We Broke The Rape Rule: After Words

By Mary Duggan

Mary Duggan

I assault you. It is violent and criminal. But you remain silent. You do this to protect your family and possibly yourself. But you only really protect me – the rapist. This is the rape rule.

Breaking the rules with a blog post last week was difficult for us as a family. But we were shown nothing but kindness and respect in return. It proved to be an exhausting but healing experience. Our post hardly went viral; but it had strong legs and our message was carried all over the world. Many responded publicly on the blog. We managed extensive comments on four separate Facebook pages. Followers of our Twitter account graciously and widely retweeted. Clare pushed and promoted and pushed some more.  Readers wrote e-mails; some from as far away as Italy and France and New Zealand while one came from our next door neighbor. Others had memories and feelings and thoughts still so painful after many years that they chose to share them privately via Inbox.

It is behind us now. What will never be fully behind us is the rape. Because it altered our family in ways from which it never recovered.

Rape takes place within familiar systems: the military, collegiate athletics, churches, schools – we all know the tragic and harrowing stories. We know how the systems failed to protect the children, the soldiers, the athletes –  how they mainly protected the rapists. But the overarching system that has taken the biggest hit of all is the family system. It is hard for families to recover from rape. Perhaps the finest book on rape and the family is the masterpiece novel by Joyce Carol Oates entitled “We Were the Mulvaneys.” It broke my heart to read it years ago, because I know the story too well. Because we were the Duggans.

Whether you have been raped by a priest, a coach, a commanding officer, your boyfriend, or a stranger, your first and often only recourse lies with your family. Tragically so many women who are raped come from family situations that are too broken to know how to respond, too dysfunctional to be able to respond or too overwhelmed to do anything that is effective. Ours was a truly decent family – full of children with lots of amazing attributes and abilities but lacking finally a father. After some thirty years of marriage and eleven children he left – forever – and nothing was ever the same. Nothing was ever fully okay again. How could anyone expect it to be when at the helm was one extraordinary, heartbroken, exhausted, fierce, proud, overworked and overwhelmed woman? A woman with an ingrained sense of shame so enormous that it often overshadowed many of her better instincts about justice and fairness and love.

Shame is not always wrong. It is often appropriate. Rapists should be ashamed of themselves but never are. Victims are always ashamed of themselves and should never be. These roles need to be reversed. The various systems within which we live need to address this topsy-turvy morality rigorously. And it needs to be addressed within the most elemental and essential system of them all – the family.

There is no place for shame or blame for rape victims; for healing to begin they must be heard and trusted completely. The very occasional and aberrant pathological liar crying wolf can not be allowed to diminish the stories of the real victims. Vigilante family members only further traumatize the rape victim – as do outdated police and court procedures. Rape victims must have guarantees that their wishes will be honored. They have to be afforded time and a place to heal. And they have to own their stories forever.

Recovery for so many rape victims means the story just goes away. Families are called upon to never speak of it again. It is just too painful, too ugly, too awful. I can understand this. We, as sisters, rarely speak of Annie’s rape. And then only because we have to. But I want to make sure that before the veil of silence is drawn a just ending has been guaranteed. That desire is what triggered our intense desire for Julian Fellowes to write a just resolution to a rape story line playing out in a manor house in Edwardian England. The rape at Downton Abbey was a rape at work; a workplace that is also the home of a family. And so two systems intersect: home and work; family and employer. Which will prevail? Will either prevail?

My sister Annie is proof that happy endings can and do occur. It was not her fault; but the system failed her miserably. And so we focus now on her present. We love the parts of her that survivorship has created. She knows how to take charge when the situation merits. She is vigilant about protecting children. She has courageously stood up to another rapist when a child’s life was in the balance. She has eyes in the back of her head and impeccable instincts about creeps and losers and predators. She is nobody’s fool and a ferocious advocate for anyone  being taken advantage of or being misrepresented or worse. At the absolute darkest moment in my life she defended me and paid the most unimaginable price for doing so.

Annie laughs when we call her “Officer Ann” because she knows it comes from us loving her keen and watchful eye on the boogie men in our midst. I think it is because her rage has been allowed and her story honored that she is able to be so incredibly loving, so hysterically funny, so bold and so brave and so kind. Despite it all, she has managed to write a wonderful story for her life. She is writing it still and joyfully so.

