#394: Discussing consent & rape with my mom is leaving us both shredded.

Behind a cut for sure. Reasons are in the title, and it gets pretty detailed, so be warned.

Dear Captain Awkward (or appropriate guest blogger),

I recently had a fight with my mom over the definition of rape and the concept of enthusiastic consent and I don’t know how to handle the outcome right now. First I was talking about some sexual abuse I experienced from a coercive ex-boyfriend, who both ignored explicit verbal “don’t do this, ever” commands by pushing boundaries until I stopped verbally saying no, and also never seemed to acknowledge negative, uninterested body language. My mother basically said we were BOTH to blame and I didn’t say no “properly” or “forcefully” enough.

Then it came to light that a close friend of mine was raped by her ex-boyfriend while she was under the influence of Ambien–they were even broken up at the time but he drove over and sneaked into her bed, raped her, and left her sore, knowing she was taking that medicine… I called him a rapist and mom spent a long time saying the word was “too strong” and trotting out the typical rape apologist excuses, up to and including “how do we know she isn’t lying about it?”

Turns out the issue was really sensitive for my mom because my father has had sex with her on many occasions while she was on Ambien, and if I define it as rape in my cousin’s case, it would be rape in her case, and she doesn’t “see it that way.” Apparently after the first time it happened, my mom told my dad not to have sex with her while she’s on Ambien, but he’s done it anyway.

Mom doesn’t call it rape but I don’t know any other way to see it. Not only is she unable to consent or think rationally while on Ambien, she specifically told my dad not to take advantage of her in that state but he has in spite of that.

So now I find out my dad, whom I love and am very close to, may have raped my mom more than once. A close friend was raped. Both of my parents hold me partially to blame for my own sexual abuse.

I’m confused and hurt, tired of getting in shouting matches with my mom, and don’t know how to relate to my dad, or men in general, right now.


On the Verge of Tears

Dear On The Verge of Tears:

Right now, your mom is not a safe person for you to talk to about your experiences coercion and sexual abuse. She is too caught up in her own point of view, her own experiences, the things she was taught, etc. to support you now the way you need to be supported.

And right now, YOU are not a safe person for your mom to talk about these things with. As fucked up as it is, she does not owe it to you to define her own experiences in a way that you agree with. She gets to label, process, and define her own experiences in her own way, and if she is wrong about what she calls what your dad did to her, she gets to be wrong.

With any rape or assault victim, some good steps are:

  • Believe them.
  • Treat them like an expert on their own experience.
  • Don’t argue them into a point of view or derail what they are telling you.
  • Ask them if there is anything you can do to help.
  • Respect the decisions they make about how to handle what happened to them.

She should have given that to you when you told her what happened, of course she should have, but she couldn’t for whatever reason. It’s too close to her own pain and struggle with the same issues. If she calls what happened with your friend/cousin rape, then she has to call what happend with your dad rape, and then she has to literally destroy everything she holds to be true about her life and her family. So she’s fighting for it to not be true, so she doesn’t have to (further) wreck her life. She is NOT in a good place to help you, and hearing about your experiences are triggering hers all over the place. It’s not like being raped magically plants seeds of feminism in your head that help you counteract all the messages you’ve gotten from the world about how it was probably not that bad and if it was it was your fault anyway.

You didn’t do anything wrong by seeking comfort from your mom or having this discussion, and I think your definitions of what happened are (sadly) the correct ones. But her situation is that she cannot give you what you need right now.

My suggestions for you are to call RAINN and talk to someone, today. And work on getting a therapist into your life, and make there be a safe place where you can talk about what happened to you. Talk about how you were raised. Talk about how your mom reacted and how that hurt you. Talk about your dad and your fears about him. You deserve that. You are not going to get what you need right now from your folks, and if you keep talking about this with your mom you will shred yourself against her denials and she will shred you with them, too. You don’t have to be her superhero. Take care of yourself.

My other suggestion for you is to have on conversation with your mom about the awful conversation you had. “Mom, I’m still feeling sad and scared after that conversation we had. I’m going to talk about what happened to me with a counselor and hopefully find some peace with it. If you need anything from me, if you ever need me to make a phone call and try to find someone for you to talk to, or for me to come get you, or to stay with me for a few days, you let me know, okay? I love you.”

She might not react well to this, but hopefully she’ll file it away, and you will have said what you could.

Oh, and since it’s coming up: You don’t owe her playing happy holidays and pretending nothing is wrong. You just don’t. Celebrate with people who don’t make you crawl out of your skin.

As for how to relate to your dad, or men in general, hell, I do not know. I think getting as much space as you can from your family and surrounding yourself with trusted people is a pretty good idea. Talking to trained counselors is a good idea. Those are first steps. They will help you figure out the next steps.

God, I fucking hate rapists. They poison everything, and their gross, horrible, evil, entitled deeds ripple out in waves and waves and waves. Where does it stop?

98 thoughts on “#394: Discussing consent & rape with my mom is leaving us both shredded.

  1. Holy fuck.

    LW, follow the advice. Please. Take care of yourself. Protect yourself. Honestly, your health and well-being are too important.

    Not because you’re mom’s aren’t.

    They are.


    But neither of you can help each other until you’ve helped yourselves first.

    So help yourself first. After all… we can’t save others if we ourselves aren’t saved (I do NOT mean that in the religious sense… I really, really, don’t).

    And don’t worry about relating to anyone right now.

    Just worry about yourself. And RAINN is the absolute best place to start.

    1. Oh, LW. I’m so, so sorry — it’s hard enough when your parents hold beliefs you find super gross, but this is on a whole new level of gross and hard. I’m so, so, SO sorry that you have to go through this.

      The captain’s advice here is spot on — namely, the finding a safe place to talk about what happened to you. It’s hard when the person you want to discuss a topic with disagrees with you or can’t sympathize, but fortunately there are others who can listen. Therapy is good — really, really good — because the therapist can not only help you out, they can also offer an outsiders look on your life.

      I don’t really have much to say on this topic. I’m not a survivor of abuse, nor is anyone I’m close to (small pool, ahaha), so I don’t feel like I can offer a super insightful perspective or any heart-popping wisdom on the subject. Just go get yourself a therapist, really — and don’t be discouraged if the first one or two or ten suck. Ask your doctor if they recommend anyone, if you have a doc! A good therapist is hard to find, and sometimes it takes a few tries before you click with someone.

      So many jedi hugs, LW.

  2. I’d like to point out the possibility that perhaps the Letter Writer lives with her parents? She didn’t specify, but maybe she CAN’T just not deal with her toxic parents right now.

    If this is the case, I might have some suggestions:

    1) The Captain often gives the advice of Go The Fuck To The Library, and I agree heartily with it every time. Libraries are wonderful, peaceful islands of serenity that I frequented when I was a kid.

    2) Designate a place in your house (most likely your bedroom, but it doesn’t have to be) that is Your Space. This can be anything from a stated rule (telling family members they are not allowed to enter without your express permission) or merely a mental decision. When you are in your place, decide that you are in a bubble and that none of the toxicity from your household can reach you there. It’s a kind of magical thinking that I’ve employed often, to great effect. Sometimes having your own space to decompress can help a lot with dealing with the outside world.

    3) If at all feasible, think of some exit strategies. Could you stay with a family member? Are you a college student? Consider dorming. Even finding an apartment with some friends might work. This can be really difficult and stressful in its own way, so forgive yourself if you’re not quite ready for relocation.

    I hope maybe this advice was a little helpful. I hope even more that the Letter Writer doesn’t need it because she doesn’t live with her parents, in which case I strongly agree with the captain’s advice to just not be around your family much for a little while.

    1. This. So much. When I was stuck living with family, and it was super toxic and gaslighty, I spent as much time as I possibly could anywhere else: my room, the library, church. It saved my sanity to minimize the amount of time I had to spend there, and once I got out, I never went back,

      1. I had a wardrobe. It had just enough room for me, a blanket, and a tape deck.

        The growth spurt that got me to my adult height meant no more safe cubbyhole.

        Sometimes I would crawl into the base of my bed, or even into my duvet cover. Anywhere, just to feel safe.

        However, the twelve hour stints in the local library, reading about anything and everything, saved me. This was pre-internet, so I picked random sections of the non-fiction room, and spent my teen years curled up in a chair reading about everything from nuclear warfare, to the New Romantics.

        Going to uni and discovering 24hour libraries saved me from my abusive home life.

    2. Secconding the plan-an-exit-strategy idea. Even if it doesn’t seem like something you need right now, sometimes things can get real bad real fast and being homeless (or unsafe) sucks. It’s much better to have a plan in advance.

  3. LW: First and foremost: what happened to you is *not your fault*. You spoke up. You drew boundaries, you enforced them, you did everything in your power to protect yourself. You did nothing wrong.You realized what was going on wasn’t right or healthy. You realized the relationship wasn’t going to get better. You got out.

    Brava/Bravo! Good for you! I know that decision wasn’t easy.

    Please find safe people to talk to. Call RAINN. Call your local crisis center. Find a referral through your doctor or through your employee assistance program or through your campus health center. Finding those safe people will be crucial to your healing. I cannot stress this enough.

    I *know* how easy it is, when the personal pain is a little too intense to face, to want to help others in a similar position (like your cousin and your mom). In a way, externalizing it (through helping others) can help with the processing and make your own experience more manageable. It’s like the other becomes the surrogate for the tears and anger and grief we are too afraid to feel because it seems so wide and deep and terrible.

    And this is a delicate and intricate dance.
    And this is a ginormous feast.
    And you really need someone who is trained to help you learn the steps and how to digest that feast one bite at a time.

    It’s okay to be “selfish” right now and put you first. It is okay to need distance from men right now while you heal. It’s okay to be nervous and twitchy and irritable and grieving and outraged and angry and sad as fuck for however long it takes.

    Your ex wasn’t playing fair and wasn’t willing to play by your rules. That is *not your fault*.

    The Captain is right: it totally sucks that you can’t do a Vulcan Mind Meld with your mom and your cousin to help them see and understand they are not alone and they too, are survivors of a fucked up system and a fucked up situation. They also must be willing to find their own ways through, with their own set of safe people, just like you.

    Yeah… The Rape Doppler Effect really sucks. And I haven’t found a way through yet that doesn’t start by attending to the self/epicenter first. And it’s an unfair burden that the survivors are the ones who must struggle to reverse it from the inside out.

  4. I too am very sorry for all that you’re going through right now. If you look through the archives here, plenty of people have shared their experiences with rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and whatever other abuse that seems so endemic. Each person’s experience is unique, as is how and when healing begins. Concentrate on what you need and hope that your example will help your mother when she is ready.

    It sounds like you have a good sense of what was done to you (and others) and how you feel about it. That is a positive starting point, since too many victims remain muddled in guilt and self-blame and self-doubt and confusion about what really happened, helped along by the people around them. It can take years of processing and therapy to get to that point, and you’re already there. Please do find a Team You and safe places to recover as needed and to empower yourself even further.

