I have spent the best part of my life holding onto this huge secret and if I’m to be completely honest I am not sure if I would have ever spoken out, if it wasn’t forced on me. When my father abused a grandniece, her bravery along with her mother’s drive is what forced the truth to finally come out. Before I spoke about the abuse I believed it was over and couldn’t see why visiting something that happened when I was a child would help anyone. In my mind I had no visible scars, so why make a big deal about it.
The Danger of Keeping the Secret
Back then, I didn’t realise that my secrecy around the abuse I suffered had shaped who I became in the world. I was left with feelings of anxiety, defensiveness, depression, self-loathing and self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours. In my eyes it was easier to deny what happened than to destroy the myth of a life I had created. I had built up an image of a large, happy close family that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Whether or not you consciously keep something secret, the keeping and maintaining the secrecy, uses a lot of energy. I had to eventually face up to my past and make the decision that my energy would be better spent on healing my pain.
I was a mess inside and nothing I did changed that. The anxiety of holding on to the lie was eating me alive. I was trapped in my mind and doing more damage to myself than the abuse ever could.
Time to Speak Out!
With our current Count Me In! Campaign I know a lot of you will be scared at the very thought of sharing your story. However, the campaign does not require you to share details unless you are comfortable doing so. It also does not require you to go public with your story. No one, other than the politicians will either see or read what you have written and even then, you can make it clear you do not want your name to go public.
This is about you taking your power back. You are in control of this process. You make the decisions on how much you tell, to whom, and what they are allowed to use.
More importantly, it is not your shame or guilt to hold, you have held yourself responsible for far to long. It is now time to place the responsibility for what happened on the person/persons responsible.
Reasons for Telling Your Story
Victims of Abuse
For victims of abuse telling your story as part of a larger group of survivors will be more powerful. Some victims making the brave decision to report their abuse have had an extremely negative and distressing experience with the judicial system. So, we want to encourage you to share your experience so that politicians will understand real people stories making it more difficult for them to ignore our demands. You can mention that you are supporting this campaign because you are a member of a group or that you are alone with this pain.
Within your letter you could include any or all of the following:
- I feel so bad for something I didn’t do, and I am tired of holding the pain simply because this country refuses to acknowledge the truth.
- I am unable to access or pay for the necessary supports that would improve my life. Include examples of just how difficult it has been for you to get and pay for support.
- As a result of being abused I suffer with depression, CPTSD, anger management, disassociation etc. You can focus on one or more issues.
- I am still unable to let family and friends know about my past because I am afraid of what they will say, or how they will act towards me.
- You could talk about relationships and how they get impacted by your experience of abuse.
Family Members of Victims of Abuse
This campaign offers an opportunity for all family members and friends of abuse victims to be involved, we can highlight the fact that support is needed for supporters as we are aware it is not only victims of abuse that suffer.
Family members often feel they do not have the right to ask for help as they were not the ones raped or abused. But that is simply not true. No one escapes the impacts of this crime. It is important that family members access supports to help them understand what they are dealing with and how it is affecting them personally.
Within your letter you could include any or all of the following:
- You could talk about who you are providing support to and how that affects you emotionally, physical and mentally.
- If your sibling was abused by a parent how are you dealing with that.
- If it was your parent who suffered abuse how has that affected you. Their experience of abuse will most definitely have impacted on their parenting.
Secondary Victims of Abuse
There are many secondary victims out there and it is really important that they see this campaign as an opportunity for them to use their voice. There are family members, mothers of abused and mother of abusers. Although we are aware there are always exceptions to the rules we are also aware that there is a large number of innocent mothers out there with nowhere to turn.
My mother could not grasp the idea that she was also a victim. She believed she had no right to look for support. This belief was easy for her to maintain as it was supported by societal behaviours and the media. Everyone focused on her rather than my father, the abuser. She like other non-abusing parents have the added burden of being judged by the world. We would love to have them onboard with us. They could make a substantial contribution to this whole area and bring a deeper understanding for everyone of us.
What a non-abusing parent could include in their letter
- The reason I am joining this campaign is my child abused someone when he/she was only (add age) old and a child him/herself.
- Following all the help received we find ourselves ostracised in our community and within our family. This is borne out of the complete lack of understanding about abuse and the many types of abuse there is. Instead people seem too quick to label my child as a paedophile.
- Discuss what if any type of support was offered to you the parent.
- Discuss how other family members have been impacted by the abuse.
- Talk about how you have personally been impacted by your child’s behaviour.
Telling Your Story Helps Everyone
I am under no illusion that speaking about the abuse you suffered will be easy. Sexual abuse continues to be a subject few can handle, most avoid, and everyone is stuck as to how to respond when someone discloses to them.
For me, it wasn’t until I spoke out about the abuse that I experienced the power of keeping the secret diminishing. It allowed me to face the negative effects the abuse had on me, most of them I was unaware of. It also allowed me to see how my silence was protecting the abuser and not me.
I am sure my older children would have no problem describing the pain they experienced in their life due to my smothering them. I believed that my job was to protect them from everything. I know now I deprived them of their freedom and instilled fear in them. I also know they witnessed me wanting to end my own life and how really difficult that was for them.
My children, like all children, took responsibility for what was happening around them and probably believed they were lacking in whatever was needed to make me want to be here. I feel sick about that, but I cannot take it back. I have done everything in my power to reassure them that my thoughts had nothing to do with them. Open and honest conversations is what helped us all to heal. Telling your story is the only way to rid yourself and those around you or the pain you are carrying.
Speaking out might not be the cure, but let’s face, it if we don’t begin speaking about it how can we expect the world to wake up. Take comfort in the fact there are so many of us out there. Discussing sexual abuse can feel awkward, scary and I have no doubt at times it can feel like you are confessing rather than disclosing the facts of a crime. If it was any other crime we would have no problem telling everyone, we must examine why that is.
The main reason for not telling about abuse is the deep belief that all victims of this crime hold about personal guilt and responsibility for what was done to them. On a logical level we know this is bullshit. However, we are not dealing with logic here what we are dealing with is the embedded belief planted by the abuser. Speaking out about our abuse can and will create change in the silence that surrounds this crime. The more of us that speak out, the more difficult it will be to be ignored.
Speaking out will help you shed the shame that is not yours to begin with. It will support and inspire others to do the same. If our speaking out helps even one victim it is a good thing, it will help them understand they are not alone and there is no need to live in isolation.
Sexual abuse flourishes in secrecy and silence, but together we are growing stronger. Speaking out will help us change the myths held around sexual crimes by society. Myths such as, ‘it’s only really bad sex’, ‘it happened so long ago, why don’t you just move on with your life’, there is nothing to be gained by revisiting the past’. Remember your words have power, the power to bring about change on a scale that we cannot even imagine. We have an opportunity to finally bring this generational cycle of abuse to an end.
I am asking you to become part of the force that finally puts an end to abuse and send a very strong message that this crime is no longer acceptable. It can be so empowering to transform your experience of abuse into something positive.
The is a great quote by a comedian called Hannah Godsby that sums up what we as survivors of abuse are.
“There is nothing more powerful than a broken woman that has rebuilt herself”
Joyce Kavanagh- 24th June 2018