Annie and Mary. Bad ass in the Badlands, June, 1993.

Annie and Mary. Bad ass in the Badlands, June, 1993.


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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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7 Responses to “We Broke The Rape Rule: After Words”

  1. Mary Enright-Olson says:

    You continue to write with dignity and courage.

  2. Another beautifully written piece. I applaud Annie’s happy ending and her strength in getting there. You are some strong sisters, and I am glad our paths have crossed.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Wow that’s beautiful.

    I had read this quote and maybe it’s fitting here. The quote is referring to an abusive relationship the individual went through.

    ‘Thank god I did that. It’s such a part of me. It’s part of what I stand in now.’

    I really like that it reminds me that the good and the bad make up who I am. As it does for everyone.

    I was really touched by how you said this:

    ‘Rapists should be ashamed of themselves but never are. Victims are always ashamed of themselves and should never be.’

    Shame and embarrassment are hard to shake. Thanks for unveiling this. It reminds me that rape and sexual abuse doesn’t affect my judgements of you. I don’t think of you any differently because of this. You are the same people with the same company, with the same values that you’ve always had.

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Thanks, Jennifer. I hope we can all advance the cause of facing up to our shame and embarrassment. They are such destructive thoughts and feelings. I believe firmly that by getting our stories honestly told and heard we can move past these limiting and ultimately illusory cares. Best, Mary

  4. Peter James Foote says:


    I was so powerfully moved and touched by your first post that it took me days to recover to the point where I could respond, which I did last night to Annie’s FB in-box because in part I guess I wanted her to have control over anything that might be said publicly about her story, and in part because some of the feelings you evoked were so deeply personal.

    But I must say this. What courage you Duggan woman are showing. You have always been an admirable family. Although my knowledge has mostly limited to Clare, Patrick and Annie, as long as I’ve been in the parish there have always been Duggans and they were always good.

    I don’t have to tell you the kind of tears and rage and helplessness your story inspired inside me. And understanding of some of what Annie suffered for my own reasons. But rage and anger are never the answer which is why I took days to answer even though pride and awe were my underlying reactions to the courage behind Annie’s decision to let her story be told so publicly.

    My prayers are with you all always as I hope for continued healing for you all, us all. For Annie’s rape was not just a crime against her, but all who love and respect her, her family, her parish, her community, her city, our country.


    • Mary Duggan says:

      Dear Peter,

      Thank you for your courageous response to our blog posting on rape – both on TV and in our family. I can see that the story touched you deeply and in a very personal way. That is the ultimate compliment, if one can say that, to a writer. That is why I write. I firmly believe in telling our own stories we heal. And if it is done right the reader has an opportunity to be healed as well. That is why Annie so courageously allowed her story to be told. She has known so much real and true and deep healing. She has done her work and she has done it well. She wants to be a beacon of hope for anyone out there who might be suffering right now from the burden of shame.

      We get hurt in so many different ways – our stories are all different and all the same, as well. But the great unifier is the being too shamed or frightened to tell our stories. Remember, we are the children born to and raised by the survivors of World War II. Many of them survived that hell by never speaking of it again. They were amazing individuals; but in some ways their buck up attitudes hurt us – their children.

      Our Mom was orphaned. She had suffered so much death and loss by the time she was adopted by an abusive family at, I think, age 8, that she was marked for life. She had little or no sympathy for our hurts and wounds. She just wanted us to be strong and silent. She was trying to prepare us for the world; and she thought the world was a very hard place indeed to survive. She wanted us tough. She had come through the death of her parents and 2 of her 4 brothers as a very small girl. She had seen her brothers and her future husband in the dangers of war for many years. Our problems – especially the emotional ones – were small and inconsequential to her. She had enough to do to keep on the table for all us on – and on and on it goes.

      Here is my point. I think we have to tell our stories to created new spaces inside of ourselves. Great big wide open spaces where all the new experiences can come in. Space that used to be held by those untold stories can now hold new wonders.

      My wish for you, for everyone who has known trauma and loss, is that we all get our stories told – so that we will be truly known and so that we can continue to move forward.

      Peace to you and thank you for your kind words about my family,

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