The Horror of Silence — When A Child Isn’t Protected from Sexual Abuse
Note: If you’ve been sexually abused, this post could trigger you. Please read with care. For the National Sexual Abuse Hotline, click here.
I’m not so sure what is worse — hearing someone’s story about their sexual abuse — or hearing these words.
“My mother knew.”
“I told Dad what his friend had done to me. He said to forget about it — he was just kidding around.”
Sexual abuse disregarded. Explained away. Ignored and even denied. Your abuser whispered in your ear, “No one will believe you if you tell. This is special. It’s just between you and me.” The silence of others can be as horrific as the abuse itself. Even adults fear not being believed and nothing happening to help them.
A few years ago, I read the preface to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s report on the sickening abuse of over one thousand sexual abuse victims, mostly children, by over three hundred Catholic priests in the last seventy -plus years.
I didn’t have to read the full report which describes in horrific detail what children were sexually coerced into doing — the victims of men who their families trusted and whose understood role was to guide and care for their spiritual and emotional well-being.
I was disgusted enough by the introduction. And I support the intent of the Grand Jury which was to make the named priests known, to destroy their ability to hide, and to challenge the Church to change its culture.
Let’s make sure we note that much of the damaging record was provided by the Catholic dioceses themselves. Some in the church seem to be trying to clean up their own mess, and take responsibility for what has been a problem for years. Some are trying to come up with ideas about how retribution could occur. The Pope came out with a statement blaming the “Catholic adherence to hierarchical decision-making” for much of the problem with reporting, yet offered nothing concrete.
Who knows what the reality is.
Before deciding that Catholicism is the enemy, let’s consider the other scandalous issue that left even more children to fend for themselves. This is, in many ways, the same as the Sandusky case or the sexual abuse of Olympic gymnasts, and is happening on a personal level in homes around the world every day.
The deafening silence of knowing and not telling…
It can happen anywhere. The family, the church, the school, your family room — anywhere where the need for power via sexual exploitation lives and breathes.
If you’re someone, adult or child, who looks up to your potential perpetrator, if you want or need his approval or care-taking, a sexual perpetrator can manipulate that need. Whether it’s to be considered for a part in a movie, to make the football team, simply to be accepted and liked, or even to keep a roof over your head and food in your belly, the abuser has some sort of power that they are wielding.
They can introduce words and actions that groom you or make you immune to the awfulness of what’s happening. They can insinuate that having sex with them is something you want (especially if your body responds with a natural arousal), that you’re so special to them, or that you owe sexual favors to them because of what they’ve done for you so far.
Imagine if you’re a child and these vicious games are played. You’d be totally lost, with not a shred of rationality left to help you. If you’re a teenager or adult, you’re still vulnerable to these psychological weapons. As a result, victims mostly blame themselves and most never reveal what happened to them.
If this has happened to you and you’ve had the additional knowledge that others knew, and did nothing? You may likely shut emotionally down, helplessness and hopelessness becoming part of your everyday lives. You may have looked like an average child, but inside you were dying as you heard your abuser coming up the stairs. Or when you knew you were going to be dropped off at that friend’s house. Or you heard your mother leave for her night shift as your dad pours another Bourbon.
What you can do now…
If this is or was you, know that you can tell your story to someone who’ll believe you and not judge you. That can be a huge burden off of your shoulders and your very soul right from the start.
Please come forward. If you’ve been keeping the secret, you don’t have to any more.
It was never your fault. It will never be your fault, and your truth needs to be respected and known.
And if you’re struggling with some kind of fear if you report — some sense of butting in or causing conflict — then look at the faces of the 150 gymnasts who faced down Larry Nassar, the doctor who abused all of them. Think about if she were your own daughter, or if one of the boys at Penn State had been your son.
Do for yourself what you’d do for your own children and speak out on your own behalf.
If you’ve been abused, there are several excellent books that might help you. “The Courage To Heal” by Laura Davis and “Waking The Tiger” by Peter Levine are two classics. Many rape crisis centers also run free groups for victims, as do individual counselors. There are chat groups on Twitter — use the hashtag #CSA. Child Abuse Hotlines can be found here.
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Originally published on September 2, 2018; updated and republished on January 9, 2021.