When I was asked to write about abuse, I started to think about what could be interesting to be said. After a few hours I realized something : I did not know a lot about the topic and therefore I did not feel legitimate to talk about it. As a men, I do not suffer from abuse (or at least much less than women), although it is all around me, everyday, I do not see it. It is one of the many dramatic aspect of sexism, it is discrete, you do not see it when it actually is right in front of you.
Still I wanted to participate to this week of articles about harassment. Then this idea hit me : if I can not talk about it, why not ask directly a victim? This is what I did. I interviewed Catherine Prystup who lives in central Texas, she is the mother of a family but back when she was a little girl and a teenager she was sexually abused by her step-father. Here is her story :
Canari : What exactly happened to you?
Catherine Prystup : I was sexually abused by my step-father from the age of five to sixteen years old. The abuse happened constantly, several times a week, although at the age of ten or eleven, I figured out ways to protect myself by blocking the door to my bedroom, so it changed from being physically abused (mostly) to witnessing lewd acts and being spied on.
C. : Did you lack confidence while growing up because of what happened to you?
C.P. : I don’t know…. I guess so. I was always very shy, even before this happened to me, and I grew up with a severe speech impediment that made it impossible for people to understand what I was saying until I was six or seven. I had several years of speech therapy and eventually spoke like I was from planet earth (my mom described my speech as alien!). I think a combination of that and the abuse has always made me doubt myself. But I’ve also always had a fire burning and a (excuse my language) “fuck it” mentality. What’s the worse that can happen? I adopted that attitude at the ripe old age of five years old and have stuck with it ever since.
C. : Did it change the way you see men?
C.P. : Because I was so young when the abuse started, I can’t really say it changed the way I see men because I feel like it’s what I’ve always known. Overall, yes, I have trust issues and I am definitely more pessimistic than optimistic. I’m going to assume you’ll hurt me first before getting to know you, so I am a little more rigid in my relationships. The abuse definitely shaped my entire being. But my mother also had a hand in the abuse, so I think I see humans differently, not just men.
C. : How did you process the event?
C.P. : When I was thirteen, I told my mom about the ongoing abuse. She admitted to knowing that it had been happening and decided to seek therapy for me while still allowing him to live with us. The group therapy I went to perhaps was the best thing I could have done. While I only went to a few sessions, I heard stories of other brave girls who had been raped and abuse and tossed out to the curb. I don’t know why it helped me so much to hear those other stories. Perhaps knowing that I wasn’t alone, knowing it wasn’t my fault, knowing that others experienced worse than I did helped. I adopted that mentality and have carried it with me always. As I’ve aged, I’ve shared my story with others knowing it may help them the way hearing other kids’ stories helped me. That’s why it’s important to talk about it because it lifts the shame.
I started to play the cello at the age of ten and having an outlet really seemed to help me. And animals… lots of dogs and cats have given me unconditional love and their fur has housed my tears for over thirty years.
I started therapy again when I was in my twenties, more to process my mother’s role in the abuse. Never underestimate the power of a great therapist! Sometimes just being able to talk in a safe place really, really helps.
C. : Do you think the support structure for the victims has evolved since it happened?
C.P. : No, sadly it has not. While I think people are able to talk about it more easily now, I think this is something that is so deeply rooted in our society.
When I went back five years ago in an attempt to press charges on my step-father (after the statute of limitation was raised in Louisiana), I was stopped by the district attorney and prosecutor as they just didn’t want to take the time to work on this case. Both of these positions were held by men. The female sex crimes investigator warned me that this is how they work. They don’t care, they don’t want to work hard to make sure other children are safe. For me to fight him, it would have taken constant work on my end to get someone to take the case on, even with statements from nine witnesses, including my own mother admitting to years of sexual abuse. I had faith in our justice system five years ago. That’s no longer the case. Now I understand why women don’t speak up and take action. It’s tough to fight it, and it takes an incredible amount of strength to do so. Unfortunately, it broke me a little more and I didn’t have the strength to keep going to get a trial.
C. : What do you think about the MeToo movement ?
C.P. : While the MeToo movement is much needed to shed a light on just how much harassment and abuse women receive, I do have mixed feelings about it. First of all, for a survivor of traumatic sexual assault and abuse, it is very difficult to live your life on a day-to-day basis while constantly hearing stories of assault and abuse in the news and on social media. For example, I took my car in to get some work done on it and was sitting in the waiting area with one older man. The news was on the television in the waiting room and it was covering the trial of Larry Nassar. Instantly, I froze up with anxiety. Here I was, alone with a man, listening to stories of men abusing women and recounting my own ordeal, all on what should be a routine day. My chest got tight, I couldn’t breath, and at the end of the day, I was completely non-productive. If I could have crawled into bed with the covers over my head, I would have. I ended up leaving the car repair shop and breaking down emotionally. Luckily, I had a friend with me who sat and listened, and she made me feel much stronger than processing those emotions alone.
The MeToo movement was concerning me when it first started. While I know men shouting obscenities to women while they are walking down the road is not pleasant and should change, and also definitely plays into the bigger picture, I think it really hurt victims who have experienced very real trauma by being lumped all together. It may not be rational thinking on my end because I can see the logic to it, but I tend to compartmentalize these emotions and the movement kind of mixed up all of those compartments.
C. : What would you say to young girls who are being harassed nowadays to give them strength?
C.P. : Run. Scream. Shout. Be loud and put the spotlight on the vile person harassing you and the vile people not listening to you. If the person you are shouting to isn’t willing to listen or help, keep going even though it’s tough. It takes a large, loud collective voice to bring about change, and it can be done if enough of us keep shouting. And when you’re too tired to shout, it’s okay to rest.