High Profile Sex Abuse Cases in the Media. from 12 May 2015
People who comment on these high profile cases of retrospective sexual abuse, by asking “Why would they come forward after all of these years?” need to sit in some of the rooms I have sat in. To witness outwardly strong, happy, successful women being completely undone by an exercise as simple as walking up to a mirror and saying “I love you” to their reflection. Some simply cannot bring themselves to do it. Some are reduced to a sobbing, foetal-positioned ball for hours afterwards and may spend much more time afterwards carefully reapplying the masks that allow them to function before they can look another person in the eye again. Such is the damage that is done to the self worth of an individual when sex is taken, rather than shared. Women (and men) who will not seek treatment for pain in their body or for whom a gift voucher for a beauty spa treatment incites panic, because they cannot bear to be touched.
Society likes to point fingers and to speculate. Society likes to appoint blame, and all too often it is turned towards the one who was violated. We don’t like to acknowledge the potential for darkness in ourselves or in people that we like, so it is much easier to deflect the uncomfortable ponderings that such stories bring up. Because if they could do it, then maybe I could? Maybe I have without realising it? Maybe what happened to me was like that too? Oh, too much a can of worms for most people in a busy life. So we jam the lid back on and join the ranks of people speculating that “she probably asked for it”, “was dressed too provocatively”, “if was she stupid enough to put herself in that position, should probably have realised what was going to happen”, or “must be after money or just trying to damage their reputation out of jealousy”.
These comments are the reasons that so few people come forward to acknowledge their experiences. These responses embed even further shame into ones who are already feeling ashamed. These assumptions teach our women to blame themselves. It does save time and cut out the middle man. We like that, don’t we? Then we can all just get on with our lives. I recently saw the results of an American survey where young people were asked to rate how OK rape or forced sex was in certain circumstances. The fact that not one category scored 0% told me just how good a job we have done with this.
I have heard stories of young children horribly abused (never just physically or sexually – the stories and manipulations employed by the abusers to keep their secret safe are often horrific) by people they trust. And when they found the courage to tell somebody about it, they were not believed. Even worse, some were blamed for inviting or even pursuing the attention! Can you imagine an innocent six year old being called a slut and being rejected by her mother out of jealousy? Because this is the reality of far too many stories. Adult relationships and social connections, the fear of social stigma and judgement; are chosen as a priority over the safety of a child and so many are thrust back into the arms of their abusers. Now with a belief that there is no hope for them. And with no safe place to return to afterwards. The parents who do this are often damaged themselves. Most likely the product of abuse themselves that is not remembered, or is unacknowledged. Sometimes this is a pattern that stretches back for generations in some form. And unless someone is brave enough at some point to acknowledge it and to make a conscious choice to address it – it will likely continue. Insidiously and hidden. With more damaged, hurt people who will inflict more damage and more hurt, because that is what plays out. Like a picture that is photocopied many times over, the imprinting of self worth and sexual boundaries becomes less complete with each sharing.
This is why women will begin coming out of the woodwork when a case like this goes to court. Because it takes enormous courage to stand up and tell the truth of what has happened. It probably took years of therapy and self work to get to the point where they could. And when one finds the courage to face their abuser, they lend courage to another to do the same. And if you were one of that person’s victims and you knew what it cost the accuser to do so publicly, maybe you would find the strength to add your voice, so that it was not so easy for theirs to be silenced.
This is why I do the work that I do. Because this is one of the most difficult things to heal and has so many layers. Sometimes it needs the skill of someone who can access on multiple layers.
*Let me qualify at this point that I fully acknowledge that men are not excluded from this picture. I work with men too. They also suffer from sexual abuse and assault and have their own societal expectations to endure. As a woman, I simply identify more with women and find it easier to write mostly from this perspective.
*Pic by Terje Sollie on Pexels.com