Tell Me About It: ‘I was sexually assaulted by a man who is now very elderly and has dementia’
PROBLEM: I am in my late 30s and disabled. I was sexually assaulted a year and half ago by the same person who abused me as a child. This person is now very elderly and is mentally ill and has dementia. I have no desire to report it.
I am not traumatised by it because I have experienced so, so much worse. I am angry because I was finally in a good place in my life and don’t want anything affecting the huge progress I have made. I now feel very vulnerable and frightened again, uncertain about the future. Everything else in my life is going so well and I am still very much excited about the future. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never told anybody what I experienced and know that nobody would believe me. The truth would completely destroy so many lives. I have kept silent this long to protect the people I love.
I feel uncertain about my emotional future, my mental wellbeing, but my career and friendships are going well, and I am excited about future career prospects, etc.
That you are angry and feeling vulnerable and frightened leads to opposing responses and this is the complex reality for many victims of sexual assault. The anger is a call to action for the injustice of the crime that happened to you and the vulnerability is a desire for protection and care in the aftermath of such hurt and pain.
Until now, the desire to protect others has kept you silent but if you ask the question of what might you recommend to a close friend who experienced, not only childhood sexual abuse, but a recent assault, you might find that your advice would go beyond staying silent.
No doubt you would suggest getting emotional and psychological support, but you would also want your friend to find justice and reparation in some way. Disabled people experience more sexual assault than the general population, so your idea that you would not be believed may not be as valid as you think. We also know that speaking the truth has healing effects even when those who perpetrated the assault have died. The shame and suffering shift on to those who committed the crime, and some peace can result.
That your perpetrator has dementia probably would mean that they cannot face a criminal investigation, but my guess is that you are protecting other people and you might consider what this says about how you view their capacity. Is it true that the people you love are incapable of believing you? Of being angry on your behalf? Of hearing the truth of someone in their midst? Do you not need the close people in your life to know you, to hold you together when you are in need, to be there for the good times and the bad?
It sounds very much as though these are the guidelines for how you would support those you love and yet you think that you do not deserve the same respect back. Of course, taking the step of speaking to your inner circle should not be done without taking proper time to resource yourself and to feel at peace with any actions you might take.
There are lots of options for resourcing this process. The local Rape Crisis Centre will have experience, knowledge and supports available to you as will a number of other Government-supported agencies. The National Counselling Service (NCS) offers free, confidential and accredited counselling to anyone who has suffered childhood sexual abuse and it is a HSE service. Your GP will be able to refer you to counselling in primary care (CIPC) if you are a GMS cardholder and they should have a list of accredited private psychological counsellors if that is appropriate.
All these services understand the need for those they support to be fully in charge of any action the person chooses, however, mandatory reporting requires that any allegation of childhood sexual abuse be reported to assess for current risk.
You say that you are robust with a career and friendship circle that are worthy of you, but this does not preclude you from calamity, suffering and unwanted events. Your strength is not measured by not needing help but rather in investing in yourself to the extent that you are prepared to resource all aspects of your life including your emotional and psychological wellbeing. We all need a community of people where we can be broken and sad so that we can safely recover and then go back out to engage with the world again.
You might start by opening up with one person in your circle, tell them of your intention to seek professional help and allow them the privilege of trusting them with your story. This first step might offer you a path to tentative recovery as you will not be alone and isolated, a situation that your perpetrator enforced on you as a child but that you can now refuse as an adult.