Except in this case I was freaked the fuck out because I had just discovered I was pregnant by a well-intentioned but totally irresponsible boy who was so badly damaged by his own childhood I knew there was no way he could parent a child or be any kind of a support to me, and anyway, I had just gotten a national merit scholarship and I would be damned if I was giving that up. So I kind of panicked and slipped up just that one time.

And all hell broke loose. I came home from my after school job to find my mom waiting for me, pregnancy test in hand. There had never been any question that it might have been my sister's. She was the good girl who really was good, not just good at managing the flow of information. There was no getting out of this one, so I did what I always did - I created a diversion. Big time. I said "well, anyway I don't know how you expect me to act after what G and granddad did to me."

And it was on. Everyone was reeling. Confessions were made, fingers were pointed, aunts and grandmothers were called and held long intense tearful phone conversations. My dad - the most calm and reasonable one of the bunch - became public enemy number one for defying the will of the matriarch (my grandma) and insisting on disclosure and consequences and criminal charges and therapy and punishments. Except in the end he didn't win either. My mother was so worn down and stressed out from being pulled between her husband and her family (along with the stress of having a defiant and inscrutable, pregnant 17 year-old daughter) that my dad finally backed down just to prevent my mom from having a nervous breakdown, and to take a minute to deal with the problem of my pregnancy.

Of course, I had made up my mind that I was not having that baby, and had laid plans to terminate the pregnancy. Down to the bus route I would need to take if they took away my car keys. But as it turned out, it took care of itself. I was very athletic and still lacking the weight I had never regained after having mono (not to mention being incredibly stressed out the way you are when you're 17 and pregnant), and about 11 weeks (my guess) in I spontaneously miscarried. Which wasn't surprising given the fact that I frequently missed my periods anyway (which is why it took me so long to figure out I was pregnant...). So that little problem was solved by no act of my own, and I was spared the alienation I would have experienced had I gotten an abortion.

But... Now the cat was out of the bag, and so many questions had to be answered and discussions had to be had, and other cousins came forward, and my aunt who had kept the secret earlier conferred with my other aunt and my mom, and my grandma never really could believe it all, and my granddad, who was an elder in the church surely must be made to resign, right? And the story became that this had been a repressed memory for me all these years. Which wasn't true, but even at a fairly savvy seventeen years old I couldn't explain to them that I didn't know how to discuss it with them or make those kinds of accusations against these men who had been held up as larger than life both in my extended family and in my church.

Ultimately my mom and aunts, who were so terribly sheltered and still so intimidated by the patriarchal family and church structure, gave in under it all again. Some pressure was put on my granddad to confess to the church and resign. I should say that being an elder is a major fucking thing in that church. Elders must be blameless and have a perfect ("in the Lord") family. Like, if one of your adult kids skips church two weeks in a row people start talking about how you should resign as an elder. They are the ultimate leaders of the church in this context. So needless to say my grandfather should not have been an elder. But oh the disgrace that would bring upon the family! Oh how my grandma couldn't bear it. And surely this was just an isolated indiscretion that he could pray about and overcome through the healing grace of God, right? And G had been just a teenager when all this happened and it was just a curious phase. He promised to never ever do anything like that again. And so everything was safely buried again, and I just wanted to get the fuck out of there and go on with my life, so I wasn't going to press the issue any further.

So it remained buried for a few more years.

It occasionally occurred to me over the next few years that pedophiles don't just give up their predatory ways. I was much more worldly than my mom and aunts, and I knew better. I looked at the iron-fisted control G had over his family and wondered if it was possible that he wouldn't do that to his own sweet little girl. It didn't seem like it. I didn't believe for a second that you could pray the chimo away.

But - for several years I was so heavily invested in carving out my own space and dealing with my own issues (did I mention that the beautiful, bad-boy boyfriend referred to above went and got himself killed by a train the summer after we graduated from high school?) that I simply didn't have it in me to fight the battle that I wasn't even sure existed on behalf of my much-younger cousin. And G was very good at isolating his family from us and preventing the close relationship I had with my other cousins. And he taught them that we were worldly and not to be trusted. And he isolated them geographically.

