I had been waiting to hear those words for many years. I knew that as soon as those words were true, the world would be a safer place.
I was raped as a teenager by a man my family and I trusted…our pastor. I was not the only person raped by him. There were many of us, but only two of us came forward and accused him. We were not successful in convicting him, neither one of us. In fact, some of our friends came to his defense. But I know what happened to me, and she knows what happened to her, and we know what happened to each other.
When she called me and told me, “he’s dead,” we breathed a sigh together. “He can’t hurt anyone else.” When you are raped by a Master Abuser, sometimes that’s all the justice you have – a sigh of relief with a fellow survivor.
I shared the news later that day with a small circle of close friends and fellow survivors of sexual abuse, and the responses I received were comforting. I needed to let others hear me say that I celebrate his absence from the planet, and let it be okay. One friend wrote back, “Oh Jennifer. I am still waiting. I can’t imagine how it feels. It makes me beyond distraught to know the man who raped me over 2 year’s time is still in the community in which I live. I know I was not the only one he abused. Big hugs to you and thank you for sharing” Another replied, “I remember that feeling when my uncle died, and I look forward to the day my father dies, as the world will become safer that day, too. If you’re happy, that’s great. If you feel sad, that’s OK. If you feel a lot of different things, that’s OK. But the world is a better place, and you’re an amazing person. Both of those are worth celebrating.”
Afterward, it made me think how great it would be if there were somthing more – a sanctuary, a forum, maybe even a spiritual service for survivors to grieve honestly and openly when an abuser dies. A place where survivors can say the truth – that they are relieved as well as saddened that only death could stop him. I feel blessed that I have surrounded myself with people who can listen to these hard truths. I feel honored that I can be those ears for their truths too.
I have done some public speaking about both my experience living and growing up one-handed as well as my experience as a survivor of sexual abuse. The former is a much more popular topic. I get asked to repeat the one-handed stories far more often than the survivor stories. One subject is always considered uplifting and inspirational. The other is often received as dwelling in the past, or too depressing/upsetting. The truth is, speaking about surviving sexual abuse is not speaking about the past. It’s speaking about your entire life. Because every day after, we are surviving…even the day our rapist dies.
Jennifer Carmer-Hall co-founded LearningHope.org with Jackie Gutschenritter. LearningHope.org is a resource for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She is a regular contributor to the site’s blog, as well as a motivational speaker.