Read and Destroy, A Survivor's Story
April 26, 2017 11:01 AM   Subscribe

"It has travelled around and throughout my life, this fucking tube. It – and a small passel of 21 more letters from the same sender – has taken up room in every home I’ve occupied. The tube and the packet contain letters from a man who molested me. After the molestation stopped, I wrote to him from the age of 13, on and off for a decade. And he wrote me back. Why would anyone maintain a relationship with someone who abused them? The tube and the packet contain at least part of the answer." ... "The letters almost always contained this instruction: R.A.D. Read and destroy. " cw: the link contains disturbing descriptions of child abuse, molestation and self-harm.
posted by zarq (8 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

I read Tiger, Tiger earlier this year and there were some really startling parallels between that book and this article. I think overall I would describe the parallels thusly:

-Physical abuse being only part of a controlling, obsessive relationship by the adult

-Difficult parental situations causing a disconnection with a child at a vulnerable age

-A surrounding community environment that looks the other way and punishes or ignores honesty in the child.

This last one I really struggle with. I have two young daughters and I really wonder if they'll feel comfortable talking to my wife and I with the kind of honesty that could help prevent this. I know despite my best efforts, my older daughter (5) sometimes seems to store things up inside that would be better out in the open.
posted by selfnoise at 12:35 PM on April 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

Thanks for this.

What's delicate and difficult to understand is how a kid will hold on to what's good in a flagrantly abusive relationship -- in this case, sympathy, personal attention, intellectual stimulation -- when they can't get that need fulfilled somewhere else. Not only will other adults not understand why a child would do that, the child won't understand why they're doing that. And when the child is grown, it will haunt them. They'll consider themselves complicit, at fault -- and maybe even decide that it must not have been that bad. In that way, the cycle of abuse is primed to continue.

I'm really glad that Karen Durrie has made this emotional journey. She's going to get enormous amounts of blowback for "ruining an old man's life" over this, if he is in fact still alive. I hope the best for her.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:36 PM on April 26, 2017 [11 favorites]

Ruining an old man's life?

No, the old man attempted to destroy the young girl. He ruined a part of her life, and doing so, his own. Anyone that can't realize this is probably subhuman.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:22 PM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

She was really, really brave to write this. It's incredibly honest and I think offers a lot of insight into the vulnerability of the psychology that predators manipulate.
posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on April 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Karen Durrie uses John's letters a tool of reference to compare who she was as a child to who she is now. Her emerging sense of agency came at a cost, and I can't help but feel that she may not have been able to define herself without those letters.

Her narrative is engrossing and terrible.
posted by mule98J at 11:22 AM on April 27, 2017

Thank you, selfnoise, I just started reading Tiger, Tiger and I think I'm going to tear through it in a couple of days.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:39 AM on April 27, 2017

I can't help but feel that she may not have been able to define herself without those letters.

I am not sure what to say about this. Would you say this to any survivor of sexual abuse? The letters may not exist for everyone, but the process of dealing with it maturity and coming to terms ("emerging sense of agency") is something many must go through. Of course we can define ourselves. The letters make for an interesting lens for this story, but I don't think they are central to it. If anything, they are disappointing in that they reveal so little of the abuser's inner world - only continuing attempts to manipulate.

The point of her piece, as I see it, is that when an abuser interferes with someone's agency at a young age when they have not had sufficient experience and support to insist upon it, it creates a deeply confusing experience that it takes a long time to untangle.
posted by Miko at 3:01 PM on April 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

tw: abuse/suicide/hospitalization

God. I managed to make it through the article. It pissed me off more than anything else. Where do I begin? How much do I want to share with metafilter, and therefore the world? It's important to tell stories like this. she said so herself that she dodn't know this happened to other girls. Kids need to know they're not alone. That their feelings are normal, but not true. It's not their fault.

Fuck. I understand that she kept writing to him, engaging with him. I also understand when she says "I wanted an admission of guilt, an explanation and apology." i mean, just look at askme. How many questions of "Should I write my abuser and tell him how I feel" are there? I did that. He was an ex, not an older/father figure. I blew up one day, I think after he contacted me out of the blue to "come over". I poured out everything. The anger, the confusion. Did he know what he was doing? Was it on purpose?

Against all odds, 7 months later, I got a response from him. Something I never thought would happen. He admitted he knew he was wrong. He knew if he was persistent I'd give in regardless of whether I wanted it or not. He could make me give it to him. He also admitted that he never had feelings for me, it was just about sex.

Weirdly enough, he also kept flattering me, complimenting me. Telling me I was perfect girlfriend material, he was just too blind to see it, etc. He wanted to be friends. He wanted to make it up to me. I didn't know it at the time, he was playing mind games.

The opposing realities, as well as the brutal truth of what had happened, led me to attempt suicide a few weeks later. I was hospitalized for a week. It wasn't until that point that I told my sisters-my closest friends and only family, what happened.

After all that, I still wanted him to like me. Return the feelings I'd had that caused me to be with him in the first place. Even a written letter, admitting intentional abuse and gaslighting didn't change that.

I can't help but feel that she may not have been able to define herself without those letters.
No, that's not it at all. That's what gaslighting does to you. It completely strips you of any reality. You question yourself, the other person, what happens. I can't imagine going through this kind of relationship as a child. You're constantly bombarded with two versions of the same person, someone you have come to put part of your identity to. Constantly being lied to. You have to hold on to parts of the truth, even if they're ugly, to ground yourself.
The letters ... only continuing attempts to manipulate.
Yes, this. I got what most people want, an admission of guilt, he recognized my feelings, told me what was real. And in the end all it did was nearly kill me, and offer him a way back into my head. If I hadn't told the people I did, it would have been too easy for him to start manipulating me. I empathize with Karen, here.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:15 PM on April 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

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