Gregory Brown relays 7 hard truths that must be acknowledged in the survival of sexual abuse.
November 6th, 2007 was the day everything changed for me. That was the day I learned that my father had sexually abused my three sisters for many years during our childhood, and it had gone on in the very home in which I’d lived. It was on this autumn day that a great moral struggle began inside of me, and my understanding of reality, truth, and the past began the long process of a complete overhaul.
I’d like to direct my words to all of the siblings, the parents, the children, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, significant others, and neighbors of people who have survived or are currently surviving abuse at the hands of someone in their closest circles of trust. In other words, this is for those dealing with the secondhand effects of the abuse of a loved one by a loved one.
My generously sweet sisters often sing my praises for supporting them through their process of healing from and obtaining justice for the crimes committed against them. I like to remember it this way myself sometimes, but the truth of the matter is far from that simple. In fact, to pretend that I unwaveringly understood and supported them, even through the darkest days, does something of an idealistic disservice to the internally and externally complex positions of survivors and their “secondhanders.” Allow me to paint a more human picture of the secondhander by relating my own process of sorting truth from what I had previously believed to be truth. I am able to do so through my daily journal, which refuses to let me soften my history, as much as I’d like to sometimes.
Hard Truth #1: Every pedophile has people who love him/her — sometimes lots of them. Reluctantly, I myself am one of these people. Even though I haven’t spoken to my father in years and I utterly disdain what he has done and who he became, certain sweet memories and tender moments never fully fade. Therein lies much of the internal struggle. Growing up, my father was heroic to me. My own words, written to him shortly before I learned the truth, help illustrate this:
I love you Dad — maybe you more than anyone else in the world. There’s something to be said about the love of a boy for his dad. I’ve wanted to be you since I can remember. In my mind, your presence has always meant love, safety, and wisdom.
I cringe a little to read this now, but this was real to me then, and these are the kinds of relationships and emotions secondhanders are forced to grapple with when a loved one is named a sexual predator by another loved one. From my journal the day I learned the truth:
I don’t think my life will ever be the same. I see now that not everything is what it seems. My mind is spinning. I don’t know what’s what anymore. I think I’m really hurting inside.
Hard Truth #2: Denial (and avoiding the truth) unjustly aids the abuser and further harms the victim. I experienced this denial myself and am not proud of it.
I still can’t decide whether I’m glad I was brought into this or not. I don’t really want to get into it all — with anyone. My sisters keep trying to get me to talk about the whole thing, but I just don’t want to go there. Plus, how I feel about everything isn’t going to affect the situation anyway. I am not a primary victim here; I’m involved secondarily, so this is something I feel I’m just going to have to work out on my own.
Predators thrive under and are protected by silence, fear, and the inaction of those who “just don’t want to deal with it right now.” Running away from the truth is not the answer. If you are a secondhander, please do not be the kind of person who stands in a corner inactively. Your position is difficult, to be sure, but nowhere near as difficult as that of the survivor. They need our help, they need our support, and they need to know we care. I regret not being warmer to my sisters in the early aftermath of their coming forward. Please don’t make this same mistake.
Hard Truth #3: It’s ok to hold on to precious memories of times past, but such memories do not change the harsh realities of the present.
How many good memories should be negated? Any? Is that right? I just don’t know yet. I had a great childhood, and I was always so proud of my background. Has this really changed? I’m going to have to find a way to make peace with my mind, because it’s going through a sort of civil war at the moment.
This is maybe the most difficult aspect of the secondhander’s position. I’m not in a position to tell you what was real for you, but I can certainly tell you what is real, and that is the present. Never let the past, as good as it may have been (or seemed) divert you from doing what is right now, and what is always right is standing up for and embracing the victim. Even if you just want to go by the numbers, only around 2-5% of abuse allegations are falsified. Don’t be the fool who automatically assumes he’s in the 2%. There’s a 95-98% chance you’re 100% wrong. But if you are going to err, err in support of the victim. It’s the right thing morally and statistically.
Hard Truth #4: Despite the clear horrors of what you have learned, your heart may remain in conflict for a long time. Even so, don’t allow yourself to be tricked into losing perspective.
I just don’t know what’s right and wrong anymore, my sisters seem to be speaking loudest and being heard most. It gets frustrating for me being the only one who isn’t sure about the way that some of this stuff is going down. I don’t like feeling like this. Though maybe we’re not being terrible and it’s just Dad trying to make us feel that way and back us down. I just don’t know anymore.
Predators can be very good at manipulating situations to get what they want. They can be especially adept at making victims and secondhanders feel guilty about speaking out or seeking justice. Don’t allow the abuser to get away with this or any other underhanded attempt to disparage or discredit victims.
Hard Truth #5: Chances are, the pedophile you care about will never change.
I really don’t care what my dad does anymore. The only reason I even think about it at all is because of the hurt he still causes the people I love through his selfishness. Dad’s not going to change — at least for a long time — so it’s time to stop trying to make him.
It was a year and a half before I was finally able to write that, and it wasn’t before I had exhausted all of my efforts to help him understand the magnitude of what he had done to my innocent sisters. In the end, I was unsuccessful, and I was forced to let go of the relationship. I have not looked back since.
Hard Truth #6: At some point, the gravity of it all will finally sink in. Let it.
They went into a bit more detail about the abuse today, and I found it to be very disturbing. I don’t really know what to say about how I’m feeling right now. I was happy to come back home, because I could be with Aimee (my wife), and I totally broke down on her shoulder. I don’t think I’ve broken down like that in a while, and it was really therapeutic.
Allow yourself to properly mourn the countless layers of tragedy and loss that abuse imposes on everyone in its broad wake.
Hard Truth #7: Even if we don’t always understand how to empathize with survivors, they still deserve our full respect and love.
I still don’t understand my sisters sometimes. It’s like every once in a while I have imposter sisters, and when this happens, I don’t know how I should be around them.
I still fail at this from time to time. You won’t be perfect, but it is important to remember that sexual abuse creates far more ripple effects within a person than we secondhanders could ever fully comprehend. Be sensitive to this and respectful. The thing I regret most is probably best exemplified by the fact that it was almost a full year after I learned of the abuse before I first wrote about the strength of my sisters in my journal.
I think it’s probably a real testament to just how strong my sisters are.
Don’t wait as long as I did to recognize and appreciate the courage and bravery it takes for a survivor to come forward.
My three sisters are the strongest, most decent, most beautiful people I have ever known. They are without a doubt the true heroes of my life, and I consider it a privilege to call myself their brother, their friend, and their secondhander.
About the author
Gregory Brown is a member of The 5 Browns and brother to FSA founders Desirae and Deondra Brown.
This article originally appeared on Surviving Abuse.
Photo credit: Ben Salter/flickr