Many years ago, a close relative was going through a very horrible summer. On that particular night, I went to visit him because he had been released from the hospital and going through a breakup with his physically abusive girlfriend. I went to keep him company and make him dinner. I wanted to be sure his girlfriend and his friends who wanted to give him some substance therapy stayed away. And I wanted to be sure that he was going to be able to make it through to the next morning on his own when I left.
You know, they say that if you are ever in a plane crash that you should make sure you put your oxygen mask on first. It’s difficult to see someone you love….or anyone for that matter, struggling. But before you offer them your hand, you have to make sure that you have something solid to hold onto first so that you are not pulled down with them.
My relative’s friend stopped by, seemingly concerned about him, and offered to help me get some groceries at the store and help me make dinner. Dinner never happened that night.
It seemed that my kin was more interested in finding his girlfriend and wanted to go out to look for her. And his friend….seemed he cared so much about him that he wanted me too to be able to experience some of his substance therapy so I could see how wonderful it could be. I told him I wasn’t interested. To me it seemed like trying out butter basted, three-cheese, egg-topped, fried anything just to find out you loved it and had to have it every day thereafter so that you could end up blowing out your waistline and your arteries. Why would I want to know that I liked anything that would cause my ultimate destruction when I saw what it had done to the people I loved? I’m not being judgmental here….I have my own struggles and addictions and just felt it was better not to add any more problems to my life.
So the three of us went out looking for the female half of this unhealthy addictive relationship and we all ended up in a bar up the street. Remember now, I was still there to protect my family member and keep him out of harm’s way.
There I was, a 28 year old mother of two walking into this bar with two guys who were not exactly looking out for my best interest. Not to mention now that I think of it one of them was most likely a drug dealer, and the other was searching for a woman who had recently stabbed him in the heat of an argument. These were my male escorts walking into the place.
My relative takes off and leaves me to go look for his girlfriend. I am now worried about him. I notice there is a group of people gathered in a room so I go to see if he had gone in there.
I step into the room and look around, noticing as I did so that there were probably a good 50 people in the room all sitting around drinking…..and I was the only female.
Just as I was taking this all in, one of the guys, noticeably slurring his words, yells out to all of the other men in the room…..”Hey, the stripper’s here!” which was met by some cheers and a bit of encouragement for me to begin my act.
Okay, this was in an unfamiliar bar and definitely not a country club or a place with any kind of security. I pretty much had no protection for myself. I froze. I was terrified. Didn’t matter that I wasn’t being paid for a gig if any one of those men in that room decided it didn’t matter to them if I was there professionally or not.
I remember getting back out to the bar somehow and thinking it would be safer to wait out there. Not really. I sat down and ordered a drink and the bartender told me to be sure to watch the movie playing on the tv over the bar. It was a porno flick. At that point I thought it may be safer for me to go back out into the night and find my way back to my car alone.
The point I am making is that nothing physically happened to me that night. I ended up making it back home safely. (I was separated from my husband at the time and staying at my parents’ house). But the feelings I felt were very real. I felt that whatever boundaries I had that kept me safe were being taken away by the people around me that night. Nobody had done anything illegal. Yet, I had felt unsafe and my mind had reacted as if the threat had been real.
The feeling I felt that night was similar to the feeling of terror I felt when faced with the realization that I was trapped in a dangerous situation with my boss. When people say that I was not really abused because I was not physically raped by my boss, I disagree. It felt like rape to me. He was forcing himself upon me. I remember thinking that basically telling someone they had to perform a sexual act or else they could end up in the obituaries……that was coercion….that was terrifying….that was stripping away a person’s boundaries. And that was rape. Maybe not in a physical sense. But my mind still suffered the trauma of feeling violated and my power was taken from me.
Rape is not always a physical act that occurs by a stranger in a dark alleyway. It is not always male/female. And the force and trauma involved is not always obvious.
And until and unless it has happened to you, the sexual abuse of adult by anyone they know through coercive control and manipulation, especially by a priest, cannot be truly understood by friends, family, lay people, or law enforcement. At least not yet. I am hoping that in time the abuse of adults by priests will begin to be seen as the crime that it is and that the blame will stop being pointed at the victims.