Over the past week, we have seen lots of stories coming out of Hollywood regarding the way women are treated in the film and television industry. There has been a dark cloud hanging over this industry of inequality in pay and roles and now, clear and factual revelation of sexual abuse and abuse of power. All of these issues make me sad and angry for the obvious reasons, they are unfair and disgusting. But my heart is having a harder time processing the comments made about these stories. Comments like, “Why didn’t these women say something right away?”, or “If it was that big of a deal at the time of the abuse, they would have told someone”. These types of thoughts are why women don’t say anything, because they are dripping with doubt right off the bat. The truth is, when people are traumatized and abused, they often find the smallest spark of strength to tell someone and the first person they tell, usually someone they trust, snuffs out the spark with questions and comments that relay a message a doubt in the person telling their story. For many people, me being one of them, that sends the strongest message that it is not safe to tell and, that though I was the victim I must have played a part and therefore my abuse and trauma hold no weight.
When I was 14 years old I lived in Anchorage, AK with my mom. In her group of friends was a man her age who was the boyfriend of my mom’s roommate. I knew him well, he was in our home all the time. I felt totally safe around him and had nothing but good experiences. He was funny and kind and really just what I thought of a really great guy.
I left Alaska after a year and then went back once I graduated high school at the age of 17. I was excited to see my old friends and get reacquainted. My mom didn’t have a roommate anymore, but her circle of friends hadn’t changed. So I started looking people up and going to visit. I went to visit the friend I had known a few years previously and I was so excited! I went to his office at work and we got all caught up. It was great, just like old times. Then something shifted.
I got up to leave, feeling like our visit was over, and he walked over and shut his office door. He came over and gave me a hug, pinning me to the desk. He then proceeded to tell me how much I had changed and how pretty I was, what a beautiful woman I had become. In his office, in a public space, he woo’d me and assaulted me. His words sounded so loving but his actions were so violent. I left feeling almost drunk and numb. I couldn’t wrap my brain around what had happened. The dichotomy between his words and the tone of his voice and his actions with his body left me traumatized and confused.
I remember driving around for a while in a fog. I had no ability whatsoever to process what had just happened. The first person I told was my mom because who else would or could I tell? I don’t know what I was expecting but I know that the reaction I got silenced me and shut me down completely. I remember she kind of looked at my strangely, got a little put-off and said, “Well, what did you expect? You’re not a kid anymore, you’re almost 18 years old. You should have known that you have changed a lot and that he would notice.” Silence. Darkness. Deeper trauma.
Two decades later I had a similar situation happen with a friend. His words were loving and kind and I trusted him. We laughed and joked and had fun, until we didn’t. The words and the actions didn’t align and I felt myself transported back to the 17 year old as I was again sexually assaulted and again left stupified. Only this time I didn’t tell anybody. This time I had all the language I needed to place the blame solely on my shoulders and bottle it up. Silence. Darkness. Deeper trauma.
God is so good though. He brought me to a small group almost 30 years after my first trauma and in that safe space, I was able to share both encounters and the people around me were able to speak light into that darkness. They helped me see that in both cases I was the victim and held no responsibility. Wow! Voice. Light. Freedom. Healing. All of those years, carrying that heavy weight, and God took the load off of me.
Here’s the deal, when someone tells you they have been assaulted or abused, don’t ask them to prove it. Listen. Ask what they need. Ask how you can help. Just be present. Whatever they need, do it. Encourage them to get help. I don’t believe my mom meant to add trauma, I believe she thought she was trying to help me. But what I needed was an advocate, because a couple hours after a trauma is not a teaching opportunity. Women, and I’m certain men as well, lose their voices easily so don’t for one second discount the abuse just because they didn’t scream what happened from the rooftops right after it happened. It’s not that simple so don’t ever even entertain that the abuse wasn’t traumatic just because no one called the police. Every time that gets spoken or written, another victim stays in silence.
If you carry the weight of uspoken abuse, will you please seek help. Seek out a friend. Seek out a pastor or priest. Seek out anyone you think can support you. If you don’t have anyone, please go to http://www.rainn.org and they will help you find someone in your area to speak with and it is predominately free. Don’t carry this burden any longer because it as never your burden to carry. Please invite God into the pain with you, He wants so much to bring healing.