    Your mom is doing what she needs to survive. Often it simply isn’t possible to acknowledge the possibility (reality) of rape when still in the relationship (marriage). Remaining silent and silencing others is a way to avoid dealing with the awful, painful truth, because once it has been spoken, admitted, acknowledged, it has to be dealt with and can no longer be ignored. The pretending would be over. And maybe your mother just isn’t ready for that yet. She may never be. That hurts, but it is her decision to make, since it is her life and marriage. And it is so very painful to watch. So you may need to pull back from her and agree to disagree (or at least not discuss) about what each of you experienced and what it means.

    My mom is in an awful toxic abusive relationship with an alcoholic. Back in 2005, she told me she was going to leave him. I immediately started scouting apartments and finding homes for her animals that she was unwilling to leave in his care. She got cold feet and has stayed with him since then. But her decision, even though she retreated from it, influenced me to leave my abusive, alcoholic ex at the beginning of 2006. I have tried to talk to her about her situation, and how those toxic dynamics are poisoning our own relationship, but she just can’t deal with it. So I have largely cut her off (with notice), and we have retreated to occasional phone calls that rarely go beyond pleasantries. I am unhappy and grieve for the close relationship we once had. But I can’t be a passive bystander to their awful fighting and manipulation (both of them), and I need to protect myself and my partner who gets triggered by them.

    Dealing with your father? That’s difficult. You can’t unknow what you know. Definitely good to talk to a therapist who can maybe help you figure out a strategy for dealing with your dad. Do you want to pretend to your dad that you don’t know these things about him and his marriage? Or do you feel like he’s been identified as a rapist and you just don’t feel safe with him (not because you think he’d assault you, but because he doesn’t respect consent and boundaries)? Do you want to have a discussion about it and how it has affected you? What do you want and need from your relationship with your dad? You’ll have to figure those things out. Again, a time out to process might be a good thing.

    Men in general? There are kind and gentle and respectful and loving men out there. I really have no idea if they are rare creatures or common but easily overlooked amidst the noisy mating calls of assholes. And even the best of men will make all sorts of mistakes. How can they not when we’re all swimming in this misogynistic rape culture and the vast majority of people simply aren’t aware of the atmospheric saturation. Liss at Shakesville recently reposted her classic The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck, which speaks to this dilemma to some degree. You have to remember that men are not a monolith, any more than women are. It is hard to trust, but you will continue meeting men and women and others all your life, and you have to share mutual vulnerability with others to forge actual human connections. Be willing to do that with the men who seem promising without compromising your sense of safety. Captain Awkward has plenty of posts that discuss red flags and one on green flags (thanks, Sweet Machine!). Practice recognizing these social dynamics so that you can surround yourself with awesome people of various genders and have a life filled with relationships based fully on love, trust, and respect.

    1. “Do you want to have a discussion about it and how it has affected you?”

      That would be an awkward and difficult conversation to have, so what I’m about to say isn’t “advice” in the strictest sense (of the “you should do this” variety) but…I imagine that a man who can justify sleeping with his wife–who is drugged, unable to consent, and said no, but is still his wife so, no fowl, right?–would have a much, much harder time looking his daughter in the eyes and justifying that. Even in his own mind.

      It’s the culture. People don’t think these things are wrong because they don’t think about them period. Because rape is only that violent thing that happens to strangers. Because “she knows I love her.” Because…whatever billion little reasons that cloud the air like dust particles, obscuring the simple truth of: never without (enthusiastic) consent.

      But to have to explain that to a child makes you have to think about it.

    2. I don’t think the LW has to worry right now about how she relates (or doesn’t relate) to men. At all. If she just feels a general uneasiness around men, even if it was around her best male friend, that’s okay. She can feel like that as long as she wants. I think it’s just an unnecessary additional burden if she berates herself for being “unfair” to anyone. If she doesn’t feel save, her body just wants to warn her. The warning may be a bit out of proportion because what happened to her was awful, but that’s okay. Her body wants to protect her and that’s very good. She really doesn’t have to do anything about it. This point will solve itself with the healing process.

      Just feel how you feel and do for yourself what you need, LW.

      1. Agree. As individuals, we have absolutely no responsibility to be “fair” to people when judging who we want to spend time with. When deciding who to hire for a job? Yeah, that’s a bad time to say you’re going to rule out certain groups of people, because that’s illegal unless there’s a solid reason for it (eg you aren’t going to hire men to work at a women’s shelter or a Jew to work in a Sikh temple), but there is absolutely no rule that you can’t keep people out of your life for any reason whatsoever no matter how arbitrary, and that’s fucking awesome to realise.

  5. I agree that setting boundaries and owning one’s experience is vital.

    But I’m confused about the Ambien thing. I take Ambien as it overcomes my lifelong insomnia, and never felt in the least bit incapacitated. I have no problem saying No. It’s not like alcohol or cocaine or even marijuana, it doesn’t lift my inhibitions or cloud my judgement, it just lets me sleep. Perhaps On the Verge of Tears’ mother’s experience is like mine rather than like her friend’s experience?

    1. That sounds *extremely* unlikely to me, due to this language from the letter:
      “Apparently after the first time it happened, my mom told my dad not to have sex with her while she’s on Ambien… Not only is she unable to consent or think rationally while on Ambien, she specifically told my dad not to take advantage of her in that state…”

    2. Your experiences on Ambien are not relevant here, and not the benchmark for measuring anyone else’s experiences on Ambien. This is not a thread about the side effects of Ambien, and even if the LW’s mother experienced no side effects she still has a right to ask her husband not to have sex with her while she’s on the drug. Readers, please DO NOT respond with further explanations, debunking, corrections. Multiple replies are just going to fill up the thread with stuff that is not about the OP and the LW.

      msilfan, I would appreciate it if you did not try to post in this thread anymore.

      Subthread CLOSED.

  6. Wow… that’s pretty awful. No, it’s awful stacked on top of tragic smothered in terrible.

    I’m confused and hurt, tired of getting in shouting matches with my mom, and don’t know how to relate to my dad, or men in general, right now.

    Let’s take these one at a time:

    1.) I’m confused and hurt…
    LW, your mother may be a lot of things, but she isn’t a 3rd wave feminist. It’s comforting to believe that as we learn things about our world and find good ways to navigate it, that our parents (older and wiser, full of love and trust for us) have either reached those same conclusions years ago, or will be open and enthusiastic to embrace our life revelations.

    It’s confusing when they turn out to be devout Akin supporters or insist that you don’t need a proper tea pot to make a good cup of tea or that it’s better to cut steaks with the grain of the meat. It’s hurtful when you make your case, explain this amazing, reasonable, rational thing that makes life better for everyone, and they reject it out of hand, even though it’s coming from a family member who loves them.

    TL;DR version: feeling screwed-up when you’re in a screwed-up situation does not make you a screwed-up person, it makes you human. What you’re feeling is exactly the right thing for you to feel, and those feelings are a reflection of the situation. This situation? It’s full of hurt and confusion; feeling anything else would be denial.

    2.) …tired of getting in shouting matches with my mom…
    The best way to avoid shouting matches with your mom is to avoid your mom. The next best way is to avoid this topic or anything similar when talking to your mom; if you try that and it fails, then you need to go back to avoiding her for a while longer.

    The Captain’s advice on this score is absolutely rock solid. It’s not safe for you to have those conversations, and it’s not safe for her either. I know you’d like to help your mother, LW, but remember the advice from all those airplane safety videos: “Be sure to put your own air-mask on first before attempting to help others”.

    3.) …don’t know how to relate to my dad…
    Again, your best option here is avoidance in the short term. Contact RAINN, interview therapists until you find one you connect with, and work through some of these issues before you have to interact with him. What your dad did was horrible. The trauma that you’ve suffered (and that your friend suffered) is similar to a trauma he perpetrated, and that can lead to some association that (accurate or not) aren’t helpful to you or your dealings with him.

    4.) …or men in general…
    Set boundaries that make you feel safe and comfortable for men you interact with, be they co-workers, neighbors, friends, or other. Be clear and firm in communicating those boundaries, and be loud and forceful when those boundaries are tested or threatened. Use whatever existing power structures you have to support those boundaries: if it’s at work, go to the boss or HR, if it’s on campus, talk to campus security, if it’s your circle of friends, build Team You. If a guy complains, point him to Schrodinger’s Rapist.

    As bad as all of this is, LW, you now know the scope and scale of it. Now, you’re in a place to start making things better for yourself, and that, at least, is a good thing.

    1. It’s comforting to believe that as we learn things about our world and find good ways to navigate it, that our parents (older and wiser, full of love and trust for us) have either reached those same conclusions years ago, or will be open and enthusiastic to embrace our life revelations.

      It’s confusing when they turn out to be devout Akin supporters or insist that you don’t need a proper tea pot to make a good cup of tea or that it’s better to cut steaks with the grain of the meat. It’s hurtful when you make your case, explain this amazing, reasonable, rational thing that makes life better for everyone, and they reject it out of hand, even though it’s coming from a family member who loves them.

      THIS, times a million. Since I became an adult I have
      1. had, and then left, an abusive relationship
      2. left catholicism
      3. had therapy and spent time lots of lovely places on the internet where I learned about things like BOUNDARIES
      4. realized that loving relationships aren’t supposed to come with the kind of constant fear, guilt, and pain that many of mine (including in my family) have involved, and started changing my behavior and choices accordingly

      …and the list goes on. It’s frustrating. I’m only 24, and I feel like in gaining some of the basic self-care and relationship skills that really should just be part of adulthood, I have left my parents and much of the rest of my family in the dust. It baffles me, feeling more emotionally mature than my mother, and it hurts. But her journey is not my journey. Unfortunately, there are some things that people have to learn/deal with in their own time. All you can do is offer to help or be a positive influence as appropriate… and then step back and let it be.

      1. “Unfortunately, there are some things that people have to learn/deal with in their own time. All you can do is offer to help or be a positive influence as appropriate… and then step back and let it be.”

        Even more difficult to accept is the fact that your parent/sibling/friend/loved one? May never, ever learn to deal with their issues in a healthy and constructive way, and there is not a single damn thing you can do about it. All you can do is try to live your own life as positively as you know how, offer advice or assistance when appropriate (usually when asked), and try not to let your own well-being get too wrapped up in theirs. Sometimes, the people you love are going to get hurt. Sometimes they will hurt themselves. Often, you will think you see a way out for them that, if they would only listen to you, would make their lives so much better. Usually, they are not going to listen. There comes a point where you just have to accept that as something you cannot change and try to move forward with your own life, even if they can’t move forward with you.

  7. I agree with most of what the Cap’n said, up to and including the parts about you and your mother not being the best people to talk to each other about this.

    One thing I would like to put out there, and this is something the Cap’n sort of half-touched on, but…when it comes to what your mother went through, it’s really up to her to decide what that was. If she decides that it wasn’t rape then it wasn’t rape. As CA put it, she’s the expert of her own experience. You don’t get to decide what her experience was, even if it’s something that seems as cut and dried as this does. I’ll admit, it sounds skeevy as hell to me, but at the end of the day she’s the one who decides if what she went through was rape. The same goes for you and your cousin/friend [and it sounds like you’ve both decided that what you both went through qualifies]. Your mother should respect that you do view what you/they went through as that, even if it’s painfully close to what she went through.

