Watching Jill and Jessa Duggar talk about the abuse they suffered from their brother on Fox News reminded me of someone I knew from college. “Jane” had told me that the guy I went on a date with the previous weekend raped her at a party. At least, she thought he raped her, but wasn’t entirely sure. She remembered being drunk. She remembered that he was drinking, too. There was a gap of time missing from that night, and when she woke up to find the guy on top of her, she wondered if she just didn’t remember consenting.
The entire story hinged on what she remembered, because the guy certainly denied it when I confronted him, furious. When Jane found out I accused the guy, she turned on me and told me I was making too big a deal out of it, which confused me greatly. Wasn’t she a victim? If so, why was she acting like what happened to her wasn’t a big deal? Worse, why was she suddenly changing her tune and defending the guy?
That was enough for me to believe that she lied about the whole thing – out of jealousy, as a plea for attention, who knew. What I know now that I didn’t back then is how much pressure a victim might be under to defend her attacker. In Jill and Jessa’s situation, the reputation of their family depends on their defense of their brother Josh. For Jane, I probably made things worse for her by confronting that guy. I forced her to deal with something she wasn’t ready for, and she probably told me what happened under the assumption that it was meant to stay between us – I violated that confidentiality. I acted no better than In Touch Magazine by blabbing someone’s private business, wreaking havoc on Jane and the friends she shared with him.
Not surprisingly, she never spoke to me again.
A few years later, I understood better than I wanted to why someone would defend a rapist. To this day, even, I defend him in my head by entertaining the thought that he too was unaware of what he was doing. Maybe some signals got crossed, and I didn’t make my intentions clear enough. Maybe he didn’t hear me. Maybe this, maybe that. But he never showed a shred of remorse for hurting me, for violating my trust, and putting his needs so far ahead of mine that my dignity ceased to matter. I go back and forth between wanting my privacy and fearing the consequences of going forward, and wanting to shout the truth from the rooftops because I am so angry that he will never receive justice. And he could be out there doing it again to somebody else.
His last words to me were by phone, and they were “I can’t change what happened, what do you want from me?” My last words to him were “You’re dead to me” before hanging up. Listening to Jill and Jessa say they forgave their brother a long time ago just wrenched me. I don’t know if they truly forgive him, or if their extremist environment demands that they do. For their sakes, I hope it was their choice, but given their background, it probably wasn’t.
Even worse, they never used the specific word “rape” or “molestation” once throughout the whole interview. They used “inappropriate touch” and “curiosity” instead, again perhaps due to coaching from their family. From the abuser himself. It’s easy when that’s all you know. It’s easy when that person manipulating you is someone you’re supposed to trust.
Truthfully, I find it very unlikely that an abuser can stop abusing without legal and psychological intervention, if they ever stop at all. The Christian concepts of grace and reconciliation go out the window for me when it comes to dealing with rape. But as Jill said, “Only the victim can tell their story.” She is right about that. I can only hope that the Duggar girls – and Jane, too – can tell the story they know to be true, not a sanitized version they are pressured to believe instead.