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:
- How could this be happening to me?
- Did I do something to make this happen to me?
- Who will believe me?
- It sometimes felt good, so is this my fault?
- Will I destroy the family if I tell?
- Will I let them down?
- Will people blame me if we can no longer have Thanksgiving as a family?
- 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.