I recognized with profound uneasiness the signs of abuse in all of this. But I was not the person then that I am now. At that point I didn't have my feet under me and hadn't fully found my voice and my confidence and even the resulting clout this has earned me in my family that I do now. Now, things would be different. And I know you can't hold yourself accountable for failing to care for others when you were still learning to care for yourself, but I still feel a little niggle of guilt when I think about how vulnerable and isolated my cousin E was, and how she had an older cousin who could have gone to bat for her. It's easier for me to cry for E than to cry for me. On the other hand, what would have happened if I had gone to bat for her? I'm already both the black sheep and the golden child of my generation in my extended family, and it would have been easy for G, who held (still holds) so much sway, to convince everyone that I was just a troublemaker who had been indoctrinated with worldly, liberal ideas off at my fancy college. That I was too big for my britches. Whatever.

The abuse of E came out a couple years ago. She had finished college very young and married right away and already had a kid when something prompted her to confess to her brothers that their dad had manipulated and drugged her and sexually abused her on and off for years. And the kind of manipulation she described to them was identical to my experience, even though she never knew anything about that. Her brothers felt terribly violated when they found out about how the earlier abuse had been hidden from them, and nobody had really done anything about it (my mom and aunts spoke to Gs wife when they got married and "warned her" about his "teenage indiscretions," but that was it).

So another eruption ensued, with more finger pointing and woulda coulda shouldas all around, and harsh words and alienated family members and hurt feelings. And Es brothers resolutely worked with the police and the therapist that G had tried to utilize as a last-ditch effort to avoid prosecution (his sons didn't go for it) and the church G had founded and headed dissolved, and his wife, who had been so totally under his control for years, left him, and he lost his job and the house he built that was so much better than anyone else's house and the garden he designed which was so much better than anyone else's garden, and he went to prison. With my mom (to some degree) and my aunts still defending him to the end. In their defense, they don't defend his actions (in their minds) but only the power of grace and forgiveness and keeping it out of the papers and the church and the courts. Cuz that worked so damn well for so many years. And he is their little brother and you can never really view your little brother as unsalvageable, can you? Even as I feel so deeply how their defense of their dad and brother silences and devalues all the female children in the family who were abused by these men, I empathize with the fierce loyalty that refuses to see your baby brother as unsalvageable. I think I get it, even as their actions are so very backward and indefensible to me.

So anyway... on to the topic I started with: gender and forgiveness. Now we're at the point as a family where everyone acknowledges the abuse and the errors in the way it was dealt with. My mom and aunts realize that they handled it oh-so-very-badly, and through the grace of Alzheimer's, my grandparents are beyond the reach of this whole thing. But, there's still bitterness between the cousins and the aunts (sounds like a Gilbert and Sullivan piece, no?) about how this all was handled. Residual, unspoken accusations of un-Christlike unwillingness to forgive still float on the wind.

The male cousins (also damaged by Gs sexual misbehavior, but less so) seem to be exempt from this expectation of forgiveness. They're expected to harbor righteous anger and not expected to talk about it. Cuz that would be sort of unmanly or something. But the female cousins are expected to forgive, were not supposed to push for his incarceration (not too hard, anyway), were not supposed to accuse the aunts of valuing their brother and father and family reputation in the church above their daughters' well-being. (This accusation is totally understandable to me but kind of oversimplifies the situation, in my view).

