Tag Archives: incest

When Abusers Die

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Trigger Warning: Details of incest, childhood and adult sexual abuse and physical violence.

I ran away from my violent, abusive family 28 years ago.  Last night I discovered that two of my worst abusers died – my mum and my eldest brother.  I awoke from a nightmare about one of them, and then I did a ill-advised thing: I looked up my old surname on the internet.  My old name was pretty unique, and I’d never met anyone with it unless we were related.  Looking up my old name is something I have only ever did when I was drunk or petrified, but I still wish I’d never done it.

I always thought I’d feel a sense of relief when one of my abusive family members died.  But I felt a howl of pain build up inside me instead. A few of my Alters went into a state of panic and dread. I started crying and couldn’t stop for hours.

My mum sexually abused me once.  I’m trying hard to not say, “just the once,” because one time is too many.  What she did far more was physical and emotional violence.  I still have terrible flashbacks to a beating she administered to me on Christmas Eve in the middle of Ridley Road Market, as all the other shoppers looked on.  She also set up weird ritual stuff that makes me want to vomit just thinking about it.  I grew up terrified of her, and that I’d become just like her.  Many people don’t want to acknowledge that a woman can sexually abuse someone. They don’t have a penis, right?  Women don’t need a penis when they have fingers, hairbrush handles or bottles.  The shame felt by survivors of abuse, where the perpetrator was a woman, is incredibly hurtful. We shouldn’t have to silence ourselves because so few will believe us.

Where my mum was pure rage, my eldest brother was totally charming.  He was the rebel of my old family – a soldier, a painter, an open drinker, and non-religious in a community where church was only thing you did on a Sunday.  He would give me booze and pills in secret.  He would talk to me like we were equals, instead of 15 years apart.  He also sexually abused me right up until I ran away.  

There’s a page in my zine about surviving abuse, where I write of a time I once woke up in a pool of my own blood.  That was his doing.  The thing that stayed with me the most though, was of how neatly he’d adjusted my nightie, folding it under my armpits in a concertina, so none of my blood got on it. I realise how my Alters and my own brain employed amnesia to protect my fifteen-year-old self from the worst of that incident, but I still feel so messed up about that.

For most Black people, family is the most important thing in the world.  For survivors who are Black, we face meagre support from medical and social services who don’t even think these things can happen to us.  We also face ostracism from other Black people who see us as ‘deficient’ for not having a family or at least a good relationship with them.  As survivors, we are often seen as broken and potential abusers instead of victims of terrible crimes that were done to us as children.

Support adult survivors of child abuse. Because right now it feels like nobody does. 

Trauma and Time Travel

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Trigger Warnings: Ableism.  Non-detailed brief mentions of childhood abuse and incest.

a felled tree in Muir Woods, San Francisco, showing (mostly) Settler conqueror moments throughout its 1,000 year history.

Trauma and Time Travel

I used to be obsessed with time travel stories in science fiction and fantasy.  From H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, to multiple episodes of TV shows like Star Trek and Stargate SG1, time travel and time manipulation was something that beguiled me. I kept my thoughts to myself, but I knew I would do anything to make it into a reality; to go back and change the past so I was never abused.

When I was diagnosed as having Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), I realised that flashbacks were a form of time travel, and a very effective one at that.  There was no Steampunk inspired device, no futuristic faster than light machines, and no way for me to control when my mind would yank me back into the traumatic past.  Flashbacks were not only sights, but tastes, temperatures, and a myriad of senses that moved past the five I only thought existed.  My flashbacks were in high fidelity.  In one moment I would reach for a door handle, and the next I would find myself stepping into the back seat of an Austin Cambridge, travelling down the North Circular road.  My journeys to the past were not flashes of memories, but slow exposures that retained absolutely everything that happened at that time. Events repeated itself over and again.  I was forced to experience my fears, yet feel unable to change even a fraction of it.  I was never prepared for when flashbacks would occur, and this was especially the case when it came to flashback-nightmares, when I would time travel whilst asleep.

