What NOT To Say
To Say a Victim of Sexual Violence
By Kathleen Hoy Foley
Recently I received a communication from someone who shall remain anonymous—okay, it was my brother-in-law. For some time now brother-in-law has known about my ordeal of abuse, rape, impregnation by rape, rescue by the confidential adoption process, and stalking by a crazed adoptee obsessed with Kumbaya fantasies. Up to this point, however, brother-in-law has chosen silence. Many families are good at ignoring the smelly elephant stomping about in the family loop—Phil’s relatives excel. Over time, the burden of lugging around his family’s cold shoulder became exhausting and oppressive and ultimately Phil and I quietly disengaged from all contact.
Evidently our silence disrupted the strict order of hierarchy, duty, and obligation that controls the mechanics maintaining the all-is-peachy façade so vital for preserving comfort inside the family circle. When Mass cards, concerned phone calls about weather conditions in our area of the country, and invitations to this or that event proved ineffective in wrangling us back into the sibling fold, and after a subordinate emissary sent by brother-in-law failed to persuade, brother-in-law broke his silence. Hence his note. Lucky me. Had brother-in-law truly been the wise man he fancies himself, he would’ve kept a lid on his trap, or at least feigned a bit of the humility he preaches before he opened it.
I simply cannot express how grateful I am to know that, despite what brother-in-law knows about me, his good opinion of me has not changed. I am glad he actually put this in writing. When I’m feeling low, I can always reread his magnanimous judgment of me and once again experience the wonder of his generosity. Especially because of what happened to me, you know, down there. How very fortunate I am that brother-in-law is willing to forgive me for being repeatedly raped, then impregnated by rape. Indeed I am honored that he does not hold this messy ordeal against me. I will think about his charity the next time he goes into the hospital to have the thick, foul smelling mucus drained out of his sinuses. Maybe after being inspired by his benevolence, I will be inspired to forgive him for having such a disgusting nose. I will have to consult my oracle cards on this.
I am also thrilled to know that brother-in-law has permanently inked me in on his prayer list. Nightly, it seems, he petitions Jesus on my behalf! Using my name no less! Apparently uttering my name is an extra high blessing to be taken very seriously. Only, he should’ve asked me first before bothering. If ever there’s a place I never want to be, it’s stuck inside brother-in-law’s head right next to his stinky, clogged sinuses. In fact, I do not appreciate being slapped on anyone’s prayer list. Depending on intentions, prayers can turn abusive. I won’t go into details, but if you’ve ever been the target of a predator’s obsessive, fanatical prayers, you know what I’m talking about.
Good works are what I value. If brother-in-law actually wants to do something truly beneficial, victims of sexual abuse—including girls and women forced to bear catastrophic pregnancies—need many loud, supportive, courageous voices especially in his Church where brother-in-law is a leader. Lying in bed in his boxers pleading with Jesus doesn’t do much for me or other rape victims, including those hiding in shame inside his own family.
Besides I broke up with Jesus. This parting of ways was not amicable, but the relationship was unhealthy from the beginning. Jesus wore out his welcome. He had to go. Brother-in-law has no business pestering Jesus and dragging him to my door. Me and Jesus have a truce, sort of, as long as Jesus respects my boundaries. We both have work to do. I go my way. Jesus goes his. It works. Brother-in-law needs to leave it there.
Brother-in-law is blind to this, but I am a loaded shotgun with a hair trigger aimed at the belly of ignorance. And look who decided to walk right into the crosshairs. However, because I don’t want to rape brother-in-law’s dignity, I’ll keep it toned down: No “civilian” (defined as someone not engaged in battle with the lifelong consequences of sexual trauma), brother-in-law included, need ever, EVER offer an opinion on the nightmare endured by victims of sexual violence. “Civilians” have zero entitlement to opinion, judgment, or observations—which always reflects their personal and religious prejudices—about which they know nothing. It’s this way: Gays are entitled to speak about the gay experience. They know. I don’t. Brother-in-law and all “civilians” need to step away from the moral high ground, stop flapping their gums, and become educated on the realities of sexual abuse and the covert violence culture and religion continues to perpetuate against victims.
Ask me. Ask Phil. Read my books. Read all our blogs and articles. Listen to our taped interviews posted on this website. The information is available.
In his “lovely” note, brother-in-law could have simply stated, “Kathleen, I am so sorry about what happened to you.” That’s all any “civilian” needs to say to any victim of abuse: I’m so sorry that happened to you. Say it. Mean it. Those few words have the power to warm a wounded soul. Said often and by many, those few words—I’m so sorry that happened to you—can transform a wounded soul. Jesus would not argue with that.