We are living in powerful times. A crucial time in the lives of those who’ve been sexually abused. For girls, boys, men, and women, it’s a long-awaited time when people are becoming empowered to speak up against the sexual abuse they’ve experienced during their lifetimes with the hope of making those who’ve perpetrated the abuse finally accountable.
Some abusers will be named publicly, but most others will not. But finding your voices, and adding them to the cultural ground swell that’s become part of a vital growing movement will act to warn those who have already engaged in, or those who might currently be engaging in, or even contemplating engaging in, the sexual abuse of any person that they will NOT get away with it the way they once did.
A powerful warning indeed. But again, the sad reality is that most abusers won’t be named.
Why? Because the abuse either happened so often, or by so many, or so long ago that many survivors have forgotten the names of their abuser; or they felt so ashamed of what happened and they blamed themselves; or they were too young to know it was wrong in the first place; or they fear(ed) the consequences of speaking up.
Most of these reasons were true for me. There was the family doctor; the babysitter/friend of my parents; the dentist I once worked with in my early 20s; the psychologist who was seeing my husband and me for counselling who urged me to keep our appointment when my husband was out of town on business (unfortunately, I went but thankfully reported him directly afterwards); and those who were more familiar to me but about whom I never said a word.
Today, as a psychotherapist who works with sexual abuse survivors on a regular basis, I witness firsthand the devastating impact those experiences have had upon these clients in terms of their feelings about themselves, their relationships with intimate partners, and their innate distrust of the world, more generally.
Many of us try to forget what happened. Or, if we can’t, we convince ourselves that it didn’t really matter that much, and even more shocking is the attitude of “so what, everyone gets sexually abused?” Really?? Yes, really. Survivors can and do feel that way in order to deal with a kind of powerlessness they’ve become accustomed to over time.
I was one of them, and for a very long time. I’d become numb, desensitized, and due to my roots, I somehow made myself view sexual abuse as a reflection that someone wanted me. They chose me, didn’t they? I was special, I told myself. Somewhere in a very dark, secretive place in my mind I felt flattered that I was their chosen one because it meant that I might be finally be seen; my young body was transactional; I believed it would help me get the love and attention I so craved. It never worked, of course, but it seemed like a trade worth making at the time.
Today, I feel a tremendous sadness that my mind was twisted in such a way where I became as dangerous to myself as those who took advantage of my vulnerability. But this is just one example of what sexual abuse can do to a person’s psyche: it can distort one’s reasoning ability beyond comprehension so the abuse can actually make sense to the victim in some strange way, and when it does, they have no possible way of keeping themselves safe.
There are millions of human beings currently walking this earth who’ve had to suffer the indignity of being viewed as simply something, yes, someTHING that is available for the mere pleasure of someone else just because they wanted it. And that reality has become increasingly intolerable to swallow, not only for me, but for all those brave individuals who are just beginning to shout their stories from the rooftops.
Our bodies do NOT belong to anyone but ourselves. And until recently, for so many, and for far too long, the stories that we’re now hearing in ways we’ve never heard them before, have remained entombed within the broken hearts, ravaged souls, and tortured minds of those who have tried to get up and put the pieces of their lives together after suffering one, or many, experiences of sexual abuse.
Will sexual abuse end here? And now? No, of course it won’t. Sadly, it will continue but the price for the abusers is becoming far greater than ever before. They aren’t as safe as they once were. Silence may not be guaranteed the way it previously was.
As more survivors come out from their places of shame and reticence to speak up and begin to share the burdens of the abuse they’ve carried within for whatever length of time, their voices will be joined with one another’s such that the single song of pain will grow into a choir of thousands of voices that will no longer be silenced. And it will be in this shared cultural and spiritual movement that the light they create together will make it so much harder for the dark places – where sex abuse is born and festers – to exist.
This is my hope, my dream. But my fear is for the children, and those equally vulnerable, who haven’t yet found their voices, who are still trapped alone in the dark and who continue to endure their personal suffering so far from the strength of the choir. They live each of their days with terror and utter powerlessness against a force that inevitably overcomes them when their abuser(s) decides to turn toward them.
Who will save them in that moment? How will they be spared the darkness that lurks close to them, even within the walls of the place they call ‘home’? How do we help them survive the pain of trust breaking in the deepest part of their hearts? These are the questions that weigh heavily on my mind, and yet I know that I’m equally powerless to change each – or any – of their painful realities. But what can I do?
I can add my voice to the growing choir. I can also demonstrate to survivors that I meet, who’ve made the same decision to add their stories to the resounding voices, that I will stand and support them so that it becomes increasing harder for predators to keep authoring these wretched stories of abuse.
Do you have a story that needs to be shared? If so, perhaps it’s time to unburden yourself from the shame that’s kept you silent. Or, if you don’t, is there some way you might help pave the path for an increased awareness of sexual abuse? Every small step you make will help wage a war that’s continued for too long and at a cost that’s far too enormous to count.