On Tuesday, I had the honor to participate in “Shout Out! Against Sexual Violence,” an annual event hosted by the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. It was the first time I had ever publicly read something out loud about my childhood molestation, and although I was told my voice remained steady and strong, my right hand was trembling like a leaf. I was glad I hadn’t worn any jangling bracelets or big rings or I would have been a personal music factory.
I admired so many of the brave women and men (did you know that 1 of every 6 men are also a victim of sexual violations?) that got up and shared their stories. Some did it through music, poetry, art. Many got up and read something they had prepared, others with tears in their eyes just spoke from their hearts. Some spoke on behalf of themselves, several shared on behalf of others.
After it was over, 4 of us went out for dinner and it felt good to laugh and be silly after the intensity of emotions. But invariably, the conversation ended with us circling back to the sexual harassments and abuses we have seen in the community and talking about what can be done to help.
One of the harshest realities was how many religious communities, and particularly women, will shun the victims of abuse. One woman was told that her rape was her fault because she had put herself in a position where she was alone with a man. Another woman was told that she had brought the sexual harassment upon herself because, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Many were encouraged to be quiet and just get over it.
It’s hard to wrap my head around – that these acts of victim blame are still perpetuated today. Haven’t we come further along than this? Are we still so quick to protect the guilty and blame or discredit the abused?
In contrast, this morning I met behind closed doors with others who asked to hear my story. To speak above a whisper about the abuse and perceptions and teachings and attitudes I knew about. To not name names as much as to communicate failings and areas which need to be improved.
To come from an evening of such openness and then recall events so shrouded with secrecy was heartbreaking. To boldly discuss a place of opportunity that had often been a place of judgment for me and others. Where I found myself to be found wanting in so many areas, and unable to entrust those I should with my hurt, pain, and emotional struggles.
It was liberating to tell my story to this group as we sat in this private conference room. To unflinchingly discuss things I’d been told I shouldn’t. I know that others told stories beyond what I had experienced, and that what I said was on the periphery of the core information they sought. But if I helped to explain the picture just a little clearer, and to show that I had made it through to the other side, maybe I had helped.
I confronted my molester almost a decade ago, and have worked my way through to a place of healing and forgiveness now. There are those who may read this and be worried. Don’t be. I was telling my story, not yours.
When I was done, one of the interviewers leaned forward and asked me, “What do you hope to see happen as a result of what you shared?”
I thought about it for a minute. “I don’t regret what happened to me – it has made me who I am, and helped me to understand and help others. But I hope that maybe in the future there won’t be so many who need to be helped. And maybe making it easier for there to be open communication, that it won’t be just brushed off with a ‘these things just happen sometimes’ shrug. I’m not seeking to hurt or punish anyone – but to help others from having to go through this in the future.”
I’m not trying to be a hero when I say this. I’m just thankful I’m a survivor – and want to make sure others survive as well.
So Say We All?