    Though, it might also help to remember that, for a very long time [100s of years] it was believed that a man couldn’t rape his spouse because he’d just be taking his ‘husbandly privileges/she’d be doing her wifely duties’ if he forced her to have sex, and that type of thinking really only started changing relevantly recently. So that might be part of where she’s coming from, or it’s possible that she believes the common stereotype of rape where you can ‘only’ be raped by a stranger.

    I hope that you find someone to talk to, and that you and your friend/cousin start recovering from this soon.

    Disclaimer: 1. I would call what your mother went through rape – but the majority of my older relatives would disagree for the reasons I’ve mentioned and 2. I’m not talking about the legal definition of rape when it comes to ‘they decide what to call it’

    1. I agree completely. Your mom may just have a completely different relationship with herself, sex, her body, and her husband that means that Ambien-induced, against her wishes sex doesn’t add up to rape for her. That doesn’t make you or your cousin’s experiences any less valid or horrible, though. You can let your mother’s experience be not-rape and your cousin’s experience still stays rape. Rape is defined by the victim’s experience, not the rapist’s.

    2. As another note on this, your mother not defining her experiences as rape does not mean you have to deal with being around your father if you aren’t comfortable with that. You do now have a perfectly valid reason to believe he may be a threat to you or may not be the best person to expect to stand up for your boundaries and person. It is reasonable for you to think he isn’t an ally anymore and thus isn’t the best person for you to be around at this point in your life. No one gets to tell you otherwise. Your mother can define her own experiences, but you are not a bad person for asserting that you cannot be around your father anymore or at least for right now.

      1. Yep, this.

        *If* he doesn’t count as a rapist, it’s only because she’s decided not to call what happened a rape, not because of any actual difference in behavior or attitude between him and rapists – all the reasons you might want to avoid a rapist apply to him, too, label or no label.

    3. This is a really good point, albeit a extremely difficult one to deal with. I was going to write a letter to the Captain about a similar, lighter problem (even if I have a lot of problems classifying phycological abuse as “lighter” than physical, need another word).

      This threat has been very helpful to me and the most important thing I realized – and also the saddest – is that despite everything we’ve been through my mother is still not, and will never be, ready to call my father’s behavior as flat out wrong and sickening (which is how I see it). I used to think she had accepted somethings in the past because she was young and hadn’t been exposed to these things like my sister and I, but recent conversations we had about a friend’s boyfriend showed me that she has very different ideas about relationships and a woman’s place in the world. It was very, very shocking and left me confused and in tears for a few days until I accepted it’s just not something we’ll ever see eye to eye and I can’t make her see it my way. I think what the LW might be experiencing is the shock of realizing you might not find the comfort you need from the person you want it the most, but it’s really not this person’s fault.

      1. I agree with Sarah N. A single action can be both rape and not-rape, depending on whose eyes you see it through.

        LW, it might help to put some mental rephrasing in place. The Captain is absolutely right in saying that your mother doesn’t want to call what happened to you and your friend rape, then she would have to admit that what your father did was rape as well. I can’t imagine having to look at my husband and even *think* he was capable of rape.

        So when your mother says “What happened to you wasn’t rape, and it was probably your fault anyway,” as horrible and awful as that is, what she’s really saying is “What happened to ME wasn’t rape, and it was probably MY fault anyway.”

        I would imagine that she is just as tangled up in grief and guilt and regret as any survivor is, and it’s likely that she’s projecting those terrible feelings and beliefs onto you. How she deals with her situation is out of your control, and to be honest, I don’t think you’re in a good place to help her right now. She’s going to deal with those awful feelings by passing them right along to you, and that blame and guilt is the last thing you need right now.

        I second the Captain’s advice: find help for yourself, as soon as you possibly can. Your friend and your mother will need to find their own paths out of that long, dark tunnel – and you won’t be able to hold a light for them or guide them out until you know the way out yourself.

        Hang in there, LW. There is an end to that tunnel, and you’ll get there.

  8. Almost the exact same thing happened to me. I was on two major sleeping medications when it happened, but since there wasn’t enough “evidence” to “prove” it wasn’t consensual, my case never made it all the way to court.
    Because of this, most people forgot about it, including my mother. I hate to assume that because it wasn’t taken to court, that I either wasn’t raped, or that I’ve also forgotten about it.
    Since then, any incident having to do with taking my sleeping pills has been way overplayed by her. Maybe she doesn’t understand why I hate taking them.

  9. LW, my sympathies. Again, the Captain has come out with some really good advice, and I think it’s best if you leave your mum to deal with it because it isn’t good to talk about it right now. I would define it as rape, but she’s probably (as has already been said) not able to understand it in that way because she can’t deal with it.

  10. Letter-writer here. Thank you so much for your reply and all your comments. I forgot to mention that I currently live in my parents’ basement for the next five or six months as a temporary arrangement between life phases. So I see and interact with my mom and dad near-daily. So far my coping strategy is to try not to think about it. And to talk with my cousin for mutual support and empathy.

    I will try to find a safe professional space to talk about it. I’m trying to figure out if confronting my dad about feeling uncomfortable around him (not because Ithink he’ll harm me but because he squicks me out now) is a good thing to do or not.

    1. Ugh, I thought it might be something like that, where you CAN’T avoid them right now. Shora had some good suggestions in her comment upthread.

      I would not confront your dad until you’ve talked to a hotline or a pro and have someone in your corner. You could make things worse for your Mom by disclosing what she told you. In a way you’d be doing an end run around her and kind of forcing her to deal with it on your terms- do you think he’s NOT going to ask her what she told you? What you might find is that they band together and kick you out of the house.

      Also, dude, I do NOT have a script for that. Above my pay grade for sure. 😦 This might be a good time for writing long, long letters where you pour out everything you want to say to your folks and then don’t send them.

      1. Dad was in the room during our shouty match the first time when mom said, “well if that’s rape then I’ve been raped” or similar. He was on the stairs while we talked in an adjacent room when she elaborated on it later, filling in more details. Because she is so adamant it wasn’t rape (and I didn’t start out trying to tell her it was, only that what happened to my cousin was), and because my dad was present during the discussions of consent and rape previously, it followed that he was privy to the disclosure.

        Finding a pro is next step I guess.

        Thanksthanksthanks. It’s good to talk to people who understand the feminist mindset I’m coming from.

        1. Oh, man, he was there? Ugh, this situation is just sounding all kinds of horrible for you right now.

          I’m so sorry you’re going through this, LW. Can you enforce any boundaries in your current home, so that the basement becomes a private no-entry space? At least until you can find a better living arrangement.

          Aside from your parents and cousin, who else do you have nearby that you can turn to? Because this is sounding like a really good time to engage Team You, or to start building one if you don’t already have one.

        2. Wow, that’s painful. I’m so sorry. I wonder if the conversation would have potentially gone a slightly different route if it wasn’t within earshot of the person being discussed. Then again, quite possibly not.

          This situation is so impossible to navigate. I give a thousand angry growls to all the people who make it so – which is very much does *not* include you.

          I enthusiastically second the Captain’s script for how to approach this with your mom. You can’t be her confidante about this – whether that’s a for-now state or utterly permanent will depend on how things go over the years, but for certain right now when you’re living with both your parents it is just not possible.

          I might add in a sentence in there acknowledging that your conversation was probably distressing for her too – as a sort of indication that she could speak to someone about *that* if she wanted, without necessarily having to frame her experiences the way you did. I.e. she can call up a helpline or counsellor in the context of ‘my daughter said these things about her and her friend’s experiences, and it has really upset me because XYZ’, it doesn’t have to be ‘I’m calling you because my husband has raped me’. If your discussion has brought up any doubt or conflict in the way she thinks about this stuff, or even just reminded her of unpleasant memories, perhaps she could use an outlet to discuss those things. And as the Captain said, you may be in a position to connect her to that.

          But once you’ve made the offer, it’s with her. Take care of yourself first and foremost. Good luck, we’ll be thinking of you.

          1. I really like the suggestion of pointing out to your mum that she can call a hotline to discuss what you’ve been talking about. That way, someone is helping her sort out her feelings about that conversation but, importantly, that someone is not you.

        3. LW,
          I first want to tell you that I am so sorry about what you are going through. Being a rape survivor is one of the hardest things that you will ever have to go through. I too would highly recommend contacting RAINN. If you have team you in place you should really try leaning on them for support too.
          Moving forward I think you need to make yourself a calendar of when to get out. Sit down, figure out your finances and make a plan to get the hell away from your parents. Include team you in that plan. Explain the situation as much as you feel comfortable revealing (this can be as little as in light of a really bad situation I find my parents to not be people I can be around right now and I need help getting out, to giving them every detail) to the most trusted member of team you, tell them that you need help touching base with the rest of team you and have them help you get the hell out of there
          Also if you have any possible way to get out of there immediately I would take it. Do you have another member of your family who you could stay with for the next six months? A friend who would let you crash on their couch until then?

    2. I’m trying to figure out if confronting my dad about feeling uncomfortable around him (not because Ithink he’ll harm me but because he squicks me out now) is a good thing to do or not.

      Confronting your dad is not a good thing to do right now. Do not do it. Talk with a therapist, talk to a helpline, but do not try to talk this through with him. It will go badly.

      Truthfully, confronting your dad right now is a lot like sending FEELINGSMAIL to an ex-. It might (might) make you feel better, but won’t help anyone else.

      A confrontation right now would only leave you more hurt and upset. You’re not on neutral ground; you’re living in their home. There’s a lot tangled up in this mess, and it gives your dad some easy deflections. (“You’re uncomfortable because it’s always uncomfortable to know your parents still have sex” and “I know you’re working through some tough issues in your past, but don’t take it out on your mother and me” are two talking points he might deploy; they’re BS, but right now, you’re not ready to disarm them)

      Keep busy, keep out of the house, and remember that whatever the next six months bring, this is a temporary situation that will get better.

    3. Oh, LW, this is such a difficult thing. I’m sorry you have to go through this, and even sorrier to hear you’ve got to live with it for months.

      Definitely (if you can!) get a lock on a door between you and them. You don’t seem to feel in danger, but you also don’t feel safe; a lock might help you with that.

      The advice upthread about getting out of the house is very, very good. One thing you can do, if you go to the same place over and over, is to befriend the people who work there. You don’t have to be besties and you don’t have to disclose anything, but you can get to a place where you have pleasant chitchat that might help remind you what it’s like to be normal. This is also important because if you have any emotional crises while you’re out, it’s super helpful to have someone around who knows your name.

      Jedi hugs for you, LW, if you want them.

      I feel like we should have a Local Outreach Forum, where people can declare their regions and help others who are struggling in their areas. Sadly it could go So Badly and many people are quite reasonably unwilling to put their locations on the internets. But I just wish there were a way. I guess people should just call meetups and ask for help there.

      1. I’d like to second the part about setting up the awesome army help me out of my bad situation community group. We should definitely start working on this being a thing.

      2. If you can’t get a lock, you might try setting something noisy by your door so no one can come in without you knowing while you’re there. It’s not as good, but it made me feel safer going to sleep knowing that I would be woken if someone tried to come in.

