...the best friend since primary school.
The helpful neighbour.
The respected pillar of society.
Raping his wife.
Bashing his wife.
Grooming and raping his daughter’s 12 year old friend.
Who would want to believe any of this?
I was a student on a clinical rotation when a local man was convicted of historic sexual abuse against children.
Those who had grown up with this generous, happily married man were anguished by uncertainty and self-doubt.
Had their now adult children been abused, too?
What was about to fall out of the sky?
Many young adults were equally pained.
How could they reassure their parents- that they could recall frequent unsupervised contact with this man in the community- but had never been abused?
And...why weren’t they?
Why not them?
Were anyone’s children safe?
It couldn’t just have been a matter of luck.
I had so many questions of my own...I could not even try to offer assistance.
But we discovered that it’s easy for people who feel vulnerable to open up to a shy 22 year old student.
We were all learning from each other- or rather, I was haplessly facilitating what I now know as shared problem solving and reflection on the complexities of social and family dynamics.
And then I recalled something insignificant.
..how close did I actually come to this all-too-common monstrosity?
..how on earth did I escape it?
A Woman’s Place
How old was I- maybe 8 or 9?
I was small, and without any sign of the beginnings of adolescent development.
I was statistically and visibly ‘vulnerable’: single parent home, no father figure in sight.
I carried myself with an air of meekness and compliance.
How and why was I spared- when everywhere I worked later as an adult, I found survivors of childhood sexual abuse?
My consultations for minor ailments were often followed by unprompted disclosures of childhood sexual abuse.
Years before the public awareness campaigns, before our routine reliance on the World Wide Web.
From both genders, from every walk of life.
Seeking nothing but a safe human connection, seeking to repair trust.
I did not think about ‘Uncle’ Joe very often.
My memories of him had never been a source of fear or distress.
I had sensed that he was trying to use flattery to trick me- he started by inviting me to jump up on the bed to chat, and then asked me to remove my pyjamas so he could feel my ‘strong’ stomach muscles.
He extended his examination by a few unnecessary inches and seconds.
I recall feeling very unimpressed.
I had already played the usual ‘show and tell’ games with boys my own age, and we had negotiated these around an openly declared and mutual curiosity.
I disapproved of Uncle Joe’s underhanded way of asking me to undress.
I was very comfortable with (female) nudity at home, and had no concept of sexual activity or sexual abuse.
Uncle Joe was lying on his back, and went to pick me up by my hips to slide me over his front. The sheets remained between us.
I do not recall what made me think that he was naked under the sheets.
I became alarmed.
I extended my arm so I could push back and avoid contact with his groin; he allowed me to pull out of his grip and jump off the bed.
My mum’s old auntie Tess was just in the next room, but I did not remember that in the moment.
I was too confused or polite or scared to say anything, and I had no idea what to even say.
‘Part two’ of the story troubles me more today, as I did not understand its significance at the time.
It followed ‘part one’ by maybe a week.
I had remarked casually that I was off to go roller skating, and Uncle Joe shot out an uncharacteristic, angry ‘no’.
I wasn’t asking for permission; I knew my mum’s rules well, and never troubled her with silly or unnecessary questions.
Uncle Joe had never shown any interest in my activities before this.
It wasn’t as if I had been irritating him; I had spent the previous hour reading in silence.
My mum had sole sovereignty over my home, and I was not going to start answering to anyone else.
I spun around to walk away without a word.
He spoke again, and the hiss of violence in his voice made me freeze.
I muttered that I would go and tell my mum about his nudie touching game.
I felt the need to find leverage, and sensed that this incident would somehow be compromising for him.
He hissed again, with a startling malice: ‘you wouldn’t dare!’.
I broke our brief wolf-stare to march towards the kitchen.
My mum was frying Schnitzel with a thoughtful expression; she listened without interruption.
For the first time in my life, my mum did not believe me.
She said she had caught our voices and knew that we had been arguing; and that she had heard that kids can make up stories ‘like this’ about adults to gain power over them.
I backed away silently to think this over.
I was shaken.
In the whirling chaos, two things felt certain.
I had lost this unexpected battle.
But I had barely made any effort today.
If I needed to escalate the alarm, my mum would protect me.
My mum would always protect me.
To my surprise, I found Uncle Joe staggering outside the kitchen.
His face looked grey, and he was staring into space in disbelief.
Uncle Joe had clearly believed that I had won.
I could not understand this.
When I found myself alone with him just days later, I was afraid.
I concealed this with acts of micro-aggression, which were unprecedented for me.
I felt another sharp stab of betrayal when I found that Uncle Joe had complained to my mum...and she ordered me to desist without exploring the reasons behind my aggression.
I cannot know if Uncle Joe had ever sexually abused a child.
I am in awe of the predatory instinct that prompted him to follow up on his act of touching with an act of bullying.
Every adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse I knew had been groomed using a mixture of manipulation and intimidation.
Every child who fell prey to sexual abuse felt confused.
I was not a girl who told lies, yet my mum, who loved me more than anything else in this world, chose to leave me alone in a room with a man after I had reported his actions.
This was not enough encouragement for him to approach me again.
My resistance had created sufficient doubt to deter a large adult man for good.
My mum was the victim of terrible misinformation, but Uncle Joe and I shared a strong faith in both her maternal instincts and in her power, and I think this may have been what saved me.