The step-dad wasn’t exactly a pedophile – as in someone who gets sexual thrills from molesting children. And I am pretty sure that he never abused anyone else in quite the same way that he did me. I seemed to be the sole scapegoat that got the brunt of all his anger. Like a safety valve – that ensured that others were treated more decently. The step-dad was a different kind of abuser. He wasn’t a sadist either, I don’t think – though he certainly seemed to enjoy hurting me. But I don’t think it was a sexual enjoyment. He was so repressed sexually that I doubt that he found much of anything sexually fulfilling. Living with him, I got the message loud and clear that sex of any kind was bad, dirty, ugly, nasty, shameful and sinful. And that it was only allowed in marriage – and that the only reason was for reproduction. And that anything sexual outside of that – even talk or feelings or thoughts – was despicable.
Sometimes he did become verbally abusive to other people – there was a lot of pent-up anger in him – and it took very little to set it off. Other people did occasionally trigger him but I had the special knack of saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. So the majority of the time, it was all mine to deal with. I think I was a target for a couple of reasons.
I was more like his younger brother than I was like him in temperament, personality and abilities – and the younger brother had been the favorite pampered darling of his mother – the one who got all the advantages and educational opportunities, while he had to work to help support the family. His dad was a passive and ineffectual underachiever who couldn’t cope with the demands of supporting a family. So he became the macho man of the house – but was unappreciated and taken advantage of. I get all that – but it does not excuse his behavior.
I also was a painful reminder that his own son had died at about the age of 10. I was 5 when he married my mom – and was apparently supposed to fill the impossibly idealized shoes of the dead son. I wasn’t up to the expectations. So I was rejected judged, condemned and despised – and had to suffer for it. But my ineptitude and total lack of all the qualities that he valued made me even more contemptible in his eyes.
So I got not only the verbal abuse, but also emotional and physical abuse as well. He beat me. The punishments were out of all proportion to the supposed crimes. He was unpredictable and violent and would get carried away as though possessed and wear both of us out while using a belt or switch on my legs, bottom and lower back. Sometimes he would announce his intentions and send me to another room to wait and anticipate the pain to come, while he took his own sweet time, delaying until I was a distraught, limp, quivering mess – even before he laid a hand on me. Other times he would just snap and lash out, springing into frenzied action immediately, catching me by surprise and taking my breath away. Several times, he sent me out to cut the switch myself – an agonizing process – trying to decide whether to choose a slimmer one that would also be more supple – or a thicker one that would not flex as much. If I chose the wrong one, he would either send me back with instructions to get one of a different description – or go after it himself – and that was even worse because it raised his anger level. He’d leave little tags of leaf stems along the length to make it sting even more.
When the abuse crossed the line into the sexual area, I don’t think he intended it to be that way. It was intended as embarrass me, humiliate me, mock me, and “tease” me in a way that bordered on torture. It was an attempt to do whatever he could do to make me not only feel uncomfortable, but to destroy my sense of self-esteem and value. He did anything he could think of to demean and hurt me and when I reached the stage where I stopped crying and resisting the whippings, he discovered that this was something that did even more damage – and used it to advantage. It was also a lot less work on his part.
As I grew up, the physical abuse tapered off – probly around age 11 – and the more sexual stuff increased. But – I think it only seemed sexual to me – I think to him it was only another form of a more subtle combination of emotional, low-grade physical and verbal punishment. I do believe that any objective witness would also have seen it as CSA – but I don’t think that was his intention – and that he would have been horrified to know that anyone else saw it that way. The overt physical and sexual abuse stopped after an episode at age 13 when I was almost as tall as he was – and I had been sexually mature for a couple of years. From then on, it was “only” verbal and emotional abuse – although the sexual harassment of a verbal nature continued until much later. By the time I left home at 18, I had pretty much “disappeared” as far as the way I was treated around the house – I was studiously ignored most of the time – unless there was some absolute necessity to communicate with me or some task that they wanted me to do for them.
Through all of this time – 13 years – mom was conspicuous by her absence. She was there in a literal sense – but not “there for me” - emotionally or in any way that implied recognition of my plight, sympathy or support. She might have well have been the house-keeper or a stranger hired to provide for only physical needs.
I think that this may be one reason that it took me so long to admit that I had been sexually abused. It was not admitted by anyone else – and my perceptions of his treatment had been so belittled, downplayed, minimized, excused and rationalized - that I doubted my own ability to recognize the truth. I actually thought that I was making too much of it and that I was a filthy pervert to interpret what he had done as something sexual. I also believe that, given the atmosphere I grew up in, I would have ended up as a screwed up mess emotionally and psychologically – with sexual dysfunction – even without any specific abuse directed at me personally.
i am at a loss as to how to categorize his behavior. don't know if there is a term for it - only what it did to me.
"the scariest thing about abuse of any shape or form, is, in my opinion, not the abuse itself, but that if it continues it can begin to feel commonplace and eventually acceptable."
- Alan Cumming, "Not My Father's Son"