Nobody who has not experienced child sexual abuse could possibly understand the immense pain and self-loathing that such a person experiences in later life. This is perfectly illustrated to us in Janet Bentley’s heart-rending and powerful memoir, Don’t Expect Me To Cry: Refusing to let Childhood Sexual Abuse Steal My Life. Bentley takes us expertly through the trauma that first occurred when she was just four-years-old and the one man who was supposed to be her protector and guide in life became instead an evil monster when he forced her into sexual acts of which she had no understanding and would scar her for the rest of her life. Janet faced multiple abusers apart from her own father, over the years but always, despite the pain, the depression, the addictions to alcohol and prescription medicine, the teenage abortions and not to mention a physically bereft marriage, she somehow managed to rise above it all and take control of her life – a control she had so cruelly been denied as a child. Although her childhood sexual abuse was an integral part of everything she suffered through later in life she was equally determined that it would not be the defining feature of her existence. She always sought the professional help she needed and even when that wasn’t to her advantage, she never gave up.
Few books have touched me, as a father and a grandfather, as Don’t Expect me to Cry: Refusing to let Childhood Sexual Abuse Steal My Life, by Janet Bentley’s did. As a man it is sometimes easy to gloss over the horrific effects of child abuse on the young person. “It was ages ago – just let it go and move on,” is often our response to such things. What the author shows us, so powerfully and so heart-breakingly is that it is just not that simple. What happens to a child, at that tender age, when they are so ruthlessly exploited and used by adults who they implicitly trust and believe in is that it develops incredibly forceful defence mechanisms in their brains that set the tone for their lives. As Bentley so beautifully explained, it takes years of therapy and understanding just to bring these memories back to the surface and to address them. What particularly struck me about the author’s story was her willingness and acceptance that what happened to her as a child had shaped everything she was today and could never be totally dismissed or dealt with – it would always be there but her bravery in facing this trauma head-on and her overwhelming determination to not let it define every moment of her adult life, shone through the narrative. I was deeply moved by this story and can only encourage everyone to read it and to realise that not only is this type of abuse more prevalent than we would care to admit, it is not something that can just be swept under the rug and ignored. Dirty, filthy, disgusting behaviour can only be eradicated when the light of love and forgiveness is shone upon it and it is shown to be the depraved act that it really is. A superb book and an incredibly brave woman – I salute you, Janet Bentley.