I’ve had more than the usual number of questions from clients about confronting perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse, lately.
Honestly, even for me, the number of women revealing past abuses is shocking. It feels terrible, but it’s a good, good thing. Let’s purge this stuff. Let’s process this stuff and move onward and upward! I am here for this!
I do address the question of confrontation in my book, The Art of Forgiveness. It can be a really powerful step on the path to healing. But it is not, absolutely not, ever, at all, the one thing that will “fix” us or free us.
If we are at the beginning of our healing journey, it can feel great though; it can give us a rush of hope and optimism because it is a real moment of personal power – a reclamation. It’s evidence that we can throw off the shame we have been carrying and place it where it belongs – on the perpetrator.
If we are further along our healing journey, it can feel very satisfying, as well, to be living truthfully – the way that life on earth is supposed to be lived. We can also feel good about helping other women by our example.
If we are near the end of our healing journey, we can feel good about helping the perpetrator (who is in terrible pain and fear, although he may not know it) and healing the psyche of the planet.
We are spiritual warriors and it’s a fierce battle we are waging now.
It may be a difficult concept to internalize, depending on the stage of healing a person is at, but the war is not with the abuser or with men - it is with our own fear. As we face that fear and dissolve it layer by layer, we make ourselves free.
I’m going to give you three examples from my life…. They are all completely true and happened just this way.
And I’m here to hear yours if you wish, and to help you move toward raising your vibration and taking control of your happiness.
Confrontation near the beginning of the healing journey
I was about 25 years old when I confronted my father about the abuse he perpetrated on me when I was a child. I was terrified to do it. At the time, I don’t know what I was terrified of. I was just paralyzed by inchoate fear. I was anxious all the time. I was drinking heavily to obliterate the constant terror.
Now, I know what I was terrified of. I was terrified of going insane; I was terrified of having to really accept the fact that this had happened to me. Because once I faced the perpetrator, that was admitting it. And I was afraid that admitting that such a terrible thing had happened would be too much for my mind and soul to live through.
But it did not kill me. Now, I wish I had had better support. And I wish I had had experience of the Love of Spirit. But I did not. None of my close or extended family believed me or supported me.
I did have my boyfriend. He drank heavily like me. But he believed me without question. And he sat with me at the dinner table and drank expensive scotch that my father paid for, while I called my father every curse word I could think of. Over and over and over again.
My dad sat there weeping crocodile tears and denying it all and blaming me for ripping the family apart. I hated him all the more.
It made me feel better, but not much. It was a beginning though. It was the beginning of understanding that this spiritual burden – the shame, the guilt, the fear – were not mine to live with. My anger gave me strength to shift the energy and to raise my vibration just a bit.
Confrontation in the middle of the healing journey
My date and I pulled up in front of the Karaoke place. Shabby met gaudy on this block. We rushed across the street through the rain and the colored reflections and squeezed ourselves up a flight of stairs to the reception desk.
“She says we get our own room,” my date said.
I followed him down the hallway. Our room was the size and shape of a bus shelter. There was a strong, chilled breeze coming from above. Somehow, it was colder inside than outside. We sat down side by side, looking at a huge monitor. I wrapped my coat more closely about me. I half expected an interrogator to appear.
“Whoa. OK. This really is Japanese style,” he said.
“Yep. No crowd unless you bring one.”
He looked at me and smiled. “You are really attractive.”
Oh god help me, there was no word to describe that but creepy. A complete nonsequitur that was a comment on my physicality meant he was not interested in my spirit but only my body. From that moment, I was working my way out of there and very far away from him. But not very effectively.
I looked into his wet eyes, smiled, and said, “Thank you.”
I should have said, “Look, I made a mistake coming out tonight, I am suddenly very tired and cold. I would like to go home.”
But I sat and smiled and answered all kinds of questions about my life like a good girl. I answered my date’s questions without enthusiasm and without flirtation; I felt no need to construct any kind of image for our pleasure and play; I wanted desperately to leave yet I stayed.
Half an hour passed and I felt my patience leave me.
I said, “Better sing for me, dude. Make it good. I am freezing.”
“What do you want to hear?”
“Please. You choose.”
He sang Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw. Not really a sexy song, not really a romantic song; I suppose it could be inspirational but for the comical emphasis on a mechanical bull named Fu Man Chu.
At the conclusion of the song, I finally got up enough courage to say, “OK, I think I’d like to go, now.”
I stood up, took a couple of steps toward the door, and all of a sudden he sprang up in front of me and shoved his lips into mine.
“Uh. That was uncalled for.” I tried to take another step forward. He stayed in place.
