On Marrying a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse
August 28, 2013 5:59 AM   Subscribe

As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?
posted by Brandon Blatcher (29 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you for this
posted by Blasdelb at 6:07 AM on August 28, 2013


This is heavy, but I am glad you posted it. Thank you.
posted by gauche at 6:10 AM on August 28, 2013


Oh this makes me dizzy. I think I'm going to have to read this a few paragraphs at a time.

Still, there is something in people that always wants details.

Yup. This is going to be worthwhile, but it's going to be a tough read for me.
posted by bilabial at 6:20 AM on August 28, 2013


I saw the American Boychoir perform around that time when they were on tour. It sounds like I'm the same age as the narrator and her husband. Those boys sang so beautifully, and I remember being jealous that girls couldn't go to their school and sing with them. I am no longer jealous, and I feel somehow complicit in what happened to Travis, even though I was just a kid myself, and I didn't really yet understand that things like that happened.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:28 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


On his bad days, I dreaded opening the front door because I was never sure what I’d find.
.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:46 AM on August 28, 2013


“It’s nobody else’s business, and I don’t want it to define me,” he said, “Plus, it makes people uncomfortable.”

This. I mean, what are we supposed to do? Just go around forcing people to think about child sexual abuse? Then we become "that person" - the person that was raped, the person that no one knows how to interact with for fear of triggering, the person that needs to talk about their trauma, the attention-seeker, the drama queen.

Rather, we keep it all inside and hope that we can deal with it on our own. We see our therapist and take our meds and go to work and hope that we can sleep through the night. That we can work out the trauma without traumatizing someone else in the process.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:49 AM on August 28, 2013 [20 favorites]


I am having an awful summer for trauma-related reasons, and it means so much to read anything from partners of survivors that acknowledges it's difficult but is also patient and kind. I am not sunshine and roses and easy to love, but thank god for the people who do it anyway without resentment.
posted by bewilderbeast at 6:53 AM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


That struck me too, Sophie1 -- there's so much truth and anguish compressed into "it makes people uncomfortable". It is so lonely and unfair that other people do this to us and then we have to figure out the mess basically by ourselves, with whatever ad hoc support system we can cobble together, because it makes people uncomfortable.

(My current strategy is a pseudonymous trauma blog for writing things people can read if they want, on a totally opt-in basis. It still seems like a really violent thing for me to be doing to the world.)
posted by bewilderbeast at 6:58 AM on August 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


' Partners like me know that even if I ranked every distinct act of pedophilia from bad to worst, the emotions—fear, trauma, sadness, anger, shame— are exactly the same for every crime. While Trav’s experience might not equal the horror of some, I don’t believe in “molestation lite.” '

I think this is a really important point. Sometimes people hear about some instances of abuse and think "at least it was only X and not Y" but the impact on the child of the betrayal of trust is devastating, no matter what form it took. I had a client who had been raped once by a well-known paedophile priest. He felt he had no right to be as traumatised as he was because "it happened to other boys lots of times" which really saddened me. The fact that victims/survivors feel the need to 'rank' their own abuse is something that is learned from society at large.

Thanks for posting this, even though it's a heartbreaking read.
posted by billiebee at 7:01 AM on August 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


The fact that they have that execrable "I, Pedophile" article listed in the "Related Story" block on the side of the article is more than a little unfortunate. At least there's a good response by Ta-Nehisi Coates up.
posted by koeselitz at 7:12 AM on August 28, 2013


The One-In-Six page linked in the article is fascinating/terrifying. One wonders how many discussions of gender are colored by the never discussed pervasiveness of massive sexual abuse of boys.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:46 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another form of sexual abuse of boys that hasn't received as much attention is the abuse of boys by adult women. Think about it: if a 12 yr old girl is "seduced" by a 22 year-old guy we would all call it rape, but if a 12 year old boy is "seduced" by a 22 year-old woman a lot of people (sadly) would call it good luck.
posted by mareli at 8:08 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


One wonders how many discussions of gender are colored by the never discussed pervasiveness of massive sexual abuse of boys.


I wouldn't say that it is never discussed. A lot of the clerical sexual abuse cases worldwide involved young boys, for example, and I think this is widely known. In terms of gender discussion, I think women and children (boys and girls) are often linked together in relation to abuse, in that the power dynamic between the abuser and the abused is similar, and for similar historical reasons (adult men's sense of ownership, privilege etc).
posted by billiebee at 8:22 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


One wonders how many discussions of gender are colored by the never discussed pervasiveness of massive sexual abuse of boys.

