My grandmother in the 1940s or 1950s.
With all the talk the past year or so about sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape, I've been thinking a great deal. The discussions haven't brought up any trauma for me. Like every woman, I've been subjected to harassment. This is not to deny that those injustices should be ignored but merely to state that I am okay.
This post isn't about me.
This is about my grandmother.
She passed in 2011, and I miss her every day. About six or seven months before she passed, she entrusted me with a secret.
She had been molested and raped as a child and teen.
She didn't tell me the gory details, and I didn't ask. She didn't tell me names, though I have no doubt she remembered them. Suffice it to say, she knew her attackers.
Even she wasn't sure if everything that had been done to her "counted" as something wrong. She asked me that when talking about the man who took her into a room as a child and did things to her. "Now, isn't that wrong?"
I told her yes, it was. I said that with absolute conviction because it is true.
My grandmother in the mid-1980s
in San Antonio.
photo by my mother
The point I want to make here is not to name the men who hurt my grandmother; I don't know their names. The point is not to damage the way people remember my grandmother; they have their own memories of her to recall.
The point is that that trauma lived with my grandmother for the rest of her life.
She lacked confidence in herself. She considered herself “stupid” (her word, not mine).
These things I knew long before I knew about her assaults. I always thought they were a result of bullying behavior by siblings or the fact that she had to quit school in sixth grade. And I'm sure that's part of it, too.
But it all boils down to the shame she lived with every day for most of her life.
My grandmother and grandfather at their
40th wedding anniversary.
As far as I know, the only person she told was her husband.
People who have been assaulted sexually are forced to deal with that shame and trauma every day. Some are able to talk about their experiences almost immediately, and some are not. Some are lucky enough to see their attackers serve time in prison. Most are not.
The revelations and news about sexual offenders that has come out over the past years has been infuriating, heartbreaking and depressing. I do not know how my grandmother would have responded to all of these revelations. Would they have brought back painful memories? Would she have told me more details? Would she have reached out to someone for help?
I like to think she would appreciate me writing this post for her as a way to exorcise some of her demons. I hope that's true.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted and needs help, please contact RAINN.
You can also donate to RAINN.