A Rape at Downton Abbey

Mary Dugganby Mary Duggan

I read a discouraging post on Facebook recently. I was a “bystander” to a conversation between two friends. One of the two wrote that she had not been watching Downton Abbey since the episode depicting the rape of Anna Bates. She found it to be just too intense, too ugly for her tastes or something to that effect. Her comments filled me with rage. I wondered, who among us gets to be too sensitive to witness the very real and tragically common crime of rape?

I am a HUGE fan of Downton Abbey and I applaud the show’s creators for including this crime in their story line. I can’t wait to see how they handle it. I am holding my breath and praying they handle it better than our family did when my dear sister, Annie, was raped as a young woman. So far the wisdom and compassion the wonderful Mrs. Hughes is showing gives me great hope that I will not be left frustrated and angry. I hope that Julian Fellowes writes a story with a better outcome for his Anna than was written for our Annie.

Like Downton Abbey’s Anna, my sister was violently attacked and brutally raped within the sanctity of her own community. She was driving our Mother’s car home from a high school party, graciously dropping other attendees at their homes as she headed to her own. She sensed danger when she was left alone in the car with the friend of a friend – a complete stranger. Within moments the foreboding became an overwhelming reality when he overpowered her and raped her on the quiet tree lined streets of our lovely little community of Beverly. Home to both of their families.

By the time she found the courage and composure to go home it was way past curfew. Our none too tender single Mom greeted her in the kitchen with an understandable fury about a curfew being broken and sent Annie to bed with a stern scolding and a punishment. As soon as Mom had gone to bed and fallen asleep Annie snuck back outside to clean the blood splattered car. Her beautiful daughter had been raped but our exhausted Mother had no idea. Frightened and exhausted Annie lay on the couch for weeks – but nobody noticed. Nobody read the signs. Unlike Downton Abbey, nobody questioned her appearance or her behavior or her mood. Failures abounded.

Then Annie began to change. Profoundly so. And no one understood why. Her language and dress coarsened. Her grades plummeted. Her health failed. She acted out her rage and grief in a manner that further damaged her. She began to use drugs – and seriously so – to provide the courage she needed daily to attend school. She had been thrilled to be a member of the first class of girls to attend a formerly all male College Prep. Now the presence and predominance of so many  boys was a torture. Her life had gone dangerously off course.

Years passed before that changed course became a full derailment in my own front yard in Kansas City – so many miles and years away. Annie landed on my doorstep in real crisis as the post-traumatic stress of the rape threatened to completely destroy the altered life she was trying so hard to construct. I was shocked and horrified as she began to tell me her story.

That night of the first telling, I vomited at intervals. After sneaking off to the bathroom, I would return to the small guest room of my apartment where I nursed the puss-filled lesions in her mouth and throat that were choking her ability to speak and swallow and breath; a condition that had occurred at regular intervals in the years following the rape. With each spoon of home remedy that I administered the story would come forth with spit and cough and phlegm and pain. An intense and ugly story to tell. But a story that desperately needed to be told for any healing to occur. So I wrapped her throat in a ginger and garlic poultice and fed her spoons full of honey and listened and gently questioned. We both sipped tea. We got it told. We clung to each other in the bed as dawn came finally and we were able to sleep.

I wanted to know why she had kept it hidden for all these years. Why she had not reached out to the family that for all of our collective dysfunction loved her so  dearly. Because, she said, I knew what my brothers would do if they found out. I knew they would kill him. And then what would I have? One of my precious brothers in prison. And so for her brothers, and who her teenaged self believed them to be, she had endured the brutal crime in silence. She had allowed it to twist and distort and diminish her own life rather than run the risk of damaging the life of anyone else. Sound like a familiar story line?


In the years to follow the rapist would resurface in public to taunt her. One beautiful summer day she was gathered on one of Chicago’s glorious beaches with a group of friends. Suddenly he appeared on her blanket, kneeling before her, an unlit cigarette dangling from his sneer. “Got a light?” he asked her. When she responded that he needed to get the F out of her face and now, he slunk away, laughing over his shoulder. And then she had to suffer the further derision of her friends wondering what the hell was wrong with her. Jeez, all he wanted was a light. Are you crazy? I can’t imagine the anger she must have suffered.

