Several years back I worked for a rape crisis center here in the Denver, CO area as a canvasser. Yep, that’s right. I walked through neighborhoods knocking on doors asking for donations for the many services the center provided. One incredible summer evening I came upon a woman sitting on her front porch watching her kids playing with the neighbor kids. She was welcoming even though she forewarned me right away she “was not going to give me any money, but if I wanted some cold water and a place to sit a minute I was welcome to sit with her.” So, I did.
We laughed about kids, we talked about the weather and then she said “so, you’re with the rape crisis center hua. My Uncle…my uncle, did things to me as a kid, and I kinda wish I woulda gone there. Do you guys help kids?” I sat on her porch until the sun went down and her kids had gone inside and now every holiday season I think of her, and of all the grown children in her same position.
She had suffered in silence for years at the hands of her sexual abuser, and when she was 12 years old she refused to go to Thanksgiving dinner at her aunties house. Her parents were beside themselves as she had always been an agreeable and happy kid, but not that Thanksgiving. Her mom ended up taking her siblings and her dad stayed home with her. By the end of that day she had unloaded her secret and they had cried together, she and her dad.
Within days of her disclosure her mother had confided her own childhood of living in sexual fear of other family members and their friends, she promised her daughter she would never have to see or confront her attacker. From then on, a wedge was created in her extended family that was incredibly painful, she and her parents wrestled with it every holiday season. Their family was a large one full of children of all ages, my new friend had many aunties and many uncles all of which she loved, and one of course she feared. The dynamics were painful because she and her parents believed that speaking up would hurt people so much more than their silence.
She and her parents did show up on rare occasions. The last Easter dinner she went to, she was seated at the table to eat her meal directly across from her sexual abuser. She told me it took her weeks to get over the stress of the event and to make it worse her grandma became incensed that they did not come more and laid into her mom about it for weeks. It was not a meal of repentance or forgiveness, as an Easter meal general is. It was the never-ending Easter from hell.
It upsets me that one person’s sexual gratification literally holds the power to destroy so much. The silence that is supposed to protect only causes shame and pain. The unspoken responsibility hangs in the air like deviled eggs gone rancid.
Many years before landing on this young lady’s front porch I worked with another lady, Jessie who was also from a large family. The way she talked about her clan made anyone within an earshot laugh. Jessie had a grandmother who was a madam, and an Uncle to was a lobster fisherman in Main. She frequently mentioned her Uncle Petey who was quite a character but the time she mentioned his ‘sexual appetite for children’ I was appalled. It took many months for me to finally ask her about how the hell they all ate together with a pedophile at the table. Jessie was sympathetic to my lack of understanding, and explained to me that Uncle Petey had been arrested as a young man for unsavory acts with a young boy, he was hospitalized and treated horribly. When he came home they agreed as a family, that they loved him and decided to keep him, and deal with him accordingly. Uncle Petey was on a ‘no contact’ order with all minors, his family demanded is accountability and responsibility. Petey was not ostracized or beaten up for his sexual proclivities, nor was he given access to children.
At the time Jessie explained her family dynamics I was disgusted. I did judge it as ‘wrong’. However, over the years I have come to feel very differently about her family. The lady on the porch did not lose a little, she lost a lot. To protect herself she alienated more than 30 people. She didn’t believe her grandmother could deal with her Uncle being accused, she feared people wouldn’t believe her and she feared how many more victims he was creating by her silence. Jessie lived in none of that but that was because several to many adults, handled a fragile situation with compassion and clear boundaries. Few of us are as evolved as Jessies family and then again the cost of self-responsibility can be costly.
This holiday season I hope every victim does what is right for them. Our highest calling is to honor ourselves. We cannot destroy the holidays for our grandmothers because of someone’s sexual wrongness but we also cannot be seated across from our rapist.
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Advocate and Author
Annalise grew up in the Midwest but moved to Denver, Colorado more than 20 years ago. Her oldest child is 19, and she has a son in high school as well as two step daughters. Teaching her kids to cook is a family favorite! In her spare time, she enjoys reading, watching movies and connecting with friends and family.