Where C-PTSD dragged the adult me into the past without notice, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) transported a fragment of me forward in time from the past to the present day.  This fragment had never aged as I grew up. My fragments were stuck in 1972, 1984 or a nebulous slice of time, depending on which Alternate Personality came to the fore, with a different name, a different gender, and a lack of understanding that the host body is alive in the twenty-first century.  This isn’t time manipulation, but a very real type of time travel that is cruel because i have little choice but to embody that part of myself as a child, with a child’s voice, vocabulary and mannerisms.  My youngest Alter, Lizzie may look nothing like me, yet she is part of me, separate and often confused as to why her family are not around and so much has changed many decades later.  

Dissociative identity disorder and the presence of Alters is something shown in science fiction, horror and fantasy, but which is almost always seen as a negative.  The Stargate SG1 episode, Life Boat, is one of the only positive examples of a character with this condition.  But a single episode can do little to counteract blockbuster films like Psycho or Split, which has caused even more stigma.

What happens when part of me refuses to grow up?  How do I manage to exist when an Alter will not move forward in time for long periods, and then pop up thinking they are still in the same era they were created?  Since I was diagnosed with DID, that my Alters each hold a section of my trauma that I as the host body could never manage unaided.  One of the major causes of DID is long-term repeated trauma starting at a very young age.  My brain was still developing when the abuse started, and it was unable to grow in a typical way.  Parts of me split off and became independent, defusing bombs in my mind that had a high chance of killing me outright.  With such dangerous work done by young parts of my personalities, it is no wonder they were never able to grow up with me as time passed.  Instead they settled in their own pockets of time until I as the host learned to speak about the past – not only of the abuse, but of the way I knew skills I had never learned, displayed traits that made no sense to me, and how my voice would change many times over the course of a single conversation.

I had my wish it seemed; time travel and time manipulation were real, and I was part of it. I was my own mechanism for this transport. But having C-PTSD and DID are more than ways to trace the road back to the past. They are both ways to cope with trauma, and a way to cope with the threat of trauma happening again.

On occasion, I feel adrift in time and space.  My host personality once surfaced when I was on a train travelling to where I used to live thirty years ago.  I had no memory of how I had come to be there, but I as the host knew I had to get off the train and make my way back to my present home.  Sometimes I feel as if I have lived several lifetimes, when in fact part of me was stuck in the 1970’s for over forty years. The BBC series Life on Mars comes to mind when I feel like that.

Trauma at a young age can often affect how a child’s brain develops. One of the brain’s functions is to process the passing of time.  This process got rather messed up for me.  As an adult I realise that my desire to change the past – to stop my parents from ever meeting, is a sad fiction.  I would need to be born in order to create a way to go into the past.  Plus my obsession with time travel made it so I could sidestep facing painful truths and realities that I as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse have to live with every day and with every tick of the clock hands.

Some of my favourite science fiction episodes that involve time travel and time manipulation:

Stargate SG1:  Window of Opportunity 

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Far Beyond the Stars

People like me at 12-step groups

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People like me aren’t supposed to ask for help when we have problems.  Black people are supposed to be resilient and strong.  According to the Bisexuality Report (Open University, 2012) Bisexual people are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than straight, gay and lesbian people.  Biphobia and racism inside and outside of LGBT+ communities can also lead to worse mental health outcomes than others in the groups above (Bi’s of Colour report 2015).  

When I’m told by well meaning people to “Pray on it,” or “Get support from the family and church,” this advice is not so useful for me.  I’m an ex-runaway who fled their family of origin almost 30 years ago.  Most churches in the U.K are not welcoming towards LGBT+ people, and if by chance they are one of the few queer led congregations, they definitely are aimed at lesbians and gays only.  Detox and Mental health services in the NHS have little experience or willingness to learn about the intersections of ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion: one size fits all is what I’ve been offered in the past, but their little boxes of recovery can’t hold all that I am.  So I looked to group support in 12-step groups.

I’ve attended three 12-step groups in my life: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Survivors of Incest Anonymous (SIA), and Overeaters Anonymous (OA).

Alcoholics Anonymous is an organisation I had heard about in media growing up, but I had never heard of the other two groups until I was floundering around in libraries for information, long before the internet really existed.  The AA groups I attended were always overwhelmingly straight, white and male.  S.I.A and OA were very much straight, white and female.  I was usually the only black person in the room, and I was often made to feel unwelcome, but I persisted with each group, sometimes over the course of years, until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I exist at the intersection of many marginalised identities.  People who are in the cultural majority often find it difficult to understand why this affects everything I do, including how I heal and work through issues.  In most 12-step groups, differences are ignored in the most part, and the baseline is simply a “desire to heal”.  But I can’t heal if white straight people talk over me, ignore my hand when it’s raised in meetings, or laugh when I share about how oppression affects me.  

