Dee Peterman

Reston, VA (born Cincinnati, OH in 1946) -

I am the oldest of five children. My Irish/Italian mother had a violent temper and

was often verbally and, occasionally, physically abusive. On the surface, my

German-American father was much more caring and nurturing, but he was also

sexually abusive. My earliest memories (approximately age 3) are of

incest, and the content seems to indicate it was not the first time. I was

only one in a long line of sexually abused children in his family. He and

his siblings had been abused by an alcoholic step-father, including sexual

abuse of at least one of the girls. My father also abused at least one of

my siblings and went on to abuse other children both inside and outside the

family. He also was physically violent (slum gang wars, distinguished

military service, security work, and bouncer jobs), but struck no more than

one or two blows in anger within our family. My maternal grandmother was

the main steadying influence in my life and inspired my love of learning

and music.

 

Interest in violence: This is, of course, based in part on my personal

experiences, and I will expand on that later. I can't entirely explain the

my earliest interest in and rejection of violence, but it seems to stem

from an incident that occurred when I was around age four. Someone left a

large magazine laying about with pictures of concentration camps (words I

did not know then) in it. Unlike most incest victims, my memories are

mostly intact and continuous. This awareness has been both a blessing and

a curse. I remember feeling repelled by a wrongness in the pictures of

things stacked up by a big hole and puzzling (something I seemed to do a

lot of even as a young kid) over the picture of a man who looked like a

Halloween skeleton. It again seemed very wrong that he should look that

way. Then, it dawned on me, with a kind of awful feeling, that the

stacked things were people, and these words formed in my head: "This is how

people treat other people when they think they are not people." That

thought has never left me and seems to have caused me to be sensitive to

situations where I saw or heard intolerance and to resist peer pressure to

exclude or mistreat "undesirables".

 

I can't say I was always the perfect little pacifist. 8-} Before my I

learned to pay more attention to people's actions than their words (around

age eight), I worshiped my mother and sometimes emulated her violent temper

and her callousness to the feelings of other people, but my sense of right

and wrong and a growing empathy with others eventually led me to

increasingly reject such behavior in myself. Both fortunately and

unfortunately, that sense of empathy and my penchant for "puzzling" led me

to try to understand people's actions instead of rejecting them out of hand

along with their actions.

 

By age nine, I learned to observe my mother's rages and to try to

circumvent them. I could do little about the incest except observe my

father's actions and at least some of the self destructive reactions within

myself. That is where my memories get somewhat patchy. I know I sometimes

felt a great deal of anger at both my parents, but memories of this are

fleeting and disconnected. It is also were the bad part of being so aware

comes in. As I eventually learned the name and the meaning of what was

happening between my father and me, I also learned the theories of Freud

and who he and the societal views of fifties (remember the popularity of

"Lolita"?) blamed for it all. That (according to one of the family myths)

meant I had no right to be angry because I had caused it, yet I could

sometimes sense the rages inside myself that I saw and sensed in my parents

and feared there was a chance I might cross over the line and become

violent myself. I did not want this to happen, so I instead turned most of

that rage inward upon myself, destroying my own self esteem and my right to

feel anger or engage in rebellion.

 

Since then: My low self esteem, self destructiveness, and the death of my

grandmother eventually resulted in my dropping out of high school one

semester short of graduation and an unwed pregnancy the following year.

The birth of my (now grown) daughter finally broke my self destructiveness.

I wanted desperately to keep her, but knew I could not do so if I went on

in the same pattern. So, I distanced myself from my family and went out to

raise my child on my own. As painful as the distancing was, I strongly

suspected it might be necessary to protect her. This proved true around

twelve years later when my father was arrested for molesting eight

children, including two of his other grandchildren. My mother lied to the

authorities, telling them she had only four children, because she knew I

would tell the truth at his trial. I was able, however, give the district

attorney testimony enough to block his first opportunity for parole because

I feared a quick release combined with the perjuries committed to deny his

criminal activity would help preserve or even strengthen the structure of

lies that made incest possible in the first place. This resulted in a full

break with both my parents and two of my brothers, but hopefully, prevented

or at least limited any additional abuse he may have committed before his

death several years later.

 

This, then, would be most of what I can offer WAVE at this time: the

insights of a fairly full first hand observation of the dynamics of both

family violence and the paralysis that can affect victims of it. My

academic credentials are still incomplete; although, I have added over 100

credit hours of liberal arts courses with a social science specialization

to my GED. So far, my activism has been mostly small scale and mundane:

encouraging my daughter to stand up for herself in non-violent ways;

choosing to work for a non-profit conservation education organization;

using my position as data entry supervisor to encourage mutual respect,

tolerance, and fair play; volunteering for a few months at a women's

center; marching in support of summer jobs, to preserve legalized abortion

(out of concern for unwanted children), and against the bombing of civilian

populations at the beginning of Desert Storm.

 

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