This blog is about how the results of the Presidential election are affecting those of us who have been sexually abused, but I want to be very clear about my purpose. I am not writing to point fingers at those who voted for Trump. I have friends who voted for him, and I can understand their reasons for doing so. I am not writing in hopes that my words will become tools for Democrats to use against Republicans, for we cannot heal as individuals and as a country if we continue to attack and judge and believe the worst in one another. I write because in the midst of all this anger and hatred, we have a chance to listen to each other, and we cannot listen if all of us are trying to prove who is right and who is wrong. And I write because there are some voices that need to be heard, especially right now. Many of us need to feel safe because our voices have been silenced or mocked or belittled, and being heard is one of the first steps in believing that perhaps the world is not as cruel and heartless as we feel. We need to know that we are not alone. We need to know that others can hear us and believe us. We need to know that others want those who abuse their power to be held accountable, at least in some way.
While I am not going to claim that every victim of sexual abuse has been further traumatized by this election, I know that many of us have. I’m also not claiming that my experience is representative of exactly what others feel. I hope that sharing my experience might give you a door to understanding others, or, if you were a victim of abuse, to know that you are not alone. For me, one of the most painful parts of sexual abuse is that the person who abused me was an authority figure, both in my house and at church. News reports and statistics show that my experience is common. Sexual abuse isn’t really about uncontrollable sexual drive; it is about power, and those who abuse have and use their power, not only to abuse the victims but also to discredit them if they ever try to tell others. Perhaps Judith Herman describes it best in Healing from Trauma: “In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens…After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predicable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself, and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail” (8).
My father fits this description so well. Any time any family member has tried to discuss our feelings or pain in connection to his actions, he discredits us by saying we are distorting things, that we don’t understand things as well as him, or that it was the past and we just need to forgive and live in the present. And because he casts himself as godly and wise, to challenge his words is to challenge the truth; in short, he names and defines our reality. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I had the strength to speak out. I wrote a letter to my parents and my siblings, telling them that I could no longer pretend and asking them to be open to talking about the physical abuse we all suffered at the hands of my father. I also stated that I had been sexually abuse. But I was discredited because of my father’s persona as a godly man. My sister minimized my memories about my father’s physical abuse, saying I only saw him hit Mom once (and refusing to talk about the other things I mentioned). And everybody just couldn’t believe that my dad was sexually abusive. In fact, my mother said in a letter to me that she “could not believe me because that would make her ungodly.” In other words, Christianity was actually used to discredit me. My experience is not unique. In Herman’s book, she quotes another victim who also faced abuse from the hands of her religious father: This woman states that in her family, her father was considered “the man of the hour, our hero, the one with the talent, intelligence, charisma … Everyone here defers to him. No one would dare cross him. It was the law laid down at his birth. Nothing can change it. Whatever he does, he reigns as the chosen one” (106).
I hope that what I expressed demonstrates how hard it is to find validation and safety—to find hope—when men who are abusive are cast as godly. If you understand this, you might understand why this election hurt so much. I knew Trump was an abusive man long before the tapes of his boasts about sexual assaulting women were discovered. I knew this because of the way he attacked and controlled others. I was hopeful, however, that society would hold him accountable when the evidence as so clear because there was no “proof” in my case (this is a common experience as well since the perpetrator often makes sure it is done in secret). I was hopeful that society would say, “We see what you have done and it is unacceptable. We are not going to give you even more power because you abuse it.” Since I began my journey of healing, I’ve been waiting to see a powerful man held accountable. I know that my family will not be able to hold my father accountable, but I thought perhaps the majority of Americans would do so with Trump. I was not hurt or shocked by Trump’s response. It was very predicable: he took the focus off of himself by blaming others and minimalized his actions. But I was hurt when I saw Christians believing and defending him. It hurt when some Christian groups called him God’s man simply because he promoted a Republican platform. I know that this last sentence could turn into a giant debate about values, about having to choose between two candidates who have both abused power. This is not my point. All I am asking is for you to hear how this is a difficult time for me…and many like me. One of the effects of sexual abuse is a distrust of all people. The basic, instinctive wiring that tells us that we are loved and protected is severed. As many health and spiritual professionals recognize, community is a huge part of healing. If you can hear my heart in this blog, you help me believe that I can still find safety. I can still find hope. Listening is a powerful antidote to the destruction nature of abuse, and that destruction seems to be running in full force right now.