Carolyn Hax: She made things awkward with this dark secret

DEAR CAROLYN: My mother-in-law told me several years ago that she had been sexually abused when younger by someone who was supposed to protect her. She said it took 10 years into her marriage to share this information with her husband, and she would never tell her two sons.

I feel torn between keeping this secret, and telling my husband, the father of two girls. I struggle with the idea that we “protect our boys” from difficult facts because they are too sensitive to handle it?? As one of our daughters’ friends was recently sexually assaulted, I think it is important to discuss — this doesn’t just happen to “other people.”

Secrets

DEAR SECRETS: You cite two valid arguments against secrecy: that an impulse to “protect” her sons would be misplaced, and that sexual assault isn’t just someone else’s problem.

But there’s so much more. Chief among them is the perpetuation of, or at least the failure to challenge, a culture that blames and shames the victims.

Silence also puts people at increased risk of assault and trauma. It’s a progression: Talking openly with your kids is the most effective way to teach them to be open with you or other adults.

That openness, meanwhile, gives them power: a willingness to speak up; be loud; read a situation in a way that might not be popular in the moment; give or deny or rescind their consent; own their own judgment; and ask for help. This power will help them stay out of bad situations before they start, get out of bad situations they’re already in, and/or recover more effectively from bad situations they don’t or can’t prevent or escape.

I’m not just talking girls here, or young people. Self-awareness and advocacy give us all our best chance at making choices for ourselves instead of having them made for us. That’s a world with fewer perpetrators and victims.

Now: None of this is an argument for you to tell your husband, because your mother-in-law’s story is hers to tell. Completely. As such, you’re not only keeping her secret but also respecting her privacy. Just because her speaking up would help others doesn’t mean she has to speak up. Her trauma, her choice.

So you are still in a difficult place — it’s just not exactly the one you described. No matter what good you can see in doing so, it’s not a matter of telling or not telling your husband. It’s a matter of how you handle this secret with your mother-in-law. Do you tell her it’s weighing on you? Do you ask her to tell her son, and spell out why? Do you seek her counsel as you wrestle with recent events? Do you decide she’s been through enough and leave her be?

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All have merits. The wisdom of each depends on her, on you, on your relationship, and on the whims of opportunity.

Regardless of what you choose, you can learn from her history and apply the lessons to your relationship with your husband and your responsibility to your daughters.

Recent events — tragically, infuriatingly — give you ample opportunity to speak openly with your family without breaking confidences. One in six American women (per RAINN, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence) has been the victim of a sexual assault in her lifetime. In every sense, that’s enough.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

Published at Wed, 10 Apr 2019 13:00:33 +0000, source Carolyn Hax: She made things awkward with this dark secret.

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