I really don't think that sexual abuse of boys is 'never discussed'--boys were the majority of the victims of two of the biggest sexual abuse scandals in recent memory.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:22 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


It was interesting to get the perspective of a spouse of an abuse survivor. My spouse is an abuse survivor and it's always been worrying to me about whether I am best supporting my spouse or whether I should ever bring the topic up with my spouse. Times when my spouse is struggling emotionally I wonder if it bears any relation to the abuse they endured as a child. I don't presume this, though, or even ask. I don't want to treat my spouse as if "child abuse survivor" is the label that applies to them, even if it is a label that does.

I have tended to think of the abuse as a bad thing that happened in their past--many people have had bad things happen in their past, but we don't necessarily define them by this bad thing. We just recognize the bad thing as being a bad thing, and understand that there are sometimes consequences to this, but we don't stigmatize them because of it. The closest, albeit, imperfect analogy I can think of is of a person who loses a parent or a sibling at a young age, perhaps unexpectedly like in a fire or auto accident. We have compassion for that person and recognize the deep impact of the trauma, but we hopefully don't categorize them beyond that.

I don't know if this is the best approach to take or not. And it feels uncomfortable to wonder and worry about things like this--one of the reasons I don't vocalize these thoughts to my spouse. I just tend to think that while it may be occasionally uncomfortable for me to worry that I'm thinking about this appropriately, this is a minor thing, not one I need to raise or discuss with my spouse.
posted by sock me amadeus at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Oh sure, I'm not saying that abuse of boys is never discussed *in the context of abuse*; I'm talking about the pervasive abuse of boys being assumed in all other discussions where males participate. Iif the number is one in six---hell, if the number is anywhere near one in six---then most discussions of gender that have male participants have male participants that have been victims of sexual abuse. And this may be part of why the assumption that men have power sits so poorly with so many people---the anodyne assumption that they are beneficiaries of power can easily be heard as "if you were a man, you would have been too powerful to be abused." It's worth considering any time an online discussion of gender politics goes pear-shaped---we're used to assuming that any woman in a discussion could well be a rape survivor, but we should be making the same assumption about men.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:18 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


> And this may be part of why the assumption that men have power sits so poorly with so many people---the anodyne assumption that they are beneficiaries of power can easily be heard as "if you were a man, you would have been too powerful to be abused."

That's an excellent example of how the patriarchy hurts men as well as women. That it privileges us in many ways does not discount that it damages us in others, you're quite right about that.
posted by gilrain at 9:25 AM on August 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


I have tended to think of the abuse as a bad thing that happened in their past--many people have had bad things happen in their past, but we don't necessarily define them by this bad thing. We just recognize the bad thing as being a bad thing, and understand that there are sometimes consequences to this, but we don't stigmatize them because of it.

Can't speak for your spouse, but this reads spot on for me.
posted by bfranklin at 9:35 AM on August 28, 2013


It's worth considering any time an online discussion of gender politics goes pear-shaped---we're used to assuming that any woman in a discussion could well be a rape survivor,

The discussions (about harassment and sexism, at least) often seem to go pear-shaped in large part because some people - often men - announce that the harassment and sexist remarks can't *possibly* be so common, that they can't *possibly* happen all the time or they (the guys) would have noticed or heard about it....and that those incidents could be open to interpretation as not sexist or not harassment or not traumatic. Naturally, people who have had the experiences object to this.

I'm working my way slowly through this article. I've known a lot of people over the years who were abused as children. This is a hard read.
posted by rtha at 10:09 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was a boarder at the American Boychoir School from 1991 to 1993 and it was without question the best two years of my childhood. I had a wonderful, wonderful experience at ABS and I had many reasons to believe that my feelings were essentially universal among its alumni.

When I learned ten years ago about the first abuse lawsuit, the one involving Lessig and Hardewick, I was dismayed but not heartbroken. Those were things that happened at the school before I was born, before the school even had its current name; the lawsuits described an environment totally different from the one I remember. Obviously things had already gotten better by the time I arrived.

To read today that there was "a culture that allowed" abuse by pedophiles, from someone who left the school 18 months before I arrived, is like a punch in the gut. I don't think I've ever met Travis, but we certainly had classmates in common; we worked under the same music directors and much of the same staff. Did I know the perpetrator? Were some of my friends suffering the way that Travis suffered, and I was too naive to notice? Are they still struggling today, too? I've lost touch with those folks --- I'll never know the answers to those questions, unless the answers are terrible.

