Rebecca Morean

Turning Over Stones

Rebecca Morean

Rebecca Morean
Yellow Springs, Ohio,
April 25
Associate Professor
Sinclair Community College and The Antioch Writers' Workshop
Novelist and mom. Dog walker and goat milker. Warrior against the ravages of ignorance (and time). Addicted to popcorn and sea coasts. Loves Rocks. (Also known as Abbey Pen Baker for one particular series.)


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APRIL 12, 2011 7:29AM

Closed Doors

Rate: 34 Flag




It’s the story no one wants to hear.  That’s what the kind but firm support group psychologists told me over the phone or in person.  I wasn’t ever a member of a support group, mind you.  In each case I was trying to get in and, in fact, offer support.  My daughter was two, I was a new mother and social responsibility was staring me in the face.  The program director for Victims of Incest was more direct:  Your story won’t help women.   These women need to grieve.  This won’t let them.

Over the last twenty, yes, twenty years, doors have closed in my face as I tried to tell one fairly simple story: you don’t need to be a victim. 

The Christmas Eve I was ten, my step father asked me to hold and kiss his penis.  It was his second infraction in a month.  His first was feeling my chest as I stood naked, prepubescent, ready to step into the shower right before Thanksgiving dinner.  What I remember most was not his shaking hands or my mother’s face when she walked into the bathroom, but his crying behind their bedroom door as my mother, only two years into her second marriage, tried to lay down some law. 

 I knew what he asked of me was wrong. I knew it was bad.  A freak snowfall in the high desert in Saugus, California came down with wide flat flakes that Christmas Eve, and he held me tight against him trying to get me to reconsider my “no.”  Over the next seven years I endured all the covert and overt acts of a pedophile: chance fumbling grabs in the hall, discussing sex in moments when no one else was around, petting me in his lap, French kissing and more petting while I pretended to still be asleep in my bed, my thighs tightly closed, and always trying to push me to have sex with him.  And every single time words saved me.  I’d point out almost scientifically, trying to use some teenage version of pop psychology, how some step fathers might be attracted to their teen aged children but they shouldn’t act on it. How attraction was understandable, but wrong.  I would offer a reason he could weave into an excuse to protect himself and I, in turn, would stay somewhat protected. Each time he backed off.   The power plays, however, were constant, relentless and nearly as terrible as his groping.

My mother didn’t drive and didn’t have a job.  I was the oldest of four.  The other children were his.  She believed me when I told her of the larger incidents and I kept the smaller ones to myself, often too young to even identify his actions for what they were, serving prurient interests.  He would  pour cold water on me in the shower, walk in when I was on the toilet, made it a house rule never to lock any interior door, and asked if I masturbated, how I masturbated and if I hadn’t had an orgasm, whether he could he help me.

This, apparently is the story I am supposed to tell.  The safe story, the one I could have shared with those women telling their stories, and those doors would open….but there is more.

I went on to be a perfectly nice, smart, confident young woman who fell in love with a nice man and had four great children. My sex life was satisfying.  My divorce happened 20 years later and I handled that by taking the high road, maintaining deep, lasting relationships with  friends and family on both sides.  When my mother finally divorced I did not ask my brother and sisters to choose sides.  I respected their need to have a father.  However, years later, when he moved to Sequim, Washington, I called the local police and told them of my history in case there were any incidents involving children in the area.

 I finished college a whole person, never doubting once that any of what happened was not my fault.  I even tried for awhile to forgive him, but this proved untenable—he was bent on proving he had some hold over me, using guilt and trying to manipulate my own sappy heart. So I simply removed him from my life.  And I did not feel remorse.  I just didn’t want my kids around him. I severed my relationship and listened politely when my brother and sisters spoke of him.   

Jamaica Kincaid once said she was not interested in forgiveness when it came to her battered relationship with her own mother.  That the idea that you can’t be free of someone until you forgive them is a Christian premise.  Unfounded, she claimed.  She was more interested in clarity, in fully understanding the relationship.  I’m with her.  I would add: and valuing and investing in the relationships that matter.

This—this story of how my life was not ruined, or even impacted, is the story I am not supposed to tell.  These women don’t want to hear it, I’m told.  They need to grieve.