    4. Honestly, with your dad? DO NOT TOUCH until you’ve moved out, I think. Unless there is some direct harm to you right now in NOT confronting him about it, I really think you should wait, even if it is 5-6 months until you can leave (any way to speed that up? What’s the situation there, if you don’t mind me asking? Maybe someone knows of a way to get you out of there, if it’s for a reason beyond your control). At best now, it’s just squicky and awkward. Awkwardness can be lived through, especially if you spend a lot of time out of the house/alone in your room!

      Also, I think waiting a while gives you time to hash this one out very thoroughly with a therapist, because good lord this is a muddley quagmire to slosh through! It’s definitely not the kind of issue that can be figured out overnight.
      I’m utterly stumped as to what to say about it — I wanted to comment on it earlier, but I’m just… nope I am not even qualified to breathe on that topic, let alone attempt advice.

    5. LW,

      You are going through some fucking serious shit in your life right now and you are handling it remarkably well. My heart goes out to you and you have all of my Jedi hugs. You are strong and brave; you will get through this.

      Please don’t confront your dad just yet. You should definitely wait until you are out of the house and not dependent on your parents as far as your living/financial situation goes. If there is a possibility of him physically or otherwise harming you, you need to be somewhere safe. When you find help, definitely talk about it with them and process how it will go if you do confront your dad.

      I wouldn’t have any deep conversations with your parents again until you’re out of the house. My heart also goes out to your mother for the shit she went through and what she’s processing, but you need to take care of yourself first. You are important and while you can’t fix anything else, you can take care of you and make sure you get to a place where you feel safe and ready to deal with all of this.

    6. I just want to add, I would strongly caution against calling hotlines or crisis centers with the word “Pregnancy” in the title, as in: “Rape and Pregnancy Crisis Center”. I did this once, in college, when I thought I might be pregnant (I wasn’t…thank goodness). Turns out it was a center run by extremely anti-choice, religious propaganda people, and this is a front that many anti-feminist, anti-choice organizations use to try to coerce women out of having abortions. This is why I’d also recommend RAINN, which is well-known and established.

  11. There’s so much good stuff in the Captain’s response and all these comments, nothing constructive to add!

    But have a massive heap of *jedi hugs* and remember, with the internet, you don’t have to face anything alone. We’ve got your back.

  12. Dear on the’ verge of tears’,i know where you are coming from, i had the experience of saying no to Sex after i had ended the relationship,he ignored it,and just claimed he was being ‘rough’, i did not scream and shout,i ‘endured’ it,and then was never alone in his company, (could not exclude him as he was a ‘trusted family friend’).I did not think this was rape until i was talking to a counsellor after something he did ‘triggered’ memories,( he has been causing trouble in my family).It was a shock to finally name it, my Mother was like yours in many ways,there was such a pervasive attitude years ago that women somehow were more responsible, and if they were alone with Men what ‘did they expect’ treating men like ‘naughty boys’, and holding Women to some higher maral standard.
    When me and my children were ‘flashed’ at a local beauty spot,she said it was my fault ‘for being there alone’ without a man to ‘protect us’!! (although there were plenty of people around, other families),it was still my fault to her….when i was 15 and followed in a local Park,it was my fault too, for reporting it to the Police!!!….so i stopped telling her, my daughters knew i would go straight to the Police if anything happened to them, so they did not tell me either!!!..,my daughters knew i would fight like a tigress for them,but i was never sure if my Mum was just worried ‘what the Neighbours would think’….It has taken a long time for me to come to terms with her attitude,another Male relative beat me up a few times,at 15 i blamed her for not protecting me, hardly her fault….

  13. I’m sorry for what the LW and other posters on this thread have been through. Jedi hugs to you all.

  14. Oh, gods, LW I’m so sorry. You and your shitheel ex were not both at fault, HE is at fault, and he’s a piece of roach shit. As is your cousin’s ex. They are rapist shitheels.

    Before I got to the part about your mother’s rapes (yes, I agree she gets to define them as whatever and you cannot tell her differently, but still, I think your dad had sex with her without her consent), I was going to say, “It’s a painful lesson but now you know you cannot share things with your parents. They love you but they are too steeped in this misogynist culture and do not have your back on this stuff. Start gaining some emotional distance now to keep yourself safe.”

    I still think you should do that–they don’t have your back, they aren’t being empathetic, and it sucks. It is something to grieve over to know that your folks don’t believe you or will dismiss you when it comes to stuff like this (which is why the “What if it was YOUR daughter” argument strikes me as ineffective. Answer: “If it was their daughter they’d say she’d asked for it/might be lying/was being dramatic.”)

    And I will echo the Captain’s advice–call RAINN and talk about this with a qualified therapist. I’m glad that your cousin is in your corner. (She knows your mother knows, right?)

    Now, I get that in the heat of the moment, when your mother said those things about your dad, you just didn’t know what to do or say besides what you did and said–and I agree that maybe you accurately calling what happened to you and your cousin as rape is making her question her whole marriage and life, etc. So let this drop. Don’t convince her that what happened to her was rape. She doesn’t want to hear it, it’s not your place to do it, and frankly, you’ve got to keep yourself safe. Use that to understand why she’s being the way she is (while still not confiding as much as what color blouse you’re going to buy). But since you wouldn’t want her to try to repeatedly try to convince you that what happened to you was no big deal/not rape, just let this lie. Don’t discuss it with anyone else in the family (if you did with your cousin or anyone else, drop it). That’s your mother’s experience to process how she sees fit. You’ve got enough on your plate.

    Since your dad heard the argument, he’s not going to be all that surprised if you give yourself a truckload of distance between the two of you (I hope). People do want to convince themselves and everyone else that they are really good people, and he may try to convince you that you’re being irrational and dramatic or whatever and that (like how your mother said) it’s somehow your job to say no in the right way during the correct phase of the moon for a man to listen, poor dears they can’t manage without random women parenting them.

    During the next five months, be out of the house as much as you can. Are you working? Can you pick up extra hours/get a second job? Are you going to school? Study at the library (Go The Fuck To The Library anyway, as the Captain has advised before). Get a part-time job and save scads of money. If you get a part-time job at an answering service or a restaurant, you’ll probably get shifts during Thanksgiving or Christmas. If not (or if it’s not feasible for you to skip the holidays), go but have a few people on Team You at the ready via text/cell phone call. Are the holidays at your house? It means you can go out for a walk if things get too much or you can excuse yourself to drop in on friends. Will they be at other relative’s homes? Can you drive yourself? Do that and then beg off early if you need to.

    Is there a friend you can stay with for the next five months? Not to tell you that you HAVE TO MOVE OUT NOW kind of thing, but if it’s something that you can do, it might give you some peace of mind to know that it’s an option.

    Do you have siblings? Do they know about what happened to you/your argument with your mother? Are they in your corner?

    Otherwise, start getting your ducks in a row for your move. Make sure any bank accounts are in your name only, keep your laptop password protected and under lock and key, keep any private journals/papers/writings in a locked box/file cabinet and keep the key with you. I don’t think your parents will rifle through your stuff but it’s probably a good idea to take some precautions. Your ex violated your boundaries in some horrible ways; there’s nothing wrong with drawing some big-ass boundaries now.

    Hugs to you, LW. A lot of us have been where you are–or at least in that neighborhood–and it sucks. 😦

  15. I don’t really have anything for you in the advice-giving department here. This is just amazingly awful, so I’m chiming in to validate, hey, if you feel amazingly awful, that sounds like a really reasonable way to be feeling right now.

    I think (unfortunately) that more than a few of us have dealt with the whole “for one reason or another, everybody is pressuring you to be cool with a known rapist” issue. But to have it be your dad, and while you’re living with him… that’s above and beyond anything I know how to say other than oh my god I am so sorry you are going through this.

    When I was a kid, I was in an abusive home. I didn’t know that’s what it was — I didn’t have the words — so I didn’t know how to ask for help, or what help would even look like. I did know that when I grew up, I wanted to help people who were unhappy or afraid be less unhappy or afraid.

    I didn’t know yet about all the grown-up professions where you can do that, so I didn’t know I could go to the library and look up “psychology” and get a head start. Instead, I tried to learn from myself. It was sort of a way of disengaging from how intense and inescapable my pain was, but I did learn a lot, too. I paid close attention to how different things made me feel, and I would try things in a sort of spirit of scientific inquiry. Like, if my dad was screaming at me, on the outside I’d slap on whatever face I needed for the interaction, but inside, I’d cycle between emotions like I was trying on hats. What’s it like if I get angry at him? What’s it like if I blame myself? What’s it like if I tune him out? What’s it like if I try to believe him? How do all those things feel, how do they affect me, how do they help or not help, and knowing all that, what kind of advice would I give to somebody else this sad and afraid?

    What I’m saying is, nobody here really knows what to say because this is so much harder than what most of us have had to experience. So when you come out the other end of this, I think you’re going to be the expert on it. And I think, if Captain Awkward ever gets another question like this, you’re going to be the very helpful voice popping up in the comments to say, “Okay, I got this.”

    I know that doesn’t really help you *now*, but I just wanted to say that your thoughts and feelings on this, your experience, your understanding of what’s happening — I think all that is utterly valuable, worthwhile, and important, and I hope you find a way to share those things whenever you feel safe to do so.

  16. I had a question for the commenters (Captain, feel free to shut this down if you feel it’s not relevant for this thread). The advice to call RAINN or other hotlines to get support on things like this, that’s something I frequently see, and it’s advice I’ve given, too. And I think it’s good advice! But have I ever called RAINN or other hotlines during those times when it might have been appropriate? No, I have not. Because of reason x and reason y and it’s not really my thing and also other reasons and feelings, which, you know, I get to deal how I want to deal, yadda yadda, but it means that I give out this advice without actually knowing what it would be like to make that call, what it sounds like on the other end, how it helps, what the hotline can actually do, etc. I know that if I ever actually decided I wanted to call a hotline, the absolute not-knowing about what it would be like might be scary enough to stop me, so I’d like to know a little more.

    So I was wondering, if any of the commenters here have actually made a call to a crisis hotline to receive some help, would you mind sharing what that turned out like?

      1. I do have a friend (also an awesome blogger) who has volunteered for a local rape crisis line for several years. If you are needing that perspective, let me know and I can see if she’s interested in sharing some details of what happens on the other end of the line.

          1. What about hospital-based crisis programs? They vary a lot by jurisdiction but I’d be happy to write a little something about the one I volunteer for.

          2. Sounds good. Email me 500-600 words? I’ll compile it with a few other folks’ submissions.

        1. I used to call DV hotlines quite a bit when I was trying to steel myself to make the Great Escape. Sometimes it helped a lot, the lack of judgment and the complete belief in what I was saying. And there was a lot of great, practical advice about how to do things in a safe way, and a couple of times I had call-backs organized by hotlines so that I could speak to a lawyer.

          Once, when I was right on the edge, there was a woman who seemed to be really set in her interpretation of my situation, that the panic I felt in leaving was me ‘grieving the relationship’. I said it wasn’t, it was blind fear, but she was really set on this idea. Maybe it had worked in the past, but for some reason it stopped my momentum, having to be staunch in my viewpoint. This was the only mildly negative experience with hotlines though.

