When we were sexually abused the first emotion we felt was shame, encompassing humiliation, mortification, and a feeling of disgrace. The actual act can range anywhere from an older neighborhood boy who insists on playing with your penis, a grandfather who grabs at your budding breasts, the older and more worldly daughter of a friend of your fathers who wants to force you to play doctor or being brutally raped when you were only fourteen and anything in between and beyond any of these heinous actions.
By the time we were toddlers we were vaguely aware of private parts to our body. Most parents don’t spell this out but in potty training and taking a bath we somehow instinctively knew we had parts to our body that belonged to us and were not to be exposed or touched. These were those “shy” parts to us. Most parents at that age begin to have respect for your need for privacy. If they are good parents they may even explain why these parts are private and that we are never to let anyone touch them. If someone does they tell you, “scream your head off.” If you have nothing else that belongs to you, your body, before all else, belongs to you.
Somehow the word shame has been hand in hand with the word blame which encompasses a lot of painful words: culpability, one’s fault, complicity, guilt, responsibility and one we probably will never hear, peccant which means guilt in a moral offense. None of these belong to us anymore than any of the shame words. The shame we feel has been perpetrated by the one who is 100% to blame. Sometimes when I think of the person who is to blame it seems sad that they have brought so much shame in to our life and the child inside of me wants to chant, “he who brought such shame is the only one to blame.” That child inside of me knows the truth of what really happened. No manipulations, no lies, no bullying can take that hidden place inside of me that knows all and sees all. When my mother had my father beat me with a belt at the age of thirteen until I admitted that what was happening in my bedroom in the middle of the night was my fault not daddy’s fault it was my only attempt to stop the beating and save our “happy Catholic family”. It worked. In my heart I knew that I was telling a lie. I remember being angry at God for writing a commandment that said, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Why did he not write a commandment that said “Honor thy children for they are the greatest blessing you will ever have and honor thy father and thy mother if they deserve it?
While in recovery I found out that my ex-husband had sexually abused my two older daughters while I was married to him and was filled with rage. I knew he was dying of lung cancer and confronted him. His first answer was to blame a family friend (who I found out later was guilty as well) but after thinking for a moment he said, “so what if I did? It was their fault not mine.” When I responded that they were only four and five years old he shrugged his shoulders as if it were no concern of his. Only seeing him hooked up to a 24/7 oxygen tank and knowing he had a few weeks before he was going to have to defend his actions to God kept me from ripping the oxygen tank away. How can one human commit so nefarious an act knowing he was dying and not have a shred of contrition for the act?
For those who have never been sexually abused it is difficult to imagine what you feel inside when this has happened to you. If you took a piece of fruit, a tomato perhaps, fresh from the produce section, bright shiny red, firm and healthy looking and looked at that same tomato if you found it in the back of your refrigerator having ignored it for weeks you would see a different piece of fruit. The tomato would be discolored, moldy, mushy, falling apart and you would look at it and feel disgusted. This is what it feels like to someone who has been sexually abused. They think that everyone must know what has happened and must feel repugnant towards us. We don’t put this in words of course. It’s in the back of our mind. But it is also what we have started feeling about ourselves. We have become a loathsome thing, like the moldy tomato in the back of the refrigerator.
God created us in his image and we were born pure and filled with light. Then one dark day someone wicked and evil took our innocence away and now we are filled with shame. It is unfortunately, the design of our universe that this despicable act, an act of which we are 100% innocent does not shine its light on who is to BLAME instead of the innocent one filled with SHAME. We must change that. Anyone stealing our belongings must go to prison in reparation; one who steals a life must be convicted and often punished by death. What of the one who stole our innocence? What must be his punishment and why do we not focus more on the sex offender and what he has done that deserves life in life in prison. You cannot rehabilitate a sex offender. Once released from prison he will find another victim.
We must work harder to correct this universal problem.