By Mary Duggan
I assault you. It is violent and criminal. But you remain silent. You do this to protect your family and possibly yourself. But you only really protect me – the rapist. This is the rape rule.
Breaking the rules with a blog post last week was difficult for us as a family. But we were shown nothing but kindness and respect in return. It proved to be an exhausting but healing experience. Our post hardly went viral; but it had strong legs and our message was carried all over the world. Many responded publicly on the blog. We managed extensive comments on four separate Facebook pages. Followers of our Twitter account graciously and widely retweeted. Clare pushed and promoted and pushed some more. Readers wrote e-mails; some from as far away as Italy and France and New Zealand while one came from our next door neighbor. Others had memories and feelings and thoughts still so painful after many years that they chose to share them privately via Inbox.
It is behind us now. What will never be fully behind us is the rape. Because it altered our family in ways from which it never recovered.
Rape takes place within familiar systems: the military, collegiate athletics, churches, schools – we all know the tragic and harrowing stories. We know how the systems failed to protect the children, the soldiers, the athletes – how they mainly protected the rapists. But the overarching system that has taken the biggest hit of all is the family system. It is hard for families to recover from rape. Perhaps the finest book on rape and the family is the masterpiece novel by Joyce Carol Oates entitled “We Were the Mulvaneys.” It broke my heart to read it years ago, because I know the story too well. Because we were the Duggans.
Whether you have been raped by a priest, a coach, a commanding officer, your boyfriend, or a stranger, your first and often only recourse lies with your family. Tragically so many women who are raped come from family situations that are too broken to know how to respond, too dysfunctional to be able to respond or too overwhelmed to do anything that is effective. Ours was a truly decent family – full of children with lots of amazing attributes and abilities but lacking finally a father. After some thirty years of marriage and eleven children he left – forever – and nothing was ever the same. Nothing was ever fully okay again. How could anyone expect it to be when at the helm was one extraordinary, heartbroken, exhausted, fierce, proud, overworked and overwhelmed woman? A woman with an ingrained sense of shame so enormous that it often overshadowed many of her better instincts about justice and fairness and love.
Shame is not always wrong. It is often appropriate. Rapists should be ashamed of themselves but never are. Victims are always ashamed of themselves and should never be. These roles need to be reversed. The various systems within which we live need to address this topsy-turvy morality rigorously. And it needs to be addressed within the most elemental and essential system of them all – the family.
There is no place for shame or blame for rape victims; for healing to begin they must be heard and trusted completely. The very occasional and aberrant pathological liar crying wolf can not be allowed to diminish the stories of the real victims. Vigilante family members only further traumatize the rape victim – as do outdated police and court procedures. Rape victims must have guarantees that their wishes will be honored. They have to be afforded time and a place to heal. And they have to own their stories forever.
Recovery for so many rape victims means the story just goes away. Families are called upon to never speak of it again. It is just too painful, too ugly, too awful. I can understand this. We, as sisters, rarely speak of Annie’s rape. And then only because we have to. But I want to make sure that before the veil of silence is drawn a just ending has been guaranteed. That desire is what triggered our intense desire for Julian Fellowes to write a just resolution to a rape story line playing out in a manor house in Edwardian England. The rape at Downton Abbey was a rape at work; a workplace that is also the home of a family. And so two systems intersect: home and work; family and employer. Which will prevail? Will either prevail?
My sister Annie is proof that happy endings can and do occur. It was not her fault; but the system failed her miserably. And so we focus now on her present. We love the parts of her that survivorship has created. She knows how to take charge when the situation merits. She is vigilant about protecting children. She has courageously stood up to another rapist when a child’s life was in the balance. She has eyes in the back of her head and impeccable instincts about creeps and losers and predators. She is nobody’s fool and a ferocious advocate for anyone being taken advantage of or being misrepresented or worse. At the absolute darkest moment in my life she defended me and paid the most unimaginable price for doing so.
Annie laughs when we call her “Officer Ann” because she knows it comes from us loving her keen and watchful eye on the boogie men in our midst. I think it is because her rage has been allowed and her story honored that she is able to be so incredibly loving, so hysterically funny, so bold and so brave and so kind. Despite it all, she has managed to write a wonderful story for her life. She is writing it still and joyfully so.
Annie and Mary. Bad ass in the Badlands, June, 1993.
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Mary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters
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