          1. To afloat’s point — hotlines tend to be staffed by volunteers. The organizations generally do a good job at training, and the volunteers are generally amazing, but volunteers come with caveats. Not a reason not to call, but perhaps a reason to end a call and call back later/ask to be transferred.

            I have a friend who is on staff at the National Domestic Violence Hotline — PFC Marie (or whomever does the guest post), I’m happy to ask her for anything that might be helpful. Hit me up via email.

          2. To add a bit to AmyJ’s comment – in my experience as a volunteer, most of the volunteers were also fairly short term. They were typically social work or psychology students who were required to complete a certain number of service hours, so they volunteered for one semester to complete their hours and then moved on to other things.

            I have really mixed feelings about that. Being a hotline volunteer is tough and really not for everyone, so I understand that the organizations in question probably have a hard time finding volunteers in the first place. But it also troubles me that my state’s largest dv organization has a nearly 100% volunteer turnover every 4 months or so.

        2. I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when I was having a super, super anxious night but was not suicidal. The first thing I learned was that all the suicide prevention IM programs out there are pretty much only open during regular business hours, so if you have social anxiety and are having an anxiety attack, you will have to use a ton of spoons to actually call the damn number.

          I called at 4 AM, so the first time I got transferred to a local line, I was on hold for 20 minutes. Not good. Hung up, paced some more, called again and was instantly picked up by my local volunteer. She asked my first name and told me hers, and asked about what was going on. I explained my huge anxiety situation, and she gave some standard suggestions, some helpful and some less helpful. At reasonable intervals, she checked in about how I was feeling. At some point I realized I had done ALL the self-care I could do (take emergency anxiety med, try breathing exercises, try some body weight exercises to focus my mind elsewhere, try calling friends, etc.) and told her so, and she respected that and asked how she could help. I decided that the best thing would be for her to distract me and just talk at me for a bit, so I ended up chatting with her for an hour about her job and life (in vague general terms) until the combination of meds, exhaustion, and distraction got me calmed down. She was very good at noticing mood changes and checking in about them, and several times I said “Yes, I’m calmer, but keep talking for a little longer, please?” until I was able to say “Yes, I think I can sleep now. Thank you so much.”

          This is only one experience, and I suspect some people may only get the bad bits (well-meaning suggestions, only one staffer in the middle of the night who has to take another call, long wait times, self-doubt) or only the good bits (neutral, trained, listening ear who is on your side, someone checking in about your emotions and helping you figure out if “current emotions” are step A, what possible step Bs are, someone who is available at 4 AM, someone who doesn’t care if your problem doesn’t fit the exact perfect stereotypical shape of the problem the hotline is supposed to help with, someone who can refer you to other help if needed). But even with my mixed experience, I am very grateful that the Lifeline was there, and while it is last on my list of “places to call when I need help” after my regular doctors and some easily reachable, good reflective listening friends, it is definitely on my list.

    1. I called a county run crisis hotline in the aftermath of a crime and holy cow, the response was amazing. I rec’d immediate, practical help. It was such a relief to know that I didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting by myself. There were all kinds of resources available to me and I took advantage of them. The initial conversation–Are you eating? Are you sleeping? Are you someplace safe?–made me realize that I really did need help, which is always hard for me to acknowledge. That call and the subsequent treatment I received was essential to my recovery.

    2. I never called RAINN, so I can’t say how that specifically would work. However, last year after I finally was able to name an experience I’d had as sexual assault and was in turmoil over it, I called my school’s sexual assault crisis line, so I have a bit of experience with something similar. How it went for me:

      Making the call was a very good, helpful thing and even in the middle of it I started to feel a bit of relief – and I say that as someone who *hates* talking on the phone to strangers and will avoid it like the plague because Anxiety. I was a little scared when I took out my phone and went through the whole ‘it wasn’t that bad, you’re just wanting attention, blah blah blah’ stuff, but when I worked up the courage to hit the button and say ‘hi, I’m X and I’m calling because, um, I think maybe I was assaulted, do not know what to do, HELP!?’ somehow just doing that itself started to help. It made it real, but in a ‘I have resources to deal with this!’ way, and suddenly I wasn’t dealing with it only in my own head all alone. Also I think that just taking even a tiny step to help *myself* was its own kind of help, because I was in effect saying to myself, “this matters, you matter, we can and will deal with it, but also you get to feel however you want and there is support for you, and you are showing yourself you are worth that.”

      The person on the other end (female in my case) was calm, understanding, and supportive, and was neither freaked out about the topic or judgmental. She let me talk through it for a few minutes, asking gentle questions, and helped me back up a bit from the dark place I was in at that moment. Then she explained a bit about how the system at my school works, and the options I had available. She helped me set up to go in to see one of the counselors, and gave me her name, and told me that if I couldn’t get an appointment or had any difficulty like that, to call her back. (I had no problems, but it was good to know I could call and have someone there to help who already knew about everything.) So working from that experience, I would definitely say that calling a crisis line can be a very good thing to do, and can give you a way to get more help. It may seem scary going in, but unless for some reason you get a shitty person on the line, the experience itself is nowhere near as bad as the anxiety can make it seem. YMMV.

      LW, I’m so so sorry for what you’re going through. *jedi hugs* I hope this helps, and best wishes to you.

    3. I haven’t called a crisis hotline but I used to answer one (dv, not sexual assault). Not sure how much this will answer your question, but what the hey. May go without saying, but there’s some discussion of domestic violence in the below if that’s triggering for anyone.

      How the call plays out sort of depends on what the caller is seeking. Lots of people called us with a specific issue they needed assistance with – they were looking for an attorney, they needed a shelter bed, etc. Those calls almost follow a script – the caller explains what they are looking for, us call-answerers do some brief emotional validation (“that sounds difficult, I’m glad you called us”) and then find the specific resources or answers the caller was looking for. We close the call by emphasizing that they can call us back at any time for any reason.

      Other calls were women looking for someone to process with. A lot of my fellow volunteers were social work or psychology students, but what we were doing was “supportive counseling”, rather than therapeutic counseling. We listened, reflected back what the caller was saying, and validated their experience and feelings. As the call ended we would remind them the hotline was available 24/7 and, if they seemed interested, we might direct them to support groups or a free/low-cost counseling clinic.

      There were also a few women literally in the middle of a crisis. Something had happened in her relationship that had led her to walk out that day and she didn’t know what to do next. These calls were a combination of the supportive counseling and the logistical find-this-woman-a-place-to-sleep-tonight calls.

    4. I volunteered at a local sexual assault prevention center as a rape victim advocate. When I worked the hotline, calls went to answering service, who took a phone number where the person could be called back, and then the answering service called me with the info. Alternatively, they could be “patched through” straight to me, but they tried to discourage that and I can’t recall why.

      When I called the person back, I would introduce myself, and immediately ask if they were in a safe place right now. If not, we could discuss how they could *be* safe, but fortunately I never took one of those calls! Most of the calls I took were “I was assaulted/I think I was assaulted/I don’t know what to call this” calls. We worked hard to validate their feelings, tell them that what happened to them was NOT OKAY, and generally just listen. We had resources available if they needed food/shelter/police help, and our organization offered free counseling, so that was an option as well. We explicitly did NOT push people to file charges etc…, just mentioned that as an option but I at least always told them “You know what is best for you, and whatever decision you make is the right one.” We talked as long as they wanted, and always offered an appointment with our therapists and/or follow up phone calls.

      I took calls from women who had been assaulted the night before, to years before. People who had loved ones who were assaulted. People who were thinking of self-harming because they had been assaulted. Once, a man who was assaulted, though they were infrequent callers. We went through 20+ hours of training, and had to renew our certification yearly. We were sworn to confidentiality, so nothing we were told was acted upon, unless someone was going to imminently harm themselves, someone else, or a child was being abused.

      I’d add more, but I have to run to class. I hope that helps answer some questions, anyway!

    5. My experience is with domestic violence, not sexual assault. I called Kids Help Phone when I was about 11. I wanted to describe what was happening to me and find out for sure if it was bad, or if I was wrong for thinking it was bad.

      Unfortunately, I chickened out when they picked up the phone. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them what was actually going on, so I just said, “I don’t have any friends,” (also true at the time) and they suggested I try inviting other kids over to play after school. Not helpful to someone being bullied at school and abused at home, but I’d like to think they’d have been a little better at it if I’d told them the truth.

    6. I called a suicide hotline once and it was … effective? As in, well I’m still alive, so spot on work there. As far as actual comfort? No, not really. But maybe that’s not really what they’re designed to do, or maybe I just got the least warm-and-squishy suicide phone operator of all time.

      Looking back on it, if I had had one good friend or relative I felt comfortable calling at 2 in the morning, I would have called that hypothetical person instead. But I didn’t have a person like that. I was going through a divorce from a spouse who had effectively cut me off from all of my friends and most of my family. The family I had left was wonderful and forgiving and helpful but they were also busy with their own real-life lives. I didn’t have someone to sob to, someone to bring me tea or brush my hair or watch bad reality TV with. I had tried reddit but it actually made things worse when I got troll-jacked and people started calling for my blood.

    7. I called the police (UK, London) to report a sexual assault last year.

      The first thing which helped was having the telephone operator confirm that yes, what happened to me genuinely was illegal (I was really shaken, to the point where I couldn’t process this sort of thing at the time).

      I then was visited (at work, about an hour or two later – they checked with me first that I was happy to be visited there) by a female police sergeant, who took my story and details and the photo I had taken of the guy. [Sadly the photo was no use as it was taken from behind and was too generic.]

      Later I was asked to schedule a time to visit a police detective. This was another woman, and I was interviewed by her & signed a statement.

      Both women gave me their contact details and told me to get back in touch at any time. They also referred me to victim support etc., which I didn’t end up using.

      The case came to nothing (CCTV evidence was corrupted????), but other than that everything was as satisfactory as possible under the circumstances.

      What helped was the validation – everyone taking it seriously as a real crime.

    8. I called a mental health hotline on a weekend, once, and it was pretty unsatisfying. The situation is that I was going through a massive depressive episode, involving many days of being unable to get out of bed for crying, and several visits during weekday, walk-in hours. On this Sunday, I had a volunteer commitment, so I couldn’t just wallow in bed (on other days I had work, but, meh).

      On intake, I basically got, “Are you actively trying to kill yourself? No? Ok, we’ll call you back.” Well, fair enough, limited resources and everything.

      By the time they called me back, I had managed to drag myself out of bed and put clothing on. The worker essentially said, “Oh, you stopped crying? All good, then. Bye now.”

      Based on one experience, my advice for calling hotlines *when you are not in immediate need* is to call when there are likely to be a lot of staff members. I’m only guessing, but I think that during normal working hours, there will be more people to talk to.

      If you are in immediate need, and it’s off-hours, and you are not actively being ________, I have a hard time advocating calling a hotline.

      1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Now that you have some distance, can you suggest something that would have been more helpful to you?

    9. I’ve called such lines on various occasions, with mixed experiences. I think they would be very useful for people who were having trouble thinking of self care, because they give concrete and useful suggestions and generally did a good job of talking me through what sorts of things make me feel better and how I could do them. On the other hand, I was usually doing all the self care things, so on some occasions that just made me feel helpless because there was nothing more I could do.

