Sex abuse survivors need to be believed and supported
What happens when sex abuse survivors spend years trying to tell others of their abuse and it is met with deaf ears? What happens when family and friends turn their backs and ignore the abuse?
In the next personal story, we will read a response to an article I posted about Lorraine. IncestThrowaway1983 responded to Lorraine’s story sharing her personal story on Reddit and gave me permission to share it here. While reading this personal story, I’d like you to consider what happens when one spends a lifetime holding their dark secret alone. More importantly, what would have been the outcome had someone believed and supported this survivor?
IncestThrowaway1983’s Personal Story
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said,
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35
I contemplated posting this under my regular Reddit name and I just couldn’t do it. I want so hard to embarrass the crap out of my family, but I still have this lingering shame inside of me, like I had done something wrong.
This isn’t a problem that is only for Christians. I mean while my family, which was involved deeply in politics in our home state, would profess Christianity behind closed doors, they were anything but.
It all started when I was seven. I had been orphaned at 7 years old and my brothers and I went to live with my grandparents. That was the summer everything started. My older brother began molesting me. He went to live with his father during the school year, but every summer up until I was 10, he would do deviant things to me.
I happened to have seen a special report on Nick News about molestation and realized suddenly and all at once that what had been happening to me was wrong. I felt it was wrong but couldn’t really put anything in words about how it was wrong.
So, I worked up some courage and told my school counselor. My family went thru the motions doing everything that the cops had them do. But every time they brought it up, it was, “You’ll laugh about this in the future,” and “You just have to get over this.” Come to find out from my younger brother, they believed I made all of it up.
They’ve hated me ever since. I finally got the balls to confront them about it when I was banned from coming to a family member’s funeral, but my rapist older brother was allowed to come. I mentioned how is it that I wasn’t allowed to come, but that my rapist brother was? And they said, “You really need to stop all that.” My grandfather, before he passed, told me that he didn’t believe that it had happened because I should have said something sooner.
And according to my younger brother, the ones that did believe me thought it looked bad on my family, and that i should have just kept it in the family and never told the school counselor, and because of that, I was (I’m paraphrasing her) a jerk.
All this is to say, it’s about keeping up stupid appearances, not religion. It’s about people who have this ridiculous belief that appearance is more important than truth. That it’s trivial – that what happened to me and others like me doesn’t have far-reaching consequences.
As a result of all that, I ended up with a bad drug problem, PTSD, self-harm issues, anxiety and a low self-worth. I still struggle with knowing if God loves me. I’m the only real Christian in my family and I’m probably the least sure of God’s existence. After all, I wonder where was He when those things were happening.
All this is to say, religion or none, it’s not about that, it’s about people who care more about what it looks like than what it actually is. (Source)
In both personal stories, we can see a common denominator of people who failed to help, listen, and believe these sex abuse survivors. These young ladies did not have advocates for them. They had to wrestle in their minds the messages that others told them.
When people don’t believe survivors, sometimes survivors ask themselves if they did something to cause the sex abuse. They might ask themselves if they were imaging it. Or they may question whether they could have done something differently to prevent it. And sometimes, they will begin to doubt their own recollection or reality of what happened to them. The inner turmoil a survivor must deal with can be paralyzing.
People I knew, loved, and trusted failed me.
Although I was not a sex abuse survivor, I was a victim of child abuse at the hands of my father who legally adopted me (now deceased). He physically beat me from the age of 3 until 19 years old. I’ve shared parts of my story before. While some of the pain had to deal with my dad using me as a punching bag or an object to kick around, the most emotionally painful part of the abuse had to do with people that I knew, loved, and trusted who failed me, who turned the other way, who dismissed my story, and who defended my fun-loving dad instead. The real kicker for me was dealing with my mother, whom I adored. She stood by her man instead of defending me. Coming to grips with that shocking realization sent me on a very dangerous emotional downward spiral. It took several months of therapy to process that painful hurdle.
Untreated abuse can cause harm for survivors, the emotional toll sometimes lasting for years.
Are you seeing a pattern here? All three of us had trusted family members who did not believe us or help us. Some of our trusted family or friends actually put blame on us. All three of us – abuse survivors – have had to deal with difficult mental health issues which were diagnosed years after the abuse.
Untreated abuse can cause harm for survivors, the emotional toll sometimes lasting for years. If you recall, Lorraine has dealt with PTSD, anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder, anxiety, and depression. IncestThrowaway1983 has had to deal with the challenges of drug problem, PTSD, self-harm issues, anxiety and a low self-worth. I was diagnosed with PTSD and after treatment, recovered from it.
We absolutely must get rid of the wrong message of “mental-health-equals-Satan” stereotype that many leaders in the Christian church have spewed. The idea of forgiveness and repentance is appropriate when it comes to our spirituality, but when it comes to living a life where one needs to be able to trust again, to risk, to be intimate with others relationally, it’s going to be difficult to be a whole and healthy person without some help recovering from these damaging abuse issues.
There are a lot of messages that abuse survivors tell themselves in order to survive that pain. There are many techniques abuse survivors learned to protect themselves from harm or potential harm, and those methods no longer work; in fact, they can be detrimental in current-day relationships. How to respond appropriately to perceived threats need to be relearned, and with the help of skilled mental health professionals, people can get back on the right track and be free from the extra emotional baggage.
How You Can Help
Will you please be an advocate for survivors? Here are some ways you can help survivors:
- The most important gift you can give a survivor is to believe them.
- Encourage the person to get help from licensed mental health providers skilled in abuse issues.
- If you know a crime was committed, report it to authorities. You can report anonymously.
- Keep checking in with the survivor regularly.
- Give of your time and let the survivor share their story without prodding.
- If the survivor says untruths about themselves, putting blame on themselves, tell them the truth, it wasn’t their fault.
- You do not need to have answers, the best gift you can give is a listening ear.