“Please let me out.”
“I’m not stopping you.”
“Good. Step aside, then.”
He stood there. I stood there. These karaoke rooms were kinda soundproof. I was momentarily terrified but locked eyes with him and transformed terror into anger. He stepped aside.
I walked quickly out without looking back. He followed closely behind. When we reached the corner of the block I raised my arm to hail a cab.
He said, “Where shall we go?”
I said, “I am going home to eat.”
He said, “Can I come?”
I said, “Are you kidding me? No. For one thing, you kissed me without permission. Let’s just end things here.”
“Yes. I think that might be what they mean by ‘stealing a kiss.’”
His perception of himself was so far from my perception of him. His perception of the kiss was one of mutual consent yet I felt assaulted. How was such delusion possible?
I had experienced this is high school. Guys with horrendous teeth and bad acne had used to thrust themselves on me and my friend at school dances. I remember asking one to “Please, leave me alone,” He stood right in front of me and said, “No.”
And now, standing on a dark cold corner in New York City I felt disgusted again. A cab pulled up, I got in. I opened a window to stave off the wooziness and tried not to watch the city lights whoosh by. I closed my eyes, let the rain ping my nose, and thought that would be the end of Mr. Country.
Unfortunately, it was not even close to the end of my relationship with Mr Country. He texted me to ask me out again a couple of weeks later. I said, “No.” He asked, “Why?”
I could have said something like, “I just don’t want to,” and then not answered anymore texts. But, I was upset at the profound miscommunication so I said, “You kissed me without permission and I didn’t like it.”
He exploded. “Without permission?! What was I supposed to do? Ask?”
“Say, ‘Can I kiss you?’”
“That would have been nice, yes.”
“Would you have?”
“No, I wouldn’t have. I didn’t want to kiss you. Nothing in our conversation or my behavior indicated that I wanted to, and so, you jumped up in front of the door, preventing me from leaving, and stole a kiss.”
“You are crazy.”
“I am just letting you know my point of view. My perception. My feelings. Please respect them.”
“I didn’t prevent you from leaving.”
“That was how it felt. That’s all. I didn’t like it.”
“You are imagining it.”
“That’s how I perceived it.”
“You are not living in reality. No wonder they took your kids away.”
“No one took my kids away. I share them with their Dad.”
“What mother would let her kids not live with her full time?”
I should have stopped there. But I went on and on and on, hoping against hope that I could enlighten him. He continued to claim I was insane and I calmly persisted in stating my perception until I got tired and hopeless and had to catch up on work. I deleted the conversation and his number.
Six months later he tried to reconnect.
“Golf?” he asked.
“Who is this?”
“Chris. We kissed.”
And there we were again. The entitlement and delusion. (We hadn’t kissed. He had planted one n me without asking.)
I replied, “Stop texting me.”
He wrote, and this was the kicker, this was when I understood, “If you really didn’t want to see me, you would stop first.”
I could have done so much better for myself. I did not need to appease him for as long as I did. But at the time, and even looking back, I felt great that could clearly see and clearly say and feel no shame in believing that this was my perception. This was my feeling. This was the truth.
Confrontation near the end of the healing journey
his guy I had had one date with was deliciously Parisian. He had lived in Paris, where he had studied literature. He had gloriously thick and curly hair. He smoked and brooded and wore tight jeans but wasn’t skinny; he was muscular.
He asked me to lay out some lingerie. Ok, why not? I threw on a robe and some music and lounged about more or less naked while I waited.
He arrived. He chose red shoes, black stockings with garters, and the most elaborate bra. Snooze. Completely predictable. And really, red shoes with black stockings? I was bored already, and regretted having invited him. Sunday on my fire escape with a coffee and public radio for company would have charmed me a great deal more.
He picked up a fairly sheer black scarf and wrapped it around my eyes. Well, this could lend a little surprise to the proceedings. He buckled my wide leather belt around my wrists so that my hands remained in front of me. He pushed me gently down onto my couch and pushed my legs apart.
I felt hot breath on my vulva and some light pressure, then nothing. Ooh, a nice tease! I played along - I squirmed a bit and relaxed into the fun of anticipation. I imagined what might come next,
Then he pushed my knees up toward my ears. Ugh. I hated that feeling of ultra exposure; it is surgery not seduction; it is cold not warm; it is display not dance. I lowered my legs.
I was about to stand up and put an end to the proceedings when he pushed me down onto my knees on the floor. I gave him a chance, hoping there would be a bit more play; a bit more warmth; a bit more of an invitation to feel something together.
