Photography from Pixabay
'Why did you tell?'
'You shouldn't have said anything.'
Those were the words of 18/19-year-olds to their friend who disclose rape. She was confused, hurt and broken. She was also afraid of the repercussions of the disclosure. However, she didn't anticipate or prepare for the backlash from her colleagues. They were unhappy with her decision to report the crime.
I wondered about the instinctive attitude to disclosure. The victim's peers were unable to offer consolation, protection, care and support; instead, their focus centred on why she decided to share.
From that interaction, I knew two things.
They didn't know how to care but more importantly, where did they learn how to be silent.
It didn't take long for me to learn that they discovered how to be quiet from those around them. Society teaches us how to be quiet. Sexual trauma is taboo. No one talks about it; in that place of hesitation, people wrapped in shame with no way to articulate the depth of their feelings. Society’s censorship further enhances that shame.
The silence is loud; I often encounter its deafening tone whenever I am doing a speaking engagement and mention the words sexual abuse. The attitude is the same everywhere, whether I am speaking to a room with 300 hundred or 6 women at a retreat.
When I share that I work with childhood trauma, I always have to qualify that with, childhood trauma is not only sexual abuse.
The prevailing view is that all traumas are sexual abuse, and for me to be able to access the people who I know need the service but is too ashamed to come forward, I used that precursor. That's when people begin to look a bit more comfortable, and questions are asked in the third person or for a friend.
People who experience sexual traumas are good at secrets. Sometimes the ability to keep a secret was shamed into them.
I grew up in a culture where there were no words to describe or report sexual abuse, and so I internalized the trauma. It was astounding to me to realize that nearly 40 years on, young women are still in that position.
How do young girls know that it is unacceptable to talk about molestation? Who is responsible for the silence? Is it the home? The schools, law enforcement, the church, or society. I think it is essential to identify where the silence starts so that we can help to facilitate dialogue. Hopefully, these conversations will sensitize our children to the need to share when and if assaulted.
The problem will not go away because we ignore it.
Here is what they will not learn in the silence:
In the silence, there is no one to talk to about the low self-esteem that they will battle for the rest of their lives.
The people who encourage silence neglects to mention the relationships choices that individuals will make over and over again because of a fixed mindset of not being worthy enough.
A culture of silence won't tell them that parenting will become challenging, and they will not know how to pass on values of self-worth and self-advocacy to their children.
Unfortunately, this is what the young people glean from our silence
You are not worth it
No one will listen to you.
Who will believe me?
I think I am to blame.
Abuse happens to everyone; you are not unique.
Breaking the silence
We need to break the silence around abuse; this is everyone's problem. Therefore, we all have to contribute to the solution. We can begin by making sex and inappropriate touching part of an ongoing conversation. By doing this, you will give someone a language to use if something does happen. I don't think we can ever settle into the belief that abuse only happens to some people. The statistic says 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 8 boys suffer sexual molestation before the age of 18. Therefore it is not a problem that we can continue to ignore.
If you suffered abuse and haven't yet made the decision to process the pain, the only hope for healing is walking through it. Some delay because they have preconceived ideas about healing. These views stop many from accessing support. The truth is, healing will challenge and stretch you. If you are willing to do the work, you can thrive again.
-Written By: Joanna Daniel
About the author
Joanna Daniel is a trained counselor, international speaker, and author whose work helps individuals to heal from the impact of childhood trauma.
Joanna believes that we thrive in relationships, but sometimes events occur that can temporarily hinder strong connections with others. Her work is designed to help you face, deal with and heal from the past and form meaningful attachments. You can find Joanna on Facebook as Woundstoscars , IG handle joannafromwoundstoscars, or join her Facebook group: woundsthatheal or visit her website WoundsToScars.com