      The times it has been most useful to me fall into two different categories:

      1. Validation: when I needed to hear someone recognize that I was going through something bad and that I was coping and I wasn’t just crazy. I do have a mental illness, and it’s hard to describe to laypeople why I need to do these things that I do to cope with it. Even with my dear friends who would do anything to help me (and have!) there’s a barrier where they try to understand but can’t quite get there, and I get uncomfortable because I sound crazy trying to explain, so I give up. With the confidentiality, I can explain without getting uncomfortable about it in future interactions, and just hearing someone get it can make a difference.

      2. Promises: I recently went through a really awful time, and it got very hard to continue self care and to avoid harmful behaviors. I found that sometimes it was easier on me, instead of just using my willpower to refuse to do things that would be bad for me, to tell someone else that I wanted to do this thing, and have them tell me I shouldn’t. It was somehow much easier to do things for other people than for myself. But that’s a pretty hard thing to place on friends, so when I really just needed the night off from doing the hard thing for myself, I’d call the crisis line and say, I’m having a hard time with this, I want to do this thing, but I don’t want to, and talk for a little and then agree with them that I wouldn’t do anything. It saved me energy on the really bad nights and made it easier to get through.

      I don’t know that I would have used the crisis for the promises if I had had friends who had a better understanding of me. My friends at the time, though they cared deeply about me, thought I was fragile in ways that I never have been, and were noticably scared for me. If I had been around my old, closer friends or my family, I wouldn’t have needed to hide things, because they saw me more clearly.

    10. I called my work’s EAP in the throes of realizing that my Darth Vader Ex had in fact been abusive and a rapist. It was incredibly helpful.

      I called in on a Monday afternoon after a coworker offered to drive me home after finding me crying in my office (awkward!) The counselor I spoke to was very task-oriented and focused in on getting me an in-person referral right away. Though I had called to talk to someone /right then/, this gave me something to focus on, and I went into detail with my requirements – feminist, sex-positive, queer-friendly. Once she had all that down remembered why I’d originally called and basically just asked if I could talk with her a bit longer. I mention this in case others get a very task-oriented counselor as a reminder that even if your EAP includes counseling right when you call, you may have to ask specifically for it.

      The counselor she found me is super great and I was able to get in to see her two days later. Overall, A++ Would Call In A Crisis Again.

      In retrospect I was so lucky to have pored over my benefits package when I moved from country-with-awesome-public-healthcare to the US. As such I knew /exactly/ what I had access to. Different EAPs will have different amounts of in-person vs. phone counseling, so it’s worth checking your benefits stuff before a crisis hits. If you don’t have bennies that include counseling, the Captain’s post on locating low-cost therapy ( https://captainawkward.com/2011/09/22/how-to-locate-low-cost-mental-health-care-in-the-us-and-canada-guest-post/ ) is also a great resource.

    11. During my time as a trainee teacher, I was crying every night and making myself sick every morning because I dreaded going into work with this one coworker, who was picking on me and being generally passive aggressive. I broke down multiple times in front of doctors who were concerned and referred me to a psychiatrist/counsellor but I never turned up for those appointments. All that time I had support from friends (and later, co-workers) and then one day, I decided to quit. It was the hardest decision I have ever made and there was a sense of relief when it came down to that, but I was still crying every night because I love the job, of working with the kids and many of my co-workers.

      I realised that I was bullied but I always thought that it was my fault; that I had done/said something to trigger the bully’s reaction, that it was for the better that I was leaving, that it was ME, which meant even if I got a transfer the same bullying patterns would still happen because I was weak.

      One day I just could not stop crying and I called the teachers’ helpline. My friends had always insisted that it was not my fault, yet it was the stranger on the other side of the line who made me feel like my feelings were finally validated. I was a mess during the entire hour I was with the person on the line, but it finally felt good.

      She was the reason I stood up for myself during the last month of work. “I’m not the one acting irrationally”, I kept thinking to myself. In opening myself up, coworkers knew me more (I was shy and antisocial because I did not want to bitch about a coworker in front of them) and they took my side and my last month was filled with them constantly making me smile and dragging me away from the bully whenever she is around. They KNEW, and I never even told them. That opening up part was amazing because I got to know so many great people.

      Honestly, I’m still not over it. Every time someone mentions teaching, my heart sinks and I long to go back. The only thing I would change is to see a professional immediately. I got myself a job very quickly and did not have the time to actually process what happened. I’m applying to jobs in a different country because I hope I’ll regain my passion for life in a new environment, but I’m not sure if it would take and now I’m in a rut. So yes, professional help would be good and I’m looking into seeing one.

      Sorry tl;dr. Summary is validation by stranger over hotline was extremely helpful, but not to neglect getting professional help after.

  17. I think previous commenters have covered most of what I wanted to say except for my concept of non-Boolean consent. I was coerced into sex by someone who was (supposedly) a friend at the time, and while I didn’t feel that my consent was exactly free, I did give some consent: I have never felt that I was raped. It’s a strange position to be in, especially since someone else in the same situation could have felt that it was rape. It’s got to be up to the person affected. So I describe it as coercion and as compromised consent, and I avoid the perpetrator, and it was really not rape or assault to me.

    Maybe that doesn’t make you feel any better about your mother’s perspective, LW. I’d be angry and creeped out as hell about the whole situation, too. I feel like I’ve been in her position to some extent, though, so I can at least verify that she may not feel as bad as it might seem she should. (Can’t approve of saying your friend’s rape wasn’t one, though.) Good luck dealing with and getting out of the awful situation.

  18. LW, I’m so sorry about what you’re going through, many Jedi hugs to you. There has been some excellent advice both from the Captain and the commenters.

    I wanted to chime in with my own experience of non-Boolean consent (thanks for that Jinian, I’ve never known what to call it before now, I just referred to it as coerced or incomplete consent). I never have and still don’t think of what happened to me as rape or abuse, although there are some people who I think would define it that way.

    It took me a long time to talk to anyone about it, and eventually I got very drunk one night and ended up telling my mother about it. My situation was complicated by the fact that the person I had the experience with was a member of my family, and also significantly older than me. My mother went berserk. She told me that I’d been abused, and that I was an abuse victim, although she didn’t use the word rape. This was unbelievably traumatic for me, and I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t accept my hysterical assertions that I wasn’t a victim, it wasn’t abuse. She was determined to categorize my experience in her own way, and she was determined that I would agree with her about what she felt had happened to me.

    I appreciate now where she was coming from although I still disagree with her assessment of the situation, but it was so painful for me to have her try to assert that she knew what my experience had been better than I did. I hope that this will give you some sympathy for how it might have felt for your mother when you told her you thought she had been raped. She may come to see it that way eventually, but even if she doesn’t please respect her feelings about her experience and what she wants to call it.

    My mother is still not able to hear me talk about what happened to me without becoming very upset (more upset than I get about it, these days). I find this very difficult to deal with, as her reaction to my experience now eclipses mine. Her being more upset about it than I am seems very strange to me. The end result is that I try very hard not to speak about it around her because it is upsetting for both of us, but I still find it hurtful that she can’t accept my understanding of the situation and wants to try and push her view of events on to me.

    I hope that you and your mother will come to a place where you can talk about the various things you describe in your letter and be on the same page, but I want you to know that even if that never happens, you can still have a good relationship with her and simply agree that there are some topics which are out of bounds. This is where I am with my mother now, and things are much better for everyone concerned.

    Sorry this turned into a bit of an essay.

  19. Oh, this is really tough. My Mom has similar views on rape (but neither I nor her have ever been raped), and it was shocking when I found it. I found out in a very similar way- I was talking (in generalities) about rapists using alcohol as a tool, and my Mom got very upset about the idea that having sex with a drunk girl was rape. She also did the (word-for-word) “If that is rape then I’ve been raped tons of times in college”. But my Dad was completely 100% on my side here (I think having 2 daughters made him very aware of these issues). However, no matter what my Dad, my sister or I said, my Mom couldn’t see it my way. She was raised with a very conservative catholic family- I think whatever influence rape culture has on people right now, it was probably 100x stronger when she was a teenager. To her, having sex when she was drunk wasn’t rape. But if I got raped while I was drunk and I told her? I’d like to think she would call it rape and support me- which is where your Mom failed.

    Actually, if I am reading this right, your Mom wasn’t just disagreeing about what counted as rape, she was doing it as an argument to prove what happened to you WASN’T rape. That is wrong. That is also, to me, a sign that you should not be expecting any support from your Mom. Stop talking about this with her- it is not going to go anywhere good. But also remember that just because HER definition of rape is screwed up and she doesn’t want to acknowledge the problems around impairment and consent, doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. If you have been assaulted, then you know just how ugly and pervasive rape culture is. And hopefully you have been able to push past it to escape all the shame it would want to lump on you. Try to see this as just an extension of that. It isn’t that something is wrong with you. It isn’t that your mother hates your or is ashamed of you. It is that this pervasive, insidious almost brain-washing like type of thinking has snuck into your Mom’s head, and is clouding her judgement. What is talking isn’t just your Mom- it is all the stereotypes, assumptions, lies and shame that rape culture has filled her with.

    1. It’s so tough having conversations like that with a parent, and then realizing that they will (probably) not be a safe place for you if/when you are in that situation. Once had a discussion with my mom when there were all those news stories about school bullying where girls who had “sexted” their bf’s were having their nude pictures distributed around schools by their bf or other girls. Mom was of the firm belief that it was that girl’s fault for sending a nude picture in the first place and she should have known better. I was trying to explain that when you feel like you’re in a trusting relationship with someone you do not expect that kind of thing to ever happen or to have your trust so horribly misused. Nope, she would not be swayed. To who, any girl/women who sends out nude pictures should not only expect to have their trust violated, but is 100% responsible for that violation. Mom didn’t even know that girl could have easily have been me. When my bf and I were still very long distance we traded nude pictures and sexy videos. He could have betrayed that trust and I could have been the girl crying in her room wondering why this is happening to me, wondering if living is even worth it. I got really upset that day because suddenly my mom was no longer a safe person to talk to if something like that ever happens to me. Nevermind if it was me in that situation suddenly she might change her mind or at least be supportive because I’m her daughter. Doesn’t matter if that would be the case. Her words tell me she would not support me, and if I was in that situation I would not take my chances on her MAYBE acting different than she says she would.

      I have a list of all sorts of things I will NEVER share with my parents, and it is always a sad time when I have to add one more thing to that list. My parents and I generally get along great – they are one of my major support networks when my life starts to crumble – and it really is painful to know that some parts of my life will be off limits from them forever.

      I wish there was a better way of dealing with it than just sealing things away in a “never for parents” box, and hoping to god nothing ever accidentally slips out around them.

      1. I also have a “never for parents” box, and an uncomfortable relationship with it. It’s hard letting my parents support me in any way when I know that there are certain things that wouldn’t just be awkward to talk about, they would lead to anger and rejection. It’s hard having someone who for your whole life has been saying”I love you and I will always be here for you, no matter what, you can tell me anything”, suddenly prove that they were lying to you. It’s heartbreaking, and I still don’t know what to do about how much it hurts to continue having a relationship with my parents while that box still exists.

