What Should Have Been Said

The following is a letter that I have addressed to Amy Dickinson of the Toronto Sun. I was initially going to send it to the editor, unfortunately their form only allows for 250 words.

I was also concerned that it would no see the light of day and it needs to. Amy’s lack of sensitivity and knowledge surrounding how to address a victim of child sexual abuse, incest in this case is typical of how many people react to CSA victims. The simply do not understand what a victim goes through, which is understandable if you have not been victimized in this manner. The problem here is that Amy has a voice that is heard by many. She has a responsibility to educate herself on the topic she is publicly responding to. The reporting of CSA as an adult to family members is extremely difficult and more often than not it is met with a lack of support due to denial.

I am particularly concerned with Amy’s response to this young woman as it will hinder other victims from coming out to begin healing. The shame that a CSA survivor carries is devastating, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to disclose CSA, let alone incest.

Dear “Broken” please know what you are my hero.

From "Broken to Dear Ask Amy as printed in the Toronto Sun:

Dear Amy: I was molested (many times) when I was a child by my mother's father. He told me not to tell anyone because it would "kill grandma," and so I never did. I was so ashamed.

I am now 32, and in the past year I finally got the guts to come out as a survivor. I also have PTSD, and it's been hell to deal with.

Since coming out, I've shared stories and memes on Facebook about "killing child molesters." Now my family has alienated me. My mother actually told me I needed to be in a mental hospital. My mother and aunts help my grandfather with everything, and pretend that nothing happened.

Several months ago, my daughter went to stay with my parents for a couple of days. Even though I specifically told them my daughter is not allowed at my grandfather's house, my mother took her to see him.

After that, I called my mother "a piece of crap," and I haven't spoken to her since. I will not allow my daughter to go to their house. They all are acting absolutely arse-backwards and are totally unfair.

In order to get messages to me, instead of just texting me directly, my mom will text my husband. She texts him to see if my daughter is busy or if she is available to Skype. He is sick and tired of being the middleman because of her pettiness.

This is an ordeal. I've come to loathe my parents now. They act like I'm the bad guy. My mother refuses to tell my grandpa that she knows he molested me.

Any advice going forward? Is it OK for my husband to tell Mom to stop texting him? Am I wrong to deny my grandfather access to my child?

Did I make a mistake coming out?

-- Broken

Dear Amy's response as printed in the Toronto Sun:

Dear Broken: You have signed your letter "Broken," and you are basically acting out your own "brokenness" now.

The one person you don't seem to have confronted is your own grandfather -- the person who did this to you. Part of your coming out might be to write him a letter, saying exactly what you want to say. As it is, you are assuming other family members will deliver your message for you.

Your choice to share a "kill child molesters" meme on Facebook is something like your mother texting your husband in order to communicate with you. You are all talking with someone other than the person you really want to talk to.

I am urging you to get professional and group-guided help to deal with your childhood trauma. The person who diagnosed your PTSD should guide you toward ongoing help and support.

Yes, your husband should say to your mother, "If you want to talk to your daughter, you should contact her directly." I agree that your mother should respect your wishes regarding your child's contact with your grandfather. But calling her "a piece of crap" is not going to engender respect from her, even if this statement is true.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline has a very helpful online chat function: online.rainn.org. Communicating with a counselor will help.

My letter to Dear Amy:

Your response to “Broken” was insensitive and irresponsible. You displayed a complete lack of respect and empathy for this survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Your response re-victimized an incest victim who was brave enough to “out” her abuser. Your petty commentary regarding the words she used towards her mother for putting her child in harms way completely missed the point. Not only did you not empower this poor young woman to stay on her path of healing and protection for her daughter, you undermined it. It is clear that you have no knowledge of what a victim of abuse goes through and how difficult it is to shed the shame and “out” the abuser. Disclosing sexual abuse that has been perpetrated by a family member is particularly difficult. At a minimum you should have consulted a professional before responding to “Broken.” I could go point by point to your response; I have chosen to rewrite your wrongs in a new letter to “Broken” instead.

Dear Broken,

You have signed your letter "Broken," you should have signed it BRAVE. I applaud you for outing your grandfather and standing in protection of your daughter. It’s extremely disheartening that a man who should have loved and protected you, victimized you in such an appalling way. Your courage has my undying respect.

As you are on a journey to heal you need to do so constructively. It’s imperative that you serve yourself, your daughter and your marriage first and foremost. The fact that your mother put your daughter in harms way by bringing her to your grandfather’s house is disturbing and unacceptable. She placed your daughter in harms way. It sounds like she is in denial, which is very common in situations like these. You grandfather has more than likely molested other children.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crimes: On average pedophiles molest 117 to 300+ victims in their lifetime. 49% of incest offenders who molest girls will molest both within the family and outside the family. The average length of incestuous molestation is three years; it is very rarely a one-time occurrence.

Facebook; without a doubt you are posting those memes out of pain and frustration. This is not serving you in the short or the long run.

My advice is to continue in therapy and work hand-in-hand with a therapist to protect yourself, your daughter and your marriage. Take the time to write well thought out letters to your mother, your grandfather and grandmother.

To your mother: Be descriptive about what your grandfather did - within YOUR comfort zone. Tell her in the letter why you do not want your daughter exposed to him (I know it’s obvious) and why you are no longer giving her access to your daughter outside of your home. List your expectations regarding her behaviour towards you and your husband. You make the rules. If it means parting ways while you go through counseling thats ok. You need to take your time and focus on your healing without distraction. If your mother is not going to be supportive that is a distraction. If there is a break from her for a while you can always reach out to her - when YOU are ready and in a better place. I promise you with counseling you will get to a better place.

To your grandmother: Be descriptive about what your grandfather did within your comfort zone. Tell her in the letter why you do not want your daughter exposed to him. Tell her what you need from her. If you wish to have continues contact then list your expectations regarding her behaviour in the future. If not. let her know.

To your grandfather: No holds barred. Say all that you wish to say. How your felt as a child. What you have lost. Let it all out without censorship. This letter is solely for your healing.

Stop posting to Facebook. The time you are taking to do that is not serving you. Journal how you are feeling in those moments and deal with your emotions. Group therapy for incest survivors is healing, posting to Facebook will never serve or heal you.

Your husband is a grown man and should be addressing your mother as such. He should absolutely tell your mother that he is not going to be the middleman and to contact you directly in the future. If your mother persists he can then simply ignore the communication. It places your mother in the position of contacting you directly. It is very difficult for the spouses of sexual abuse survivors to cope without counseling. He needs support too. I urge you to go to counseling together and separately so that he will have the tools to support your healing, and his own.

YOU DID NOT MAKE A MISTAKE IN COMING OUT. By coming out you have protected our daughter, you have broken a cycle of abuse and you have begun a healing journey that will serve your future happiness. I applaud you!

Resources: The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse www.NAASCA.org is a resource targeted for CSA survivors. They have a nightly radio show with survivors that you may also find very helpful. There are CSA chats on Twitter for survivors and their spouses, to connect go to www.heathertuba.com - she is the spouse of a CSA survivor and participates in the #CSAchat group.

Practice self-care my brave girl. You are on a painful journey to healing. Remember that you were strong enough to survive the actual abuse, which means you are more than strong enough to overcome it now.

With respect and admiration,