And so I remain engaged with Downton Abbey’s unfolding story line. I want to see if the collective of lives within the Abbey can find some way to find justice for Anna.  Will the violent and cruel and criminal man that Mrs. Hughes has so correctly identified and described be held legally and criminally accountable? Or will misplaced shame and male rage leave Anna endlessly victimized? I hope the cast of fictional characters of Downton Abbey perform their roles better than the real life cast of our Annie’s story. Sadly rape remains timeless – no matter the fashion or length of hemline or style of hair. Good men and women have to ensure justice without further brutality to the victims. I want to see how Bates and Hughes proceed. I pray it will not be the epic failure that our family allowed. Annie’s rapist was never held accountable. We afforded him a life free from consequence. Most likely he raped again.

mary and annie front porch four

Annie and Mary Duggan at the front door of the Rose Cottage at the very beginning of the lifestinks journey. Let’s tell the truth, we said, and let the chips fall where they may.

POSTSCRIPT: Upon completion of writing this post, I read it to Annie and asked her permission to publish. I watched her face contort in pain as I brought up these painful memories. We talked, Clare weighed in, we all talked some more. And then Annie said, let it go, making the sign of the cross in the air between us. Maybe it can help someone else. I have shared it privately many times when I thought another woman needed to hear it. It’s what we do, she said. And then she pushed away from the dining room table where we had gathered. The day was only half over and there were deodorant orders to be filled. And one had to be hand-delivered to an ailing cousin. And there was a series of calls to be returned and tax forms to be filed before she could call it a day. So off she went. Because, in the end, it’s what we do.

 Be sure to read Mary’s follow-up post:
We Broke the Rape Rule: After Words

About the author: Mary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters.

The Duggan Sisters cracked the code and created a natural deodorant that actually works: lifestinks. And that was just the beginning. We hope you will spend a few minutes exploring duggansisters.com to experience their spirited approach to wellness through their natural products and healing stories.

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63 Responses to “A Rape at Downton Abbey”

  1. Pat Tracy (via Facebook) says:

    Mary and Annie, thanks for sharing this difficult story. Hopefully it will give strength to some other young woman and remind us all to ask what’s wrong when someone’s behavior changes.

    I too am a Downton Abbey fan and I hope the storyline is brought to a realistic conclusion.

  2. Gene Allen says:

    Hey Mary,

    I was moved beyond words at this piece. The perfect example of the grace of the human spirit. I have so much respect for you all, and even though we don’t know each other that well, a lot of love too.


    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dearest Gene, Thank you for taking the time for your sensitive read of this post. Your kind words mean a lot to each of us. You can imagine the special import they have for Annie. BTW: We watched your wedding video and wept. It is so amazing how deeply we have bonded over a singular but grace-filled moment. We have our darling Kristen to thank for that. So know that you stand forwarned – we too want to send an addendum video to add to your beautiful and moving wedding feast of video messages. Mary
      PS: Please help us by sharing this post with your nearest and dearest. We feel that this conversation is just so important.

  3. Kelly Gorz (via Facebook) says:

    This left me speechless. I want to say so much to the both of you…but all I can muster up right now is thank you for sharing, you beautiful ladies.

  4. Eva May says:

    I am so sorry to hear that this happened in your family! The unfortunate thing is that the rapist takes SO much from his victim, and very likely never will truly understand the serious impact his horrible act had. So many women suffer in silence, so I am glad that your sister finally dared to share with you what had happened. I too give the producers credit for daring to deal with this subject in Downton Abbey. However, I can see how many women would not be able to watch a show that includes this in their story line. (Perhaps being a victim themselves). It’s for me one of the most sensitive subjects, rape and child abuse. Thanks to all you sisters for being brave enough to talk about this. There is no shame, only healing to be had. XOX