In the last AA meeting I attended, I shared about racism I’d faced in previous meetings I’d attended in various locations in London.  As I left the building, a white man approached me and said, “Maybe we should all wear boot polish next week, then we’ll be the same.”  He walked away quickly after my retort of, “I can’t believe you just said that!”  

At many OA meetings, people had the tendency to hug each other before leaving.  As a survivor of sexual violence, it has taken me decades to be comfortable with hugging people I don’t know well, unless they ask if it’s okay to do that first.  At the end of my last OA meeting, a man launched himself at me with arms wide and a big grin on his face.  I stepped back and said, “No thanks.” 

The man looked at me with eyes wide in shock and said in a very angry tone, “I wanna hug you.  I’m not gonna hurt you!”

At a different OA meeting, someone brought their dog, and left the animal free to wander around the small room.  When I asked them to keep their dog away from me, as I’m scared of most animals, I was met with an aggressive white woman spitting words at me, and stating I was at a ‘dog-friendly’ meeting, and I should ‘get used to it or just go’.

These outbursts left me scared and upset.  We all have different ways we interact with the world, but because of how I look and am perceived, it’s assumed I can handle everything thrown at me without a word of complaint; the ‘Strong Black Woman’ trope is alive and well it appears.  I’m rarely seen as a human with feelings, but just a jumble of stereotypes.  Also, I’m nonbinary.

Disbelief, silence, a lack of respect toward boundaries, sexism, biphobia and general racism before, during and after meetings, were an everyday occurrence in the groups I attended.  London is a multicultural city, but when I went to meetings, I may have well been in the most isolated rural settlement.  There was nobody to speak to about my problems I encountered in meetings, as 12-step groups don’t operate with a system of leadership or even culpability.  I simply found myself alone and unwanted everywhere I went.  I no longer attend any group and it saddens me, because I can see how much they have helped white people; I can see the potential that could exist for me too, if I wasn’t the person I am. But I know I should never feel forced to change or ignore who I am, in order to get the help I desperately need.

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TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of Sexual Assault and Abuse.  Transphobia, Victim blaming.

These are all my own experiences as a Survivor of physical & sexual abuse.

Holidays are rarely good for me.  Where other folk spend time with their families, I am left with solely bad memories of the people I grew up with.  Long before the rise of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, there has been a strong belief that women cannot be sexually abusive to others.  Women are seen as carers, nurturers, Victims, not perpetrators – if they are “bad” then it’s only ever as emotionally or financially abusive, never physically or sexually abusive.  People who readily believe me when I speak of the men in my old family, and how they hurt me, rarely believe me when I say similar things about my sister and her female friend or my mum.  Once I ran away from my old family, I’ve been pretty open about my experiences, but this refusal to even acknowledge women can be abusive, is incredibly painful and stops me sometimes from seeking help or sharing my experiences.  Acknowledging women can be sexually abusive isn’t a way to put women down or pass the blame: it’s a way of  believing survivors and what they say when they talk about painful things.

Something I read on Twitter recently made me despair: “Women can’t rape, because women don’t have dicks!”***  And other tweets along the lines of trans women are really men, hell bent on sexually abusing women and girls.  The fact that these kind of statements often come from other women, is the icing on the cake of wretchedness.

1: Men don’t have to pretend to be anything or anyone else in order to sexually abuse others; they will just do it if they want to.

2: Perpetrators of sexual abuse don’t need to have a dick, when they have fingers, bottles, handles of hairbrushes or anything else insertable.

3: Trans women are women. Some are abusive, and some are not, just like any type of human.

Transphobia only adds to the silencing and dismissal of survivors of sexual abuse, but this problem was there long before the addition of trans folk to the argument.  I’ve been called a liar for saying anyone in my family could be abusive, because “That doesn’t happen to black kids**”.  There is such a desperate push to mantain the narrative of abusers solely being men, that it railroads over the experiences that take such bravery to talk about in the first place.  I wish my mum and my sisters had not sexually assaulted*** me, but they did.  i wish I wasn’t forced to run away from my old family and everyone I knew, but I did.  and 26 years later, I wish I didn’t have to deal with people who deny and dismiss the things that almost cost me my life.  But I still have to.

