Let’s talk about apples.
You know when someone says that eating a raw apple is better or worse than taking that same apple, removing the same core that you weren’t going to eat anyway (unless you’re that guy… don’t be that guy, precious), and mashing the whole thing, skin and all, into… um… apple mash? You didn’t add anything, you didn’t remove anything… it’s precisely the same apple. You’ve just consumed it in a different way… but you always get that one person who starts whinging at you, telling you that apples that aren’t whole apples aren’t apples, and you just want to shake your fists at the sky and yell, “APPLES! ARE! APPLES! WHAT! IS! YOUR! TROUBLE?!?!”
That’s annoying, isn’t it?
Now… let’s talk about sexual trauma.
That might be one of the most outrageously sudden and terribly awkward segues in the history of the written word.
You read it here first, folks.
Here’s what I’m not doing: I’m not getting into the whole Duggar debate, because I have never seen the show, I haven’t followed them, and the only thing I know about them involves the current media maelstrom. If you love them or despise them, I’m afraid that I really don’t care. I’m sorry… I just don’t have room in my mind attic to store that information, but you don’t need me to validate your choices, anyway. Good on you. Whatever.
What I am addressing is the glut of people on social media who have said, “Well, it’s not like the victims were raped. If they were raped, THAT would be awful, but they were just molested, so… you know, still wrong but less wrong.”
Less of an apple than an apple, then.
After all, on the universally accepted sexual trauma scale, molestation is only a 4.5 and rape is a 9, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, amirite?
That line of reasoning is flawed and here is why: when you have been violated (in any way, but we’re going to focus on sexual violation for today’s awkward roundtable), that violation isn’t centered in the physical part of you that was harmed. Just like any trauma, it travels (figuratively speaking) like food coloring in a glass of water and, if left unchecked, it will infect every part of you… your decision-making skills, your ability to connect with other humanoids, your enjoyment of perfectly innocent things. Being violated is a disruptive shock to the system and it can (unless there’s a strong intervention) change the way that a person views themselves and everyone around them… particularly when the victim is a child.
I was molested by my father for four years, give or take it.
I was not raped, I did not have PTSD, nor do I not find the presence of tall black men who look like a mash-up of Uncle Ben and Louis Gossett, Jr. triggering.
Hey, dad. How’s the rice business?**
It was, however, traumatic and it changed things.
Lots of things.
Significant things and tiny things and things that I’m still uncovering.
Although, I was very much the same physically, I was not the same mentally and emotionally, and the person that I would have been if the abuse had not happened is dead. I don’t say that with a dramatic flourish (let’s face it, I couldn’t flourish my way of out of a wet paper bag)… I simply mean that, despite the fact that my abuse did not take the form of rape, it did do significant damage as abuse always does.*
As a primary victim, do you know what I’m not allowed to do? I’m not allowed to point at someone who was emotionally harmed by a parent and say, “Well, your harm wasn’t sexual, so I win.” I don’t get to sing “My pain’s bigger than your pain.” Likewise, a victim of parental rape doesn’t get to walk up to my trauma and say, “Hey, at least your dad didn’t rape you. Surrender all your trauma points, noob.”
Being violated is violating, regardless of who did it and how and how often. Details do not determine, nor do they trump, the extent of an emotional injury. Pain is pain, in the same way that apples are apples, and words like “better” and “worse” have no functional meaning when you’re talking about abuse and assault and trauma and victimization and all of the other words we use to describe horrible, distressing things. You don’t get to say “it wasn’t that bad” or “at least it wasn’t…” or “it could have been worse.” The only person who gets to determine the extent of the damage is the person that it happened to.
*I did go to counseling (saw a lovely woman whose name I DO NOT REMEMBER AND THAT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE AN AWFUL PERSON), and God and I have worked through a vast number of things. I imagine that we’ll work through quite a bit more… but healing can and does happen.
** Image from http://cosblog.cosmelentertainment.com/2014/09/15/the-mother-brain-files-underrated-actors-special-louis-gossett-jr/