In a family where everyone is normalising what happened, it’s hard to chuck a grenade at it, says Annalisa Barbieri
I’m 22 and was sexually assaulted three years ago by my sister’s husband. My immediate family knows about it, yet I feel I got little or no support from them. My sister knows about it, but is still married to him. I have said that being around him affects me, yet my sister still brings him with her even when she knows I’ll be present.
The only reason I didn’t press charges is because she stayed with him. I have been ignoring my own feelings to spare hers, and am starting to resent my family. When they really need me, I help my family without hesitation. I am coming to a point where I want to move away.
I went to therapy and got support from my best friend and my boyfriend. So my question is, should I leave, if I know it’ll help me tremendously, or stay and continue to put up with this situation?
Well, he should be the one to leave, shouldn’t he? I find it incredible that we have a situation where a man, married to your sister, sexually assaults you while you are still in your teens, and yet he seems to suffer no consequences. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for the perpetrator of a crime to carry on, while the person who has suffered sees a huge impact on their life. I wonder who else your brother-in-law might be assaulting (not that this is your responsibility).
I wasn’t sure what you meant by “leave”. I am presuming you still live at home and you mean leave home, rather than leave your family completely? It does seem as if leaving home would give you more control over your situation. Your family sounds unsupportive at best, blind at worse. What did they say when you told them? Did they minimise it? Did they try to rationalise it?
However, what’s important is that – as much as possible – you do what youreally want, not what your brother-in-law’s actions have driven you to do. It may interest you to know that you could still report the sexual assault – there is no statute of limitations in the UK – although this has to be your decision. You may want to read part 1, section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
I spoke to the therapist Cate Campbell (bacp.co.uk). “Is yours the kind of family,” she asked, “that doesn’t talk about it because they think they might upset you? Do you live in the sort of family where you’ve said something and no one has heard you?” (Both of these would be wrong and neither are your fault; some families, unfortunately, are like that.)
Campbell thought that, “You’d managed [to deal with this] for three years and that must mean you have huge resources, which is amazing.”
I get the impression that you feel something has to be sacrificed here: you, or your place in the family – and that’s a heavy burden for you to carry. But you asked if you should leave as it would make you feel better; of course, if that’s what you want to do. I know it’s really hard, in a family situation (where everyone seems to be normalising what happened) to now chuck a grenade into it. Before you do anything, I would contact Rape Crisis (the charity supports survivors of rape and sexual assault) at rapecrisis.org.uk or on 0808 802 9999.
Fortunately, you have support from a friend and your boyfriend, but it might help you to talk this through with someone experienced. I stress: you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, you don’t have to report this (and they won’t make you); you don’t have to leave, or stay, but it might help you to talk.
Some people find it easy to minimize sexual assault. They will say, “Are you sure?” Or “He/they were just mucking about.” But there is nothing trivial in unwanted sexual advances. It isn’t “a bit of fun”. I pity your sister stuck with a man like this – but you aren’t.
So no, you don’t have to put up with this situation.
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