** I gave this horrible quote as the title to my first zine, on surviving child abuse. https://writteninshadows.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/surviving-csa-zine.pdf 

*** In the UK, non-consensual sex between women is defined as sexual assault, not rape.  Other countries have different definitions, so please don’t generalise or use this as a way to derail survivors.  Whatever it is called, it’s still a terrible thing.  

A link to a few UK specific resources for survivors of all genders https://www.met.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/rsa/rape-and-sexual-assault/support-for-victims-of-rape-and-sexual-assault/

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SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, Sexual Assault, PTSD

Season 1, Episode 9 sees the fictional world of Star Trek Discovery give a visceral view of a real-world issue of male sexual assault and rape, as well as the after effects including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  When I watched the episode, I was affected by flashbacks of my own past incidents of child sexual abuse, incest, and sexual assault as an adult.  I knew what direction the storyline of the character Ash Tyler (pictured above) would take, but wondered if Star Trek would fully explore the subject.  There have been mentions of sexual assault of major characters in the televised series, most noteably the Next Generation Enterprise’s Head of Security Tasha Yar, in Naked Now (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/The_Naked_Now_(episode)) but we don’t (thankfully) see details or flashbacks in such a vivid way.

In Star Trek: Discovery’s ‘Into the Forest I go’ we see the flashbacks of torture and sexual violence that Ash Tyler has survivied for 7 months.  The images are dark and upsetting, but for me the most upsetting thing was hearing him talking to another character, as he explains what happened to him, and what he did to survive.

“I encouraged it.”

As an adult survivor of decades of sexual abuse, the things I learned as a 3-year old stayed with me for years.  I learned how to survive in a physically, sexually and emotionally violent family.  I learned that people were more amenable and less likely to beat me if I offered sex.  I could get food or alcohol when I was strung out or starving if I offered sex.  I could be kept away from even more brutal ‘family friends’ if I offered sex.  No child or adult should ever have to make those decisions to avoid physical pain, yet I learned those lessons so well that it became an automatic response, taking many years to even realise what I was doing.

Star Trek: Discovery is a fictional television show, but the responses and memories it stirred up in me were very real.  It speaks to excellent writing, photography and acting.  I hope that showing a male victim of sexual violence will show others that it can happen to anyone, regardless of gender.  Whether Ash Tyler is human or Klingon in disguise, his reactions and feelings are laid bare during this episode.  I hope it can help bring some understanding on what victims of sexual violence have to do in order to survive, and that there is no shame in these coping mechanisms.  I may have encouraged it, but no rational adult would agree just because a child wanted sex with them.  Consent is an ongoing thing, where all parties involved have to be informed about what’s involved.  A slave can’t truly consent to sex with their master; neither can a prisoner consent to the same.  This goes double for children, especially when the alternative is, as it was for me, a beating, a burning, starvation or being handed off to ‘friend’ instead.

I hope that the character of Ash Tyler is handled in a positive way in the rest of Season One, regardless of who he might really be.  I also hope that this episode and others will get people talking and thinking about a subject that very few even acknowledge.

Online support from a very good forum https://forums.psychcentral.com

A few resources if you’re in the U.K

The Havens (for survivors of all genders)  https://www.thehavens.org.uk

Survivors UK (for male survivors) https://www.survivorsuk.org


A few resources if you’re in the U.S

One in Six (for male survivors) https://1in6.org

RAINN (for survivors of all genders) https://www.rainn.org

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I decided to put the complete zine on surviving child abuse up on this blog for free.  You can download, print and read it.  You can also repost it with Credit to Jacq Applebee.

There is a massive trigger warning – abuse on this zine.  Please be gentle with yourself whilst and after you read it.

Why free?  Survivors of childhood abuse (especially People of Colour) are more likely to experience poverty.  I usually sell this zine, but it is too important a subject for me to keep aside for those able to buy it.  Plus, with many of my followers living outside the U.K, postage costs are prohibitive.  So I hope everyone gets something out of this free resource.

All the best,

Jacq 2016

Zine: That doesn’t happen to black kids!