Incest - Invisible violence in the "developed" part of the world
I am a woman from a "developed" part of the world, according to the measuring stick of economic criteria, as held in the hand of the gods of materialism of our modern age. In many ways, I have not faced the intense challenges and barriers that my sisters in other parts of the world have faced. And yet, I believe I share a common experience with women and girls the world over. I have faced and am facing the invisible violence of incest.
Having grown up in a middle class home in a rural community in the midwestern area of the United States of America, I had access to resources that allowed me to obtain an education, to get a bachelors and masters degree, to eventually build a successful career, purchase my own home, vehicle and professional wardrobe, which are all evidence in the "developed world" of women's independence and achievement. Yet, the picture of professional success many people saw hid a deeper truth that I myself was only able to come to terms with in the last few years. Swept into an emotionally and spiritually abusive engagement, after years of similar failed relationships, I was first paralyzed by confusion and control, and then finally, broken open. Thankfully, I was finally able to trace my pattern of victimization to its honest source.
I was sexually abused by my brother when I was ten years old, possibly earlier. Coming from "a good family" that went to church on Sunday and always tried to be honest and hardworking, I carried the shame of this unspeakable trespass so that my family would not have to - so that we could appear to be what I always wished we were - a normal, happy family. Yet, now I've realized the hard way that wishing does not make a reality. Perhaps facing the truth does?
Eventhough in the back of my mind, I always knew in some form what had happened to me, I never really comprehended it as abuse. I certainly never attributed it to the shame I carried around about my body for the next twenty years or to my inability to form healthy relationships with men and solid friendships with women. It was just something to overcome and forget, sacrificing my true needs and voice in the process, unbeknowst to the person closest to it all - myself.
And so - my ability to organize, orchestrate and adapt to others' needs carried me far in the world of non-profit development. But in my personal life, I continued to be revictimized in a myriad of ways, never understanding why. Until - I was swept into a relationship with an emotionally and spritually abusive religion teacher who hid his sociopathic disease behind a convincing mask of "social justice". The chaos and abuse in which I was engulfed put into question everything I previously thought about dominate culture, religion, and what "good" people are capable of doing.
I can not fathom what the pain must be like for victims of physical rape. During my experiences with this emotionally abusive man, I felt like he had raped my soul. Previously thinking I was independent and self sufficient, I was a woman who could not walk away. I realized why women who are in abusive relationships stay in them. I was there. Thankfully, I am not there any longer.
Ironically, it was my family who saved me from getting married to this sick abusive teacher, and I will always be grateful to them for loving me enough to help me see the situation for what it was. And yet, undoubtedly, the situation with the teacher saved me from the dysfunctional patterns of my family. Facing the impact of what happened to me as a child has not been easy. No family ever wants to talk about incest or hold the perpetrator and the problems of the family system accountable. I am still dealing with the complicated issues surrounding all of this and appreciate any words of advice from others who have navigated these difficult waters. I have come a long way, and I know I still have a long way to go. It is a journey that will take a lifetime.
I share my story because I know it is not a unique one. Incest happens so often, but remains shrouded in secrecy. If I can offer anything, I want to offer hope. These experiences do not have to define us. We can transform their damage and pain into sources of strength that create new passions and new creativities. First, we must be honest about our stories. We must tell them to ourselves - and then to others who need to hear them. We must tell them loudly and often, for there will never be enough people who can speak truth for all those people who are, for whatever reason, in prisons of silence.
My wish today is for all of us - for women and men everywhere to continue to break down the barriers of silence around the issue of sexual violence, and specifically around this often invisible issue of incest. May we continue to share in honest discussions that build bridges of understanding that lead to roads of change. I thank you for letting me add my story to the dialogue.