Monday
Jul132015

Why People Wait Twenty Years to Expose Sexual Abuse or Rape

Does tragedy have a shelf life? Is it like milk? If someone does not speak up after 7 days or even 7 years, should their experience be invalidated?  The question we should be asking is how does our society silence victims for 20 years?  

A molester or rapist is rarely a person with a scowl on their face, holding a knife, with a shirt that says, “I am about to ruin your life.”  Instead, it is often a person who is loved, respected, and appreciated.  They embody the characteristics that you want for yourself.  They are caring, dependable, and altruistic. They are deeply embedded in your life and your community.  They are mentors, supporters, believers.  They build a relationship with you that encourages you to place them on a pedestal.  They dictate your standard of integrity and love, until the day that something happens to place your world in state of chaos. 

Kisses move from being on the cheek to on the lips.  They hug you a little too tight, too often.  They touch you inappropriately in your sleep, or pull your hand closer to make you touch them.  They ensure your silence with gifts, fear, shame, or money.  Your private parts become their public playground.  But the biggest change is that you are unable to reconcile the wonderful person in your head with the horrible things they are doing. 

A molester is someone you would least expect to be a molester.  Their actions are hidden in plain site because your expectations and society’s expectations completely contradict their actions.  They eat “silence” for breakfast lunch and dinner; your silence, your family’s silence, and the community’s silence.  It is their favorite meal.  It makes them stronger, keeps them satisfied, gives them strength, and hides their deeds. 

In 2015, “Stranger Danger” is now the exception to the rule.  In today’s society, the monsters in the closet are the people we know and love unconditionally.  They go by names like Grandpa, Aunt Louise, Grandma, Uncle John, Aunt Jane, Cousin Dave, Mr. Smith, and Coach Graham.  They are sisters, brothers, close family members, and family friends you have known your entire life. 

There is a secret recipe, passed down for generations, that is followed to the “t”.  Make them trust you, show them you care about them, make them feel safe, and then strike.  Send their emotions reeling.  Confuse them.  Blur their sense of right and wrong.  Shade their boundaries.  Make them believe it is their fault.  Silence them with fear.  Let them be ashamed, guilty, and fearful so that that new victims can be chosen.  Make them question everything about themselves:

  1. How could this be happening to me?
  2. Did I do something to make this happen to me? 
  3. Who will believe me?
  4. It sometimes felt good, so is this my fault?
  5. Will I destroy the family if I tell?
  6. Will I let them down?
  7. Will people blame me if we can no longer have Thanksgiving as a family?
  8. Will people be angry if I send them to jail?

Instead, most opt for silence.  They never tell anyone and often see their abuser at holidays, family dinners, get-togethers, or single day of their lives.  Others tell.  They are blamed or not believed.  “You are making this up.”  “You want attention.”  “You want money.”  “Why would someone want to rape you when they could get anyone they want?”

And then there are those who watch the treatment of people who had the courage to speak up.  They watch how they are blamed in the media.  They watch how they are called gold diggers and opportunists.  They watch how they are attacked through social media, over, and over, and over.  They sometimes join the conversation, seeking to hide their own experience, and shift their personal shame to a new victim.  They become the bully.  Others quietly cover themselves in a blanket of shame, sometimes staying there for 10 years, 20 years, and sometimes for the rest of their lives. 

 As a society, it is time for us to move beyond this culture of blame, guilt, silence, and bashing.  What can you do to change the way we view sexual abuse and rape? Will you seek to understand others? Will you talk to your kids about what to do if it happens to them? Will you forgive yourself for what happened to you? Will you offer a space people to share their experience? Will you believe people when they refuse to remain silent?

Milk has a shelf life.  Eggs have a shelf life.  People and their experiences do not have a shelf life.  Let's stop silencing others by asking why it took them so long to find the courage to speak about a horrendous experience. Courage has no statute of limitations.

 

Saturday
Jun272015

Coming Out: A Dad's Reaction To His Daughter

 


I have spent over 15 years working with students and adults from every imaginable background.  I have learned that all of us are battling something.  As a leadership and life coach, it is my job to create an environment where people feel safe sharing their stories with me. 

Through my work, I met Felicia, an incredibly warm and amazing spirit.  She was one out of many who had a deeply complex story about her relationship with her father.  

A few weeks after we wet, I received a letter in the mail.  It was from Felicia.  Inside the envelope was a copy of a letter from her father with a note that read, “I send this to you in the hopes that others might find courage and strength through its honesty.  I love my father, but we are a work in progress.  Thank you!”

