I knew it was time to tell my daughter I was a rape survivor. It is a significant detail in my life, and it has influenced many decisions. This detail inspired many years of research on sexual violence, and it seemed natural to have my family members know. Some day I will tell my son. Telling one’s teenager about one’s sexual assault is important, but I think the time needs to be chosen carefully. Their growth should be about them and what they experience, not about how you have been hurt or how you have survived and thrived. If we tell too early, there is no point because they will not comprehend the enormity of it. Instead, as they are younger we need to show and teach our empathy for others, for them, and for ourselves.
Additionally, I am writing about my life and experiences and want to include my entire history. If anything would go online, even if anonymous, my daughter might know it would be her mom from the context. There are journals and electronic devices around our home with my past outlined, so if I died or otherwise because incapacitated, she may come across the information. It felt that I had waited long enough, and she was old enough. I also needed to write and add my piece to the metoo movement, in case it would help even one other person.
I had considered telling her for years, but it hadn’t felt right for various reasons. Now, in 2018, my kids are older, and I’ve been writing more since 2016. I am clear-headed, healthy, and strong, and it’s time. Telling one’s teenager about one’s sexual assault felt like it needed to be well-thought through, if possible.
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My considerations were these:
- I did not want to burden her. I did not want or need her to worry about me or be scared for me or her family. That would be putting a burden on her, and her life is full enough now as a teenager.
- I made it clear from the beginning of our conversation because she is my daughter, it felt important to explain this large part of my life, my existence. My assaults do not define me. Yet they have been an immeasurable part of me since I first realized all I have survived, and I wanted her to know about this.
- I told her I was telling her from a place of strength because I have done many workshops and hours of therapy sessions. I explained the growth process from victim to survivor to thriver. In so many areas of my life, I felt I had reached the point of thriving. I wanted her to know that although I recognize the injustice and tragedy of sexual assault, I also feel my power as a person.
- I told her she could ask me any questions, any time.
- As I was speaking my voice caught a little. Instead of ignoring the emotion and having her wonder, I explained why. Even though I was telling her from a place of strength, it still is a significantly sad part of my life history and so to tell someone as close to my heart as my daughter is emotional. The news can affect someone who loves me, and I know this deeply.
- I explained the anger I had felt in the decades following my great realizations. I said that even today a part of me also feels shame.
Telling one’s teenager about one’s sexual assault is okay!
Basically, I ended up telling her one afternoon because I couldn’t stand it any longer thinking about when a good time would be. I told her when there wouldn’t be that much time for us to sit and discuss. Originally, I had planned to tell her when we had a lot of time. But I felt it was better this way because the awfulness then couldn’t bog us down. Even though it was my first time, I knew that telling one’s teenager about one’s sexual assault could be emotional.
I knew from experience that telling people you are a survivor can be a shock to the other person. Even though it is the survivor’s pain, the person listening also experiences emotions. Still, I knew I would be there in the next hours and days for any questions or feelings she needed to process. She was able to ask four or five questions, and I answered them. I checked in after the interuption to reiterate that she could ask questions and we could talk any time. She said she was okay, and we hugged…
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I am fifty one, and my daughter will be seventeen in a week.
My first rape was a statutory rape when I was sixteen and the man thirty-two. He took advantage of me one other time, as did an additional man in his twenties on a different occasion. I never included the latter occurrence as one of my rapes, but of course it was illegal for him to do what he did. I was lucky I had the sixth sense to know he probably wasn’t the type to tie me up or physically rip apart my body. Many people in my life have told me I have some kind of extra “sense.” I truly believe this sense saved my life on many occasions.
The other two were before I was twenty. I had been drinking alcohol before all instances, and the last rapes I was intoxicated.
None of the men used a weapon or physically harmed my body. But these assaults, having grown up in a rape culture and all that that entails, personal family circumstances and the way I was raised (which in part was influenced by our rape culture), immeasurably affected my self esteem, some major life decisions, my research, numerous day-to-day decisions and habits formed, and my general life direction. I have suffered and survived. I thrive as a survivor, and I still suffer in ways that continue to surprise me. And this is still only part of my story.
Originally posted July 30, 2018 on an anonymous website.