In my book, REPAIR Your Life, I have a paragraph that defines child sexual abuse that I want to share with my readers in case they haven’t yet seen it.
Webster defines incest as "sexual intercourse between persons too closely related to marry legally." It is a simple, almost clinical description that does not in any way imply trauma or abuse. The all-encompassing and often unspoken reality is much broader. Anyone in a position of power who coerces a person of lesser power into any sort of boundary violation dealing with their sexuality, either emotionally, mentally, or physically, is a sexual abuse perpetrator. This includes a grandfather who pins his granddaughter down while he fondles her breasts; a father who insists on watching his daughter, against her wishes, while she bathes; an older brother who forces his sister to do oral sex; and any other such boundary violation from the most minor to actual forcible entry and rape. It does not have to be a family member to have the same resultant despair. That despair, whether by a family member or an outsider, can be a life sentence of pain.
My sister told me many years ago that she had been gang raped when she was a small child. It was the first time she had ever mentioned it to me so I asked her to explain what happened. Here’s her story (paraphrasing it): “A bunch of little kids and me, along with you and our brothers, most of us in the ages between three and six, were standing behind a big bush in a circle near our home. A girl in the group said she wanted to see what a boy looked like where he goes pee-pee. One of boys was happy to oblige as he quickly took his pants down, then his underwear and showed us his private parts. Pretty soon all of us showed our private parts.” This was her definition of gang rape. I told her that it wasn’t gang rape. It was a bunch of little kids who were curious about what the other ones looked like underneath their underwear. There was no boundary violation dealing with their sexuality. There was no negativity in any of what we did. I know because I remember the incident. I remember we giggled, pointed at each other, made funny comments and pulled our pants back up. No one had been forced to do anything.That was the end of that.
I receive frequent emails from people who remember similar events in their childhood and wonder if it was incest or rape. When they explain further that they were raped as a teenager, are married to a domestic violence partner, are suicidal and filled with despair they think it started at this similar event.
It is obvious that something got them started down a path where they would be victimized but I seriously don’t think it was this. There might have been a time later when an older sibling (maybe even one who was in that earlier group) did actually force themselves sexually on them. But that innocent childhood bit of fun was not a gang rape. I don’t think it even set them up for future abuse. A family system probably set them up. If they had a father who was a womanizer, who drank too much, who abused their mother, then the possibility that the brother learned some ugly habits from a bad dad is quite possible.
Family systems set us up. The dynamics of what goes on in a family plays a large part in how you turn out as an adult. The family dynamics is the best explanation of why we are who we are. We have issues with everyone in the family. Some are healthy. Some are not. We need to understand and heal each one of them. As a system, it is the interdependence that affects all of the other parts. A dysfunctional personality is going to have an impact on all of the other members of the family. If you are serious about getting healthy, start with your family history. Go back two or three generations, then enter your own generation and see what happened in your family with your siblings and your parents. You can see the traits of a grandfather that showed up in a grandchild later on. They may be good; they may not. If you use your common sense, you know that a womanizer, a drunkard, a wife beater, is not a good husband. If you see a wife who is not affectionate towards her children, critical of them, non-supportive of their dreams, how can you possibly see that the children of this couple are going to grow up to be happy, healthy and supportive parents of their own?
No child grows up in a dysfunctional family without having dysfunctions of their own. Spend some time with a pen and paper. List great grandparents, grandparents, moms, dad and siblings in your family. Try to remember their traits and see if they had any impact on you. The picture you are drawing will grow and grow. It will give you a complete picture of the good, the bad and the ugly. What’s more important it will show you exactly what you do and do not want to include as your own personality traits that are going to be passed on to your children.
If you haven’t been through recovery, get a copy of REPAIR Your Life and get to work. Then start working on the family system that created you.