The Shopkeeper | Part 2 of 2
This episode in my life was a smelly, rotting stench in me all the way through school, college and my first years of marriage. Even after I told my husband about it, I still smelled the old man regularly and without warning. It was a living, breathing, stinking rotten nightmare.
Despite this, I never wrote it down or reflected on what it reveals about me, much less about my relationship to my parents. I simply tried to put it away and let the past be the past. Done. Over. Finished. Time to move on.
However, in the last few years I began studying human trafficking, including what makes young girls and boys vulnerable to being targeted by perpetrators. The more I learned, the more I kept thinking about the shopkeeper and my relationship to my parents. So I put my computer keyboard on my lap, closed my eyes, and started typing. Part One is almost word for word what I wrote in July 2012.
I wasn’t sure what to do next. I couldn’t just write it out, file it and walk away. What would I do next if this were about someone else? I’d treat it as a case study. So I did just that. I asked myself a few questions, grounded my responses in what I’d written, and then listened to see what I might learn.
What signs in this account point to the possibility that this 9½ year old girl was vulnerable to being taken advantage of sexually?
I read the account again, focusing only on what was known before she got back into the car with her parents.
- Female – clearly not 18 years old
- No cars in the parking lot; no customers in the shop
- Unfamiliar shop and shopkeeper; not on her home turf
- The shopkeeper doesn’t seem to know her or her family.
- Unsure of herself and apprehensive, she lacks basic confidence.
- She’s almost speechless, yet divulges unsolicited information about not being from around here and leaving the area soon.
- She complies with the first seemingly innocuous request even though she doesn’t want to.
- She’s unable to say No, or that she’s not allowed to kiss strangers.
- She doesn’t seem to have a mind of her own about what the shopkeeper is doing.
- She’s a good girl–nice, well-mannered, quiet, compliant and trusting.
- She seems ignorant about how some men might try to take advantage of her young body.
- She doesn’t know how to read this man’s body language or how to manage her own.
- She doesn’t stay on task, but allows the shopkeeper to pursue his agenda with her.
- She doesn’t seem to be prepared for situations like this, even though her parents seem to have her best interests at heart.
- She doesn’t know how to take her own feelings seriously.
- Instead of focusing on the shopkeeper’s wrong behavior, she seems focused on fear of getting in trouble if one of her parents walks into the shop; she already feels guilty.
- As she returns to the car she doesn’t know what to say or do next.
Drawing on the rest of the account, what other factors confirm the possibility that she was already vulnerable to being taken advantage of sexually?
- She takes care of her parents instead of herself. She doesn’t interrupt their conversation, even though she’s “dying” to tell them what just happened.
- She’s also afraid to tell them what just happened.
- She knows how to contain her feelings and project the appearance of normality, even though it causes internal distress in every part of her being—mind, emotions, gut, body.
- She can already be counted on not to make a public or private ruckus or racket, or call attention to what’s happening to her that she doesn’t like.
- She already feels guilty, even though what was done to her was wrong. She ponders what might happen when she tells her parents about this. She seems to feel responsible for what just happened. It must have been her fault, and she seems convinced her parents will agree.
- Even so, she makes an attempt. At that moment her parents’ priorities are somewhere else. She doesn’t feel free to take the initiative with them again, but passively waits for them. She seems to have a weak voice when it comes to asking for her parents’ attention. It also seems there’s no one else available with whom she might feel free to talk.
- The culture of her family is children obey your parents—or you’ll get in trouble. She seems to believe that talking with her parents will not lead to a helpful outcome for her.
- She knows how to carry on life as though everything were normal—especially when it isn’t.
To my consternation, reflection on this event and its aftermath raised troubling questions.
- My behavior with my parents is similar to my behavior with the shopkeeper. I’m passive, compliant, not ready to make a big noise about things that have to do with me or my well-being. Where did that come from?
- It seems I’ve already been groomed to be a victim. Where? When? How? Why? By whom?
- The longer I wait to talk, the less likely it becomes that I’ll follow through on my gut instincts. Yet if I was correct about the likelihood that I would be blamed for this boundary violation, something is amiss. There’s something no one is talking about. What is it?
- It seems I’m using a survival skill I learned at a very early age: keeping my mouth shut and my feelings contained inside. Not healthy for me—though given the options, which is likely to cause more damage? I already have a kind of wisdom about how things work in my family.
- From all appearances, I was left to fend for myself, by myself, especially if the consequences of seeking help are bad for me.
- I’m clearly not in the driver’s seat or even in the front seat of the car. Someone else is. Literally and figuratively.
Am I reading too much out of an event that happened in the 1950s? Sadly, events like this still happen every day, more than 60 years later.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 Feb 2013
For Part 1 of this post, click here.