Heartbreaking.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:13 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


we're used to assuming that any woman in a discussion could well be a rape survivor, but we should be making the same assumption about men.

Absolutely, although not to the same extent.

However I don't think it's helpful to turn this into a thread about gender. She is writing about being married to a childhood sexual abuse survivor. While it may be perceived that girls and boys will have different, gender-specific reactions following abuse, the main emotions she names - fear, trauma, sadness, anger, shame - are universal.

The NSPCC states that 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused.* That's a lot of adults carrying this stuff around, and a lot of partners and children trying to manage it. Sometimes it's just shocking that this is the society we live in.

*UK statistics. Some US statistics here.
posted by billiebee at 10:34 AM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Heartbreaking. I'm glad that they shared. I'm glad that he now seems to sleep better. They're lucky in all this, to have such a strong marriage. He's lucky to have her, and his parents, as he heals.

"....12 year old boy is "seduced" by a 22 year-old woman a lot of people (sadly) would call it good luck."

I don't know where you live, but in my social circles we call that perverted, disturbed and illegal. The child is not "lucky" to be abused.
posted by dabitch at 11:59 AM on August 28, 2013


I'm glad the author's husband is getting the treatment he needs.

Y'all should know it doesn't always work out like that. Sometimes the reason your spouse kept it bottled up for 30 years — because they were worried that it being revealed would hurt someone they love more than keeping it secret hurt them — passes away. The clicks of the roller coaster going up the first hill stop and suddenly you're about to go on the Bad Ride. Then, if you're very lucky, you have someplace else to go where they'll take you in and you only spend the next six months lying in bed wishing you were dead rather than actively pursuing it.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:26 PM on August 28, 2013


Concerning gender: sexual abuse of children came out from survivors' groups within the (then hardcore, radical, extremist) feminist movement in america. It took a long time to get mainstream. That was in the 1960s. In the 1970s, a woman in britain couldn't put her name on a mortgage without a man's name - i think that changed in 1975. Women whose partners left them in the 1980s weren't forced to pay them upkeep for the children - one of the poorest girls i knew had a rich father who just refused to pay, her mother couldn't get benefits because her theoretical income was too high, she had to live off part-time cleaning jobs. All she could get was a council house. That's now changed - men are forced to pay, benefits depend on actual income (labour is better than tory, marginally). So in this modern world, where there isn't a 'women's pension' that's half the value of men's, where, if pensioners divorce, the wife or husband is still eligible for a share of the pension, where women can put their name on mortgages and can claim benefits if their husbands leave them or they leave their husbands, young people don't understand that the forces operating in the recent past and for the early decades of modern feminism were extremely different. Feminism changed the landscape completely. Now you won't stay with an abusive partner because the alternative is starvation. The culture of it being nobody's business if you have a domestic has died. So, for a long long time, women were as powerless as children - married women couldn't hold jobs normally, you had to retire, in the 50s and early 60s eg. That's changed, and with it the power relationships that enable rape. Children are always going to be more powerless, and don't have much difference in body terms, i can't imagine a sex preference in child rape (probably due to inability to get the attraction) so it should even out. Not the sort of equality we spent our lives fighting for, but it does seem we're going to end up with a very different sort of equality than what we had in mind. Manorexia! Wonderful. Bit like the Fabians. They believed in free love. They thought that if you banned marriage everyone would love whom they pleased, multiple partners, no jealousy pain or trauma. That didn't quite turn out as they imagined either. (Sorry for the facetiousness, i can't handle emotions.)
posted by maiamaia at 12:27 PM on August 28, 2013


"....12 year old boy is "seduced" by a 22 year-old woman a lot of people (sadly) would call it good luck."

I don't know where you live, but in my social circles we call that perverted, disturbed and illegal. The child is not "lucky" to be abused.


I think the reference is to things like this. Read a couple of the comments further down. (Or maybe don't.) It's really sad but there is still a lingering sense, in some minds, that its some kind of fantasy fulfilment for a young boy to be "seduced" by an older woman, so it's not really abuse.
posted by billiebee at 12:51 PM on August 28, 2013


I don't know where you live, but in my social circles we call that perverted, disturbed and illegal. The child is not "lucky" to be abused.

You understand that mareli wasn't not expressing that sentiment first-hand? Lots of people do, in fact, think that boys molested by women older than them are lucky, are studs, have "become a man". There are still people who believe boys can ONLY be molested by men (and that girls, as well, can only be molested by men) - that it is not just legally but physically impossible for a woman to commit that crime. Those beliefs make very ripe environments for abuse, because people can see it happening basically in the open and no one will stop it and there is no one to ask for help.

