Put the Shame Where It Belongs
Ashley Judd has been making the rounds lately. She just released a memoir of her childhood years. All That Is Bitter & Sweet is a tale that includes revelations of drug abuse on the part of caretakers, sexual molestation, neglect, and incest. She’s been on The View and several other morning talk shows promoting the book.
In her interview with the ladies from The View Ashley said something profound. I’m paraphrasing, but she said that the secret of sexual abuse is shaming and that in placing that secret out into the open and exposing it to the light we place the blame back where it belongs: on the perpetrators. That’s a powerful statement and one that I absolutely agree with wholeheartedly.
Media stories have leaked with the publication of this book that both Naomi and Wynonna Judd are offended with Ashley’s airing of their dirty laundry in public. But I actually see this as a way for Ashley to help survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The point isn’t to grandstand for publicity or to hurt her mother and sister but rather to help other survivors to come to terms with their own stories. You would think Wynonna, who reportedly was married to a pedophile, would understand this. But maybe not.
Ashley Judd has long been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and for sexual abuse survivors. This book is not a radical departure for publicity’s sake.
Recently I read bits and pieces of another book called, The Book of You, which is basically an amalgamation of various studies and insights made by sociologists, psychologists and social psychologists about human behavior and interaction. One snippet from the book was about incest. Basically, I took issue with it because it referred to incest as a “seduction,” and never once actually referred to incest as an assault on a child, which is, of course, exactly what it is. Incest is nothing less than rape.
Whether or not the victim is “groomed” or “seduced,” whether or not the victim fights or submits, whether or not she assents or says no, any child who is the victim of incest is just that: a victim. In other words, the child is blameless because a child cannot consent to have sex, regardless of whether or not the sex is with a stranger or a trusted loved one. In fact, the betrayal seems many times worse when it’s made by a family member.
I spent some time growing up in a very small town in Oklahoma which shall remain nameless. I went to junior high school and spent part of my freshman year of high school in this town. There were two cases of incest amongst schoolmates while I was there. The first that I knew of was a girl that I’ll call Monique. Monique was a year ahead of me in school, and we rode the school bus together. Her home was a plain, small brick house on the same street as the trailer park where I lived. She lived there with her dad, her “stepmom,” and two younger sisters.
Monique had quite the reputation. She got around as one might say in polite euphemism, or, if you want to cut to the chase, she was the town slut. It was more difficult to find a boy that Monique wouldn’t have sex with than one that she would. She was a year ahead of me in school, but she was already “dating” high school and college boys in the eighth grade.
We sometimes called her Monique the Kissing Bandit, after Morgana the Kissing Bandit, because she would exhibit odd behavior like running around the halls of school and kissing people of both sexes on the lips. She was engaged and then married before I even moved from the town, so she was married by the time she was a high school sophomore.
All of these behaviors are classic signs that something is definitely wrong at home. But no one in my small town wanted to butt their noses into that. Better to let the girl self-destruct. After all, didn’t her own behavior show that she was nothing but trouble, a wild child, the kind of girl who was going to get what was coming to her?
I think everyone in that town knew. I know I did. I remember Monique’s younger sister, sitting next to the baby sister on the bus, talking about how she was working on her beautician’s license, how she couldn’t wait to get out of her dad’s house, how she was only there now to keep her dad away from her baby sister. I knew.
Monique followed me to the next town we moved to, not purposely, of course. She just happened to end up in the same Oklahoma City suburb. I don’t remember going to school with her there. Eventually, she got a divorce or an annulment from her first husband. I suspect that he was just an excuse to get out of her father’s house. By the time I graduated from college at the tender age of 22, Monique, herself no older than 23, had been married and divorced twice and had three young preschool age children to feed on the salary of a grocery store checker. I know she didn’t graduate from high school.
Small towns are hotbeds of secrets. A movie like Peyton Place might as well be a documentary. Dark shameful secrets come to small towns to die and be buried. Secrets are better exposed. They need light and oxygen. Some wounds heal faster when they’re exposed to the air. So, if you haven’t done so yet, rip off that band aid.
Entry filed under: Books, Child Abuse, Childhood, Crime, Current Events, Ethics, Human Rights, Media, Mental Health, Sexual Abuse & Assault, Social Commentary, Violence, Women's Rights. Tags: Ashley Judd, Judd, Naomi Judd, Oklahoma City, Peyton Place, Sexual abuse, View, Wynonna Judd.