by Christina Enevoldsen
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.” George Santayana
Recently, I warned a close family friend that his children weren’t safe around my dad, who molested me for most of my childhood. The friend was silent for a moment. He’s known about my abuse for years; he doesn’t doubt the identity of my abuser. But he won’t agree to keep his children away from my dad. In fact, he responded by telling me I should move on from my anger and offense—that I should put the abuse in the past.
What did my healing have to do with my dad still being dangerous? If I forgot my abuse, would that make my dad safe around children? There is no relationship between how I’m handling the effects of my abuse and the condition of my abuser.
The friend sounded very concerned for my well-being. He believes that forgetting would neutralize my feelings so I’m not haunted by “bad memories”.
Repressing my memories did serve me when I was a child. There wasn’t any way to escape my childhood sexual abuse except to forget. But I continued to repress the memories of my abuse for years. The past followed me wherever I went and in whatever I did. There were ghosts of the abuse in every relationship I had. I couldn’t run from them fast enough. When the memories threatened me, I tried to escape through food, sex, entertainment and all kinds of destructive distractions. During my “forgetting years”, I was exposed to many, many abusers and I exposed my children to several abusers.
When I allowed the past to surface and faced it, it stopped haunting me. When I acknowledged my feelings and expressed them, they ceased to be painful reminders. Now, I can remember the abuse without feeling threatened. It was only when I remembered that I started to heal and began to protect myself more effectively. Forgetting didn’t serve me.
Is my family friend so concerned about me or is he more concerned about himself? Did he want to forget? If he acknowledged my abuse, is he afraid it would require a different course of action? Perhaps standing up to an abuser? Saying “no” to someone he is close to? Does my abuse remind him of unresolved pain from his past? Did he want me to forget because my memories are too similar to his own?
This man may be more comfortable forgetting what happened, but forgetting doesn’t serve him and especially not his children. The only ones who are served by forgetting are the abusers.
Forgetting about the abuse sounds like such sage advice—such wise words. But they are a fairy tale. They are meant to protect us from facing the unpleasant and uncomfortable reality. Fantasies are for children who don’t have any choices, but adults, and especially parents, don’t have the luxury of remaining in the fantasy. It’s up to adults to face the ugly truths about abuse and about abusers.
Since my dad never acknowledged abusing me, never admitted he was wrong and still accuses me of lying, I believe he is still dangerous. Since he continues to verbally and emotionally abuse family members, I believe he still has the characteristics of a sexual abuser too. Since he defended and protected the man who admitted to sexually abusing my daughter, he still acts like a sexual predator.
Even if I hadn’t observed any of those things, a sexual abuser doesn’t deserve a second chance with children—any children. And more importantly, no child deserves to be the sexual predator’s second chance. Yet many people believe that the abuser is somehow entitled not to be treated any differently than a non-abuser. What about a child’s rights to be protected? Why are abuser’s rights more important?
Some say that if the abuser “gets help”, he or she should be granted another chance. Or if they’ve served their prison time, they should be spared further “punishment” of separation. Some claim that holding the past over his or her head is cruel. But what’s really cruel is to experiment on a child—to test the success of treatment or “rehabilitation” on a helpless, vulnerable child.
I didn’t always believe this way. Once, I was one of those people who thought that the past was the past. I didn’t want to judge; I didn’t want to be unfair. I saw the man I loved as the victim of unfair treatment. He had molested a girl, but he asked for forgiveness, so I thought I should treat him as though it never happened. In essence, I forgot. So I married that man and he sexually abused our daughter for years because I had “forgotten” about it.
I will NEVER forget again. In fact, I’m vigilant about remembering. It’s not to rehash the pain—but to protect myself and others from the continuation of pain. I won’t forget that I was abused. I won’t forget who the abusers are. I’ll do everything in my power to remember the things I’ve learned so the cycle of abuse stops. I won’t let myself be abused anymore and I won’t stay silent about other’s abuse. I will NOT forget!
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I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.