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 has 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.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report…

Last week, 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 301 Catholic priests over the last seventy 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 — to make the named priests known — to destroy their ability to hide — 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 more than about abuse.

The deafening silence of knowing and not telling…

It seems that everyone from Cardinals to Bishops to priests knew of the abuse (obviously not all…) and some did everything they could to suppress and discount the information, labeling the abuse as the priest having “inappropriate boundaries” or some utter nonsense like that. An Archbishop and former Cardinal of the church also accused the Pope of knowing about certain perpetrators for a while — and doing nothing substantial. Many choices were made by the governing priesthood to avoid controversy, including simply sending the abusive priest to another diocese, totally denying his potential menace.

And other unsuspecting children and families were badly hurt.

It can happen anywhere. The family, the church, the school — anywhere where the need for power and sexual exploitation override goodness.

Abusers manipulate their power over you…

If you’re someone, adult or child, who looks up to your potential perpetrator, if you want or need his approval  — whether it’s to be considered for a part in a movie, to make the football team, or simply to be accepted and liked — a sexual perpetrator can manipulate that need. They can introduce words and actions that groom you into not realizing what’s going on, easing you into a relationship with them. They can insinuate that having sex with them is something you want (especially if your body responds with a natural arousal), that your secret relationship with them is special, or that you owe sexual favors to them because of what they’ve done for you so far. They can promote pornographic or sadomasochistic behavior as “what you do” when you really care for someone.

Imagine if you’re a child and these vicious games are played. You’d be totally lost — not a shred of rationality left to help you. Victims mostly blame themselves — and most never reveal what happened to them.

Knowing others know, and are doing nothing? Many victims shut emotionally down, helplessness and hopelessness becoming part of their everyday lives. They may look like normal children, but inside, they are dying as they hear their abuser coming up the stairs. Or know they’re going to be dropped off at that friend’s house. Or hear their mother leave as their 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.

Please come forward. If you’ve been keeping the secret, you don’t have to.

It was never your fault. It will never be your fault.

And your truth needs to be respected and known.

And if you suspect someone — 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 girls 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.

I hope you don’t have to think too long.

 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.

If you’re in a safe, supportive relationship, you might want to thank your partner in a small way. Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” a gift book by Dr. Margaret!

You can hear more about sexual abuse and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly blog posts and podcasts!