Late last night I lay awake thinking of a time when I was younger. I overheard that my own grandmother had been sexually abused by a male relative. I couldn’t remember the exact words that were used, but something had been done against her will. No one was going to say a word about it. My family didn’t want this man’s wife and children, who were completely innocent, to be tainted with his predator act.
Anonymity was the cure for shame and preservation. That is what I was taught. Don’t mention the name and no one gets hurt. Except, of course, the victim (my grandmother) who was hurt in the first place. Not to mention his next victims awaiting the same fate with no warning. Did anyone wonder, like I did, how my grandmother felt seeing this man at family functions? Did anyone question if keeping it a secret was the right thing to do?
As a sexually abused child I know the difficulty in sharing and exposing the truth. Especially, with a name. After my great uncle’s funeral last week, my cousin asked, “Who was it that abused you?” “What was his name?” His name is hard to speak from my lips. The sound of his name still churns my stomach. I have flashbacks when I hear it. It makes me sick to just read it. Facebook suggests him as a friend to me all the time. I thought about withholding his name as I have done through my writings. I have pondered his “innocent” children and grandchildren that would be affected knowing what their father or their grandfather did. I am so glad my cousin asked me to speak his name.
I had a revelation. I typically do once I ponder and pray about something long enough. I did not choose to be abused. My name was readily spoken of as the girl who…fill in the blank…tried to kill herself…got put in a mental hospital…and “says” she was abused. But his name was hushed. He was protected. His name was covered up.
When I was 15 or so I paddled out into the middle of our lake with the help of a good friend. We stayed up until 3 am so we could do this in the middle of the night and not get caught. He inched his way across the lake in his boat so that we didn’t wake anyone up. There was so much fog I could barely see him when he reached my dock. We paddled out to the ski jump. The sides of the jump were made from boards that we could easily paint on. The ski jump was near “his” house towards the middle of the lake so we knew everyone would see it. Everyone in our “lake neighborhood.” We spray painted “his” name on the waterski jump: “unnamed”… is a child molester…protect your children.” We knew the ski club met for practices that next morning. We knew the early morning skiers would be on the lake while it was still “glass.” I sat up until dawn looking out my bedroom window to see what would happen. I wanted to warn other parents on the lake and other ski club members to protect their children. I couldn’t speak his name but I could paint it. That morning I sat on a pink cushion in my bedroom window seat and watched with my hand over my mouth as the ski club painted over his name. Many boats arrived right as the sun came up. They surrounded the ski jump. The men frantically rolled right over my warning with huge white paint roll brushes. His name was gone. The sun was barely up and his name had already been erased. I looked around my beautiful pink room. My mother had done such an amazing job painting it pink. She made this beautiful comforter with lace and matching pillows for my window seat. I don’t know why this stuck out in my mind but it did. I watched these men paint over what I had written and leaned against the window of my pretty pink room and cried.
My revelation is that it has never been my job to protect his name. If his friends and family are hurt by learning what he has done to me, that has nothing to do with me. By molesting me, he chose to taint himself to his family and friends. He chose to molest me and by doing so he hurt everyone that loved him.
At the time, I didn’t have the strength to tell my parents all the details of the abuse that occurred. My husband pointed out to me last night the incredible strength of a 15 year old girl to paint his name and crimes on a ski jump. I was that girl. I was stronger than I knew.
Looking back at when my grandmother was sexually assaulted by this male relative, my family protected him just like the ski club protected my monster. I don’t think they knew what to do. I think they thought they were protecting my grandmother and didn’t even realize they were protecting the criminal. His name is a secret, too. I wonder about him the same that I wonder about the man who molested me. By keeping his name a secret what have they done? My grandmother may not have had the strength to speak his name. But certainly those who had been told did. Had these men’s names been announced, who else could have been protected? Who else could have been saved by their vile acts? Many, I would presume. Many I know.
Sometimes we need someone else to be our voice until our voice returns. My vocal chords were cut in half the moment he put his hands on me. But, I painted his name. Adults on the lake knew and could have been my voice to further protect the others.
I remember my mom talking to me about this man who violated my grandmother. I never saw him again after she told me what he had done. Thankfully she kept us away from him. She explained to me that he had been abused himself. Perhaps that is why he did what he did. Says him. Who knows if this was true or just something he said? His excuses or lies don’t matter. Apparently, it worked as nothing was done about him. And who was protected? The other women in the family? No. They were left as innocent lambs ready to have their vocal chords cut in half like the rest of us. They were left vulnerable. And he did attack again. I heard about the second woman shortly after my grandmother. The cycle was not broken. No one had the voice to speak his name and protect the other members of our family. Too many were worried about who “they” thought were the innocent ones that would be hurt by what he had done. His family. His wife. His children. But the true innocence was lost by his victims. I will not speak his name as I truly believe my story will give his other victims the strength to regain their voice. His name is theirs to tell.
Who is being protected by anonymity? The criminal. The monster. He owes the apologies. He took the innocence. It ALL lies on him! The shame, the secrets, and the lies are all his.
Revealing the monster’s name will cause pain. It will hurt the family members of the monster who may not yet know that he is a monster. But I am not responsible for that pain. You are not responsible for that pain. The monster is.
Keeping the man’s name a secret who molested me leaves many lambs unprotected.
The name I wrote on the ski jump when I was 15 was, “Billy Banks.”
“Billy Banks is a child molester. Protect your children.”