Carolyn Hax: Husband won’t support seeking justice for childhood abuse

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: What’s your take on getting justice for long-ago wrongs? I grew up in the South in the 1980s and 1990s, when no one cared about kids. I was bullied and sexually assaulted (once) and harassed repeatedly by the same group of boys. My parents and the school did nothing.

I’ve already done years of therapy. Nothing helped.

But the one thing that did was holding those adults in my life accountable. When I filed a complaint against a former doctor, who still practices today, I found myself getting the justice I deserved for so long. I also have an appointment to talk to school officials about a potential investigation, and the police are next. My intention is to hold four adults — who still have their jobs — and that group of boys accountable.

I’m feeling better, but my husband isn’t so sure. I don’t live in my hometown, but it is small. All the people I’m accusing still live there. I’m not scared, because the truth is on my side, and I’m not the only victim. Unlike my husband, I don’t care what happens to the people I accuse. It’s not my responsibility.

I don’t need my husband to agree with me, but I do need him to understand. Also, if getting fired or embarrassed or labeled is the worst thing that happens to any of these people, that barely compares to what I endured.

Justice?: First, good good good for you. Go get all of them. Yes. Second, I am sorry these things happened to you.

Third, I am sorry your husband’s sympathies lie, essentially, with the perps. I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way, but sometimes things actually aren’t complicated, and if you have the facts to prove offenses for which these people can be held legally accountable, then that puts the responsibility for “what happens to the people I accuse” squarely onto them. For their own wrongdoing.

Now, of course, there can be consequences to an accusation even when there isn’t enough proof to support legal accountability, but that’s a byproduct of our system. Your burden is to be sure you are accusing the right people of the right things, and once met, you deserve your husband’s full support — unless he’s worried about what will happen to you in doing this.

Which brings us to your remark, “I don’t need my husband to agree with me, but I do need him to understand.” When you use the word “need,” there’s an implied “or else.” As in: Humans need oxygen, or else they die. So you need your husband’s support, or else what? You can’t pursue justice? Can’t trust him as a partner? Can’t stay married? Can’t be at peace?

My advice is to think carefully about your “or else,” then talk to your husband about it frankly. Such as: “I am doing this, with or without your support. If you can’t at least understand why, and recognize that their getting fired or embarrassed barely compares to what I endured, then I can’t ____.”

A settling of accounts often does become bigger in scope as you go along, but you don’t need to hear that from me. I admire your courage.

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