  20. There has been a lot of emphasis on this thread about your mom’s right to define her experiences and how she feels, but let me tell you, OP, that is not your problem. You don’t have to be understanding and caring right now. She hurt you, why she did it is moot, and you have a right to that hurt. And a right to protect yourself. Drop the subject, create space any way you can, talk to a professional, and later you can reach out to her, but as the Cap’n says, put on your own oxygen mask first.

    Disclosure: My mom is going through some bad trouble right now and I have been doing my best to understand, support, and show I care about her while she uses me as her punching bag. No more. Just because what she’s doing is an understandable if unfortunate reaction, it does NOT make it okay. I am not obligated to do mental gymnastics to excuse it.

  21. Regular commenter here, but commenting anonymously for reasons that will become obvious.

    I was raped by a boyfriend when I was in my 20’s, and although many of my friends know, the only reason I can’t be completely public about it is that I cannot tell my parents. Out of the millions of people in the world, there are only two that I really believe I must keep the rape a secret from, and ironically I am closer to them than most of those other millions that I would happily tell.

    This is frustrating, because I would really like to be able to publicly and loudly speak about my experience, to raise consciousness about rape culture, etc. However, I know that my mother, especially, would absolutely not be a safe person to tell. She believes very firmly in the just-world fallacy and even if she didn’t immediately blame me, I know her behavior after that would be very paranoid and possibly judgmental.

    Just wanted to share my experience. It hurts to run into the fact that your parents cannot handle certain things, but sometimes they are just not safe for certain things. (And for some unlucky people, happily not myself, they are not safe to be around period.)

    1. Hi, I had a kinda similar situation after my assault. I felt I couldn’t tell my family why I was reelingly depressed and chaotic that last year of college. I thought they were generally safe people and I didn’t think they would really blame me, though. I just didn’t know exactly how they would react, and couldn’t bear the idea of them treating me differently. I talked to friends and therapists, who were variously helpful. But I felt guilty at not telling my family, because without knowing why I was such a mess, they were kinda unsupportive of my sad, angry feelings, and it felt like I was lying to them. :/Eventually I got to the point where my desire to talk openly about my experiences outweighed the fear I felt around disclosing. The words built up til they had to come out. It felt like not telling them was holding me back from recovering completely, and if I could pass this test then I was officially Getting Over It.So I told them. It was terrifying. But I told them. And they listened. And they were supportive. And there were hugs.And then it was added to the giant pile of Things Not To Be Talked About, and they have not mentioned it again in two years. Sometimes I do reference the fact I am a survivor, to be met with mildly embarrassed silence.The weirdest thing? Now I’m finally free to talk about it publicly… I don’t. I’m too afraid.So, yeah. I don’t know quite why I’m sharing this now, but I guess my story shows that this is messy business. There is no right way to do any of this. But if some instinct tells you a person is not safe to tell, I’d say listen to it. I don’t regret telling my family, but while I was prepared for grand gestures of outrage and support, I wasn’t prepared for it to be no big deal.Now I look back and ohhhhh boy, they are not as safe as I had thought. I see it now. But at the time…

      1. I know you probably know this, but I’m going to say it anyway: people suck at dealing with other people’s bad stuff. Whether it’s your cancer diagnosis, the death of your loved one, the fact that you’re getting divorced because your spouse cheated on you, or your rape, a LOT of people just don’t know how to deal. They know there’s wrong stuff to say, but they’re not sure what it is. They know there’s right stuff to say — but again, they’re not sure what it is.

        Which actually makes sense, because there isn’t some universal formula of How All Rape Victims (or cancer patients or widows/widowers, soon-to-be-divorcees etc. etc. etc.) Want to Process their Experience with Others. Even the same person won’t want to deal with their Crappy Thing the same way all the time; folks going through something really shitty have phases/moods where they want to obsess about whatever they’re going through and need someone willing to wallow in the crappiness with them, and they have moods/phases when they just want to pretend everything is hunky dory and get on with the other stuff in their lives… and everything in between. Or they’ll be one way with one person, another way with another person, and those won’t necessarily be the people you’d expect them to be that way with based on closeness. And it’ll change from day to day, or even hour to hour.

        So y’know, it’s hard to get it right — and because people are often insecurely self-centered and don’t want to risk saying anything if they can’t be confident they’re getting it “right,” you get a lot of that deer-in-the-headlights thing you got when you tell them about the sucky thing you’re going through. It doesn’t NECESSARILY mean they aren’t upset on your behalf, or that they wish you had just kept your crap to yourself because it’s like, totally a downer. It may just mean that they are cowards when it comes to other people’s bad stuff and/or that they’re telling themselves they don’t want to bring up your Crappy Thing on the off chance you are actually not thinking about it at the moment and they’ll be the jerk who dragged you back, like Cancer Patient or Rape Victim is all you are (or some combination thereof).

        So, yeah. It MAY be that your people are all “la la la, don’t want to hear about it, don’t want to think about it, just want you to hurry up and get over it so we never have to think about it again.” Or it may be that they have no freakin’ idea what you need from them, and they’re letting performance anxiety cripple them.

        The coolest people are the people who think to ASK what you need, how you want to handle talking (or not talking) about your Crappy Thing. But if your people haven’t got that skill down, it may be worth spelling it out for them — even at this late date. “I need to know you are really upset about what happened to me (on my behalf, not as a violation of your vicarious interest in me). I need to know that you don’t blame me. I need to know that you forgive me if I’m a little up, down, and all over the place emotionally for a while… that if I want to cry that’s ok, or if I want to batten down the hatches and pretend I’m fine that’s ok, too.” Whatever it is you need, tell them what Wonderfully Supportive Friends/Family would look like to you… and maybe they’ll do at least a little better at giving it to you, or at least (hopefully) you’d see them trying, and that alone would be worth something.

        1. YES to the last paragraph (to the rest too, of course, but that stood out to me). I have maybe a year or so ago started to ask people how they want me to react to shocking things they tell me. Of course not in the sense of “Should I be angry now?” because that’s something they can’t control, but things like “Do you want me to just listen to you and not say anything?” or “Do you want me to tell you my thoughts about this?” or “Do you want an advice on this?” and thelike. It’s extremely helpful and you can always start to ask your family to do this in the future so that neither them nor you have to be insecure about how to approach certain topics.

  22. LW, I’m so sorry you are going through this, and having to live at home through it can’t be awesome. As for how to deal with your dad, I second all of the advice given by the other commenters, and I think you have to treat your dad, for the moment, just like you would treat every other man you know–cautiously, until they prove themselves to be trustworthy.

    It seems like what happened here is that your mom, in an attempt to prove an ideological point that what happened to your cousin was not rape, used herself and your dad as an example that opened up a can of worms the size of the Empire State Building. It sounds like she was trying to say “since your dad’s not a rapist and he did this to me, your cousin wasn’t raped” and that backfired on her in a big way, and now you’re forced to confront the fact that your father doesn’t respect your mother’s sexual boundaries.

    That SUCKS.

    So, with regard to your dad, what now? BOUNDARIES, LW, boundaries. Starting with not talking to either of your parents about rape at the moment. And an evaluation of how your dad treats you, specifically, the rest of the time. Is he basically a good dad? Supportive? Responsive to your concerns? Then, maybe, with time and help, you and he can start having an ongoing discussion about how upsetting it is to know that, at least in this one area, he has caused you to question him.

    Or is he a less awesome dad? Controlling? Invasive? Pushy? In which case, escape is your better option and people here and in other threads have given great advice on that.

    I think one thing to remember is that the rape culture indoctrinates men as well as women. Your dad may not have realized that he was doing something wrong at the time he did it. He may not feel it now. He may NEVER feel it. But, if he’s basically a good dad, this might be the beginning of the blinders coming off for him.

    That’s not to say you have an *obligation* to help him see that what he did to your mother was wrong–you DO NOT. But it is to say that the awful things he’s done here don’t necessarily mean he’s an awful person. And maybe, if you want to and if it is safe for you, you two can heal your relationship.

    1. “I think one thing to remember is that the rape culture indoctrinates men as well as women. Your dad may not have realized that he was doing something wrong at the time he did it. He may not feel it now. He may NEVER feel it. But, if he’s basically a good dad, this might be the beginning of the blinders coming off for him. ”

      Thank you for putting this so eloquently. I’ve had these kinds of thought pop up before (with regards to my own WTF sexual experiences and letters here) and I’ve never been able to come up with a way to talk about it that doesn’t come off as “But what about TEH MENZ?”

      1. Thank you. I really struggled with how to put this, because yeah, it’s NOT about the menz. But I know that there have been watershed moments for me with regard to my own privilege that have come from this type of interaction (specifically “if that’s racist then I’m a racist!” “…um, yeah, you are being racist when you do that”) So maybe this could be a moment like that for LW’s dad, when he could take a look at himself and level up.

        1. I still find those thoughts … skeevy (dunno if this word fits, not my mother tongue).
          I don’t think it is very productive to think about the motives behind people’s actions. Especially when you are just squicked out right now and confused and don’t feel like you can trust your own parents, like the LW. Whatever her father’s reasons, he has still done what he’s done and if you (or I) are being racist without intent, well, we still hurt people and it was not okay.
          At this time of events, I really don’t see the benefits of your train of thoughts.

          1. I’m sorry you don’t see the benefit or feel that it’s productive. One of the things LW asked was about how to deal with her father, and that was the question I was trying to help with. Her father did hurt her. That’s not okay. But if she wants to have relationship with her father it is worth thinking about whether he acted maliciously or out of ignorant privilege and whether or not that matters to her. Intent can make a difference, not in the hurt itself, but in the response the injured person chooses to make. It doesn’t always, and it shouldn’t always, but it can.

    2. LW here again. Responding to this:

      “Is he basically a good dad? Supportive? Responsive to your concerns? Then, maybe, with time and help, you and he can start having an ongoing discussion about how upsetting it is to know that, at least in this one area, he has caused you to question him.”

      thank you for this response. This has entirely been the case up until now. My father has never hurt me, nor allowed anyone to hurt me… and he’s always respected MY boundaries to the best of his ability, apologizing if he forgets something and doing better from then on.

      MY relationship with him is very different from his relationship with my mom. I do not think he is a sexual predator nor do I think I’m in danger from him (or anyone other than my mom with compromised consent). I do think he’s been messed up seriously by our shitty culture and that my mother’s denial reaction to what happened has just reinforced in his brain that he’s done no wrong there. But I love my mom so much and just the thought of all this, them and their problems and… it’s hard, y’know? It’s not that I feel the need to get away from my dad because *he’ll hurt/disrespect me* but just because I don’t want to THINK about this anymore.

      My cousin who was part of this thinks that I *should* confront my dad (eventually), because it sucks to have this hanging over our previously strong and awesome relationship. However, at the same time I realize that it also has the potential to make things worse, both for us and for my mom. It goes without saying that any discussion of it would take place away from my mom and that I would tell him mom gets to define her own experience etc but DUDE, OBJECTIVELY?? WTF. I do think, though, as others have said, it’s probably a good idea not to do this while I still live here?