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thank you Eva for your sensitive reading of this post. I could not agree with you more in the points you make. This story took place some 35 years ago. Isn’t it sad and amazing how long it takes to get some stories told. I appreciate anything you can do to share this particular post. This weekend is a major venue for the discussion of Human Sexual Trafficking and its connection to the Super Bowl – a subject so closely related to rape. So we are trying to add to that discussion in our own small way. Blessings, Art Sister. Mary

  5. April says:

    Dear Annie,
    I had no idea what you have gone thru – you shared with me some of your stories at our reunion but this is so profound. There are men out there who are so messed up and insecure that they think by gaining power over women, they would feel power but the truth is the opposite. Prayers and hugs to you. No-one needs to go thru this! Thanks for sharing this very painful and very personal experience to let the world know and to prevent further abuse.
    Lots of love,

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear April, I will make sure that Annie reads your kind and supportive response to this blog post. I am so proud of her always; but especially proud of her right now as she approved the telling of this horrifically painful story. Blessings, Mary

  6. Sheila Saccomanno says:

    Dear Mary & Annie…
    I am sitting here and just so dumbfounded about this entry. Never would I have guessed this. I feel so sad that I did not know this before. You Duggan woman are so strong that I’m in awe!
    Blessings to you both for sharing this with us.
    I’m praying this coming year is just filled with many successes that are well deserved!

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thank you Sheila for your kind words. Isn’t it just awful how we all suffer in silence and shame for vast expanses of our life? Isn’t it wonderful how story heals so much of that? Thank you for your ongoing support. Hugs, Mary

  7. CA Barber says:

    With tears in my eyes, I am writing to thank you for sharing your story. The more we talk about rape and human sex trafficking, we can educate the women (and men) to help prevent these terrible actions. I have a very dear friend who is working with a nonprofit called Emancipaction (http://www.emancipaction.org) to help end child sex trafficking.

    If I had read this before I saw you in Chicago I would have given you all a tighter hug!

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thank you Carole. And every blessing to your friend for the important work they are doing. We made a family decision to release this 35 years old story this weekend in hopes that it would fuel the discussion of Human Sexual Trafficking and its shameful relationship to the Super Bowl. Rape is so often a critical part of that story, as well. Hugs to you, Mary

    • Rose Ann says:

      Dearest ladies,
      God bless you for your strength, kindness ALL the good you do. Thank you so very much for sharing Annie and your family’s incredibly painful experience bravely so that others might not suffer so tragically. My prayers are with you.

      • Mary Duggan says:

        Rose Ann,
        Thank you for your kind words. Please share this post widely – especially today. The Super Bowl is now tragically linked to widespread Human Sexual Trafficking – which is built on a foundation of rape and silence. Let’s see if by sharing our story and stepping past our imposed silence we can make real inroads in ending rape NOW worldwide. It’s high time.
        Blessings, Mary

  8. Caroline McKeown says:

    Dear Annie,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it will help others and help you feel some peace. I am in awe of your bravery, both back then and now. I am so glad you have such wonderful sisters and you were able to finally tell your story and let them help release part of your burden of secrecy. I am sure it was very difficult for Mary to write this, but it needs to known. You are strong and amazing women.
    My heart goes out to you,

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thank you Carrie for your kind words. I will make certain that Annie sees them. I hope you will help by sharing this post far and wide. This is an important weekend with the Super Bowl to further the cause of ending Human Sexual Trafficking and the end worldwide of rape. We can do this when brave women like my sister, Annie, come forward with their stories and decent souls like you take the time to read. Blessings, Mary

  9. Peggy Flemming (via Facebook) says:

    Thank you Annie and Mary for sharing this incredibly painful story so bravely and honestly.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thank you, darling cousin.

      We hope you will share this post widely with family and friends. Super Bowl weekend is a critical time to advance the cause of ending rape and human sexual trafficking worldwide. Your voice can do so much to further this important cause.

      Hope our next cousin event is SOON!