And yet, when I mention this piece of myself to people, I invariable have some woman approach me and say something like, “You know I was raped five years ago.  It was traumatic, but it didn’t ruin my life. I mean I have a great relationship with my partner.  I don’t have fear or trust issues.”

I am not advocating a kind of “get over it” mentality. I am not saying women shouldn’t grieve, or are supposed to soldier through their lives if they are in deep psychological pain—not everyone can or should—and every instance of sexual violation, incest or violence is different.  There are also levels of understanding and acceptance that need to be negotiated.  I have also been accused (usually from mental health professionals) that I am not dealing with hidden layers of guilt or rage or whatever else they think I should be dealing with. What they do not believe, what they cannot believe, is that those issues really aren’t there.  Really.  In the fabric of my life, what happened wasn’t that important.  It was his problem, not mine.  And this is the message I’ve been working vainly to tell those women.

After sexual molestation, victims are often told by professionals, and friends and family in pain themselves, “It wasn’t your fault.”  To that young teenager just beginning to define herself as a sexual being, some small sliver of truth could be inferred, running between the words, saying just the opposite. The victim of a mugging or house fire or a bank robbery is rarely told “It wasn’t your fault.”

I think my story has value. I have been described as “resilient.”  That is a simple answer. Many people are resilient, can be resilient, but often are left thinking “I'm not.”  I want a venue for a voice that says: you don’t have to be damaged because some idiot molested you in a dark closet in ways only you can describe.  You are going to be fine.  Being a victim does end.

But this is the story no one wants to hear.

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I wonder why no one hasn't commented on this blog. This is actually a very good post. It was very brave of you to share your experiences. When other people get the chance to read this, they will surely be motivated to do the same thing - to spread the word and encourage the sexually abused to be stronger. You may air out these feelings at
It seems if you've tried repeatedly to tell this story only to have doors close in your face that there is something more there than you let on to have it linger so large for over twenty years. Your mother knew but didn't stop it. Not only did she didn't stop it but this blog seems to imply they went on to have children together. It just seems awfully close to the surface. It really seems as if your stepfather really hasn't been removed from your life at all.
I actually hadn't really thought about all this until a student came to me crying about her 13 year old neice and how this girl had called her from the mall asking, basically asking for sanctuary. I decided then to write about my experience, knowing full well I'd be laying myslef out there for people's judgement. The only person I care about is the one person for whom this resonates!
Yes. Yes, you can experience something horrible and live through it. Yes you can choose not to let it define you and impact every other aspect of your life. I think about that "victim" mentality a lot when talking about divorce. It's easier, somehow, to stay in pain and victimized than it is to take responsibility -- not for the actions of the pedophile or the cheater -- but for what we do NEXT.

Thank you for this post. It's shockingly graphic yet feels calmly honest and in control. Great job!

Great storytelling, as usual. And I love that you upset the notion that people HAVE to be damaged goods after trauma.
Your blog reads as if it your experiences with your stepfather were completely unemotional for you. Aren't you angry at him for what he did to you? Would you be angry at him if you witnessed him molesting another child?

If your answer to the first question is "no" and your answer to the second question is "yes," then I think it would be worth considering why you seem able to experience anger on someone else's behalf but not your own.
Thank you so much for sharing your story here.

I worked with a woman whose fiance molested her daughter, but she left him immediately after her daughter told her what had happened. I wonder if this is more common than we really know or hear about, especially maybe if women are financially dependent or feel they have no other place to go, as maybe was the case with your mom.
I enjoyed reading this. You made excellent points. I still think it's possible that your genetic make up or personality is stronger and more resilient than the average woman's. I also think our society tends to support the "victim" position more so than the other. Although I was not molested, my post is about how traumatic any kind of sexual act can be for a girl. Although it's strictly a story now in my past and dosen't play a role in my adult life, what happened to me definitely affected me emotionally for awhile. When you have time, please read it.
Author Caroline Myss talks about this in length. Victimology and the need for victims to cling their entire life and define themselves by their victimhood. She analyzes and outlines how sad and rigid and how small it makes their lives. She says, go to a counselor, tell her you have 6 mos. to process your victimhood and then move on with your life living in the present instead of stuck in the past. Good for you! And a big thank you for alerting local police to the location of your stepfather.
I don't know that survivors of trauma necessarily have to be "victims" or "damaged" or whatever, but the type of people who seek support groups typically ARE damaged - that's why seek the support group. They don't choose to be damaged - they would, in fact, choose NOT to be damaged - but that's the effect their trauma has had on them.

