Volume > Issue > Sexual Abuse: A Personal Reflection

Sexual Abuse: A Personal Reflection


By Agnes Martin | September 2021
Agnes Martin (a pseudonym) is a wife, mother, and grandmother.

Ed. Note: The following is a true story.

You are a toddler, a little girl lying in bed. You are terrified. There is a man bending over your naked body, doing something unspeakable. As he lifts his head, his face is all red. He is your uncle.

Much later, your doctor tells you this was not incest as there was no penetration. Yet you feel sullied, robbed of some essential part of your being. You will never recover from all this. It will be years before you feel like an active agent in your life. In some mysterious way, sexual abuse has vitiated your personal agency. You are not surprised, when you learn more about it, that this experience of passivity is shared by other victims.

This feeling of powerlessness is reinforced in your family, in which you are not a key player. You get lost in the shuffle. Your father struggles with alcoholism. Your mother is emotionally vulnerable. And your sister is severely mentally ill. You are quiet and passive, enjoying life when things are tranquil, which is a lot of the time. You are important to your parents, and they do a lot for you, but they have no idea what is going on inside you. They don’t realize that as their needs and your sister’s dominate family dynamics and decisions, yours are somewhat effaced.

In your late teens, you do not want to go away to college. You are not ready for such a transition. Your mother, however, did not have this opportunity, and she decides for you. You get a scholarship to a good school. You are not happy there, and you do not know how to approach college courses. It is a miracle that you keep your scholarship. But it is a trap: You cannot get a scholarship elsewhere as a transfer student, and your parents cannot afford to send you to another school. So you stay. You do not know what to major in, and you change your mind three times.

When you start your professional life, you switch careers several times. All because you really have no identity. Your uncle took part of it away, and your mother further weakened it by seeing you in an overly instrumentalized way, as the child who helped out with household tasks, who kept in the background and didn’t cause trouble, who was valued for honors and prizes attained at school more than for who she was.

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