Risking controversy, I’m going to be brutally honest and admit that I often wish I’d been abused by a celebrity. Or a teacher. Or at least a stranger.
I’m not belittling anyone else’s experience. Really I’m not. It’s horrific to be sexually abused by anyone. Full stop. It isn’t easier or harder because you do or don’t know the perpetrator. It is always devastating.
But I loathe the word ‘incest’ and everything it means to me. It’s like that word is infused with its own heavy, cringing shame. Extra shame. On top of the shame of being assaulted, groomed, used, helpless, there’s the added shame of having had sexual relations with someone in my own family. I can’t shake that disgust.
And the worst thing about that is the fact that I can’t stop myself protecting my family. I hear people on the radio and on the podcasts I listen to speaking candidly about their experiences of abuse and I envy them. I wish I could break out of the shame enough to tell my story. While I can sometimes find the courage to say I was sexually abused, I can never explain it any further. And even then, I get scared that somehow people will guess that my abuser was my brother. It feels like that is too vile for anyone to want to hear.
I also get scared of sharing my story because I don’t want my family to be impacted. That sounds so crazy, when their actions or lack of them are what’s led me to this place. The impact they’ve had on me is immense and destructive – as well as being positive and full of love. That’s my dilemma. If I hated them, I could maybe be open about my past. But I don’t. I love them and I want them to accept me.
When I consider what it would be like to say my truth out loud to someone other then my therapist or my wife, I think of relief. The pressure of the secrecy easing. The shame of the secret dissipating slightly. Because it isn’t my shame. Of course it’s not. The shame belongs to my brother. I’d so love for the whole world to know what he is, what he did to me, how he wrecked my life.
Aside from the shame, there’s a massive and non-negotiable obstacle to me ever being able to expose my brother. He’s got a child now. How could I do that to his little one? He was born into this horrible situation, but he doesn’t deserve to live the shame of his father or be tarnished by what he did. I want him to be safe. I want him to be happy. And I can’t cause him suffering. That just isn’t fair.
I had the chance to tell my story a few years ago. It was when I found out my brother’s wife was pregnant. That same day, I called the police to make a historic report of the abuse. I couldn’t bear the thought of their child being at risk. The police took me seriously. They interviewed my brother, my wife and my parents. They took a statement from my therapist. I gave them a video statement detailing everything I could remember about what he’d done to me. It was brutal, but I’m glad I did it.
Due to a technicality of the law, my case didn’t go to court. I was devastated. Not because I wanted my brother to be sentenced, although that would have gone some way to making me feel like I’d had some justice. I was devastated because I wanted him to have to stand up in front of everyone in that courtroom and answer for what he did. I wanted that chance to have my story heard. Really heard. I especially wanted my family to have to confront it, instead of burying themselves in their denial as they’ve always done.
There were some positive outcomes in the end. I received criminal injuries compensation from the government, and that replaced some of the money I’ve spent on therapy in the past few years. And I know that the authorities are aware of my brother’s child. He’s being monitored by social services. When he goes to nursery or school, people will be made aware that they should keep a close eye on him for any signs something isn’t right. I have helped protect him as much as I can.
But that doesn’t help me. I’m still left with the burden of the silence. I’m still carrying the colossal weight of shame. I still crave validation, being heard, being seen, being understood. I’ve only ever met one person who was open about having been abused by her brother. She attended a meeting I was at. I cried with relief when I heard her say those words. It felt incredible to know someone who could truly empathise with my experience. I didn’t see her again after that meeting, but she had a big impact on me.
I know I am not alone. I know there are other people who’ve experienced this. But I don’t feel it, because I don’t have any real connection with them. And I don’t hear my story when I listen to the media discussing abuse. I hear about institutions, schools, celebrities, politicians. It feels like what happened to me is just too dark and disgusting to be part of the discussion.