***This month’s series has been created by guest author “Blanche G.”***
I never thought my family would be a part of a statistic. The Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in 5 women have experienced completed or attempted rape in their lifetime. 1 in 3 female victims have experienced it between 11-17 years old. (1) I just didn’t think it would happen to my daughter. As the parent of a teenager who was raped, I thought I had taken all the precautions to safeguard her from sexual assault. Understanding the statistics, taking an active interest in her friends, and creating a safe space for important conversations, we discussed sex, intimacy, and safety. My daughter was encouraged to come to me with any concern. I was vigilant! I monitored relationships, supervised time with friends, all to protect her. Hell, I was the poster child for the helicopter mom…. and yet it happened. Right under my nose! She was silent about it for months, and the assault kept happening. When she finally worked up the courage to tell me about the ongoing rape and abuse from her church youth group boyfriend, I was shocked. Not only did it bring back vivid memories from my past, but as a sexual assault survivor myself, I was floored that I had failed to shield her from this horrific trauma. All my carefully crafted protective parenting didn’t shelter her from this terrible assault.
Feelings of failure are common in parents of rape victims. Once they place that precious bundle of joy in your arms, you want to guard them from all the hurt and evil in the world. You are their shield. Their protector and first defender. Their model of Heavenly love. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world, and even with the purest of intentions, parents and guardians still fail.
Summoning up the bravery to finally tell me about the repeated assaults, she let me hold her as we both sobbed. This violent act robbed her of her innocence, her childhood, and her dreams. I immediately went straight to a mindset of failure. How could I have let this happen? Why couldn’t I see it? Stop it? Save her? Failure and shame were buried deep within me. I felt I was unable to protect myself from being abused when I was a child. I grew up “coping” with these feelings by numbing with alcohol, devaluing my body, squelching my spirit, purging my anger by purging my food, and pursuing relationships that did not require me to be my authentic self. Only later in my adult life, when my marriage was crumbling, did I realize how much I needed to peel back the layers covering up my hurt and move forward toward healing. Through biblical counseling and utilizing EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy), I could name what had happened and finally realize that I was not the one at fault. Although traumatic to relive the event, it made me realize the unhealthy patterns and negative mind monsters I used to numb the pain led me to make some poor choices. I didn’t want that for my daughter. She didn’t deserve to devalue herself or her body, stuff her feelings, numb her emotions, or pursue unhealthy relationships. So, I shared. We went to family counseling and received Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and EMDR therapy. In addition, individual counseling was recommended for my daughter. She is healthier now. So am I.
Her father, on the other hand, went first to disbelief, and then later to a place of rage. He wanted to lash out at the perpetrator for harming his daughter. Defender Dad mode came from his internalized inability to keep his daughter safe. Regretfully, he processed his grief into anger, accusations, shame, and blame, accusing her of doing something to entice the boy. Unfortunately, this amplified the strained father/daughter relationship that already existed. I watched as her personality eroded.
Seemingly overnight she shifted from a happy-go-lucky, spunky, confident, thriving young woman to a shadow of her former self. My daughter, like I was long ago, was tasked with the burden of being a victim, struggling with anxiety, fear, shame, and sadness. We both had been in positions where we felt powerless. Thankfully, with the help of good psychotherapists and the tenderness of time, my daughter has come to see her father’s behavior for the lingering wounds in his past that he is still not able to acknowledge or address. His wounds are in no way caused by her or by the traumatic experiences she was forced to endure. Although he attended family and marital counseling, he chooses not to look at the reasons he disrespects, demeans, bullies, criticizes, rages at, belittles, and needs to control the women in his life. Unfortunately, their relationship has not improved. She and I both wish he were able to be a stronger, healthier support for her.
Families struggle to cope with the victimization of their loved ones. All involved need the help of trained therapists, along with the support of family and friends, to understand how best to move toward healing, both individually and collectively as a unit. In the July blog, several types of individual supporters were described. Throughout our story, we interacted with each of the different types of supporters. We had Ostriches in our story – friends who didn’t believe us, thought it was my daughter’s fault, family members who wouldn’t talk about it, church youth group leaders who chose to remain silent and not act. We had Bystander friends who just didn’t know what to do and couldn’t be counted on for support. We had Driver/Passenger people telling us to go to the police, to press charges against the assailant, to condemn the church. However, it was our Allies and our Activists who were our most valuable supporters. They held us when we cried. They listened to our frustration and just stood with us as we navigated the spectrum of our emotions. Empathy is under-appreciated but is such a powerful ray of light and love. Our Activists were fully invested, providing encouragement to pursue counseling, and facilitating healing and moving toward wholeness. Each step of our family’s journey was dependent on my daughter’s readiness. For a while, she embodied a line from the movie, Perks of Being a Wallflower. She “accepted the love she thought she deserved,” as I had for many years. It was hard to wait for each milestone in her healing as she moved toward the next phase in her survivor journey. Walking with her through this really hard struggle, I realized I had not moved forward with my healing thus beginning my own journey toward healing. With the support of those who champion her, my daughter was able to reclaim her voice and self-worth. She was able to move from a victim to a young woman filled with love, light, and hope.
It is so important for children (or any victim) to be able to share their story in safety, with love, compassion, and confidence that they are not alone on their journey toward healing. All family members should seek clinical help and talk about what happened, and their feelings around it. Healing can only then begin – for the victim and for their family. Although sad that I could not change what had happened to her, I remain committed to providing the love and reassurance that enable my daughter to move forward. She will always be my beloved daughter, and I will walk with her through all of life’s ups and downs. As a mother, I’m in it for the long haul, no matter what. Asking for her forgiveness and sharing my story and struggles with her, I knew that I also had to forgive myself. Years of counseling have helped, although I still succumb to the negative mind monsters if I’m not vigilant. Finally moving past the guilt of not being able to see, prevent, and stop the assaults on me or on her gave me the ability to journey with her in a new and distinctly unique way. Bearing witness as she shares her experiences and watching her nurture her passion for helping others avoid the same circumstances makes my heart swell with pride at the woman she has worked hard to become. Self-assured, confident in who she is, forward-facing, future-embracing, my daughter has become an activist for change. She is claiming her own going forward story, as am I now, and I am blessed to be a part of her journey.