But he stepped over me onto the couch and sat. I could feel his knees just brushing the side of my torso. He stroked my hair. This was boring. He was too passive. He was just sitting there. What was he doing……?
Fuck. He was taking pictures.
My heart raced. I had to do this just right. I cocked my head slightly so as to let some light in through the scarf. I had to do this exactly right. I remained perfectly still. I waited. He placed the camera phone down onto the couch; I could barely see it, but there it was.
I lunged for it. My two hands together, constrained by the belt, covered it completely. He grabbed my wrists as my feet came up from the floor; I threw my weight back and away from him so as to avoid stumbling over his legs. I broke free and ran on my toes, in my high heels, toward the bathroom.
I threw the camera phone into the toilet and wrenched the scarf from my eyes as I turned around to see him coming toward me, yelling.
Instead of cowering, I strode toward him, opened the front door of my apartment and stood my ground. My left foot was over the threshold of the door so he couldn’t close it, my right hand was on my hip, and my left arm was outstretched with my left hand pointing at his face.
“No photos without permission. Get the fuck out of my apartment.”
“No. Give my phone back.”
“It’s my phone! My life is in that phone.”
“Too fucking bad. Get out.”
“No. Please. Don’t be a bitch.”
“You’re the bitch. You just completely violated me.”
“I’m sorry. Please. Please. Give me my phone.”
“No. You should have asked permission to take photos. Get out.”
“Please. Please. I’m sorry.”
I stood in heels and lingerie. For all the neighbors to see. Without shame. He stood in silence and distress. He started to cry. He put his hands over his face. He retreated to the couch and sat, rocking back and forth and mumbling.
“I am so worthless. I am such a fucking asshole. I am so messed up.”
I let my adrenaline subside. I propped the front door open, I removed my shoes and stockings, and I covered myself with my robe while I kept my eye on him.
Then, I went to him, took his head in my hands and said, “You are not worthless; you made the wrong decision; I forgive you.” He cried harder.
“I haven’t cried in years.”
“It’s about time, then.”
I closed the door. I took him a heavy glass of water. He got a cigarette out and began to light it but abruptly turned to me and said, “Can I smoke in here?”
“Yes, I’ll get you an ashtray.”
I put coffee on and dressed myself cozily. I kept quiet. I sat. He sat across from me. I smiled at him. “Would you like some bread? I just baked some. It’s good.”
We shared bread from a wooden board and drank warm coffee. The sun was bright and weak. He said, “I am so lonely.”
“Well. This is not the way to make friends.”
He looked at me with hatred.
“The bread is delicious, right?” I asked.
“It is. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. What were you going to do with the photos?”
“Just delete them.”
“So why did you take them?”
“I don’t know.”
“You could have asked. I might have said yes.”
“Would you have?”
“That’s irrelevant. You should have asked permission.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Think about it.”
“My life sucks. I just don’t know what to do.”
“No. I just don’t know what to do—ever. Like, when I wake up, I don’t know what to do or where to go. “
“Do you have a job?”
“I’m a student. I can’t concentrate for more than an hour. I get restless. I just go out at night and get drunk. I could have a girlfriend. So many girls like me, but I do shit like this. Shit to just get a thrill.” His voice was still unsteady. He looked up from the floor.
“Can I have my phone now?”
I laughed. “Are you fucking kidding me? It’s mine now.”
He jumped up and ran for the bathroom. It would be completely dead by now, anyway. He returned with a dripping phone, mumbling, “Damn, those photos would have been so hot.”
“Yeah. Maybe. You know what’s really hot, though?”
“Asking someone if you can fuck them and hearing them cry ‘hell yes!’”
Two more hours passed as we talked, until finally, he said, “I think I am ready to go now.”
A week later I texted his number, knowing he would not recognize mine. “Hey! You have a new phone?”
He replied, “Yeah. The other one was completely dead.”
“Good. A nice fresh start, then.”
No reply. But at least no pictures.
I felt great about this one – I did not allow shame to make me small and quiet. There is nothing to be ashamed in wearing lingerie, enjoying playing around with blindfolds, exploring different kinds of sexy games. There IS shame in depriving a person of their choice.
Since I had done a lot of spiritual growth, I was able to place that shame precisely where it belonged – with him. I was able immediately to forgive him and hold on to no anger and no resentment.
Believe it or not, he even asked me on another date a few months later. I swear to God this is true. I said yes, and used the time to ask him what he had learned since this incident between us. He had taken a class in feminist theory and he told me that he now understood that it was wrong to have deprived me of choice.
I asked him how he could not have understood that before. He said he didn’t know.
Well, I know. It’s cultural conditioning. And we have the power to change that.