When I was 9 years old I broke down crying and confessed to my sister how much my older brother had been abusing me on a daily basis since she went away, she said to me “C’mon Caden, I’ve seen you punch Jake before, I know you can do it…” So her solution was to shame, tell me that it was my fault when all along I could just punch him and he would stop. I wonder today, would she also suggest that if I just punched my parents or the members of their pedophile ring, the rest of the abuse would have ended too? But those rare times when I would try to really retaliate against my brother (though not with fists because I couldn’t hurt him that way), there was no support from her or anyone else, and there was no one there to protect me when inevitably it only made the physical, sexual, and emotional torture even worse. But I see today that the illusion of my childhood power was very valuable to them in making me feel powerless and blaming it all on me, using whatever real or imaginary revenge actions I had carried out as ‘evidence’ for how my bigger, stronger and malicious older brother was actually not really at fault, but ‘both sides’ were.
When my mother was leaving me alone with my brother yet again she would always make throwaway comments to both of us like ‘no fighting,’ drilling into me the idea that the abuse was also my fault. Simply by being abused I could be accused of ‘fighting’ and disobeying her orders. How I could not ‘fight’ was to hide on the bathroom floor or out in the woods all day in the summer, on weekends or days after school, and if I was lucky, he wouldn’t come find me anyway. When my parents left us alone to go on their private vacations my mother would say I could call them if there was any trouble. Yet when I dialed the number to tell them about what he was doing to me, they ignored my messages. My brother invited kids who bullied me at school to his big, raucous parties, and allowed his friends to play sadistic sexual games with my body and rape me. I was never left at peace in my own home, but to the very bitter end all I heard from my parents was the same tired phrases and lies, ‘no fighting’ ‘stay out of his room and he’ll stay out of yours,’ ‘he wouldn’t do that!’ ‘you’re always making up stories,’ ‘you’re just too sensitive…’
My childhood was one long series of abandonments. some I was able to numb myself to, while others such as this one blared in my face and made it impossible not to recognize what the whole truth of our family was. It makes me sick to see that lines like “as a parent you can’t protect him forever…” are so often used as an excuse for parents of young boys to neglect their responsibility to protect during the crucial but short years of childhood, which doesn’t even come close to “forever.” Being protected and nurtured in early life does make for healthier, more resilient and well-adjusted adults in the long run, while abandonment does not. I know that my childhood home should not have been ruled over by some ‘law of the jungle’ where I had to win my right to exist via violence, and nor should my elementary school have been that way either. If as is so often the case, a boy is bullied and beaten at school but the only solution offered is not to call the police, the school principal, or start anti-bullying programs but to “teach the boy how to fight!” then the cycle of violence is being perpetuated, not broken.
It is not anyone’s place to make the extremely insulting claim that I didn’t resist the abuse to my full capacity as a child, because I most certainly did. I was never empowered by ridiculous stereotypes about what my physical strength should be, which is of course completely irrelevant when it comes to abuse and the legacy of disempowerment that it brings. I know that boys are not at a lower risk for physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, but that our vulnerability is systematically denied and we are subject to sick stereotypes about “needing” more physical punishment and most often left on our own. I know that ultimately I wasn’t interested in fighting with my brother or punching people, I just wanted and fully deserved a safe and comfortable home environment ruled by mutual respect. But my abusive parents destroyed any chance for that, and they were able to do it because as a child I was not capable of fixing the entire situation on my own.
The facade of impartiality they adopted in response to my brother abusing me was of course very shallow in the end. They took his stories (about how yes, he assaulted me and though I was the only one bruised or with my bedroom door torn down, it was really my fault because I made him do it) as the final word without even asking me, and always viewed me as a burden for having complaints. The truth is there are two sides between the abuser and the abused, but the ‘side’ of the abuser is so petty and repulsive that it doesn’t bear sympathy. My brother’s side was that he hated me for just existing, and supposedly ‘being’ the long list of insults he regularly threw at me. But the victimization and abuse only went one way. While he may still hate the ground I walk on and everything that I say/think, that is really irrelevant. He still doesn’t have a valid side when it comes to our relationship.
Listening to the advice of my family, that the abuse was normal and I should just ‘let it go’ would have left me eternally at the whim of my abusers. Giving them permission to wake up every day and decide whether they will continue abusing me or not, while I would have to wake up every day wondering if I will be abused again, and not able to voice that concern, that question because it could be seen as provocative. That is not a life I want to live, it is not a life at all. Sadly too many family therapists act like it is their job to enter into families with histories of abuse and level everything in order to be fair to both parties. But there is nothing fair about being abused, and you can never make it fair by edict long after the fact.
When does a relationship with a history of severe abuse driven by power and age differentials from childhood become a situation where both sides are equally at fault and equally responsible? Never, I would say. Survivors do not have an obligation to put aside our need for validation and our genuine feelings in favor of maintaining a sick status quo. There is no comparison between an adult rightfully not liking or trusting another adult as a result of past events, and the agony of a child being abused and crushed by someone bigger and stronger then themselves. Both sides is B.S. when people want to sit on the sidelines and apportion equal blame to victims.
Despite what abuse implies, the victim of violence is not less then their attacker, and violence is still a crime no matter what; it is not “fair” because the victim was unable to “win a fight” or said something that the other person didn’t like. I don’t wish there was someone around to teach me how to fight as a child, I wish we had a community that really took care of and protected children from violence. I wish that when my older sister went away to college, she reported our parents to the police instead of making these insensitive comments to me. I know that, sadly, children who desperately fight back against their abusive parents or older siblings and kill them in the process are rarely spared from lengthy, if not life-long prison sentences here in the United States. Child abuse is not about what the child should have done, it’s about what other people should do to protect children, but all to often don’t.