If your trauma didn't have such an effect on you, congratulations, but that doesn't mean that other people can choose whether or not their trauma damages them. I think the concern about letting you speak to support groups is that your story comes off a bit like, well, it worked for me, so if it doesn't work for you, you must just be choosing what you're experiencing.

No, not every trauma survivor necessarily suffers long term effects, and maybe there's something to be learned from those who don't suffer such effects, but since every experience is different, the lessons are not a simple, do what I do type of thing.
It's a great story. And a good one for many to read, as so many more children will grow up in families with step fathers and step siblings and face this reality. Unusual courage is often shunned, like with rape. I think that society must insist all victims are permanently mentally scarred because we do not see the physical scars and it is a horrible thing to live through. I am glad he did not push the molestation into further levels, regardless.
It appears I'm the only male to comment here thus far, so I'll be extra careful with what I say. In fact, all I'll say is you have written this with admirable skill and have given us a valid viewpoint. I'm guessing it took considerable courage to share this in a public forum.
This is my third attempt at posting a comment so if I sound a little frustrated, you'll understand why.

There's an unfortunate syntactical error in this article:

"I finished college a whole person, never doubting once that any of what happened was my fault."

I know that what you meant was that you never BELIEVED that any of what happened was your fault, but this sentence actually means that you never doubted that it WAS your fault because you didn't complete the double negative.


"I finished college a whole person, never BELIEVING that any of what happened was my fault."


"I finished college a whole person, never ONCE doubting that any of what happened was NOT my fault."

(Doubting once implies that you subsequently doubted after the first occasion. Never once doubting means it never happened even once.)

"I finished college a whole person, never doubting once that any of what happened was my fault."
I am lucky to have never have experienced anything as horrible as what you went through. I am glad to hear that you are a survivor!!!
Great post, and I am glad you told your story here. I've never been sexually abused, but I do have elements in my life that many people believe I should be "damaged" from, but I'm not. It's good to know there are others out there.
Rebecca..I admire the way you handled all this. It's easy to use sexual abuse as an excuse, and embrace it for the rest of your life. This is just my opinion but I think, many times, not always, mental health workers make it worse.
I think attiude and perspective is have an amazing attitude, someone who won't be trodden down too easily. My experience was much less than yours but I let 'others' tell me it was a huge personal problem, which in turn, helped me not be as sucessful as I could have been. Fortunately I was blessed, with wonderful hubby of 36 yrs, 2 perfect sons and 6 grandkids who think I'm great.But it took me till now in my sixties to realize, it's ok to let it fade away. I am glad I read you and btw, alot of people express their opinions about your life, hen they really don't know jack! :)
ps..congrads on EP!!
i couldn't finish reading it. it happened to my wife in the crib at the hands of her own father--big Art, the asshole. The wounds were lifelong, hard to diagnose, and led to a marriage that is impossible to describe. That she "recovered" after years of dilligent treatment was her greatest accomplishment--though not anything you can put in an obituary.

More and more I come to the conclusion artists are made not necessarily born.
I would hope that this wouldn't cause any kind of controversy. People are very, very diverse. People handle things in different ways. No one way is right or wrong, better or worse.