This expectation even extends to me, who was sort of the focal point of all this on accounta my getting knocked up and forcing this to the surface, and also experiencing the most severe and prolonged abuse (among the older cousins) from both men. In spite of this, I am still expected to want to hear about Gs well-being, his hardships in prison, the (you're gonna love this) prison ministry he's working so hard to establish, the physical threats he experiences, and how he's had to be transferred to a prison that's too far away from the aunts for regular visits. I am supposed to sympathize with him for these things and be impressed with his "ministry." For real. If I go home for a holiday I am supposed to be pleased to engage in detailed discussions of his well-being and his tribulations and accomplishments. If a stranger had sexually assaulted me, imagine the ferocity with which my extended family would have protected me from any discussion of the man that I didn't freely initiate myself.

Add to this the fact that I truly believe the prison system in our country is profoundly broken and perpetrates so much social injustice and lays waste to so many already-damaged lives. I don't particularly want any person to experience prison the American way, not even G. Even if I didn't have issues with the prison industrial complex, I don't see his incarceration as doing me any personal good, or making the situation any better, or righting any wrong. I find the idea that prison will somehow fix him absolutely laughable, even as I agree that he has to be prevented from abusing again. All of this is an added internal conflict to complicate the situation even further. In this case, prison is a patriarchal means of attempting to right a wrong that was only possible because of the patriarchal mess (exacerbated by religion) we live in to begin with.

So I guess I'm just realizing that one of the perennial projects of my life is sorting out the strange and tragic mess that results in the intersection of gendered expectations and religion and patriarchy and sexual misbehavior and the social norms governing forgiveness.

53 comments:

  1. Anonymous6/02/2010

    Oh wow. This post made me cry. You're so right about the way religion renders victims of sexual abuse more vulnerable and makes it less likely that they'll have coping skills. What a train wreck. I just want to hug that little 6 yo kid. And the 17 yo for that matter. Thanks for writing about this.

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  2. Shannigan6/02/2010

    This is a truly powerful and tragic story. I feel like as feminists we need to spend more time thinking and talking about what we can do to enable small children to talk about abuse when it happens. So many things inhibit a victim from being able to address their abuse in a patriarchal culture, and there has to be some way around this.

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  3. Thank you very much for writing this, it was very powerful and true.

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  4. Anonymous6/02/2010

    You are remarkably brave and you need to give yourself credit for bringing the abuse to light, or else it would have been so much harder for your younger cousin when she started to express what had happened to her. I recently found out that both my mother and my younger cousin are survivors of sexual abuse, not from the same person. Neither of them will talk about it, nor say who did it to them. I get so upset when I think about all the women who silently bear the burdens of physical and sexual abuse. Unless this is discussed publicly and the perpetrators are shamed and punished appropriately for their henious crimes, it will not stop!

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  5. The Christian community is ever so fond of creating "redemption narratives" around people that bypass the hard work that redemption is supposed to entail. I've been watching something somewhat similar happen in my own family and former church community (once everyone's kids grew up, the shit really hit the fan).

    I told my partner recently that sometimes I feel like I grew up in a cult and have Stockholm Syndrome or something. I can identify with their "forgiving," protect-the-community impulse even as I feel sickened by it.

    I am so, so sorry that this happened to you, but thank you for putting words to this very pervasive problem in such a remarkable way.

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  6. Thanks everyone.

    @ Shannigan: I agree, and think about this issue with my daughter and step-daughter (who's 6 right now) all the time.

    @ Ladysquires: isn't it strange how you can totally disagree with someone on an issue like this while still understanding completely and sort of appreciating why they feel that way? I think it may be impossible to explain it to someone who doesn't come from that same kind of background.

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  7. Anonymous6/02/2010

    Thanks for writing this. Your family's story is very similar to my own. No one except my older sister believed that my father molested me when I confronted my family at 19 and to this day (I am in my thirties) I feel like I am in a parallel universe where up is down when I have to deal with my family. Please know that hearing accounts of other people confronting their families makes me feel less alone. As my husband says, it seems like Christians only want to forgive the people that don't deserve it.

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  8. Thanks for writing this. It's the kind of thing we all need to hear, and hopefully the writing of it was beneficial to you.