      For now I’m just going to keep a respectful distance, continue to love both my parents, and try to work through this all for myself somehow separately from them.

      thanks again

      1. I would suggest you not give too much weight to anyone else’s ideas about what you “should” do. These are your parents, your relationships. You have to follow *your* instincts… maybe with the aid of a disinterested person, like a therapist, but not a cousin who knows no more about the best way to handle this than you do. (Among other things, some people are a little gung ho about the whole confrontation model of interpersonal problem solving, which isn’t always the way to go when preservation of relationships is part of the goal).

        Bear in mind that it isn’t your job to police or even arbitrate your parents’ relationship, though. Just because you have unfortunately become privy to this one nasty detail of their private lives doesn’t mean you know enough to judge whether he was as remorseful as he should have been, or why your mother has been able to forgive him (just because she didn’t call it rape doen’t mean she didn’t give him appropriate hell for it; your parents could have had quite a rough patch you weren’t aware of). If you need to say something to your Dad, just to get it off your chest that you’re disappointed in him, for *your* sake, that’s one thing. But don’t feel like you’re condoning anything or complicit in rape culture you decide this topic is best left alone between father and daughter.

  23. LW, other people have covered the emotional/relationship issues well. I have two practical suggestions to share:

    1. Suggest to your Mom that she talk to her doctor about the Ambien dosage. It sounds like she’s having an unusually strong reaction to it. I’ve heard of sleep-walking and other sleep-activities, and I’ve heard of amnesia, as side-effects. But your mother is getting so impaired that she’d be unsafe during an emergency. If there were a fire, she’d have a hard time waking up to leave the house. Maybe her dose should be changed; maybe the drugs should be changed.

    2. Don’t “confront” your father. That’s way too dramatic. Instead, conversate. If you feel the need to discuss it with him (later, when this is less fresh), maybe ask some questions, verify what your mom said, and ask him if he thinks he’s being fair? I’m not good with the scripts (part of why I read the blog), but I’m pretty certain that storming over to your father and “confronting” him with Demands For The Truth will backfire on you.

  24. I don’t have a rational reply (too much rage/horror–ragorror?), but LW: please, please take care of yourself. Most of the other comments have covered that, and how to do so.

    On a somewhat tangential note, the front page ad for was something from Clorox asking, “are your problems bleachable?” In your case, I wish they were. All the Jedi hugs in the world for you–and Mars, too.

  25. Believing that someone in your family, someone you love, could be/is a rapist, is for many people the Worst Possible Thing. I can tell you this from experience. My father coerced me into sex when I was a teenager. I am forever left with the guilt that I was not physically forced, and that most of today’s society would say that it wasn’t rape at all (Akins, your notions of “legitimate rape” make me so ill I can’t describe it). I’m only starting to forgive myself and understand I was forced emotionally, and that emotional force can be just as impossible to break as physical force. But I still have so much guilt that if only at the time, I had been able to accept the Worst Possible Thing–that my father was a monster–I could have saved myself. He was dying of a terminal illness, so I was already a fragile wreck in a near-constant state of mourning and despair. He started making sexual advances, which I rejected, over and over, but he kept pushing, telling me I could help him, it would make him feel better, make all of it better. This went on for months. My downfall was that I refused to believe he was a bad man–that my father wasn’t a monster trying to take sexual advantage of his chronically depressed daughter (and he, he’s dying–even if he gets caught, no consequences!), that no, he really WAS just trying to make things better. Wasn’t I bad for not helping him?

    Because the alternative was the Worst Possible Thing. If I accepted in my heart that my father was a monster, it would be the end of everything. Total ruination. All my life would be a lie, the family would be broken, the end of all. It was too terrible a thing to contemplate–so I ACTIVELY convinced myself it couldn’t be true. I was not ready to handle the Worst Possible Thing and break the family…in my state of grieving, it was easier to just lie still and be a “good daughter.”

    It sounds like your mother may be transplanting her own experiences over not just those of your cousin, but of YOU as well: your mother told your father not to have sex with her under X condition, and he did, but if she takes some of the blame onto herself by believing she just didn’t tell him the RIGHT way (i.e., that she didn’t tell him “properly” or “forcefully” enough), she can prevent the Worst Possible Thing (your father being a rapist). She’s spent years believing/convincing herself that unwanted sex isn’t rape, it’s sex that happened because ladies are bad at getting their point across (it’s not a FIRM no unless you run screaming from the room or brandish a knife. Otherwise, it’s a soft no, which is practically a yes! No wonder guys get so confused! /sarcasm ). If all that “unwanted sex” she had was HER fault, it’s very threatening if YOUR unwanted sex isn’t YOUR fault, but is actual rape.

    This doesn’t justify anything she’s doing, and it doesn’t mean she gets to define your rape. But it may explain why she is fighting this so hard. She is threatened with the Worst Possible Thing…a thing, to her, that’s worse than a little “unwanted sex”.

    1. Oh my god, I’m horrified at what your father did. Because yeah, that’s just about the Worst Possible Thing a father could do to his daughter. I hope you are getting therapy to reinforce the message that the guilt is ALL on him, because you were just a kid doing your best to get through a situation you should never, ever have been put in.

      If I could turn the clock back and flamethrower the weasel, I would do it in a heartbeat.

    2. Holy crap I would be extremely hard pressed to find a situation where a father talking his daughter or son into having sex with him wasn’t rape. (Referring there to father being the person who helped raise someone mostly.) There is just way too much power differential there. I mean, I understand why YOU would want not to believe it because that is an awful, awful thing to go through and then have to confront and deal with, especially when it’s tied up in the grief of a terminal illness, but I’d damn well hope most of the rest of society would realise that that is totally not a good thing to do.

    3. I am so sorry that you had to go through that, Bittybird. Wow. I hope that you’ve got a good support system, because that is a lot to carry.

  26. I just also wanted to comment on the Schrodinger’s Rapist. (which I highly recommend reading, and I don’t know how to do a text-link but I’d also check this out: http://unwinona.tumblr.com/post/35544132318/tw-rape-culture-i-really-dont-get-it )

    Interacting with men can be really hard, even just after HEARING about rape/any abuse, experiencing it yourself can make it ridiculously challenging. The best I can recommend is to really take care of You. If being around any males makes you uncomfortable, then limit being around them as much as humanly possible. Tell your guy friends/others that you aren’t feeling well and need alone time. And you can take as much time as you really need before doing any “recovery” steps. Talk to females, call help lines, see a therapist, play with puppies at a shelter, whatever you need.
    After some time, start trying to open your life to good guys. What I really want to stress is that they don’t have to be actual, real-life, see-them-in-person guys. I’m talking about a scenario where there is no risk to you, so hopefully it’ll be easier to see that he’s good. Youtube your favorite male comedian. Watch a movie with a male main character that you like. Listen to male singers. Remind yourself, in safe environments, that not every male out there is there to hurt you. (I’m not saying to be carefree with every guy you encounter, but I think it’s better emotionally if you can recognize that not every male is a horrible horrible person)
    Also, please please remind yourself that if you’re in a situation where you feel uncomfortable for ANY reason, it is MORE than okay for you to leave/do whatever you need to in order to be comfortable again.

    I don’t know what the other males in your life are like, but I also think it’s good to remind yourself of things they’ve done/heard about them doing that were positive, good things. I think it helps if there are things in your personal life that show that males can also be good people. (exception: DO NOT try to find good things about the guy who sexually abused you/other guys who have done other shitty things) As someone else pointed out, males are not a monolithe creature just as much as women aren’t. They are all different.

    This is already long, but I also wanted to say that you are not alone. Your mother is not a reflection of all women- as I’m sure you’ve read from the comments already. I was in a “bad situation” once where I was raped. I was at a friend’s apartment, hanging out with people I considered very good friends, and I was wearing regular ol’ jeans and a hoodie- I always feel the need to state those things, due to the usual response of “not being smart”, however I still get those comments as I was Very Drunk at the time. Even though I was over 21 and thus completely legal to be drinking, and with people I trusted, I still get told that I “brought it upon [my]self”. Even better, the guy who raped me was dating a really good friend of mine, so that whole circle of friends plus more have framed me as the Bad Guy, saying I “seduced” him. (A very drunk girl saying no to the completely sober guy is somehow an evil whore? Really?)
    This happened to me over 3 years ago, and honestly, I’m still not completely okay. I rarely ever become tipsy now (and have never gotten drunk), even in my own apartment, because of it. And while I’m a good, functioning person 98% of the time, there are still things that can make me want to hide under the covers for days on end. Things that helped me are what I’ve said above: I cut out all the poisonous not-on-Team-Me people from my life, I actively avoided having to see/interact with men for a period, and slowly started working on realizing that there are good guys out there and these few people that were horrible weren’t a reflection of all of society. (It also helped that I used to work at a retirement home, so every workday I saw examples of great marriages existing)

    Have a therapist. Have people you can feel comfortable talking to/hanging out with (both for talks of rapists and for getting it off your mind). Give it time.
    Even strangers online care a lot about your well-being.

    1. Thanks for the link,its really true!I know there was a survey recently that asked men if they could be sure to get away with it would they Rape someone, i think it was about 80% said they would, scary,i have three grown up sons, it makes me worry for them and my two daughters, what a world..what a world….

      1. [MODERATOR HAT ON] eahill58, if you’re going to cite statistics from surveys you read, please do a quick Google search and include an actual link to the article, study, or other material where it originated. If you don’t want to include links (which, yeah, it’s some effort and annoying to do), then don’t make statistical claims. “I read somewhere that women don’t have a fight or flight instinct” (from an earlier comment by you) and “80% of men in a survey would rape someone if they could get away with it” are pretty big statements and if they’re going to live here then people need to read the material for themselves and decide if it’s credible. I’m sure YOU are credible in that you did read it somewhere and that it said what you remember that it said, but there is a lot of very bad science journalism out there where a nuanced study is turned into a really inflammatory headline or claim, and this has come up several times in your posts in a way that makes me uncomfortable and is distracting from the substance of what you are saying (your valuable personal stories and experiences). Thank you, forgive me being so nitpicky.

  27. LW I have a mother who is also too wrapped up in her own experiences with certain things to be able to take care of me or comfort me or be protective of me like a mother should be so I understand completely the betrayal and abandonment you’re feel from her(and the guilt that you’re feeling this while knowing your mother is also going through a awful thing as you are) and I just wanted to say – you take care of yourself first. She will deal with this however she is able to, so you take care of yourself.
    If that means distancing yourself because it hurts too much to be close to her (as I have done) or just always avoiding this topic with her (because as much as you think you’re helping you’re hurting her at the moment by trying to convince her of this) or something completely different to these, do it. just keeping reminding yourself that you come first.

    Also, it’s okay to be a little angry at her. this has taken me so long to realise (and I still feel guilty for feeling this way) but it’s alright to be angry at her.

  28. Just wanted to say thanks again for all the advice, Jedi Hugs, and shared stories–and, just, all of it. It means so much to me. Things are slowly getting better, or at least more tolerable (it’s not something that hangs on my heart 24/7 like it did when I first found out).

    I’m still a little hesitant to *call* RAINN or anywhere else as I don’t like making phone calls and I’m not in the immediate throes of some awful thing. But I found their online instant messaging thing!

Comments are closed.