The first time I told someone what was happening to me, I had no understanding that I was being sexually abused.
I wasn’t reporting a crime. In my mind, I was confessing a sin. I believed I was having an affair with a minister. It was nearly 10 years later that I even started to understand what really happened—that I was groomed by an experienced, accomplished master abuser—that I was raped.
It’s an interesting word, “rape.” Our culture seems to think it has decided what rape is and what rape isn’t. When the word “rape” is used, most people imagine a physically violent act perpetrated against a struggling adult victim, usually by a stranger. A high school girl who went to a party and got drunk wasn’t raped by some people’s standards even though her classmates had sex with her while she was unconscious and left her on a doorstep in freezing weather. A judge in Montana said in his closing statements that a 14-year-old could be in as much control of the situation as the 40-plus-year-old teacher who raped her. He said he didn’t think it was rape unless it was “forcible, beat up rape.” Thank God, he has finally resigned.
To compensate, our society uses other words to talk about childhood rape. We insert words that seem less violent, less criminal … words that are more palatable. Words like “molest,” “fondle,” “inappropriate sexual conduct.” I refuse to use these words. They do victims a disservice. Call it what you want, it’s rape.
When a trusted adult sexualizes a child, regardless of whether intercourse happens, it’s rape. When a therapist, teacher, or minister has sexual contact with a person under his or her care, it’s rape. When a parent robs his or her children of privacy and or sexual innocence, it’s rape. It’s all rape. Maybe if we called it that we would do more to stop it.
I loved my abuser. I trusted and adored him. I felt dehumanized by what he did to me, but I had no power to stop it. And somehow, he convinced me that I was the one in charge. My healing was nonexistent for many years, until I met a therapist who helped me see that I didn’t have a sin to confess, I had a crime to report.
The next time you hear someone say that a “teacher was caught having an affair with one of his students” or that a “therapist took advantage of a client” or that a priest was “fondling children,” please feel free to correct them and say, “You mean rape.” When we call it what it really is, we make a path for change.
Jennifer Carmer-Hall lives in Nebraska with her husband Dave. She works in the financial services industry and volunteers as an advocate for fellow survivors of childhood abuse and neglect. She is a CASA volunteer, as well as a public speaker and blogger on LearningHope.org. Jennifer and Jackie Gutschenritter co-founded LearningHope.org as a resource for survivors with the mantra “You are Not Alone. It is Not Your Fault.”