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  9. Anonymous6/02/2010

    and trying to explain it and convince anyone of the truth of what I said would be really difficult and embarrassing. Embarrassing mostly because I didn't want to embarrass the adults I would have to convince. Because I was already socialized in a feminine role, and knew that it was better to live with something painful than to inconvenience or embarrass someone else.

    This is just so exactly right. I'm with the other commenters who hear our own experience echoed in your words and are better off for hearing it articulated so well and knowing that we're not alone or crazy. Thank you.

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  10. Rachel,

    And as I was typing the stuff about "cult" and "Stockholm Syndrome," I was thinking, "I would be totally pissed if anyone else said this about the community I came from!"

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  11. Hugs to the sweet lil unsuspecting girl-child. And kudos to the strong, articulate, wonderful woman she grew up to be.

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  12. "As my husband says, it seems like Christians only want to forgive the people that don't deserve it. "

    But I think this has more to do with convenience. As Rachel notes, if her abuser had been a stranger they would most likely not have been so quick to forgive and retreat to redemption narratives. Why? Because nothing rides on it. It won't bring any disgrace to the family. But if family reputation and standing is in jeopardy, then you see the quickness to "forgive" which just seems to be a synonym for "sweep it under the rug."

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  13. Anonymous6/03/2010

    Powerful writing. Powerful thoughts. Powerful post.

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  14. Wonderful, sad post.

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  15. Anonymous6/03/2010

    Your post is beautifully written, and my heart aches for all of the girls in your family who were victimized. The religious indoctrination from day 1 of your lives about the inferior status of females makes the molestation even more of a horror. I am so sorry this was done to you and yours, but I am so glad that you had the brains and backbone to be an aware rebel.--Level Best

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  16. Anonymous6/03/2010

    Wow. I am angry at your family for the shitty way it was handled. I am angry at your aunts and mother for not protecting you or your cousins, for choosing to protect their social 'status' and pedophile brother over their daughters physical, emotional & spiritual safety.Sexual abuse changes who we are and who we will become. You are a far more evolved person than I, to accept their faults & apologies and move on with your life.
    I know that this has been part of your process, perhaps you are over the anger. I am sorry for this post I know it doesnt help. I am totally bias because I was that 7 year old girl. I dont care about the pedophiles. To me they are not human. They could be wiped off the face of the earth and it would be a better place- I dont care whos brother, father or son they are. I cannot forgive the people who didnt protect their children from the sickos. Its selfish and cowardly.
    I am sorry that this happened to you. You are very strong and courageous and deserve any peace that forgivness can bring. I am just not there yet.

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  17. Anonymous6/03/2010

    My family is Catholic, but very authoritarian and hivemind-like. When I told my parents that a cousin had molested me, 5 years after it happened, my mother defended my cousin, called me a slut even though I'd been a virgin who'd never dated anyone, and told me she loved him more than me. Because he was a good person, and I wasn't.

    It took *years* of counseling to get over that betrayal. And all the while, I was harassed and harangued about how I needed to forgive him for the sake of "family harmony". I would hear about his social difficulties - how he had few friends, couldn't keep a girlfriend - and I was expected to *sympathize*. And "get over it" as fast as possible, so everyone else could pretend it never happened.

    It took me 20 years to fully recover from the PTSD I suffered. I cut ties with my parents 5 years ago when they attended his wedding, and urged me to go too. I don't regret doing so - I wish I'd done it sooner.

    Thank you for your candor in sharing your story.

    ~Laiima

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  18. Thank you for sharing all of this.

    I do want to encourage you to consider that it might not be useful or helpful for you to attribute your miscarriage to your athletic participation or to your body weight, though. Perhaps as many as 50% of all pregnancies miscarry, after all.

    I think that our habit, as a society, of presuming a causal link between perfectly healthy levels of activity and/or body size or weight or composition and miscarriage where no such link has been definitively established in a given individual's case can lead to some potential problems.

