I told my teenage daughter I was a sexual assault survivor

Originally posted July 30, 2018 elsewhere.

I knew it was time to tell my daughter I was a rape survivor. It is a significant detail in my life, has influenced many decisions, 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.

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. I also have 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. I thought I had waited long enough, she was old enough, and I really 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, I’ve been writing more since 2016, I am clear-headed, healthy, and strong, and it was time.

My considerations were these:

  1. 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.
  2. I made it clear to her from the beginning of our conversation that I was telling her because she is my daughter, and it is a large part of my life, my existence. My assaults do not define me, but they have been such a immeasurable part of me since I first realized what had happened to me, and I wanted my daughter to know about this.
  3. I told her I was telling her from a place of strength – that I had done many workshops and hours of therapy sessions. I explained the growth from victim to survivor to thriver, and said that I felt I had reached the point of thriving in so many ways in my life. I told her this because I wanted her to know that although I recognize the injustice and tragedy of sexual assault, I also feel my power as a person.
  4. I told her she could ask me any questions, any time.
  5. As I was telling her my voice caught a little, and instead of ignoring the emotion and having her wonder, I explained that 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. I also recognize how the news can affect someone who loves me. I told her that if it comes up in a conversation with a friend, I almost always feel differently.
  6. I explained the anger I had felt in the decades following and that even today a part of me feels shame. (I don’t seem to feel any anger today about my own assaults, but I am of course very angry about all the injustices against women around the world, past and present.)

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 feel it was better this way because we weren’t able to get bogged down with the awfulness. She still was able to ask four or five questions, and I answered them. I checked in with her after we were interrupted to reiterate that she could ask me questions any time or that we could talk about it any time. I also asked her if she was okay, if she felt she was okay that I had told her, and we hugged…

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 it still was illegal for him to take part in that, and I was lucky that I had the sixth sense to know he probably wasn’t the type to tie me up or physically rip apart my body).

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 “hurt” me, as in forcibly held me down, used a weapon of any kind, or physically harmed my body. But these assaults, as well as having grown up in a rape culture and all that that entails, as well as, of course, 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, as well as numerous day-to-day decisions and habits formed, my research, 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.

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