I would hope that everyone wants to be a whole person after experiencing a trauma, and however any person gets there is fine with me.
Thank you for posting this! I have had people tell me over the years that I 'should' be a victim of what I went through as a child. Sorry, I'm just not. However, when I did develop depression over the death of my wife, I was told to get over it. Go figure. xox
I applaud you wholeheartedly for writing. Speaking on behalf of at least some survivors of experiences such as you describe, it occurs to me that you may have less issues as an adult because you successfully fought back and were able to have some measure of control against being abused. That, and your other parent supported you. I think a lot of others, like me, were too scared to fight back and were also accused of lying and/or "bringing it on ourselves." In my own experience these things - lack of control, false accusation, no one believing me - brought me more anguish over the years than the actual attack. I agree that there does seem to be something missing from the bigger picture of recovery, and am grateful that you point out this truth in graceful, honest, and caring testimony. Thank you.
I agree on a very deep personal level because I too have survived and thrived.
What I really take from this is the notion that it is not the job of the injured to protect the transgressor. We get to tell those stories that belong to us, the things that happened to us. That in itself is very powerful. Therein may be the release of the hold on the person who feels victimized for such a long time -- that accompanying secret-keeping can be devastating.
I know group of women here in Sweden that met in a conventional abuse support group, but started their own group to get away from their therapists' beliefs that all battered women have a history of abusive relationships/childhoods, are trapped in pattern, etc.
Don't let any "expert" tell you that your perspective isn't valid. The truth is, it is everything.
Thank you for this refreshing perspective.

Great post. I've been the subject of abuse as a child as well, although not sexually. I applaud your stance and I agree. The moment we heal is the time when the power is ours again.

It is helpful to hear a credible story of a life not defined by abuse. Thank you.

However, I am confused by your judgement of the gate keepers to the survivors' support groups. You want to join, as a peer, a group of women who have come together because the trauma they experienced led to defining complications in their lives and relationships. This is why they have joined the group and you show insight to this motivation. And your intent is to tell them maybe it is their point of view that has caused the trauma? Or that because they lacked the same clarity, courage and vocabulary you mustered to defend yourself that they are to blame for their pain and confusion?

I applaud your attempt to contribute to a larger and more complete conversation about the impact of abuse. I sense you may need to reflect more on who would benefit most from this conversation. We need a vision of a world when our young sons and daughters would all be versed in your frame of reference, your defense strategies and your courage to not keep it a secret from all. Don't blame those who had no cultural training to survive an abuse that is too common, horrifying, and still painfully stigmatizing.
Rebecca- This is certainly a story that needs to be told. You don't identify who you are with what happened to you when you were a child. This is really important. In a post-identity world, we are free to be healthy, happy and fulfilled without being accused of "not dealing with issues." Fantastic!
I think you are amazing.
It sounds like you drew strength from your very brave tactic of resistance, enough that it counteracted any victimization that did occur. I very much enjoyed reading this. If other people aren't listening, maybe they're just not ready to hear it.
Yes. There's so much here. ThANKS.
Honest - Keys stuck in CAPS. VALUE.
Your story?Virtue. "It wasn't your fault."
You wrote that. This sharing is Care/Courage.
You wrote `
There are levels `
Yes. Be Resilient.
You summed this.
Yes. Transcend 'it'`
Yes. No be marred.
Yes. No be tainted.
Sense a wholeness.
I enjoyed this post.
and no allow any crepes`
to harm you perpetually.
It's been a nice Sunday.
Think... of a world you
carry ... within You -
Rainer Maria Rilke -
Life's meaning is sure -
beyond me. The best -
You can do is to deal -
One Word at a Time.
I am glad your not bitter?
You no draw horns on a`
Supreme Court Judge's`
Demon Horns on Scalia's`
Half/Bold Judge's Head.
I'm glad You Shared This.
It could have Been a Diary.
But - You Shared this Beauty.
I mean that You - Transcended.
Beautiful. Great - Great Sharing.
Helping Ya fellow peers is Great.
Unfortunately, the way you make your argument is also a favorite of victimizers, "Don't make such a big deal out of it. After all, Rebecca's okay, so how bad can it be?"

You have, except for one call to the police, completely let your stepfather off the hook. You "respected their need to have a father." "I severed my relationship and listened politely when my brother and sisters spoke of him." I found that sentence chilling. It doesn't seem as if your stepfather experienced any repercussions because of his actions. I am unsure how this translates into being strong. Perhaps you just didn't include any of that.

People who are robbed are rarely told "It's not your fault." That may be, but people who are robbed usually aren't inclined to let the perpetrator off the hook because of someone's need to have a father either.

You also seem to be making an essentialist argument -- either a woman lives her life completely defined by her abuse or she doesn't. There is no room for nuance, despite what you say later on.