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  19. icecreamempress,

    I totally agree that the mythology about physical exertion during pregnancy causing damage to the baby has got to go. I was very active physically during my pregnancy, even as the doctors continued to spew totally outdated info at me about it. But I really do think my low body weight had a lot to do with the miscarriage. I was running a lot and so could not seem to regain the weight to the point where I didn't have a period more often than not. And if your body weight is so low that you don't menstruate, that also means your body doesn't "think" it could handle a pregnancy either. But you're right - it could have been for other reasons. Like stress, for example... Also, awesome username. =)

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  20. OMG yes. This may be slightly off topic, but this dynamic where you were a master at managing the flow of information is also such a common result of this combo of religious zeal and patriarchal power. It totally prevents your kids from being close to you and honest with you when they get older. If/when I have kids I want them to talk to me and trust me with thier info and their fears and teen experiences. But having a family dynamic like this is the best way to prevent that from happening.

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  21. Anonymous6/03/2010

    Awesome post.

    Luvs,

    Joyce

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  22. Anonymous6/03/2010

    four years just doesn't seem right. i'm thinkin im nowere near as mature as you, but no matter how i felt about the prison system i think i'd be angry that he didnt get more than four years

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  23. ohands6/03/2010

    This was a beautifully written, heartbreaking post.

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  24. Kylee,

    It would be interesting to have a conversation with others who came from a similar background about this dynamic, wouldn't it? To this day I carefully manage the flow of information with my family, and more often than not in my other relationships as well. It's this deeply ingrained habit that's hard to overcome, and at times it has had a negative impact on my relationships. It's just sort of the way I feel safe, but it can certainly be an obstacle to intimacy.

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  25. Also, thanks so much for the supportive comments. This post took a long time to write and I've been feeling kind of vulnerable and turtlish lately, what with the cyberstalking asshole. It feels good to take back a little space and connect with others who share some aspect of my experience.

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  26. Wow. Just, wow. Thanks for sharing your story with the rest of us, Rachel. I went through my own version of abuse when I was a child, but it wasn’t sexual and was very different from your experiences. Nevertheless, your story brings forward some of the old emotions around my experiences. Even though so many years have passed, those emotions are never really that far from the surface.

    Ultimately, I think forgiveness is beside the point. Your wellbeing, your peace of mind, and a path of healing are more important than anything else. Sometimes the anger that comes from these experiences is what drives us forward in life and keeps us focused and sane. Sometimes it works counter to these things. It depends on the individual and where she is in her life.

    So, forgive your abusers only if you think it will do you good. If not, then do not. Such things cannot and should not be forced. The fact that your family expects you to assume a passive response to all of this and automatically forgive them really makes me angry. I hope you don't mind my saying this, but I consider your family's response to be abusive in its own way.

    Do what you must to live your life in peace.

    Best wishes to you Rachel, as always.

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  27. Oh, this is so sad and so well-written at the same time. Thanks for sharing your strength and insight.

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  28. I would agree with timberwraith's assessment of your family's response as abusive, except it seems to me that your mom and aunts were probably abused as well. And I wonder if that's your unspoken suspicion, given how understanding you are of their situation and perspective. First of all, if their dad molested his grandkids, it's likely he also molested his kids. And your uncle started this at a pretty young age, and he must have gotten it from somewhere. These things work in intergenerational cycles more often than not. One way or another, your mom and aunts sound like they need some therapy.

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  29. Timberwraith,

    Thanks, and I don't mind you saying it at all.

    Iris,

    My cousins and I have discussed this before and wondered about it, and asked our moms. They deny it, but it seems awfully likely. And they still feel so strongly that being sexually abused is such an embarrassing thing (which is one reason they tried to hide our abuse - as a weird protective sort of thing) that I'm not sure they could admit it. There are so many ways that our generation is so very different from theirs. So I understand why some of my cousins are so intensely angry, but I think it's kind of unfair to judge them by our understanding of the world and skills in coping with this stuff. I mean, my mom honestly believed that they wouldn't do this again after being confronted by her and her sisters. They're still very naive and truly a product of their time and religious environment, and I don't feel like I can blame them for that, even as I agree they've totally mishandled this all the way around. And are still mishandling it, of course.