      Hugs, Mary

  10. JoAnn says:

    Thank you for your courage in posting this. I know that every time a woman tells her story another victim is comforted. I am so blessed to know you grace filled, brave ladies.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear JoAnn,

      Thanks for the kind and supporting words. We hope you will share this post widely with family and friends. Super Bowl weekend is a critical time to advance the cause of ending rape and human sexual trafficking worldwide. Your voice can do so much to further this important cause.



  11. A very beautiful retelling of a horrible event. I also believe rape stories (and the consequences) should be shared- then, now, forever. The Duggan Sisters are a brave and admirable lot.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thank you, Cheryl, for your kind words. Please share widely. This is an important weekend to make headway in ending Human Sexual Trafficking and Rape because of the Super Bowl connection to the tragic events. Mary

  12. Laura says:

    Thank you for sharing with such courage such a difficult to tell story. It is important for everyone to realize that sexual assault does happen and that it has far reaching impacts on individuals, families and communities. It is important to have this conversation and to take away any shame and self-blame the survivor may feel. I don’t know you, but I applaud your family’s courage and wholeness. I do hope that Annie is able to reclaim everything that was so brutally taken.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thank you Laura, for your support and understanding. Please share this post widely. This is an important weekend to make headway in ending Human Sexual Trafficking and Rape because of the Super Bowl connection to the tragic events. We must all use our voices. And Annie, I am proud to report, has built an amazing and generous life despite the criminal behavior of a rapist. Mary

  13. Anne van den Berg (via Facebook) says:

    Your sister Annie is a brave woman for telling the story. And good for Mary for sharing it with the world. I think a lot of the stories of rapes never get told. Very important to get into the light and not get your light stolen. Sending love and hugs!!

  14. Terri says:

    Thank you for coming forward and sharing your story. I know how difficult it must be. Women do need to find someone who will listen and tell their story so this violence will stop. I too found it difficult to watch this episode of Downton Abby, but it is unfortunately a fact of life. Hopefully the writers of Downton Abby will bring the rapist forward and he will be punished.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      I’m with you, Terri. I sooooo hope the writers do a good job completing this storyline. I hope they destroy the rapist’s life and not the Bates’. Please share this post widely. This is an important weekend to make headway in ending Human Sexual Trafficking and Rape because of the Super Bowl connection to the tragic events. We must all raise our voices. Blessings, Mary

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thanks, Terri. I hope, hope, hope the Downton folks do a good job. I don’t know what I will do if they don’t. Mary

  15. Adair Small says:

    Thank you, Mary and Annie, for allowing us into this very private part of your lives. As a nurse-midwife and sexuality educator, I well know the deep scars rape leaves; it can never be undone or forgotten. You have found a way to not only live with it but by telling the story, I know you have helped or will help many others. The more people can understand about all sexual violence, the more tools we have to combat it. As with many things, being able to put a face on it, especially the face of an amazing person you know, opens a door to understanding in a unique way.
    I feel like running over and hugging every one of you!

  16. Bill Condon says:

    Annie and Mary,
    I am so sorry to learn that such a terrible and vicious thing could happen to a member of the family of such good and kind neighbors.
    I hope that sharing this story helps the healing process.
    It is a failing of our society that the victim of rape should feel shame but not the rapist.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear Bill,
      thank you for your wonderful response. It is indeed a failing of society – but it is experienced within a family and that is the worst of all. Thanks for understanding. Mary

  17. Kim Curtis (via Facebook) says:

    This story needed to be heard. Thank you Annie for your permission. Thank you, Mary for your voice. I have chills…..

  18. Mary Enright-Olson says:

    Dear Mary.

    Sincere thanks for sharing this story, Annie’s story, your family’s story. It was important for you all, and can be for those of us who will read it.
    This has occurred to too many, too often, and it continues. May this shine some light, encourage a conversation, began a healing.

    I’m recently discovering the work of Brené Brown on vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. I have found it to be so freeing, self-loving and helpful. “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” BB

    Gentle hugs to y’all.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Hi Mary,

      I recently discovered Brene Brown, as well. Via a TED talk, I believe. Thank you for your kind and loving reading of our blog. I too believe that owning our stories is our biggest and most important work. Gentle hugs back to you, Mary

  19. Maria Malak says:

    Mary, Thank you for writing such an emotional piece. Annie, so sorry this happened to you! xoxo Thinking of you and your healing!

