Sharing our stories of surviving abuse is important because every survivor’s story matters, regardless of gender, status, or how much time has passed. The truth of it is that for a survivor to heal, what you and I think about their story means jack – it’s what they think and feel that truly matters, and leads to individual healing.
As I share in my books and in other articles, reframing survivors’ stories to fit your narrative is outrageous and egotistical.
Listen to survivors and allow us to speak our truth as we see it, not forcing it into the box that makes you more comfortable.
Subjected to More Abuse
We’ve already been through the abuse, yet, survivors (including myself: childhood sexual abuse by a neighbor at age eleven) are judged daily as if we have committed a crime: by families, friends, and if we’re vocal and visible online, by readers on social media. People (typically non-survivors, but not always) 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, e.g., why did your abuser pick you?
Or make ignorant statements, such as:
- It doesn’t count if there was no penetration.
- 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.
We Did Nothing Wrong. And Yet…
This may come as a shock to many who haven’t survived sexual trauma, but here’s our truest truth: survivors minimize our own trauma 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, when we know logically we are not responsible for the abuser’s criminal behavior. Yet, there it is.
As if the shame, humiliation, anxiety, depression, PTSD in many cases, and body dysmorphic disorder isn’t already enough of a burden to carry on our slight shoulders, people sling this shit at us – when we did nothing wrong. 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.
This is why many survivors keep their mouths firmly shut, thanks.
Speaking Our Truth
Until we don’t. Something, somewhere inside us cracks us open and the word vomit spills 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.
Trauma stays inside us, waiting, changing who we are. We become the after.
For me, the death by suicide of an ex-lover opened up what the raw inside, pushing it out, and leading me to re-examine years of journals. Through this process, I gave myself permission to write my first book dealing with my abuse experiences, Broken Pieces. With prose and poetry, I delve into what it was like to live the pieces of who I became after the abuse, not understanding how the abuse affected me as a girl, a woman, and a mother. Releasing Broken Places a few years later, I continued sharing my story of survival and the after-effects of the abuse.
The response was astounding – people (primarily women, but many men, too) contacted me with their own stories of sexual abuse and still do almost daily. I released the first book in 2013, the second in 2015. I’m writing Broken People now. With the initial release, I felt blessed by their gift of trust, yet stymied by how to help them (beyond giving them information to RAINN, a wonderful organization for rape, assault, and incest survivors).
Connecting with Other Survivors
So, I reached out and connected with the fabulous Bobbi Parish, herself an incest survivor and author, and I founded #SexAbuseChat, which Bobbi and I co-host every Tuesday on Twitter, 6pm pst/9pm est. All survivors are welcome. Each week we discuss different topics affecting survivors. You can view previous chats by going to our public Facebook page (likes welcome!), so even if you’re not on Twitter, feel free to look through our chats.
I also started @SpeakOurStories with Dr. Shruti Kapoor, founder of @SayftyCom (whose goal is to help keep women safe worldwide). The SOS platform is to give all survivors, regardless of gender, a safe place to share their stories – anonymously is fine – and offer resources to get help. Submit your story here.
As a fierce advocate for survivors, I continue sharing stories about sexual abuse, hoping to help educate people why survivors don’t report (my tweets were featured recently in this CNN story on #WhyWomenDontReport), the effects of trauma on the brain, and how compassion and support are what survivors need, not judgement.
If you’re reading this and feel like you’ve been quick to judge a survivor or tend not believe them, ask yourself this question: what’s in it for us to share our stories? We’ve already judged ourselves more than you possible ever could, led a life of shame and humiliation we’ve worked hard as fuck to shed, and asked ourselves all those same questions quoted above.
Some of us hope for justice, most of us hope for healing. Eventually, those of us who do tell rise above others’ petty judgements to reach out to others who aren’t able to speak.
This post was first published on Wilson Writes as is republished here with her permission.
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