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  30. Research in reproductive ecology does demonstrate a link between body fat percentage and likelihood of getting pregnant as well as likelihood of miscarrying; the logic of this is that a female (I say female as a reference to the primarily non-human animal studies over multiple species) requires a certain level of body fat merely to sustain herself, and requires an excess above that in order to sustain a fetus. This is indeed why the extremely athletic see irregular or no periods.

    Thank you for the post; you are brave indeed.

    While not wishing to detract from any of this, I would like to point out that the first graphic, the submission one with the lock and chain around a neck does marginalize those strong women who choose sexual submission as a fetish. I'm assuming you didn't make it, and in no way am I likening fetish D/s to any of your topics, but I would like to point it out.

    Again, thank you.

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  31. Wow, such a strong and powerful post. I feel honoured to have read your words, they have touched me deeply.

    I'm sorry so many of the people around you have been so crap and thoughtless.

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  32. I didn't believe for a second that you could pray the chimo away.

    Oh god, you make me laugh even as your making me cry. Beautiful post.

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  33. Anonymous6/07/2010

    Lovely post, sad story. Thanks for sharing this and helping us all realize we're not alone.

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  34. Anonymous6/09/2010

    You're an inspiration to me, Rachel. Please God my girls grow up to be as strong as you.

    H

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  35. Anonymous6/13/2010

    So WHAT can be done to CHANGE these attitudes, after all women...finally...out number men in a lot of countries including the USA? We need a plan of action not just true and sad stories!

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  36. Anonymous,

    I'm not sure. The scope of the problem is overwhelming to me. I know that to some extent I can control the environment my girls grow up in, and nurture their confidence and assertiveness. I also try to create an environment where talking about your body and your sexual curiosity, fears, etc is OK - neither shameful nor salacious - just a normal everyday conversation you can have with people you trust. On a larger scale working toward cultural changes that result in the voices of girls being perceived as valuable and legitimate in general is a huge step, and I think some of this work is already being done. But I really shudder when I see the extremely sheltered girls who live in religious families that try to remain separate from the world, because I know that if they are being abused they're far less likely to view themselves as capable of or worthy of speaking up and defending themselves. It makes them so terribly vulnerable. Religion+patriarchal norms+sexual predators is a toxic, toxic combo for sure. I know most parents in this context sincerely believe they are doing their kids a favor to raise them this way, but even those with the best of intentions should realize that they're setting up their daughters to be virtually defenseless.

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  37. Anonymous6/24/2010

    Beautiful, beautiful post. Thanks so much for writing this.

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  38. This is truly powerful writing. Thank you for this.

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  39. Thank you for this. It took awhile to settle down enough to comment. I've been through some of what you went through. Except that religion wasn't involved. And mom never believed. And it was my father, and later my step-father. And I'm the abused son, with three abused sisters.

    Dad died of lung cancer. Step-father died of leukemia. Small graces.

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  40. Winnie2/15/2011

    Oh sweetheart...sweetheart. I just want to hug you.

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  41. cajones3/17/2011

    this piece of writing is a perfect example of whats wrong with you feminists. if you would just get over your victim mentality and move on with your life maybe you would earn some respect.

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  42. Thanks for your valuable input, cajones.

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  43. Gynormica3/24/2011

    Classy, cajones. Classy.

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  44. Anonymous5/18/2011

    This is powerful writing.

    It also demonstrates the value in becoming educated in a way that makes you introspective and self-aware. It seems to me that your ability to think through this stuff and sort out the issues has helped you cope with the abuse and get a much healthier perspective on it than other members of your family. While they doubt/fear the impact of your education and "secular" life experiences, they miss out on the fact that these are the very things that are helping you recover from the abuse. That's how it seems to me, anyway.

