I read in the weekend paper about a 45-year-old woman who had been repeatedly molested by a minister when she was a small girl. As an adult she reported the matter to the relevant church. It was covered up. Nothing was done about it.
Yet this woman hesitated to go to the police. She considered it but decided not to because the minister who assaulted her was a family member and she was concerned that if it went to the police, it would become a public issue and would have an adverse effect on other members of her family.
A similar situation arose when a young woman was sexually assaulted by a college professor. She did not tell her best friend, because her best friend’s father was dead and the perpetrator had “given her away” at her wedding in place of the dead father. The assaulted woman did not want her friend to know just what sort of a man her “adopted” father was, as she thought it would be too painful for her to bear.
These ideas of protecting others are very common in sexual assault cases. Yet the reality is that the victim of the abuse is taking on not only their own pain over the abuse, but the pain of others. This is one of the important areas I work with in therapy. Victims of crimes of this type typically put the feelings of others before their own, often keeping secrets for years. This behavior is so commonplace that it is almost to be expected that the victim will protect others from the hideous crime that has befallen them.
It all makes perfect sense to the victim to do this, when they are still at a certain stage in their recovery. A person further on down the recovery road can readily see that whatever shock and horror another person might feel upon hearing about the actions of the abuser, it is nothing compared to the pain the victim suffered. Nor is it the victim’s responsibility to protect others, or be accountable for their feelings. Each person is responsible for how they react to the news of the crime, even the elderly.
Fortunately, the woman in the weekend paper has gone public with her abuse. Her family must cope with it, just as she has had to cope with the assault, surely the worse of the two predicaments. The young college woman told her friend, too. Sadly her friend couldn’t deal with it and terminated the friendship. But then, she never was her friend in the first place. It was more important to tell in order to recover than to keep a secret to protect a pseudo-friend.
Contact Beth McHugh for further information or assistance regarding this issue.