No surprise that chocolate cake turned out to be the most popular choice in last week’s poll. Although there were many votes for other kinds of cakes. Guess we just love our cake.
This week, I want to talk about blame and the role it plays in abuse.
I remember growing up when my father would get a few drinks under his belt and he would lash out at my mother. She would remain quiet and let him yell, but he would still blame his actions on her.
We as kids would be told the story of how his father was a peaceful drunk, not hurting anyone in the world. But then his mother would let into him and she would keep at him until he blew up and got upset. My father would compare himself to his father and say that just like his dad, my mother was the match to his dynamite. It was all her fault that he couldn’t control himself.
And sexually, back then….I was taught that was the woman’s responsibility. Men were not responsible for their actions.
So when my ex-boyfriend threw me down in front of our high school and began to beat me over the head with a jean jacket that had about a hundred snaps on it….that was naturally my fault. As the priest who counselled my ex and me said….I had led him on…my ex-boyfriend, that is. Wasn’t his fault.
The further back in time you go, of course, the worse it was when it came to human rights. When I was in high school, I think we were on the cusp of change. We were taking the pill, whether or not the pope approved, people were living together more and more before they got married, and unlike our parents, women were now expected to work outside the home….baby or not. It was an uncomfortable growing phase for society. Around 1972, on an episode of “All in the Family”, Gloria talks to her husband, Mike, about working part time and still being able to keep a nice house for him. We had not yet entered into a phase where women were co-breadwinners.
Given the information we had about life and being a “grown up” in the 60’s and 70’s, when the 80’s hit and women had to work full time and juggle children and find decent people to watch your kids because Day Care and Family Leave didn’t exist as they do today, life was a shock. I remember my mom taking care of my kids and saying that I was “choosing a career over your kids”. But I didn’t have a “career”. I had a job to help pay bills.
Another thing that we started to see changing around that time was single parents. As if being a double parent wasn’t hard enough. But people no longer felt compelled to stay in a marriage until death. Abusive situations were beginning to be recognized. The term “marital rape” became known and questioned. Questions such as “how could a person be raped when marriage assumes consent?” came into being.
So much enlightenment for those of us who were raised with our mom as a housewife and dad as the breadwinner and basically an abuse of power being the norm in our household.
And the blame that the person leaving an unhealthy relationship would carry….not only from the spouse they were leaving, but also from their own parents and the spouses’ family.
The feeling of being alone and unsupported with no guidelines as to where to go next.
When society as a whole is used to placing blame on the victims and those without power, and automatically giving respect and honor to those who have the power, you end up with rampant abuse of children and adults made even more vulnerable when they have nowhere to turn but back to their abuser.
How many survivors of abuse have heard the words “Nobody will believe you”? Or have found that when they tried to tell someone what happened, were told it was their fault? It’s still happening today.
I have heard stories of children being abused by the priest who was the “family friend”, who when trying to tell their parents what was going on were punished and told to apologize to their abuser.
Or adults who were shamed and asked if they were aware of the seriousness of their statements against the clergy who were acting inappropriately.
We live in a world today where we have DNA matching. Yet, of all of the rapes that get reported….that get reported….there is still only a 3% conviction rate for offenders. There are stacks and stacks of rape kits awaiting processing and of those that get processed, more likely than not, there will not be a DNA match if the offender was someone the victim did not know.
So as we venture away from the “safety” of being a life-long couple….we become vulnerable adults. Living alone, on-line dating….just being single and attempting to look attractive or being interested in having a sex life, having a couple of drinks while out and about…..all these things can and are used as tools of blame against a victim.
Are things beginning to get better with the “Me Too” movement? In some ways, possibly. I think perhaps people are a little more willing to come forward, and are successful in cases where there are many complaints against one perpetrator.
But more and more of what I read about what goes on in this world, makes me see that sexual assault is in no way slowing down. And the extreme violence against the helpless makes me sick.
All of this does not help when the victim has been shamed and threatened into silence and is terrified to speak. They have to speak facing possible retaliation. They have to talk about personal things that have been done to them. And there is a reason why there is the saying “don’t shoot the messenger”.
This has nothing to do with anything, but years ago at work, I got an obscene advertisement sent to my mail. I worked for the government, so I reported the incident to our computer people. Our computer people instructed me to forward the obscene email to higher up computer people, which I did. Well, I guess nobody bothered to tell anyone what was going on, so when the higher up computer folks got the email I sent, it looked like I was some deviant employee who should be immediately fired. Luckily, things were straightened out.
My point being, sometimes when you try to do the right thing by speaking up, you can be perceived as the one causing the problem.
I know from experience that it’s difficult to “tell on” a priest. I hear a lot of stories where people have received dirty texts, or where the priest comes to their house, or calls them, or they are actually touched or raped. And despite single people seeming to be more vulnerable, this happens to married people as well.
It’s absolutely mortifying to tell someone that a priest is not acting right. For me, I had no revealing texts, and I was not touched or raped, I just had the way he was acting and the things he would say when nobody was around.
Looking back, as hindsight is 20/20, I guess I should have taken my chances, but that is not so simple as it sounds when you are in the middle of being gaslighted and you feel that everything that is happening is your fault. And the priest would just confirm that. You are unstable. Imagining things.
You would be blamed and the predator would laugh behind your back and go on to abuse another day. And that is what ended up happening to me anyway. And it was devastating.
But what is more devastating than anything is what happens inside of the victim. The self-blame.
I’ve heard so many times….”I was in my 50’s…I should have known better”, “I know it was probably because I was wearing jogging shorts at the time”, “I was so stupid, I thought it was a relationship”, “I didn’t want to lose his approval”.
I blamed myself. I was fired because I did not initiate sex with my boss…a priest. Because in some way I called him out on his behavior and made things difficult for him. So I was fired. And then further harassed and shamed by the head of Human Resources. And I blamed myself. Though I wasn’t quite sure for what. For not going along with what it seemed everyone wanted? Just do it and keep quiet? Don’t make waves? I hated myself. I wanted to die. I know that many people who have been victimized feel the same way. And because my abuser never touched me, I was confused as to if he had really done anything wrong.
My head did not clear for a very long time and it only happened after telling my story to other adults who had been abused. And still, there are parts where I blame myself. Times where I and people I listen to will try to explain why they allowed something. “I froze so I thought I allowed it, I didn’t know I had been raped.”
You know what? It’s not your fault. You were a victim of someone who deliberately picked you to be their target and they abused you and messed with your head. They abused their power and they knew the rules of the game and how it would end. You didn’t even know there was a game. You were just dumped when your use was exhausted.
It was not your fault. Before any of us are going to be able to begin to fight back, we have to believe that.
Have a good week. Please stay safe and healthy. Eat some cake. And take this week’s poll.