    I come from a religious background that also features this fear of secular education, especially for women. I guess it's thought to be a necessary evil for men, who have to be breadwinners, and who are probably thought to be more likely to be able to resist temptation or something. Anyway, it always strikes me how it puts members of the group who do experience some kind of abuse in a doubly vulnerable position because they have no tools for dealing with it and healing.

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  45. AS someone who has struggled a lot with forgiveness for past abuse and I want to encourage you to forgive. However, not because your abuser is worth it for any means. But YOU are. Reaching appoint where you can let go of the anger in your heart at what happened to you and the people who enabled it is a point of healing. It is not a simple one time act. It is a constant struggle...one day you may have a handle on it and the next you may be mad as heck. But it is really a selfish act forgiving. It is about yourself far more than the other person. Forgiveness does not mean you have to care about them in anyway, or ever have them in your life either. The bible does say to forgive I don't have tell you that, but having anger in your heart is something that harms your relationship with God, and is a burden you carry. I didn't understand that for years I grew up a very angry person because of my past.

    I also hope that because the people who hurt you professed a believe in God, you know that they don't have God in their hearts and God has no part in there action. They use religion simply as a cover to get what they want- power and control. I hope that gives you something to think about. I wish you the best of luck with your healing and journey ahead.

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  46. Wow.
    Well written, moving and rational. I'm glad to hear you are well, and trying to move beyond this, and that you are so tolerant of these family members...

    I cannot imagine how he got only 4 years in prison, and I am curious, when he gets out, will you be watching him...because you and I both know he will only do it again.

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    1. Yeah - I live in a different part of the country from where he'll be living when he gets out. I know he'll be a registered sex offender, so there will be some protection there. I would hope my extended family is sensible about it and protects younger female family members from him, but they are so susceptible to what an earlier comment aptly labelled "redemption narratives" that I have my doubts. I will certainly do everything in my power to keep younger family members away from him, and if he gets into a position of power in a church situation (which seems inevitable given his self-conception and natural tendencies) I won't hesitate to contact that church and let them know. He's such a con man, though, that I wonder if even that would do much good. =(

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  47. Anonymous5/21/2012

    Forgiveness seems like the only reasonable action to me. Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting, & it certainly doesn't mean trusting again; it's relinquishing the right and surrendering the desire to hurt someone who hurt you. Without forgiveness, I'm just in bondage to my hurt & my past.

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  48. I profoundly relate and empathize with your story. Good luck with sorting things out--you can't escape it, but it does get better with time and soul searching.

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  49. Anonymous8/23/2012

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I had a scary moment long ago when my (at the time) 3-year-old son told me that my father had "made" him touch my father's penis. My son was not very verbal, but I tried to remain calm and ask for more information. I confronted my father, who professed innocence (it was just a "mistake"), but I pushed him to see my therapist with me, which he did. I've never been sure what really happened and it made me wonder whether anything ever happened to me, that I may have repressed. Also, my daughter (5 years older than my son) apparently pushed my son into some sexual "explorations" with her when she was around 13 years old, which my husband and I found out about and confronted her with. She freaked out and blames herself for being a "sexual predator" and still (at age 32, after much therapy) won't allow herself to be alone with small children. My son (now 26) has never had a job and now lives with me. He doesn't trust anyone. We've all had years of therapy, and these experiences were "minor" compared to what you experienced. I don't know what the answer is, but our society has issues with sexuality that are long-standing and negative in very many ways.

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  50. lemonsRawesome3/26/2014

    Can we hope for a follow up post? Is the molester still in prison? Is your family still dealing with this issue in the same way? And how are you doing?

    All the best.

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  51. Anonymous3/17/2016

    I hope your victimized cousins are also as enlightened as you are.

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    1. Ouch. I hope that your sentiment is sincere rather than simply an attempt to be hurtful.

      May you be happy.
      May you be safe.
      May you be strong.
      May you live with ease.

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