Silent! Why So Long?
Why does it take some victims years to come forward, sometimes twenty, thirty years or more? The answer is very simple, especially for those of us who have been victims of sex crime. Two main reasons are fear and shame. Fear of rejection, I will be rejected and what I say as truth will be rejected. Fear that no one will believe me. Fear that I will be ridiculed, made an object of entertainment. Fear of repercussions, etc. And then there is shame. Shame that I allowed this to happen to me. It’s my fault. Shame of being tricked, exposed and used. Fear, shame, blame, guilt and more plagues them. So the silence continues. A survivor justifies silence by convincing herself or himself that it is easier and better for everyone if they just don’t say anything. The survivor says, I can handle this (alone).
But how true is that? Just ask the women who after decades of silence finally came forward in the allegations against Bill Cosby or the men who came forward in the Penn State, Jerry Sandusky case or the many sexual abuse scandals in the religious community (Bishops Accountability , Protestant Abuse COGIC ). What did they have to profit from coming forward? The public would say money, five minutes of fame. But the public is so wrong. Many survivors who come forward don’t ask for monetary settlements. Or ask me. I kept silent for years until the last rape. What did I have to profit from coming forward? The man had nothing, nothing except AIDS! Many survivors just want the truth heard and accepted, the predator exposed and stopped from hurting another child or adult. What do they gain from coming forward? Freedom, justice in some cases and rest from the torment in their soul! Empowerment!
One morning, three friends and I went to breakfast. During our meal one gentleman posed a question about the allegations against Bill Cosby. Why did he do that? As the conversation began between the three of them my hand became numb and my eyes began to water. What was going on? I could not eat. I could not move. I was in emotional pain. I sat there still, with my head down hoping they would shut up, change the subject and not notice the change in me. But they continued. Why did I react the way I did? The conversation did not trigger memories of my own assault, but it triggered something. The conversation triggered deep empathy for the women who were assaulted and because they finally found their voice to speak were further assaulted by many in public. Somehow I connected to them. My heart pained for the two dozen plus women who came forward knowing that conversations were going on all over the country about them. I didn’t have to imagine what people were saying. I heard it, not only at breakfast that morning but everywhere. It took great inner strength for those women to speak up, especially the first one. The price of continued silence is a very heavy price to pay. At some point silence must submit to the heart’s cry for rest and freedom from suppressed memories.
The strange thing is that not only the survivors of rape understand the power of silence but more so the perpetrators. The rapist understands the victim’s psyche and the power of their silence. They understand the power of threats and the power of fear. The perpetrator has nothing to fear because he knows most victims will have enough fear to keep them silent. Statistics state that a rapist assaults an average of seven to nine times before a victim speaks up. I don’t know what number I was when I was assaulted in 2008, but he was in for a rude awakening, in prison.
Please don’t be so quick to discredit or dismiss a victim’s truth. For a victim to come forward and not only face the perpetrator, but also family, community, school, and sometimes face the public, the media and the court system is traumatic in itself. Many times they feel abused again and for some this co-abuse is greater than the actual assault because it is those closest to them that are inflicting harm. It takes strength for someone to speak up when they know their life will be dissected and put on display. It takes guts to go public with such a horrible intrusive crime for all to see because you believe in the justice system. Unfortunately the outcome many times is not in favor of victims and the offender is free to attack another. Nevertheless, the spirit of right and truth within the victim’s soul cries out for justice. Is it worth it? In most cases I say yes! To stand against such an evil somehow causes an inner power, determination, confidence and strength to rise from within. The shame, the blame, the guilt and the fear no longer has power. The victim has now become a fighter.
So don’t wonder why it takes so long for someone to come forward. Just be glad they did. They are taking their voice, their life back and in the process may save another from becoming a victim.