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.

domestic violence: Why people stay

Domestic violence is never just physical.  Abusers don’t build up your self-esteem. They either tear it down or capitalize on it being low in the first place. They tell you that no one else wants you.  They tell you that no one else will love you the way they do. 

And people in abusive relationships swallow the “You will never find another person like me” pill, every single day until they build up a resistance. They can no longer hear anyone who tells them that they are beautiful or that they deserve more, or that they should leave.  They become immune to anyone who contradicts the other person in their relationship.

People get involved in abusive situations because they don’t 100% love themselves, but people stay because they grow to love the other person more than they love themselves.  More than likely, they didn’t have a person in the home telling them they were beautiful or that they were enough.  They most likely experienced some type of emotional, sexual, or physical abuse that served as their blueprint for a relationship.  When they were old enough to start dating, they unrolled the blueprint and tried to replicate the feelings and emotions they learned from their childhood experience.

Their childhood experiences taught them what love was supposed to feel like.  If anyone in their life consistently made them feel less than, ashamed, or unloved, they subconsciously sought to recreate those feelings.  That was their concept and definition of love.

Physical abuse and grooming have a great deal in common.  Grooming a child for sexual abuse begins with buying them toys and gifts, spending quality time with them, becoming the friend or uncle or aunt that they have always wanted, giving them emotional and financial support, and causing them to feel that their world would be incomplete without you in it.  Then comes the hand on the knee.  A week later, the hand gradually moves closer to the thigh.  Later, the hand moves into the most private areas that “strangers” shouldn’t touch.  But this person isn’t a stranger.  And so begins the abuse along with the confusion, guilt, and shame.  Did I deserve this? I can’t tell my parents now because I let it continue for so long.

Physical abuse is very similar.  Both are gradual processes.  No one punches you in an elevator on a first date.  Instead they present themselves as an Oscar-winning actor in a romantic movie.  Weeks or months into the relationship, after you are smitten, an insulting comment falls off their tongue, along with the guilt and shame.  (“I must have deserved that.”) A push comes after an argument.  (“I said something to cause that.”)  A slap meets a cheek.  (“I shouldn’t have raised my voice.”)

The most accurate description I have ever heard to describe physical abuse is a frog in a pot.  If a frog is thrown into boiling water, it would jump out.  But if a frog is placed in room temperature water that is gradually turned up, they don’t notice until the water is too hot to jump out of and the pot is too dark to see the light.  The shame and guilt of not getting out earlier or having to expose their secret to their friends and family, serves as their lid.

Blaming the victim leads to people staying in abusive relationshipsThey will say I should have left a long time ago.They will say I deserved it because I was too stupid to leave.  With any situation, you are either part of the problem, or part of the solution.  So if you are one of the people who asked why Janay Rice married NFL Football player Ray Rice after he knocked her unconscious in the elevator, or if you said “She only married him for his money” then you are part of this societal problem that we call domestic violence.

The whole point of domestic violence is to emotionally capture the mind, to make a person not want to leave, to cause them to think there is nothing better out there, and to make them uncomfortable confiding in someone else to further isolate them from friends and family.  They are often threatened with abuse if they leave, and what is to come has already been proven with black eyes, bruises, cuts, and emotional scars.

Instead of asking what is wrong with a person for staying, we need to start asking what is wrong with a person for slapping, choking, or rendering another person unconscious.  Remember that, the next time you judge a person for staying in a relationship.

Boundaries: sexual abuse and relationships

As kids, boundaries are required so we learn all kinds of things, such as when to go to bed, when to leave the room to allow adults to talk, who is family vs. a stranger, how to talk to adults in an appropriate manner, how to have self-control with food, how to respect teachers, who to trust, and hundreds of other things.

When a person who is supposed to love and protect us, hurts us instead, our boundaries change from clear and precise to confused and fluid.  Instead of being in the middle, extremes begin to appear in various aspects of our lives, particularly around sex.  Individuals either become extremely sexually active or they head to the other side of the coin and attempt to avoid sex altogether.

Food issues may appear as well. Food either becomes the center of their universe or they develop food rituals in an attempt to have control over something. (This stems from having zero control over what happened to them when they were abused). Examples of food rituals may include refusing to eat a food unless the food is a particular color or texture, only eating at a particular time, or only eating food at a particular temperature.

Learning to trust is also affected.  Individuals may trust absolutely everyone or have difficulty trusting anyone fully.  If we gathered the courage to tell someone about our abuse and we were not believed, our ability to trust becomes even more complicated.

Boundaries are extremely important for us to be able to learn self-control, self-respect, and self-love.  Being molested significantly impacts these three things.  So how does this play out in relationships? Here are a few ways that relationships can be impacted:

  • Triggers – A touch, a word, an experience, a smell, a picture, a person – anything can trigger a memory that takes you right back to the moment in your life when you were molested.  It can make becoming emotionally or physically close to someone extremely difficult.  You may find yourself breaking off relationships before they really have a chance to begin and developing an excuse or reason to justify it in your mind.
  • Wavering – The experience of blaming yourself or being blamed for being molested can lead a person to be overwhelmed with self-doubt. Self-doubt or shame can bleed into all areas of your personal life. You may have difficulty making and sticking to decisions that may range from what entrée to order, what shirt to wear, what house to buy, or whether a person is a good fit for you. It stems from not being allowed to develop healthy choices.  Instead, people made decisions for you by subjecting you to situations, memories, and feelings that you had no control over. As an adult, you may still not trust your ability to make choices.

