I am referencing your response to a young woman which was published in the Sunday Independent on the 19th of August.
I have no doubt that you had good intentions and meant well.
But as a therapist, I feel beyond angry with your inadequate and, in my view, unethical and irresponsible response.
As a rape victim, I feel beyond insulted.
I read and re-read your opening paragraph in which you ignore what the woman says to you. She writes:
“I ended up in his bed and woke a few times to find him on top of me.
I realised he was having sex with me but there was nothing I could do.
I felt frozen and helpless and it seemed to go on for a long time.
I never reported it to the Garda although the doctor suggested I should.
When I think about it I relive what happened that night.”
“I am not going to go into the rights and wrongs of what happened because the details are far too sketchy for me to make a judgment.”
Firstly, the details are far from ‘sketchy’. The details are right there.
This woman has told you she was raped. She has told you explicitly that she was raped. She has also described the impact of it; being in pain, going to the doctor, having to take the morning after pill, and ‘reliving’ it when she thinks about the father of her baby.
Secondly, nobody is asking for your judgement on whether she was raped or not. And whether she was raped or not is not up for you to ‘judge’. She wasn’t asking about the ‘rights or wrongs’ of it. She is telling you that she was raped.
As a therapist, you are not in a position of judgment. The message you sent, not only to the victim, but to all rape victims who read this is the same sad, jaded, avoidance and lack of belief that victims are met with every time they speak about being sexually assaulted. It is the same sad and jaded view that the person to whom the violation is disclosed is the one to ascertain the teller’s truth, rather than the teller. It is saying “well I wasn’t there, so I can’t say what happened,” to the person who was there, who can say, is saying, what happened.
Particularly as a therapist, surely you are aware that people will tell you painful things without using the exact, correct, terminology. The way to respond to this is surely with gentleness, compassion, and a tentative curiosity. And with belief. By not attending to the rape, you are telling her not to attend to the rape. You are telling everyone reading not to attend to rape.
You could have been the first person she has spoken to about being raped.
After shrugging off the rape, you write: “Instead, I will concentrate on where you find yourself now.”
Where this woman finds herself now, is nine months or so after having been raped, raising a rapist’s baby.
Where she finds herself now is ‘reliving’ the rape every time she thinks of the father of her baby.
Where she finds herself now is a direct consequence of her being raped.
Where she finds herself now, is being a rape victim.
You bizarely, and purposefully, chose to pretend that the two are mutually exclusive, as if the woman’s distress over telling the baby’s father has nothing to do with the trauma of how the baby came to be.
This woman has survived not only the rape, but also pregnancy from rape, and then childbirth after rape. She is now presumably single handedly raising the baby. You could have offered her a modicum of credit for this superhuman feat. You could have offered her some encouragement. But, in order to do that, you would have had to acknowledge that she’d been raped in the first place.
The writer says that she lives with ‘reliving’ the rape when she thinks of the rapist. She says that part of her feels that the baby should know his father. Part of her. Not all of her. And all parts are valid. No one part is better than the other. No one part is right or wrong. She is clearly ambivalent about it and ambivalence can be deeply uncomfortable. In this case I would wager a lot more than uncomfortable, given that just thinking about it gives her flashbacks to being raped. Ambivalence can be explored until the right answer comes. From the person themselves. Not from you.
It doesn’t sound to me that right now is the best time to make a potentially life changing decision. It sounds to me that now could be the time for connecting with people who love her and getting the support and help she needs for her immediate trauma, including talking through the idea of telling the father. It sounds to me that stabilisation could be helpful before making an enormous decision that could destabalise her further.
Despite the obvious trauma she is living with, you prioritise the ‘rights’ of the rapist to know he is a father. Whether he has that right or is not, at this point, is irrelevent. What is more urgent is that this woman is dealing the traumatic impact of being raped. She is potentially incredibly vulnerable yet you suggest doing something that may compound this, that may harm and traumatise her.
Mary, you suggest the woman go and see the man who raped her ‘for a coffee’, alone.
You suggest she meet her rapist alone.
You are aware that she relives the rape when she thinks of the rapist, yet you advocate for her to meet him in person.
Why are you suggesting she further potentially re-traumatises herself by connecting with him? Especially without considering if she is in a position to do that? Not only do you say she ‘should’ tell him, you also tell her to offer to get a DNA test done to prove he is the father! This woman does not need to do anything of the sort for this man. She owes him nothing. If she does ever tell him, and he wants a DNA test, that is his business. And this isn’t even a once off contact; what you are suggesting could open herself and her child up to maybe a lifetime of contact and involvement with the man who raped her, a man who has form for being abusive.
If meeting the father is something that fits right for this woman, then by all means, she can do it. She can do whatever she is comfortable doing. I am not advocating for never communicating with this man. I am not telling her what to do. What I am saying is that your entire focus is on the rapist and his ‘rights’, not on the emotional wellbeing of the writer, which strkes me as highly disturbing, given that you are a therapist. You also say that if he doesn’t want to meet, she ‘should’ write to him.
You write: “We don’t know how the father will react when he hears your story but he deserves to know.”
No he doesn’t. A rapist has zero right to know anything about their victim. Zero. He lost that right by raping her. If she chooses to tell him, if and when she is ready, it will hopefully be because it’s the right thing by her, not by her baby, and certainly not by the man who raped her. And not because someone tells her she ‘should’.
I am incredibly disturbed by your lack of concern for this woman’s immediate emotional wellbeing.
You provide no rape crisis helpline number. You do not suggest she contacts her local rape crisis centre for counselling (but why would you, when you have ignored that she was raped at all). You don’t suggest she attends any counseller. You don’t suggest anything regarding that night. You don’t suggest she speaks to a trusted friend or family member about the double trauma she has experienced. You don’t acknowledge any of the significant trauma or difficulties she is in, let alone referencing her significant strengths that have taken her this far.
I know that therapists are flawed human beings, and I know that an advice column isn’t therapy. But I urge you to reflect on your response to the writer and your avoidance of both her description of rape and the impact it is having on her. If you haven’t looked into it yet, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre hold various trainings for anyone who comes into contact with survivors of sexual violence, including a four month programme for psychotherapists.
Writer, if you happen to read this,
I am sorry for what happened to you. I believe you. It wasn’t your fault. You have managed to not only survive that violation but have gone on to survive a pregnancy resulting from it, the birth, and raising a baby on your own. You are now considering what is best for your baby. This speaks to a person of generosity, strength of character and resilience.
It sounds like you are dealing with significant trauma. You say that you are distraught about telling the father and when you think of it you relive the night. I would tentatively consider putting the father to one side for now, just to park him for now. You can always come back to it. There is no rush, you are dealing with more than enough. I would consider placing yourself at the centre of this and sitting with these feelings of wanting to tell him about your baby’s, and the part of you that doesn’t want to. Perhaps the part of you that becomes distraught and relives the night needs to be gently attended to before you can make a decision.
I do not want to offer you advice, but before considering making contact with your baby’s father, I am wondering about some things.
Who in your life can you trust with this information? Who can you speak to about this? Who can support you, emotionally and otherwise? Who can mind you a little? Have you considered looking into finding a counseller? The Dublin Rape Crisis centre’s 24 hour helpline is always available to you on 1800 77 8888. It might be worth talking through what happened to you and your current feelings about telling father about your baby.
Go foward slowly and gently, with care and compassion,