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Therapeutically, I have shared in this process with women. I have found it interesting that a perpetrator who is determined to be safe (not actively violent) for contact chooses to attend the session. First, I send a letter requesting the appointment. I state in the letter that "Lucy Smith has been in treatment for childhood sexual abuse and would like to meet with you." I do not state that he is the perpetrator. I give the time and date of an available appointment. I ask that he call me, not Lucy Smith, to confirm his decision to attend the session. Usually, when he calls he wants to know the reason for the meeting. I state, "She is requesting the appointment to discuss the reason." I then ask whether he is willing to attend. I do not tell him what will be discussed at the appointment since that would be a breach of confidentiality. I do ask him to plan on fifteen to twenty minutes of his time and not a full hour. I have concluded thus far through my own experiences that perpetrators seem to attend these appointments for two reasons: They want to know (1) what a woman remembers about the sexual abuse and (2) with whom she has discussed his behavior.
I have found that when perpetrators admit to the sexual abuse, most of them have taken some responsibility for it even as they made excuses for it. They do not necessarily show remorse for what they did or the harm they caused to her; rather, they show remorse for being exposed and may give some indication of the harm, but not on an emotional level. They do not seem capable of emotional vulnerability within this context of their behavior. Some of the men do apologize and ask to be forgiven; others do not apologize or ask to be forgiven. When an apology is made, these men do not seem to grasp the level of harm they have inflicted upon the child or understand at a meaningful human level the damage they caused to the child or the woman she became.
In preparing for a symbolic disclosure, a woman has planned a ritual that is significant to her. Women choose a place for this disclosure to occur, a place that has emotional significance to them. I have accompanied women to the house where the sexual abuse occurred or to their homes where they have felt safe and free of the abuse. We have met in my office where women have felt trust and understanding about the trauma of sexual abuse. We have also gone to grave sites where women have burned or buried letters to a perpetrator. Some women have burned an effigy or a picture of the perpetrator. Others may want to cut him out of pictures or destroy a significant gift he gave her. Sometimes they want to include something that is symbolic of a specific memory of the abuse. One woman chopped up the toy chest her grandfather gave her and burned it in her backyard while she told him what he had done to her as a child. She stated, "I never knew that I could feel so good getting rid of that toy chest. As I burned it, I cried, and it was for both of us. I felt clean afterwards and exhausted. It was a good feeling, an incredible feeling." Symbolic disclosure happens at a location that each woman decides is important for her emotional healing; the disclosure often has a spiritual meaning to women and can include a prayer of gratitude for their healing. Emotionally, women who symbolically disclose experience the same kind of relief and empowerment as women who confront a perpetrator directly. As with the direct confrontation, we plan what she will do afterward and we process her experience on the day of the disclosure. I have her call and check in with me a few days later to see how she is doing.
with the Perpetrator in a Public Place
Similarities of the Confrontations
Reflection Exercise #7
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