Boundaries are essential to so much in our lives. And now you have had the opportunity to understand a little more about yourself or about another person who has been molested.  For assistance or to speak with a licensed therapist who can help you work through the process of recreating boundaries for yourself, please take a look at the resources below.

If you are a parent, talk to your kids (girls AND boys) about what to do if they are kissed or touched by ANYONE. The majority of abusers are not strangers - they are close friends and family members. Give your kids scenarios (example - What would you do if we were at a party and you were in the house and someone tried to touch you? What would you do? Where would you go?) There are resources below to help you with the conversation.

Resources and Websites:

Find a Therapist

http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_search.php

National Center For Victims of Crime

Resource for Child Sexual Abuse

http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32315#8

2000 M Street NW, Suite 480 Washington, DC 20036 Phone: (202) 467-8700(202) 467-8700 Fax: (202) 467-8701 www.ncvc.org

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network

http://www.rainn.org/

1.800.656.HOPE1.800.656.HOPE(4673) 24-hour hotline

Talking to your kids about sexual abuse and prevention

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/talking-kids-sexual-abuse-10255396

http://www.mybodybelongstome.com/

Project Unbreakable

This powerful and evocative project shows abuse victims holding up a card with the words of their abusers written on them.

http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/tagged/grace%27s-photography

To see more photos or to learn how to submit your own click below.

https://www.olapic.com/photos/projectunbreakable/745328223?fb_ref=g745328223

1 in 6

Helping men who've had unwanted or abusive boyhood sexual experiences live healthier, happier lives.

http://1in6.org/

 

Why Everyone Doesn't Love Their Mom

family secrets why everyone doesn't love their mom.png

In fourth grade, I remember sitting wide-eyed as my classmate talked about her mom. She said that if her uncle died, she would be devastated but if her mom died, she wouldn’t be as hurt.

She then made the bold statement that she loved her uncle more than her mother. I remember thinking that this was the craziest thing I’d ever heard. I remember thinking that everyone in this world loved their mom.  I blurted out to her, “You have to love your mom more!”

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I began to understand that everyone’s family structure was not necessarily like my own. It became clear when I began working for a non-profit organization called, Children’s Express.

As teenagers, we traveled all over the country to interview people through a partnership with the Annie E. Casie Foundation. Our goal was to give the statistics a face. That’s when I met “Claire”. 

Claire was pale with short hair and glasses. At the age of fifteen, she had acne all over her face. But it was what I saw sixty seconds after I sat down that stayed with me. Just beneath her wrist, Claire had her entire first name carved into her arm. I couldn't imagine how anyone could do that to themselves. In the next thirty minutes, I found out why.

I immediately asked her about her arm. I had never even heard of the term "cutting" before. As her story unfolded, I learned more about why she was at the group home. 

On her twelfth birthday, her father came into her room and said, “It’s time for you to learn about what you will need to do for your husband.” And with those words, she was raped by her father.

The abuse continued with her father bringing his friend and his friend’s 16 year-old son to rape her. When Claire told her mom what happened, her mother refused to believe her.

After two suicide attempts, Claire was finally pulled from her home. When I met her, she was living in a group home in Texas. Her father had never been removed from the home and did not receive jail time.

Claire’s experience taught me that the definition of love and of family, can be completely different depending on who you talk to. In second grade, my paradigm of love, family, and the world was drastically different from the way it is right now.

I have learned that some people love their uncles more than their moms, and they have every right to do so. As we meet people who may not be in touch with their mom, dad, or various family members, it is important for us to remember that not all families are like ours.

Some individuals do not communicate with certain family members for specific reasons. Sometimes, it is about their own survival.

It is unfair to measure our own experiences against the experiences of others. There may be experiences, memories, emotions, and unresolved issues in their lives that we may never be privy to. We shouldn’t judge others by the family they have in their lives, but by the qualities and characteristics they possess today.

Does One Experience Make You Gay: The Gray area of being molested

The other day, I found myself at a party where the topic of conversation was whether or not one experience with someone of the opposite sex makes a person gay.  I tried to listen patiently as everyone spouted their opinion.

“Of course you are gay! If you let another man touch you then you are totally gay.”

“I can understand a woman experimenting in college but if it is a guy then he is definitely gay!”

“Even if you kiss a person of the same sex, then you are gay.”

What was missing from the discussion was the gray area. I wondered what people at this party say to a teenager who was molested or perhaps raped by his male cousin?  What exactly is the rule when someone of your same gender touches you in a spot that is supposed to be off limits and you are seven years-old...and it happens over and over and over.

For the past sixteen years I have come in contact with countless men and women whose lives have been forever changed, not by strangers, but by family members or friends of the family who have touched them, kissed them, and violated them in every way possible. Most of the cases involved same sex touching. Can you imagine the thoughts that have plagued them throughout the years when it comes to their own sexuality?

In my work, I expect that no matter where I am, at least half of the people in the room have most likely been molested. Some have revealed it to me in private, others are open to sharing with the group, and some have told only one or two people.  So when I hear people placing a label on hypothetical individuals who they have never met, it pains me because I always think about the kids and adults who are still processing events that they had no control over.