When Meg was 12, her mother, Annie, found herself unable to look at her. Seeing her daughter made Annie feel unsettled, at times almost angry. At first, she couldn’t figure out why.
“And then, Meg turned 13 and suddenly, everything slid into place for me,” Annie says.
“I found myself thinking, ‘She’s so tiny. She is so little.’ And I realised I was actually talking about myself, not her.
“It felt like something just broke. It was something big and ugly, and it just broke.”
Annie was 13 in 1987 when an Anglican priest began sexually abusing her, over a period of eight to 10 months. Seeing her daughter turn the same age was a trigger that not only bring back memories of the abuse, but that also helped her to comprehend just how small and innocent she would have been.
He was in his mid 30s, and used Annie’s vulnerability after the acrimonious divorce of her parents and his knowledge that she had been sexually abused by a family member to his advantage.
Annie, who was abused for many years as a child from 1979 onwards by a priest.
Annie’s experience of cover-ups, betrayal and being failed by those who should have protected her has become all too familiar in such cases. But it is the experience of her family members she wants to highlight. They are the secondary victims, whose stories are often lost.
Annie and her family believe abuse pervades the lives of secondary victims but support for them is haphazard and scarce. They hope that by sharing their experiences, religious and other institutions will do more to recognise and address the impact of abuse beyond the primary victim.
Meg said at first she was unsure why her mother had begun to treat her differently. She did not know the extent of her mother’s abuse at the time.
“I guess it was always obvious that something had happened to Mum, because sometimes she would cry or blank out but I didn’t know exactly what she was upset about,” Meg, now 14, says.
“But when I first turned 13 that’s kind of when I knew something more was going on. For a while though, I thought I’d just done something wrong, I thought I’d upset Mum in some way and that’s why she couldn’t really talk to me any more.”
I’ve often been an advocate for finding resources for not just survivors of child abuse, but also their significant others, as often the effects of the abuse and the effects of trying to heal from that abuse impacts that relationship directly. Maybe it’s because I don’t have children than the need for resources for the children of survivors going through the healing process is also important, but clearly, it is.
What can we do to provide resources of any kind for the families of survivors? Do you know of any?