by Suzanne Besser
One in four girls and one in six boys will be abused by the age of eighteen, according to The Mama Bear Effect, an organization working to prevent sexual abuse to children. That means four of the twelve little girls at a birthday party or four little boys in a Boy Scout troop of twenty-four has or will have it happen to them.
Former Beacon Hiller Mary Lovely and her cousin Laura Parrott-Perry were two of those little girls. They were both sexually abused by their grandfather from the time Mary was eight until she was fourteen and Laura was seven until she was nine.
Mary didn’t talk about it for 35 years.
She remembers being in the kitchen as a youngster around twelve and overhearing her parents talking with Laura’s dad. In the midst of a bitter divorce, he was angry because Laura had told her mother she had been molested by her grandfather. Her mother believed her. He didn’t.
It was the first time Mary spoke up. “I tried to communicate to my uncle and my parents that he had done that to me too, but the conversation didn’t go as I had thought it would,” she said. “They asked me why I hadn’t told them before and then they were silent. My story was buttoned up, never mentioned again and that was the end of it. Why wouldn’t they listen to me? I thought it was because I was bad.”
The two cousins were kept apart from each other from then on. Laura never had to see that side of the family again. Mary continued to suffer the abuse until she was 14. Both said their grandfather had stolen the child within them and referred to themselves as ‘ancient ruins’ before they were ten.
“As abuse victims, we all continue to carry this dark, dark shame,” said Laura. “We don’t want anyone to know about it. We are told it is ‘unspeakable.’ So, you don’t speak about it and you carry it around in this little pocket in your heart and it infects everything. You leave it alone and it’s toxic.”
Most Beacon Hillers who know Mary Lovely say her last name fits her in every way. She moved to Beacon Hill in 1989, settling in a 200-square foot Pinckney Street apartment with her futon and 1985 Peugeot. She founded Louisburg Gardens, an interior plant design and maintenance business, by doing all the planting and watering herself. When she sold it 18 years later, it had grown into a multi-million dollar business with 35 employees and large commercial clients, such as Fidelity, John Hancock and Copley Place.
During that time she was also active in the community, serving on the Beacon Hill Nursery School board when her son Ronan was a student, volunteering at Rosie’s place, helping out on political campaigns and enjoying good times with friends. She often counseled students about career paths and entrepreneurship, and offered advice in building business relationships, marketing oneself and managing a career and family at Women in Leadership symposiums.
But she never talked about the shame and self-loathing that festered inside and influenced her choices, her decisions, her life, until she reconnected with Laura last Thanksgiving, 35 years later. The cousins talked and talked for hours.
“Part of being a victim is that it wreaks havoc in your brain,” said
Mary, who moved to Westford in 2012. The ramifications of sexual abuse affect everything in your life. Common ways abuse affects victims is that they become addicts, have body image issues, exhibit destructive behavior, have insomnia and recurring nightmares. Laura and I realized we had led parallel lives. We both had had body image issues, eating disorders and had made bad choices of people in our lives.”
To recoup the power their abuser had over them throughout their lives, the cousins began writing about their experience and sharing it with others. They were listened to and believed. They not only began to heal themselves, but also had reached out to hundreds of others who had silently carried around their dark and heavy stories of sexual abuse for decades.
“I wish our story was shocking,” said Laura, “but it isn’t. It’s all too common a tale.” When Laura published her account on her blog, she received 40,000 responses the first day and 80,000 the next day. “I began to get inundated by people I knew well or didn’t know at all, who were commenting and telling their stories on other people’s blog and on mine, in private messages through Facebook, on email.”
Now the two are committed to using their experience as survivors and writers to help other victims tell their stories as a way to empower and heal. They formed Say it Survivor.com, an online community of victims of sexual assault. On it they have posted How to Bring a Dead Man to Justice, the full account of their story they wrote for the October issue of Boston Magazine.
“Our story tells of the terrible things that happened to us but shows that we are still here,” said Mary. ‘Our grandfather owned our past but will never own our future. We both have joy in our lives now and are in a good place.”
That is what they want for other victims. Through Say It Survivor, they are encouraging others to heal by telling their own stories. “They don’t need to tell their story publicly like we did, or write a blog, a book, or article,” said Mary. “They just need to get it out. They need to write it down. They need people to listen and believe.
Mary and Laura offer writing workshops to help survivors express themselves so the healing can begin. They also are available to speak at public events about their story, and other topics as redefining justice for survivors, child sexual abuse prevention, re-thinking stranger danger and general issue advocacy and awareness. For more information, go to www.sayitsurvivor.com.
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Mary Lovely and Laura Parrott-Perry will give a presentation entitled
Say It Survivor – Shining a Light on Sexual Abuse on Thursday, November 12, from 7 – 8:30 pm at King’s Chapel Parish House, 64 Beacon Street. The cost is $25 per person. To register, go to www.eventbrite.com/o/say-it-survivor-8238115950.