 

 

I immediately unfolded the letter and read it.  It was her coming out story, from the perspective of her father.  When I was done, I sat there, unable to move because of all of the emotions running through me.  I realized that I had truly tapped into the definition of empathy – I was sad, heart-broken, confused, and angry—as if I was Felicia.  But then I also had so many complex feelings toward her dad.  Throughout the letter, I felt compassion, anger, sadness, understanding, and rage—all directed at her father.  Perhaps this is the story of humanity, that we can feel so many things toward our own fathers.

What you will read below, is the first letter that Felicia’s father wrote to her, after she came out to both of her parents.  With the Supreme Court’s historic decision on marriage equality, it is my hope that we can begin an important conversation.  Hopefully, this discussion can begin to address the feelings of parents and children that deal with isolation, disappointment, betrayal, anger, solitude and pain, when an individual comes out to their parents.

At the end of the day, we all want to be loved, appreciated, and to feel like we belong.  The truth is that there are still parents who are devastated by the Supreme Court’s decision.  They are raising children who are overcome with joy that they are finally able to get married.  

Felicia will marry her fiance later this year.  Her dad has chosen not to attend the wedding.  It is important to note here that Felicia's paternal grandparents did not attend her parent's wedding.  They did not agree with their son's decision to marry someone who was not white.   Hopefully, Felicia's personal story will serve the purpose she intended...to help others.

 

Letter to Felicia from her dad:

“It has taken me sometime to absorb and to come to grips with your revelation and disclosure to me and your mother that you are gay and have been for some time.  This is so hard for me to understand and I will never be able to.  This is a lifestyle that will lead to nothing but heartbreak and disappointment for you as you go through life.  A relationship between a man and a woman is far more different than the relationships between people of the same sex.

In today’s world people are being forced to accept or at least tolerate the lifestyles of others, whether right or wrong, moral or immoral. We are being ask[ed] to throw away traditional values and accept new ideas. This is an idea which will destroy us as individuals if we let other people determine for us what the future should be like and to throw away the values of the past. Every generation that proceeds another will have good ideas and bad ideas, but there must be a balance maintained between the generations.  In today’s world we are dealing with questions concerning same sex marriage (homosexuality and lesbianism), single parenting.  Does this mean we must give up all the traditional values that have managed to keep some semblance of order to society.

Does this mean we must give up our ideas and opinions regarding moral issues, religion, self-pride and accomplishments? Do we let other people with lesser goals in life, take over and ruin what we have learned from the past.  Do we give up what it means to have a family that love us and wish us to live a happy and contented life?

I do not feel that what you have chose to do in regards to being gay will give you true happiness.  Maybe I am just being selfish and narrow minded about my dreams for you. I wanted you to meet that special man in your life that could be your love and inspiration, someone who would share your dreams for the future, would care for you when your [sic] depressed and sick and would be able to help you deal with life’s problems.  I most of all wanted you to have children and to know the joy of giving birth to your own flesh and blood and the excitement and thrill of watching them grow to maturity.  This experience is so hard to explain to you. 

From the day your brother was born and you were born, I felt like the most fortunate and blessed man on earth.  God had seen fit to make me a dad.  You tow were a miracle to me and your mother.  We enjoyed watching you both grow up and how you learned things so quickly.  It felt good to hold you and cuddle you as babies.  When you cried, when you laughed, when you got sick, when you began to walk, the first words you began to learn, the first birthday, first Christmas, the first time your grandparents got to hold you and to cherish you.  Yes, even your grandparents were so proud of you and wanted nothing but the best for you. 

I have not been able to tell anyone else what you discussed with me and your mom.  Forgive me, but it is not something I wish to reveal to the rest of the family.  They will learn on their own.  I told you I admire that you had the courage to at last reveal your feelings to me and your mother, but I cannot display this same courage or honesty.  I am too old school and too proud of you to share something that I cannot understand to others in my family. 

I had hoped one day to have grandchildren of my own.  I am 64 years-old and time is running out.  I so much wanted a grandson or a grand-daughter to call my grandkids, my flesh and blood living through them.  I told you before, maybe I am being selfish.  Just know that while I am disappointed with this decision you have made, that I will always love you and I will be here when you need me.  How long will your lover be with you? Do not let anyone take advantage of your tender and loving heart or take control of your mind above your own values.  I cry for you.

Love,

Dad

 

**What are your feelings after reading this letter? What emotions did you experience? Let’s begin this important conversation by leaving a comment below.