I wasn’t ever planning to come out publicly about my own history of abuse as a young girl. The molestation lasted from about age ten to sixteen. It’s not something you talk about openly, but now I have motivation to speak out and share my story.
I am an accidental public speaker on sexual violence but I’m not an accidental activist. I’m intentional about that. I was just surprised at myself for making my mission so personal. Now I see how the dots have been connecting between where I have been and where I am going. I am determined to turn my past pain into some good in order to help others.
It wasn’t until I watched Lady Gaga’s heart breaking performance of Till it Happens to You during the Academy Awards that I began questioning myself. I wondered why I was sobbing so heavily and why I felt grief descending over me like a blanket. I’m an empathetic person but something was happening deep within me, it was like an awakening. I was personally connecting to the lyrics about victims of sexual assault and campus rape.
I wasn’t raped, but for years I was sexually molested by an adult family friend and I was powerless. I lived in fear of the next time the monster would find his opportunity. I dreaded ugliness that I would again be forced to bear physically and spiritually. Being powerless and violated is the most terrifying experience a person can have. It scrambles your mind and fractures your sense of order in the universe. The view of the world was once simple, logical, and easy to perceive. It became a kaleidoscope of spinning sharp, jagged edges within a shadowing viewfinder. I had kept my secrets dormant for decades.
The first time it happened I was so young I couldn’t make sense of it, was it an accident? But later, he would capture me as prey, pushing me down onto linoleum floors, as I kicked and squirmed under a strong man’s weight. How did he know I wouldn’t scream? If I had, people would have heard. Why didn’t I scream? Why did I feel shame and fear if my father found out that I would be the one blamed and possibly beaten? Why was I afraid to expose the abuser? My mother would certainly be shamed from what happened and maybe never recover because of me. Wait, why would I be the cause? Why me? Why not him? Why did I think like that?
Shame is Violence to the Soul.
I was raised in a home where women are the ones that bear all the shame because men can do no wrong. So even as a child I knew that ‘telling’ would expose me to more danger. Maybe its because of being brain washed in this false teaching that I never spoke up about other frightening attacks against me growing up.
When a woman or girl is sexually violated or raped, she is afraid to call the perpetrator out. Why is this? We know that 1 in 5 college women are raped, but many young women are too afraid to come forward, therefore they hide their torment in silence. They are afraid of the scrutiny they will certainly face if they speak, like I did. Shaming the victim of sexual assault is a second and sometimes more egregious violence. Shame erodes a person from within, convincing them that they are damaged. According to Holly VanScoy, Ph.D., “When a person experiences shame, they feel ‘there is something basically wrong with me.’”
Victim shaming also protects abusers and continues the acceptance of gender based violence. In the case of rape and sexual assault, our system and cultural norms are tragically flawed.
We shame victims by asking, “What were you wearing? Were you drinking and if so why? Were you at a party? Were you making out? Why did you go with him there? Why did you follow them? Why did you let him touch you in the first place? Did you lead him on? Why were you flirting?” Question after question about the woman’s (or girl’s) integrity, morals, social habits, and sexuality. We imply that she brought the rape or assault upon herself. Why? Why are we continually asking the wrong questions and deflecting from asking why men are raping/sexually assaulting women? Why are violators off the hook? Why are we not focusing on the rapists more? We are engaging in the wrong conversations. Enough with violating victims a second time with shame and blame!
I tried to speak up at 14 to a family member by only sharing that my abuser had been too flirtatious with me. I was sick to even say this much, it was so uncomfortable and I was terrified of how she would respond. I desperately wanted support and protection. She told me that I must have invited the attention. That broke my heart and taught me to never again speak up, especially with the more disturbing details of my molestation. I learned a terrible lesson that I have had to unlearn over decades of my life. Silence breeds violence.
This Must Stop!
We have culturally shamed and blamed women for being violated or raped for too long. It’s an ancient custom rooted in patriarchy and gender inequality. In some countries when a woman is raped, a male figure in the family has the right to throw acid on her, beat or kill her. It’s within the law because she ‘disgraced’ her family by being raped. In Africa, the few girls that have somehow escaped from Boko Haram are rejected from their communities because they were raped by the enemy and defiled. These former school girls have no rescue even when they escape their captors. How can we accept this?
Women have been easy targets to shame. They are already traumatized and terrified by the rape, and they are frightened of coming forward and facing public scrutiny. Women also are guilty of shaming other women and exacting punishment on those who are violated. They become complicit in a culture of misogyny that has been fed to them like a steady diet of poison. Sometimes we side with the bully in order to escape being a victim.
Shame causes women to turn inward, to feel alone and isolated, to feel depressed and anxious, and deplete their confidence. Shame causes depression which can lead to other illnesses.
We should demand change in our cultural thinking, policies, and laws to protect the victims of sexual assault, rape, and gender based violence. We need to ask new questions directed to perpetrators and demand different results from the past. We need to put fear into the hearts of future abusers, not the victims!
I want to clearly state this about shame; it never belongs to the victim.
This is why I am now speaking up about my own experiences with sexual abuse. I hope that sharing my story publicly will encourage others to speak up and to purge the poisonous shame that doesn’t belong in our bodies, minds, and spirits.
I want women to regain strength, confidence and renew their power.
I found mine at 14 through a spiritual journey. I read how Jesus was counter-cultural by how he treated women and how he valued, loved, and elevated them. He always included them in his inner circle and protected them. I learned that God created us all in His image, both male and female, and since we are divinely made, I too have priceless worth and value.
The truth is, when I realized that my abusers were not entitled to torment me, I found my voice and my power.
This radically changed the way I valued myself and it helped me find my voice for the first time. Since God made me, no one and nothing had the right to abuse or oppress me. I was finally able to tell my abuser at 16 that I would scream and expose him if he touched me again. He was enraged but believed me and left me alone. I was also able to protect my mother two years later from my father’s worst attack on her, this time with a kitchen knife. I was able to subdue him, grabbing the knife, and repeatedly blasting, “You will never lay a hand on my mother again!” into his face. Up to that moment, I had never even spoken back to my father, it wasn’t allowed in our home.
Speak out because silence breeds violence
When I recently spoke publicly of my abuse and my journey to reclaiming my power again, I felt even freer. By physically releasing my story into the world and purging shame from myself, I released its last hold on me.
I want all victims regain their power after sexual violence. I’d like to create a supportive community as we raise our voices in a tremendous chorus that won’t be ignored. My defiant hope is for everyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted to live shamelessly and free again, finding joy once more. We can heal and push for justice together. We will never forget the pain but we can overcome it and no longer be defined by it. Let’s be shameless women and set ourselves free – together.