The fact that you seek out women in support groups to tell them "you don’t need to be a victim" is inherently insulting to them. Do you feel they are not able to decide for themselves whether or not they are victimized and how they need to handle it? Are they all so weak-minded that they have to seek out someone to tell them how to feel? Aren't you trying to control their stories in the same way you accuse the professionals of doing? Logically, women like you wouldn't be found in these support groups to being with, so that's why you don't hear a story such as yours there.
Overall, the piece really confused me about how you truly feel. You say in one sentence that you aren't defined by what happened to you (and in the comments that you haven't really thought about it)and then in the next you have been trying in vain to tell your story for years.

If you are truly unaffected by what happened and were looking for a volunteer experience, there are plenty that don't include women who were sexually abuse or victims of incest.
This is great writing and a great story. It's great that the author was unaffected by what happened to her. However, I suspect that she's the exception and not the rule. If I were a psychologist, I'd want to try to understand why the author did so well on her own. That understanding might help a lot in working with those who are still troubled by what happened.
I applaud this post, and I could not agree more.
Rebecca-I'm sorry that what I'm about to say is something you've probably heard many times. I hope that does not minimize the greatness of your post. The power herein is the fact that you came through as undamaged and more in control of your life now. Good job, good luck with that mindset.

The rub here is this, I'm not totally sure that this is completely true. I think that you have some measure of anger, some need for revenge and you might not recognize this yet or you might be aware of it but choosing the "ignorance is bliss" route for now.

Whatever the truth is, I wish you luck and continued fine writing. I hope we can talk again sometime soon.
I couldn't stop thinking about your story after reading it, and also read the responses with interest. I just wrote a quick response yesterday, but after not being able to forget this post, I just wanted to say that the acts and bullying and harassment by your stepdad are horrifying. Maybe you are used to what happened, but to an outsider, someone who has not experienced this firsthand, it is truly horrifying, especially because it went on for so many years. What was most shocking to me when I first read this yesterday was that your mom did not call the police, or leave. How could she stay with this man for one day, one more minute after she saw what he had done? Then someone who had been in a similar situation as yours commented that your mom did protect you, as hers did not at all.

I am so glad you are not traumatized by what happened, and I worry about the young people growing up in situations similar to yours. I worry about all the mothers, too, who do not have the strength or resources to protect their children, report the abuser, and to leave. It must have been horrifying for your mom as well.

This is something important to talk about, & I believe it's helped a lot of people to hear your point of view. Thanks again very much for sharing!

And if your stepdad has grandchildren, he should not be allowed to be alone with them for one second...I wasn't sure from your essay whether your siblings knew what had transpired or not.
"In the fabric of my life, what happened wasn’t that important. It was his problem, not mine."--so true and so liberating to see someone share the same perspective I have on the subject. Thank you.
In my mind, the most difficult aspect of this is the utter lack of a possibility of falsifying the assertion that you were 'damaged'.

You are forever doomed to be an unfaithful narrator regarding your mental status, since the trauma can [or must] remain on an unconscious or subconscious or in some other inaccessible part of your psyche.

As such, it is really a belief system that is closer to religion than psychology. If it doesn't work for you, then there is really nothing to talk about with the true believers.
"I have a wonderful life now and no matter what you do, you will never affect me again." - Elizabeth Smart
Mental health (so-called) is a business. Doctors and non-medical therapists get paid handsomely for each session. Drug companies rake in billions for medications which may or may not be appropriate. And then there's the issue of conventional, conformist thought. A lot of schools teach just one way of addressing certain subjects, and that method becomes dogma. This isn't the first time I've heard about people who've undergone sexual abuse and who, despite that, have gone on to live normal lives. But that line of thought is still considered heresy.

Thankfully, there are those psychiatrists and therapists who have broken with accepted doctrine. Cherish those helping personnel who actually listen to you and don't simply reach for the DSM. We should also cherish folks like you who speak truth to conventional wisdom.

You had a lot of guts detailing your experiences with something that gets talked about a lot but is seldom acted on rationally or effectively.

Rated, with hugs.
Wonderful strong piece. Thank your for sharing your strength.