Sharing our stories of surviving sexual abuse is important because every survivor’s story matters, regardless of gender, status, or how much time has passed. For an individual to heal, what you and I think about their actuality is irrelevant – it is what they think and feel that justly matters and leads to a person’s healing – if they are ready to share. Listen to survivors and allow us to speak our truth as we see it, not forcing someone into a box that makes you more comfortable.
The stages of sexual abuse and recovery are ongoing, which can sound daunting, but I look at it differently. In the healing phase of my journey, I have had the opportunity to give a voice to my story and a way to live authentically. Yes, it is hard work to trust, to live vulnerably and to connect with others, but not a path I follow alone. The more I speak up for myself, the more strength I provide to those who cannot speak up yet. The more I listen to others tell their story, the more I learn that I never need to be alone… that is worth the hard work, every time.
Sexual abuse is something no one deserves. What is meant to be an action of love… it becomes tainted. Traumatized, one has difficulty to it see the same way. In situations of continued abuse, the severity of it can overwhelm a person. We’ve already been through the abuse, yet, survivors (including myself) are judged as if we have committed a crime: by families, friends, and if we’re vocal and visible, by readers on social media, etc. People audaciously ask, “Why didn’t you report it? If you did report it, why didn’t you do so sooner? Why didn’t you fight back? What did you do to invite it? Why did your abuser pick you?” They make ignorant statements, such as, “Get over it already. It happened when you were a kid. Stop being a perpetual victim. Nobody cares. You’re just doing this for attention. Stop whining.”
This may come as a shock to many who haven’t survived sexual trauma, but here’s our truest truth: survivors minimize their suffering, distress and pain constantly, despite non-survivors’ habit of so kindly doing it for us. We question every moment of it, ask ourselves why it happened, wonder what we did to ‘cause’ it. Logically, we know we are not responsible for the abuser’s criminal behaviour. Yet, there it is.
As if the shame, humiliation, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder in many cases, and body dysmorphic disorder isn’t already enough of a burden to carry on our slight shoulders – when we did nothing wrong! Think about this: sexual abuse/assault/rape is the only crime where the victim (in the legal sense of the word) has to prove both their own innocence and the guilt of the abuser; and if they do speak their truth, can be accused of slander. If we don’t understand by now why individuals don’t eagerly and immediately come forward to report such abuse and crimes, we aren’t paying close enough attention. The Brett Kavanaughs and Brock Turners and Ray Rices and Bill Cosbys of the world so often receive more empathy and benefit-of-the-doubt than do the people they hurt. Their victims so often receive more ridicule and reproach than do the criminals who hurt them.
Victim-blaming continues to be a problem in part because the blamers are usually louder than the supporters. The epidemic of abuse thrives on silence. Each of us has an opportunity, within our social circles, to be more vocal than the blamers. You don’t have to do battle or spout statistics, and shouldn’t be a bully yourself. You could say, “None of that matters more than the fact that this person assaulted that person.” Re-center the victim in considerations of wrongdoing. You don’t even have to engage a victim-blamer; your “speaking up” could be simple as talking directly to the survivor, at a gathering or Facebook thread, and expressing empathy.
When a survivor breaks their silence, that person gives light to other people, to know you are not alone. I, for the longest time, had become the prison guard to my own feelings, the protector feeding my fear. Shame is like a spider web on ourselves…to be fragile actually makes you more powerful. Exposing our vulnerabilities feels as if we are stripping naked in front of the whole world. I realized either I stay in fear and always worried what people will say, or do to me, “This is who I am… I am doing it for myself.” Something, somewhere inside us cracks us open and the words vomit out. Often, it’s an emotional breakthrough of some sort – marriage, a break-up, the death of a loved one, a birth, a new home or job – some sort of traumatic life event (positive or negative) that triggers this opening within us.
In summary, the circumstances of the abuse are not our choice… what a survivor decides to do with their story, is a personal choice! The acceptance of it, the release of it… when the shame goes… then the freedom arrives. The truth, I embrace in my daily life…to speak the truth, to live truth and to be my truth….so everyday I try to do that…the journey of truth is hard but the taste of it is so delicious that it becomes addictive. When we acknowledge and see injustice happening in front of us, when we turn our faces, we are invariability legitimatize it and allow for the corruption of our own values. So, when I say I have a responsibility to speak up, it is about me but also remember that survivors are the best experts on our own experiences. Listen to us!