Innocent victims / 18 years of sexual abuse by father; support group was a lifeline

7:48 pm, August 21, 2017
The Yomiuri Shimbun
This is the sixth installment of a series.

When it comes to child abuse, sexual abuse leaves serious psychological wounds, as the damage may not be externally apparent. Some victims suffer without having anyone to confide in about the abuse.

“It was like being in the darkest depths,” said a 44-year old woman who suffered sexual abuse by her father for 18 years until the age of 27. Her time living with her parents was horrific.

Her father, who grew up in a rural area of eastern Japan, would suddenly fly into a rage against her or her mother over the slightest thing, such as not answering his questions. He would beat them with a belt or coat hanger, which left welts on their backs. The woman said her mother, who worked, was often not at home.

She was 9 when she first suffered the abuse. While taking a nap after coming home from school, she was touched on the lower part of her body. From that time on, her father would creep up on her when no one else was home. If she did not obey him, he would drag her around by the hair and repeatedly hit her in the face.

She was threatened by her father, who said: “Don’t tell anyone. If you talk, you and the family will have to die.” She suffered these torments on an almost weekly basis.

She was frightened every time her mother left home. The woman said, “I have no memory of laughing at home, and even if I ate, I couldn’t taste anything.”

When she was in the fifth grade of elementary school, she confided in her mother about the abuse, as she could no longer handle it. However, her mother believed her father when he said, “I won’t do it again,” and her mother acted as if it had “never happened.” Even though the abuse continued, the mother kept “pretending not to see it.”

Her only relief was being able to leave the house to go to school, but she told her friends only about being beaten, not the sexual abuse. When she was 16, she talked about it to her first boyfriend, but he did not believe her.

She felt her body was dirty after her father touched her, and that there was no reason to go on living. Should she die, or should she kill her father? Obsessively, she held a kitchen knife to her wrist several times, but she could not go through with it.

Seeking help

In her early 20s, when the abuse was still ongoing, she came across an article in a weekly magazine at her workplace that included a story about a victim who had suffered sexual abuse by her father. She thought, “It’s the same situation as mine.”

After thinking about it for four years, she wrote, “Please help me” in a letter to a support organization mentioned in the article, and soon after she received a call from the organization.

“Get out of the house; your father is a criminal.”

This is what she was told when she met Minako Fujiki, 58, president of WANA Kansai, a general incorporated association based in Osaka that provides support for victims of abuse.

Fujiki herself had been a victim of sexual abuse. She was the first person to believe the woman about the abuse and tell her that it was “not right.” A month later, the woman left home without a word.

She went to Fujiki and found a place to live and a job. A little earlier, she had also found a boyfriend who always stayed close to her. At 35, she married her boyfriend, who had accepted her long struggle and said angrily, “It was really awful, wasn’t it?” They are now blessed with two children, and she feels content seeing their happy smiles or their faces when they quietly sleep.

She still occasionally dreams of being attacked by her father. She cannot forgive her father and her mother, but her old feelings of hatred have changed to pity — having found a place where she can have peace of mind, she is able to somewhat understand the sadness of a family whose only ties were those distorted by violence.

“You and your family are always laughing, aren’t you?” a friend of the woman recently said. The woman felt that her life, in which she had not been able to really laugh, had changed.

She wants to tell others who are still suffering abuse, “There is sure to be an adult who will help you, so please be brave, run away and ask for help.”

The desire to dominate

Satoru Nishizawa, a professor of clinical psychology at Yamanashi Prefectural University, provides psychological care for victims of sexual abuse.

“The purpose of sexual abuse by parents and others tends to be thought of as satisfying sexual desire, but in fact it is often motivated by the desire to dominate the other person,” Nishizawa said.

A man in his 40s, who was sentenced to prison two years ago on charges including the rape of his adopted daughter, who was a junior high school student, gave an interview at a prison in the Kinki region in June.

“I couldn’t forgive my daughter’s rebelliousness, and I did it as a way to hurt her,” the man said.

When the girl was attending elementary school, the man married her mother. As she entered into early adolescence, she stopped listening to what she was told, even when she was scolded for her attitude. Her stepfather began to sexually abuse her as he beat her.

In fiscal 2015, child consultation centers handled 1,521 cases of sexual abuse, or just 1.5 percent of all cases thought to occur. “There is a possibility that many abuse cases never come to light, as sexual abuse accounts for 10 percent to 20 percent [of all abuse cases] in Europe and the United States,” Nishizawa said.

Advice on sexual abuse and violence is provided at one-stop support centers and other facilities nationwide.

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