Your circles may be a little naive.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:04 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Really?
Try "normal". My social circles are "normal, in them children are considered children and not objects of sexual desire. The young boy does not get a high-five for being abused by an adult woman. Not even a mental one.

And yes, I understand that mareli wasn't expressing that sentiment first-hand. Mareli was expressing the idea that "it's generally accepted" and my anecdata polling of the perfectly normal people I hang out with says hell no it ain't. I'm sure someone will come in with a really cool scientific poll around now to sort this out.
posted by dabitch at 2:59 PM on August 28, 2013


Mareli was expressing the idea that "it's generally accepted" and my anecdata polling of the perfectly normal people I hang out with says hell no it ain't.

Imagine, if you will, a parallel universe. A universe in which, let us say, a a 15-year-old girl was seduced by a 34-year-old man, and subsequently became pregnant. A universe in which the 34-year-old goes free and is given custody of the resulting child, and the 15-year-old is ordered to pay child support to the person who -- by both the moral and legal definition of the term -- molested her. A universe in which the court opinion on her case begins by saying "Victims have rights. Here, the victim also has responsibilities."

If you and your friends were to be transplanted into that universe, it seems likely from your comments that you'd take that sort of thing as an indicator of society's attitudes toward sexual exploitation of children, and you'd agitate and engage in activism and advocacy to reform that and help the victimized children.

But here's the thing: you live in that universe. The particular corner of this universe in which it happened is called California (hardly a backwards sexually-repressed bastion of patriarchy), and the court's opinion, in ordering a 15-year-old boy to pay support to his molester, as his "responsibility" for having been sexually assaulted, was based on the ancient and time-honored reasoning of "well, he probably wanted it anyway".

Now, you might argue that you and your friends don't believe that sort of thing, and that you won't associate with people who believe that sort of thing, but all you're really doing with that is blinding yourself and helping to marginalize and erase real victims of real crimes. You might argue that a few cherry-picked examples don't make a society-wide trend, and if that's the case I will be happy to dump bibliographic material on you 'til kingdom come, because wow do you ever have an eye-opening coming if you really believe our society doesn't have these attitudes.

That case -- and others like it, because it's not some one-off anomaly -- is the jumping-off point for exploring a whole set of attitudes, beliefs and prejudices, held even by people who otherwise would be considered good mainstream progressives (even people who are widely accepted as feminist, when it comes to that). It's part of an entire system which teaches that when it happens to someone with a penis "it's not really rape", and "it's really not so bad", and yes, former Congressman Akin, even that "men's bodies have a way of shutting that down".

If you want a brief tip-of-the-iceberg look, I suggest Abigail Rine's article in the Atlantic, "Don Draper Was Raped", which has the virtues of both being credible to certain audiences (on account of having been written by a woman who teaches gender studies, rather than some easy-to-dismiss man who probably wears a fedora, has a neckbeard, and lives in a basement), and pointing out how prejudices regarding the gender of sex-assault victims are codified into the institutions of our society, such that they elicit little comment even from people who really ought to know better.
posted by ubernostrum at 4:45 PM on August 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


About sexual abuse - I remember agonising desperately over the one time my father rubbed his naked genitals against mine, when I was 8, but I read a lot, thought a lot, was angry a lot and believed in my 30s, not only had I come to an acceptance, and healing but also had dropped the shame. But now I wonder in my disastrous experiences in dating since the end of my se less marriage, how much the event coloured and continues to colour my world view. I can't work it out. One therapist told me that we can't always know what drives us, and that is why acceptance therapy is so useful. But do I need to accept that I will never be good enough for anyone else? That with my fathers sexual abuse or otherwise ignoring; with my mother denying the abuse for the sake of his good name after he was dead, never being good enough in anything I did and her final decision not to speak to me for the last 15 years of her life because I dared to set boundaries on her hurtful joking - is this who I am forever - this scared, overly giving, sexually available, despicable broken creature? And if this is who I am, how on earth am I to get the human touch and love I need? And yes, as a ranking of sexual abuse, it barely counts. I was not physically damaged, it was not repeated, in the history if the world and abuses against children it is nothing, absolutely nothing. Was I always such a weak pitiful creature that I let a 5minute event colour my world forever. I have no answers.
posted by b33j at 8:48 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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