DAME columnist Gina Loukareas shares next to nothing in common with the silenced, subservient women of '19 and Counting.' Except one important, devastating truth.
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Dear Duggar Girls,
We’ve never met and you wouldn’t know me if you literally tripped over me. But I feel compelled to write to you because of all that’s happened with your family over the past week. We’ve heard so much about your brother Josh, and your parents, Jim Bob and Michelle. But we’ve heard so little about all of you and I think that’s incredibly unfair. At the same time, I’m so sorry that such a traumatic series of events in your lives is now on display for the world to scrutinize. I cannot begin to imagine what it like is to have something so intensely personal splashed on the covers of tabloids and on news stations across the world.
In the “real world,” we would have very little in common. I’m nearly twice your age and have never been very religious. I don’t have any siblings—in fact, I come from a very small family. You all have grown up in the spotlight of your reality television show 19 Kids and Counting, and under the rules of a religion that appears to be predicated on women forever being subservient.
But what we do share is the experience of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. As a child, I was sexually abused over the course of several years. My abuser was a close relative and at the time the abuse began, I was too young to make sense of any of it. I knew it was a unique experience with this particular person because it didn’t happen with anyone else I knew. It wasn’t until I got older that I was able to process what was happening. But being able to process something and being able to cope with it are two very different things. In a way, it’s like discovering your house is on fire. You see the fire, you’re aware of what it’s doing to your home, but you’re at a loss as to what to do about it. So instead of calling 911, maybe you just keep it to yourself. The problem with that, of course, is that eventually the fire destroys everything in its path until there’s nothing left.
Coping mechanisms are such a strange thing, especially when we’re young. We reach for our favorite blanket, seek solace in a worn-out teddy bear, keep a flashlight under our covers to scare away the monsters under the bed. But when the source of our distress involves our sexuality and the abuse of it, everything can become sort of tainted by it. And the longer you keep it a secret, the more it begins to consume you, just like so many burning pieces of wood. I didn’t tell anyone about my abuse until I was in my 30s. I made the mistake of believing that I had something to be ashamed of, that it was somehow my fault. I’ve spent decades hurting myself in ways that my abuser never could. And all because a large percentage of our society believes that the abused must have done something to bring it upon herself. What complete and utter bullshit. Please excuse my language.
There are, sadly, so many of us with the same story. Too many. And children aren’t given the tools they need to process the emotional baggage that comes with being sexually abused. We’re so protective of kids in the physical sense. Here’s a helmet for when you’re on a bike. Wear this ridiculously puffy and immobilizing jacket because it’s snowing out. Put down the BB gun because you’ll shoot your eye out, kid. But no one tells us how to protect ourselves emotionally if are abused. I wish I could go back in time to sit with my younger self and say the things I want to say to you now. I would tell us that what is happening does not have to define our future. It doesn’t have to rob us of our autonomy and of our agency over our sexuality. That we can still be people who have healthy relationships with our partners, both emotionally and sexually. That what we’ve experience isn’t unique, even though it feels like it couldn’t possibly be happening to anyone else. That there isn’t a single thing we did to bring it on ourselves. Not our clothes, not our looks, not our personalities. We didn’t ask for it, invite it, nor entice it. That we have NOTHING to be ashamed about. Most of all, I would tell us that we can reclaim the power we lost in those moments. That is isn’t lost in a void somewhere. We reclaim it by acknowledging what happened, that we are not at fault for it, and by telling our stories and seeking help from qualified professionals to walk us through it.
I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize these things. I’m now facing the challenge of trying to undo years of self-inflicted damage, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder if maybe it’s too late. But I know that’s b.s. It’s not too late for me, and it’s not too late for you. As long as we draw breath, there’s time. I pray, in my own secular way, that you reach out to whomever you need in order to begin your healing process. Don’t let it be about your brother or your parents or your church. They’ve occupied enough pages in this story. You have the power to write the ending. I’ll be rooting for you.
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