Incest is ugly. Families can’t deal with it, siblings can’t process it, and society can’t handle it. What would happen if I put a bumper sticker on my car, “Incest: the Crime with No Convictions,” or “Incest: the Unreported Epidemic.” And yes, it is an epidemic; one in four children are being sexually abused. The next time you dig out your elementary school class picture from First Grade, take your finger and count, “one, two, three, four.” Look at the child’s face under your fingertip. Now imagine that child with a penis in their mouth, or their vagina, or their anus. It’s disgusting. It’s revolting. But it’s real, very real. And then you question, “Well, wouldn’t the school teacher know? Wouldn’t someone know that something was going on?” No. No, they wouldn’t. One of my father’s particular abuses focused on fellatio. I was giving blowjobs on a weekly basis by the time I was five years old. Swallowing semen doesn’t leave any bruises- no marks, no trail of evidence. By all accounts, I was a bright, intelligent young girl who was a joy to have in the classroom at school. My teachers were normal adults praising me, encouraging me, correcting me when needful. School was a refuge where I was safe.
At home, I was never safe. I never knew when my father might make his next demand. When I was little, I would listen for my father’s footsteps to hear if he was coming up the stairs to my room. My heart was racing. What sort of mood was he in? Would he come up to my room? Would he want me to go downstairs to his room? Where was my brother Roger, had he gone outside to play? I steeled myself as I heard his footsteps coming up the stairs.
I often tried to argue with him, to make him stop. After we had learned the Ten Commandments in Sunday school, I recall my feeble attempt at convincing him that what he was doing was adultery, this coming from a third grader. He, of course, mocked me and said that in the Bible, Lot had slept with his daughters and conceived children. What he was ‘sharing’ with me was nothing like adultery. My father would always be able to counter argue, shame me and threaten me into doing what he wanted, always being sure that I felt complicit in these sex acts. From my earliest childhood, any resistance was met with mocking speech followed by physical acts of degradation.
When I was about five or six, my father and I were alone in the house at night. He had made dinner, which consisted of a raw, uncooked hotdog in a bun. He knew I hated bologna and all during dinner, he teased me about how hotdogs were the same as bologna. He reveled in my revulsion. We finished and he got up from the table to take our glasses to the sink. I grabbed the butter knife off of the table and stood up. When he turned around, I was gripping the butter knife in my right hand, pointing the tip of the knife towards him, saying, “Daddy, I hate you. I hate you.” He quickly wrested the knife out of my hand. “What? Do you want to spank Daddy? Here ya’go.” He turned his backsides towards me and started chanting. “Oh, don’t hit me in the wallet, don’t hit me in the wallet.” And, of course, I did. I whacked his wallet in his back pocket as hard as I could, over and over. I didn’t know the concept of the transference of energy. I didn’t know that his wallet would absorb all the rage from my tiny, little, hand. My hand stung, my wrist hurt, and I began to cry. He just laughed.
I was disgusted. His twisted mind wouldn’t not allow him to see how much I hated him. During forced oral sex with me, he would never stop until I reached orgasm. It didn’t matter how chapped I felt, or how much I tried to shut myself down. He wouldn’t stop. I didn’t have a choice, I was a victim.
From my earliest memory, my father’s abuse was always accompanied by threats. “Don’t you tell your mother,” -this, coming from the man who spanked me and disciplined me, this, from the man who yelled at my Mom and made her cry. Well, I did tell my mother when I was 16, and she was incapable of comprehending. She ordered my father into the Toyota van and the three of us drove down to the beach. My memory is fuzzy as to what she actually said. I think she said it had to stop and now she was aware. And that was it. She didn’t leave my Dad. She didn’t call the cops. She didn’t take myself and my younger siblings and leave the house. She didn’t get anyone to counseling. No report was made to Social Services.
After years and years of psychotherapy, help from Independence House staff, and group therapy at Independence House, I was finally at a place where I could go to the police station and make the formal report. Time to report the crime. Time to be heard by society. Time for the community to be alerted. Bearing up under the weight of guilt, shame, and vulnerability, at the age of 46 years old, I went to the police station in the town where the abuse began.
I entered the police station with my aunt as support. As I walked into this very public lobby, I found the bulletproof glass window, behind which, no one was seated. Far in the back of the office is a female officer.
“Can I help you?” she asks.
“I am here to report a sexual assault,” I say to the glass and anyone else in the lobby. “I’m sorry, can you speak up? Stand closer to the speaker and speak more loudly.”
Yes, the entire world needs to hear my shame. Maybe if I were standing naked on a street corner, I would feel less vulnerable and awful than I did at that moment.
“I’m here to report a sexual assault,” I announce loudly.
“Can I have your name and address please? A detective will be with you shortly.”
A female detective and another female officer escort me to a room in the back and close the door. They listen as I pour out details and timelines of the abuse I suffered from my father. The detective takes copious notes on a notepad as I use up the box of tissues. As the grief comes to a close, the detective begins the process of deconstructing my dignity and goes over point by point of how powerless I really am.
“Well, you have to remember that in cases of incest, everyone will take sides. Once you open that door, you can’t close it.”
“Have you ever seen anyone convicted?”
“No, everyone settles out of court. And in your case, the statute of limitations may come into effect.”
“Will you investigate?”
“Well, if there are grounds for formal charges…has he molested anyone else? Children outside the home?”
“No. Not that I know of. Just a first cousin who lives in Maryland and I believe that abuse occurred when my father was an adolescent.”
“If he hasn’t molested anyone outside the home, than he is not a danger to the community. He is not a threat to public safety. I will call the DA’s office to see about the statute of limitations. If it is has not expired, you may have the option to prosecute.”
“So you aren’t going to investigate him?”
“Not at this time.”
Any visions I have of a policeman going to his door to ask him any hard questions, is simply a delusion. My siblings all just think I am crazy. I’m the sister “with the issues.”
The next day the detective calls me back and explains that if I had made the report three years ago, I may have had the option to prosecute. The statute of limitations has expired. My report is on file and that is all. My father will not be approached by the police, he will not be listed as a sex offender, and he will not be held accountable for his actions. When I consulted a lawyer, he explained that in the past fifty years, he had never heard of a case of incest going to trial. The irony is, if I had been molested, just once, by a camp counselor or a Catholic priest, then society would be quick to offer their condemnation and their compassion. Incest is ugly. Families can’t deal with it, siblings can’t process it, and society can’t handle it.
Ms. E. Cummings