  20. d says:

    Thank you, each of you wonderful sisters.
    Two months ago I lost my only sister, who was a victim of clergy abuse, and I believe, of PTSD from that experience. She slid further and further into her bi-polar disorder these past few decades until her confusion and disorientation took its toll. I was not able to be the support for her that you have shown to your Annie. God bless you every day for your kindness, and for working toward wholeness within your family. I feel blessed to have found you.
    Love, always.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear d, What sadness and loss you have known. I think there is complete commonality between all victims of sexual abuse – be it clergy, trafficking, date rape – the list goes on and on. So much of the loss is the complete failure following the crime to HEAR the victim’s voice. Thank you for your support as we try to give voice to this story and all the others, as well. Blessings, Mary

  21. Bev Davis (via Facebook) says:

    Thank you for sharing this Mary and Annie. I know many will be comforted, to know they are not alone.

  22. Michelle Oliver says:

    Wow, what a powerful story. I have never experienced rape but I know the impact trauma can have. Let Annie know she is a brave warrior, and to let her story be told to the public is a true sign of immense strength. It often seems like many of our fears come in the exposure of who we are. But even though this was an experience she had, among many other events in her life, she is greater than what has happened to her. She, as well as the rest of us, are whole people, not the sum of what has or has not happened in these lives. Many blessings to you all.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thank you, Michelle, for your kind words. Indeed Annie is greater BECAUSE of what happened to her. For all the desolation and loss and betrayal and grief she chose to be a woman of impeccable honesty in her word and deed. Your supportive words help us on our journey to give voice to the voiceless. Blessings, Mary

  23. Blanca Robledo-Atwood says:

    Wow, I was shocked and moved to read your story. You ladies are amazing. It takes a lot of courage to sit down and write this story and tell it to the world. Annie, you are a beautiful and powerful woman, god bless you. And you Mary, you teach by example. May justice and peace bless your home.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear Blanca, your blessing of peace and justice is one of the loveliest blessings ever extended to us. Keep up all of your good work for peace and justice. Your kind words are the support we need to continue our campaign to give voice to the voiceless. Much love, Mary and the girls

  24. Annie, this is so vulnerable and so brave. You have the strength of mountains. Mary, not an easy post to write, and you did so tenderly and beautifully. Hugs (hand-clasps) for all three of you.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thank you dear Becca, for continuing to follow along on our journey of finding our voices and telling our stories. Of course we hope in doing so that we provide voice to those even more voiceless than us. Why else in the world would we drudge up 35-year-old pain?!?! Gentle hugs abound. Mary

  25. Jane says:

    Dear Mary and Annie,
    I am in awe of your courage, both for telling this incredibly painful story, and of our bravery in putting one foot in front of the other and continuing your life. You are truly an inspiration, and I hope that your story will help other women who are suffering.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear Jane, Thank you for your kind and supportive words. Please share widely. We are doing our absolute best to give voice to the voiceless. This weekend we are working OT to attach our faces and our story to the struggle to end Human Sexual Trafficking that has become tragically commonplace at events like the SB. Thanks for your ongoing support. Blessings, Mary

  26. Sharon says:

    As a survivor of rape and the PTSD, change of behavior, lifestyle, and all the other ways that sexual abuse victims cope, I applaud your sharing of this story. If you find the right help, you can get to the point where the experience is no longer creating more damage in your life. For me, it took years and about 6 counselors before I found the one that could unlock that door, and clean out all the garbage waiting there.

    I too am a DA fan; I’d just like to remind those who think it too much to include this story, the reason DA is so good is it’s relationship to reality. Good people suffer, bad things happen, it doesn’t always work out. If you want that kind of story, go find the Jane Austen.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Here, here, Sharon. We could not agree more on your take on DA. Congratulations, if that is not too weird a word, on fighting back to restore your life. Talk therapy is one of the most important tools for survivors to become thrivers. Getting your story told is another.

