As a known member of the Vermont community, she would like herself and anyone in this story to remain anonymous, so first and last initials are being used, N.T. and H.B.
N.T.s dad molested her from ages seven to ten. Growing up in the small rural town of Woodbury, Vermont, she had no one to tell about her experiences except her mom. After confiding in her mom about what happened to her, they moved out of their home, resulting in a divorce.
This was only the first time she would be faced with this kind of situation. From a young age, on several occasions, N.T. has had to ask herself the question: “should I have reported him?”
After she was molested, her mother handed her armfuls of books about sexual assault. As a young girl in elementary school, she was aware that because her dad had assaulted her, she was at a higher risk of being taken advantage of again. A national sexual violence research center article reported that 25% of girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, and more than a third are likely to be assaulted again.
The study found that only 43% of attacks are reported.
Throughout her childhood, N.T. had to carry this knowledge that she could potentially be someone else’s target.
In her early teens, she attended the White Mountain Boarding school in New Hampshire. It was here that she sought out help from H.B. the school’s psychologist.
What we know today as triggers, something that causes traumatic memories to resurface, are what H.B. described as filters.
“He wanted to get rid of our filters for [sexual] things we were scared of,” says N.T.
“he used examples of more innocent filters, like a dog biting you, or falling off your bike.” For some people, events like these would be traumatizing, and riding a bike for them would be an example of a filter.
What started as broad sessions, soon became closed-door experiments between N.T and H.B.
“Imagine if your filters were removed where you didn’t have to be fearful about these traumatic things,” H.B had told the girls. He then began to meet with them behind closed doors, without the administration’s knowledge or approval. Later she realized how uncomfortable this made her and her friend: it was their “filters” that kept them safe from those traumas happening again.
Eliminating the barrier put up by the girls was worrisome because as N.T. described “people could have more access, and mainly, [H.B.] could have more access” to the girls. The vulnerability being felt by N.T. and the secretive closed-door experiments were all warning signs recognized as the behaviors of a sexual predator. Trusting their instincts, and not wanting things to progress to the next level, the girls decided to end their sessions and reported him to the school.
“It wasn’t as though he was making sexual advances,” N.T. said, “rather he was trying to take away the things that kept us safe.”
Just a few weeks after the complaint was filed, H.B. was fired by the administration. Over two decades later N.T. reflects on her decision: “Had he stayed at just being a [school psychologist], and not crossing a line,” she wonders, “could he of had a therapeutic breakthrough?”
She wonders if her decision to report him was justifiable or if she just ruined a good man’s career. Years later, after carrying around this guilt and filled with curiosity, she looked him up. As it turned out, he became the founder of a large corporation based around school psychology.
A year after graduating high school, N. T. began the search for a therapist, one she could talk to about her childhood traumas. Her reluctance to choose a male therapist was understandable, but after a drought of females, she found one that seemed to fit: John.
“He just seemed very empathetic, and he just struck me as that caring dad that we all know. He seemed very heartfelt.” All was well until the 5th or 6th session when John started making advances. “He said he would really like to hug me because he thought it would be supportive of my situation and if I could have the experience of hugging a man in a way that wasn’t sexual or inappropriate, it could be healing,” N.T. said. “He asked if he could join me on the couch I was on and just hold me.”
When she was little, after her dad had abused her, he would wrap N. T. up in a big bear hug and tell her how much he loved her. Being hugged like that again “felt really confusing and uncomfortable,” N.T. said. “Especially by a [male] therapist.” After that session, feeling conflicted and retraumatized, N.T. decided to not have another appointment with John. She also felt he needed to realize how wrong his approach was.
The next week when she walked into his office, she told him everything that was wrong with what he had done. “I don’t think hug therapy is appropriate for anybody,” N.T. said, “I think you sir should think long and hard about what your motivation was in the first place.”
She left his office.
She never reported him, and she has no way of knowing whether or not he did this to other girls.
“I have to try and put my own oxygen mask on, and not worry about fixing other people, that may or may not be able to be fixed,” N.T. said.
The dilemma that N.T. faced, deciding whether or not to report a man who left her feeling retraumatized is a common struggle felt by many women across the world.
N.T. is now in her mid-40s, the mother of two with a Masters in Education, N.T. is working towards helping others by becoming a therapist. After 20 years of choosing female therapists, she finally has a healthy working relationship with a male therapist. He has shown her that she can trust, respect and have boundaries with men.
Why do the majority of sexual assault victims not report their perpetrator?
Does a therapist have the unspoken consent of a patient to touch them if they think it will help the patient?
What would a libertarian say about reporting a person who assaulted them?