A Perpetrator Apologizes?!


I’ve read books about other’s journeys towards healing from the effects of childhood trauma.  I have read about other’s experiences in confronting their perpetrators.  So far, I have not read one story about a confrontation with the perpetrator that has gone in accordance with the survivor of childhood trauma’s wishes.

So I’m now questioning whether it’s actually realistic and possible for a survivor of childhood trauma to ever get the apology, the acknowledgement, the recognition or the peace that they seek and undoubtedly deserve through confronting their perpetrator with their truth (March 23,2014 blog post)

Is it never possible to get the perpetrator to confess? Almost never? Never? Under certain circumstances?

Many years ago in my practice as a trauma therapist, I worked with a family where the father admitted he’d sexually abused his daughter when she was little. The man’s wife stood by him as he expressed his guilt and sadness for the harm he had done to their child, who was now an adult. Part of the therapy was coaching him in telling the victim he was sorry: that he was the only guilty party and that he would do anything in his power to ease her burden.

Now I’m writing a novel. In this fictitious work, the heroine turns out to have been sexually abused and is dealing with her father. I didn’t plan to have the plot revolve around child sexual abuse, but fiction has a way of writing itself. My characters have come alive and, in a way, have taken the story out of my hands.

In 2010, I published my memoir, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: a Memoir of Healing and Transformation. The memoir is not fictitious. It’s a very personal account of my own experience as a victim of child sexual abuse, filtered through my professional experience as a trauma therapist.

In the piece of fiction I’m now working on, (tentatively entitled Miranda’s Secret) I had Miranda’s father inform her that he’d sexually abused her. It just didn’t ring true. I’ve had to change the plot and tell a story of Miranda gradually realizing the truth about her childhood and her family. That’s the way it happened for me and for hundreds of clients I’ve had the honour of accompanying on their healing journey.

Except for the one example in my practice years ago, does anyone know of similar cases?

I need your help. Please let me know your own experience in confronting – or not confronting – your perpetrator.  Use the space reserved for comments following this post.



  1. Jane Slatter says:

    I once said to my father “I want to talk about what happened in the past”. I suggested that we could go and see a therapist together. Dad responded “No, it would only open up a can of worms”. He has made it clear that he wants to keep the past in the past. No sign of an apology!

  2. Jane Slatter says:

    Can you say more about the woman who you worked with and how she responded to her father’s apology? Was her father’s apology healing, helpful and supportive to her? How about her mother? This is what many of us ideally seek, it would be good to know more about how the woman responded to her father’s apology and their journey beyond that. Thank you

  3. Ann says:

    Hi Mary,
    The story that comes to mind is of a friend who, at age 50, began taking care of her elderly dad and at that time she also started having flashbacks and body memories of some pretty shocking childhood abuse. Eventually, she confronted him and he denied everything at first, but later admitted to it but refused to apologize, instead minimizing the trauma. He was already old and frail and in his 80s, but after that he stopped eating and starved himself to death.

    She wrote this story as a memoir in around 1998. It was very powerful and dramatic but no publisher was interested. The message for me was that denial really is a way of life. In the 1970s and 80s when I first knew her she had always struck me as a strange, remote, fragile person who was hiding some secret. The fact that she remembered nothing of her abuse until 50, suggests she needed to forget to function — she was a poet and college professor. That her father chose Death over confession/reconciliation also tells me we all have a long way to go in addressing this problem, or even articulating it.

    This blog makes me want to read your book —


  4. I wonder if there are more death-bed apologies or disclosures?
    It would make sense, as the perpetrator wouldn’t have to face the consequences and might die more peacefully. OR — Are abusers entirely self-centred and self-serving?

  5. Susan says:

    When I was out of college and newly married, I asked my dad if we could talk about some things that happened during my childhood that I felt bad about. He told me a story of how his dad had hurt him and he just waited it out and let time take care of it — and he said that was the best way. Basically, he refused to talk about it. At that time, I thought he had been manipulative, but I was in denial about the abuse. (As a 27 year old, I went into therapy saying my dad was not abusive — that he did beat up my mom sometimes, but she started it. . . )

    At 40, I created a one-woman play about the abuse and my trauma — really before I had started to process it. The play is about denial and self-delusion — about a child growing up in a bizarre environment where none of the messages she is receiving from “the people in charge”(about how they are not dangerous and she should trust them) match her reality. As she grows up during the play, she starts to put the puzzle pieces together and make sense of her experience. In the end of the play, she is caring for the dying abuser and he is denying everything.

    The words for that section came from my dad directly — a month before he died, when he made me sit down and listen to his side of a story, which he said I had refused to listen to all my life. I knew I was working on the play, so I just wrote down everything he said and let him talk — for 30 pages! Here are the words in the play: “I was victimized! Your mother tried to dominate me. A lot of things look one way, but the weren’t that way at all. You don’t remember anything! You just think you do. Wrong! You don’t remember anything. You just know the lies your mother told you. But I forgive her. Me?! She doesn’t need to forgive me. I did nothing wrong.”

    The question that started the creative process for me was — Do you remember what you did, and are you afraid now that you’re old and blind and in many ways dependent on the people you abused — or are you so in denial that you really don’t remember? Are you afraid? You should be.

    I do think he was afraid.

    I traveled to care for him for the last week of his life. There is something frighteningly cathartic about watching an abuser loose their struggle for life. I’d be happy to talk more privately.

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