      Thanks for taking the time to read our blog. Please share this post widely – especially today. The Super Bowl is now tragically linked to widespread Human Sexual Trafficking – which is built on a foundation of rape and silence. We hope that in sharing our story and pushing past the shame that has silenced us that we can lend our voice and our support to the folks working so hard right now to eradicate rape worldwide.

      Stay strong and SO clear thinking, Mary (and the sisters!)

  27. Mary Wooten says:

    So sad to hear that this happened to Annie (or to anyone) I hope that sharing this will help others. Hugging you all. Love to all of you.
    Love, Mary

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear Cousin Mary,
      Thanks for taking the time to read our blog. Please share this post widely – especially today. The Super Bowl is now tragically linked to widespread Human Sexual Trafficking – which is built on a foundation of rape and silence. We hope that in sharing our story and pushing past the shame that has silenced us that we can lend our voice and our support to the folks working so hard right now to eradicate rape worldwide. It is high time.

      Be well and know that you are always in our prayers. Mary

  28. Diana says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this family life experience. I am glad your sister came to you to share what weighed so heavy on her heart and mind. You all pulled together and stay together. That is family love.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear Diana, I am truly happy that Annie brought her story to me – even so many years later. Not being able to protect and comfort loved ones is a terrible thing. Knowing Annie had been assaulted and then left completely on her own, while I was a young school teacher, in another city, far from home, hurt me terribly. We had always been incredibly close, despite the 9 years difference in our ages. It shows the power of shame and misinformation that it took her that many years to come to me. Rape happens to families. It can be healed by families, as well. Tragically, Annie came from a badly broken family, still reeling from our father leaving when she was a little girl. And so what remained of our family failed to meet this terrible challenge. Ultimately Clare and Annie and I found each other and formed our own little subset – a small and loving family separate from the larger mess and probably so much healthier for it. Thank you for your sensitive reading of this part of our sister story. Blessings, Mary

  29. Julianna says:

    Thank you for sharing this story – I do think you have touched more people than you will ever know.



    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear Julianna, I do hope, hope, hope that you are correct. It is VERY hard to move past a lifelong family rule to shut up, buck up and move on – no matter the cost – and to choose instead to say, we have nothing to be ashamed of – we are going to speak. I hope you will continue to follow our blog and stories as we move beyond the deathly silence to share the stories of challenges that might have hurt beyond belief but that ultimately set us free. Blessings, Mary

  30. heidi says:

    I love you Duggan Girls!
    Bright Brave Remarkable Beautiful women
    Sister love at it’s best.
    Annie thank you so much for allowing your story to be shared
    Much love and respect for all of you.
    Heidi (a big fan)

    • Mary Duggan says:

      What a wonderful endorsement from a Super Sister like you. Hope this finds you more than well and looking forward to a beautiful, bright, brave and remarkable 2014. Hugs, Mary and the sisters.

      PS: Please share this blog widely. We hope that in sharing our story and pushing past the shame that has silenced us that we can lend our voice and our support to the folks working so hard right now to eradicate rape worldwide.

  31. Mary Ellen says:

    I couldn’t believe what Annie has had to suffer for so many years. Hopefully her healing process will continue with the love and support of your family.

  32. peggy knecht says:

    I wanted to tell you that I agree with you. I too, was attacked by a man. He followed me into the restroom at the local shopping mall with intent to rape me. He never got the chance to do the deed. I slammed him up into the stall wall. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized what had almost happened that I cried. For years, I wouldn’t go near that restroom by myself. I was too scared to. Even when the police called me to identify him. I was afraid that he was in there, and going to hurt me. I’m also a huge fan of Downton Abbey. I even wrote Jullian fellowes to thank him for writing the episode.

  33. Alicia Van Pelt says:

    Dear Annie and Mary: Thanks for telling your story. I pray you Annie have taken your life back, I am so sorry you had to go throught such horrific experience. Thanks so much for sharing this. It took a lot of courage! I too was so shocked by the rape episode in Downton Abbey, but I see now it really helped many! God Bless you.

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