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Perspective: Never protected

Karsten Winegeart

This Perspective addresses sexual abuse and may not be suitable for all listeners. Lou Ness says she finally understands the chain of abuse that afflicted her family.

For years my father assaulted me in ways only imagined by murder mystery writers. My mother turned her head away.


When the past finally caught up to me and scraped away its protective covering, I was once again assaulted by memories. Reeling from exposure, I called my mother, and she said “It never happened, why would you say those things?”

While salvaging my story, I believe I was not a victim, I was victimized by my parents, the catholic church, the educational system and medical people. The adults in the room never showed up for me, so I showed up for myself.

Recently, I made an important discovery – my mother, who herself had been sexually assaulted by her brothers and lived in a dangerously violent home – was not protected by her mother, my grandmother, an Italian immigrant, who had never been protected. Protect their children, how?

Now I understand.

My mother, who was never protected, had no idea how to protect me. She protected herself through amnesia, she built a moat around the memories and retreated into religion, where Mary the ever watchful and loving Mother of all gave her peace. She wrapped herself in the rosary and it became her lifeline.

Now I understand.

My mother gave me tenacity and determination, the iron will to stay the course, to serve others before self, do good, and to know that God is always with me. It’s complicated. The trauma created a resilience in me that outlived the damage.

Now I understand.

In the end, my mother couldn’t save me – so I saved myself.


Lou Ness has been working in service to people for decades. She has headed church-based programs in Rockford and served as Director of the Rockford Police Chaplains Program. She was an early pioneer in the domestic violence community.