Silence Protects Abusers
What if every survivor of sexual abuse picked up the phone, called their abuser and confronted them like this woman did?
What if we confronted perpetrators over the phone, hit record and then You Tubed the response? That would be a lot of signals carried by cell towers, countless phones ringing in living rooms, offices, schools and churches.
90% of the 25% to 33% of adults sexually abused during childhood know the perpetrators. They aren’t random criminal monsters but teachers and relatives, ministers and coaches we often know by name who were our caretakers as children. What it we all had recorded proof that our own families and friends and larger society could not dismiss or minimize and would have to confront directly and immediately?
We might live in a different world and one safer for children.
The problem for many survivors isn’t that they don’t know where their abusers are or how to reach them but that they feel shame for having been abused, for being unable to protect themselves or others, that they were guilty of, well, being children, innocent and naive, gullible and exploitable.
What has kept so many of us quiet isn’t that we don’t know our abusers it is that we do and we might have liked or loved, trusted or admired them even as we despised being molested by them.
When I was in my early twenties, I started therapy, talked about my abusive childhood and the frequent chaos and neglect. A few sessions in, the therapist handed me a claim for insurance and on it I was to write the diagnosis for which I was seeking treatment.
Instead, I wrote the first and last names of the three family members who molested me and handed it back.
“You can’t do that,” she said.
“But that’s why I’m here,” I said.
She nodded but explained how the insurance system worked and that a diagnosis was needed for me to get insurance coverage.
But car insurers looked at fault and determined liability so why didn’t medical insurers want a context? It made no sense. I pointed out how my perpetrators weren’t in jail or therapy and how my getting treatment wasn’t going to change their behavior.
I argued that from a strictly financial standpoint if abuse isn’t prevented, it’s going to keep happening, and it’s cheaper to find and treat the abusers than the people they abuse. Wasn’t it known that abusers abuse and will keep abusing. If it happened to me it would to many others?
Prevention 101 or so I thought. But part of the problem is how prevalent the problem is and how often it occurs. Doctors and therapists are child protection social workers may be the only ones who aren’t shocked or surprised by the statistics when it comes to childhood sexual abuse.
The general population recoils from any discussion of as though shaking the head in shock or disgust does anything to make our children safer.
As a new mother, not leaving my child at a lunch table alone in the Children’s Museum in Boston, my social worker friend laughed at my over-protectiveness. “You think something is going to happen to her here?” she said.
Even me, as a survivor abused in my own bed, home and my step-father’s car bought into the myth that the predator is some sneaky stranger in public and not the trusted coach, step-parent, teacher or priest. But it’s their familiarity which makes them dangerous and gives them access to the children they abuse.
In some ways I miss the indignation of my youth when I felt outrage on my own behalf and didn’t know that one in three or four of us have been abused and thought what happened to me, when known, would cause shock and action.
I look back at the twenty-two year old in therapy who knew that treating my anxiety was necessary but would only help me and do nothing to help prevent others from being abused. What happened to her as I aged? I miss her anger. Her outrage. The feeling that what happened to me was wrong.
Where was the outrage, not just for me, but for all survivors getting a clinical diagnosis for the crime of being children impacted by the violence committed against them as children? It seemed unfair to receive a disorder rather than a badge of courage for dealing with abuse when those that committed it weren’t in treatment or in jail?
I understood why it would be hard to speak up in families where abuse took place but why was the silent so prevalent everywhere else? The lack of general outrage injured me because it made me believe “it’s just me” and the “it’s just me” personalizing of a problem is what keeps so many shame-filled and symptom suffering.
In fact, the believing it’s just me is what made me lose my anger, feel even more shame and decide, I’m just not strong enough and too screwed up, messed up or impacted while others seem to manage better or heal more quickly, silently and better. Maybe it’s not what happened to me that is the problem, I bought into more and more over time and kept having to wrestle with but me, something in me that attracted the abuse, the same thing that makes it difficult to get over.
I spent more time analyzing and blaming myself and less time upset that abuse happened at all, to me but also continually, to children.
We can learn from Jamie Carillo who insisted on justice. When told, once she was ready to file a criminal charge against her abuser, it was too late because the statute of limitation had run out, she made a phone call on her own behalf and demanded accountability.
She got what every survivor of sexual abuse deserves and rarely gets: the truth to be known, justice served and support to be provided. But most importantly, she used her to voice to make sure this teacher couldn’t stay in her job with easy access to other children.
At my core, I knew what this twenty-eight year old must know, and that is that what happened to her wasn’t right or fair and needs to be kept from happening to any other children.
She didn’t say, “It must just be me,” but wanted to make sure others were safe.
I was not so brave. I did not out my abusers. I did not file charges. I hated on myself and waged a war with my own pain. I joined the blame the victim culture and pathologized and marginalized myself.
I accepted a diagnosis in order to get more sessions back in 1992. “Generalized anxiety” would get coverage my therapist explained though post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was more accurate. I went with PTSD because I wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to lie or manipulate the system.
But I was mad and wanted to write my insurance company and tell them it felt unfair to be labeled when it is healthy to deal with issues and trauma. I didn’t. That was twenty-five years ago and it’s still difficult to be an incest survivor. There is a stigma to having been abused. No one is rushing to get the incest survivor bumper sticker even though. It’s not a resume builder or an asset for a match.com profile.
Many survivors have problems with trusting, doctor’s appointments, child birth, parenting, sex, The Change and many issues related to the body, sex, intimacy and trust. However, we aren’t usually chatting openly about our survivor issues and the medical or psychological or interpersonal issues that result because that’s too “victimy” or shameful and who wants to be “negative” or clinging to the past?
And that is why this woman’s You Tube confrontation has gone viral and is so jaw-droopingly brave. She delivered her own justice and broadcast it without apology. She protected others from being victimized and reminded survivors everywhere that we are not alone. She told the truth and it made a difference. She gave us a real-life example of what not taking on the shame of the abuser looks like in action.
And that’s why, today, you’ll find me running victory laps around my living room, jumping up and down and high-fiving the computer screen watching this video.
Jamie Carillo’s words and actions have made me braver and my bravery is important because abusers love shame and they silence. Silence protects them.
But they don’t need our protection. Our children do. Remember, 1 in 3 (or 4) are being abused still by people they know in their homes and schools, churches and families.
For more on preventing childhood sexual abuse:
Note: I didn’t write alleged abuser because in the telephone conversation the woman accused of abused acknowledged that it happened, was wrong and said as a school administrator she herself involves law enforcement when the same accusations are made.