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When Your Abuser Dies


There was recently an obituary published in your paper on a person who had lived in Santa Barbara. Like most obituaries, it spoke of what a great guy he was, who he was survived by, and his positive contributions to the people in his life.

The obituary was not representative of the life this man lived. I have a completely different experience of this man being in my life and there was nothing positive about the years I knew him. This man sexually abused me from the time I was about six years old until nine. There is actual proof of this, and not just an accusation made by me. When I did finally muster up the courage to tell my mother, she acted on it immediately. He was arrested and we had a preliminary hearing in Santa Barbara. It was decided in that hearing that there was enough evidence against him to take it to a full trial. The way the law was written at the time, it didn’t protect children from having to face their abusers in court. At 10 years old, I was subjected to testifying at this preliminary hearing while my abuser and his family sat glaring at me from a few feet away. My mother decided to protect me the only way she could at this point. She did not want me go through the trauma of a full hearing. The case was dropped and he and his family moved far, far away – taking my very best friend in the whole wide world at the time with him.

That wasn’t the end for me, just the beginning of a lifetime of self-doubt, insecurity, and self-hate, just to name a few. Every relationship I’ve entered has been affected, some more than others. Raising my children without fear but awareness around potential predators became extremely challenging for me. Creating boundaries in my relationships has been a theme in my life that I know stemmed from this man’s abuse. A terrifying break-in at my home a few years back triggered my deep feelings that I am a victim and not safe. I could continue but I’m sure people can get the gist, if not totally relate (one in four women are victims of some type of sexual abuse, is the last statistic I remember hearing). I have always had a lot of support around me – my parents, my sisters, my friends, and a few very caring and insightful therapists. But it was ultimately up to me. I had to make a very conscious decision that this sick, sick person had taken enough away from me and I would not let those awful years in my childhood shape me completely. Well, I did the work: I cried, I got angry, I got scared, I hated men, I hated my body, I hated everything. And then I got strong, I got compassionate, I got softer, I got somewhere near how I was before he laid his hands on me … and then I read the obituary. My abuser was dead. My first thought was: ‘Good, I hope he suffered and had a horrible life’ (and I still think that). But damnit, why wasn’t all of my hard work suddenly not available to me? Shouldn’t I feel some sort of satisfaction in him being dead? I don’t, at least not yet. Now I’m off to do more work and get “closure.” I’m not sure what that looks like yet.

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