In reading over some of the entries and comments from the first carnival against child abuse, I was struck by the juxtaposition of two things. One, a comment listed in the carnival by Carolyn Lehman:

“You can never anticipate the aftermath of speaking out.”

The other from a post on Sonnie Daze which talks about numerous situations where an abuse victim was simply not believed, and which includes this quote:

“Again the question comes to me, why on earth would anyone tell, when this sort of stuff happens.”

It’s a valid question. But let’s look again at the other quote. You can never anticipate the aftermath of speaking out. Part of the aftermath is the immediate reaction of the person, or people who hear you. They are simply another human being, bringing their own ideas, fears, and predispositions to the discussion. As an adult, we learn that the one thing we can never be responsible for, is how other people act, or in this case, react.

As a child in a currently abusive situation, it’s my opinion that you should keep telling people until someone believes you. The adult survivor in me, however, knows just how difficult that can be. But that’s not what I want to talk about exactly.

As that adult survivor, I realize now that disclosing the abuse is much more about me, and my need to have that information out there than it is about anyone else who happens to hear it.

Not that I go around introducing myself as a survivor of child abuse to everyone I meet, but with close friends, or in certain situations, I do feel like that is an important part of who I am today, and it’s something that will come up if I spend enough time with people. It’s important though, that telling other people about it is always my choice, and it is always done because it is something I want them to know. It is never, EVER, done to elicit a certain response, whether it be pity, sympathy, discomfort, or pure disbelief. I do not know how the other person will respond to information like that, and I have to be prepared emotionally for any and all responses. If I am not prepared, if my relationship with this person has not developed to a point where I can accept any response they may have to my past, I have no business talking about it. It is not their responsibility to give me the reaction I desire.

I was not responsible for what happened to me as a child. That is always the first hurdle we must get over as survivors. I find that often the second, and even more difficult, hurdle that we face is accepting that while we weren’t responsible then, we are responsible now for our own health and well being. Who you disclose your abusive past to is a very personal, private, decision. I’ve felt honored that so many people have been willing to share it with me, and talk about their childhoods with me, and I’ve tried my very best to always react in a loving, accepting way. That reaction, however, is my choice. No one gets to take that choice away from me. Not any more.

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  1. Yes. You really got to the crux of the matter. No one wants to disclose and then be seen as a Pitiful Victim, Damaged Goods or whatever other stereotype a listener might carry.

    I think there is a social stigma to being the victim of a sexual crime. People carry it around and they project it on others. As a survivor, I had internalized it for years.

    But once I got past that, once I realised that any shame belonged to the offender, not to me, I felt very differently. It was easy to see that sexual abuse is something that happened to me, a part of who I am, but certainly not the biggest part. What matters are what I do with it and all the other choices I’ve made with my life. That’s who I am.

    There is a risk to speaking out. You certainly want to choose the right times and places. But the risk is incredibly worth the rewards. People’s lives are changed when they realize they are looking into the face of another person who has experienced this and who has shed the shame. (For the book Strong at the Heart I used photographs and real names for this very reason, to destigmatize being a sexual abuse survivor and to show us as we really are–normal men and women, boys and girls who have faced this and come through it with lives of our own.)

    What really got to me in interviewing teens for the book is that they disclosed sooner and had better experiences in doing so than people a generation ago. And the teens received great support from other teens. I think as this subject comes out of the closet, things are changing quickly and for the better.

  2. Thanks for submitting this post for inclusion in our second edition of the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. I think it’s so cool that it was inspired by the carnival’s first edition! I’m so glad that we blogging survivors can support each other, inspire each other and make each other think! Hey, I haven’t forgotten that you’d be willing to host one of the carnival editions. I think we’ve got hosts for Aug/Sept/Oct (I haven’t even gotten around to them with their host info–I’ll get caught up eventually). How would you like to handle November? I’d be happy and honored to see the carnival hosted at your blog. Just let me know when you get a chance.

  3. Good post. Things have changed. Kids today are more likely to be believed and I’m so glad that’s true.

    Your post also made me think about how important it is for us to build up our own sense of self and work to see ourselves as strong and capable and courageous so that we are able to handle whatever reaction we get when we tell.

    Sometimes it’s wisdom to recognize that this person or that will not be able to handle what happened to us. Or that it’s not right now the most important thing for them to know about us. And it’s important to know when it does matter to tell.

  4. Interesting points in your post. I haven’t really thought about why I tell some people and why I don’t tell others. I guess I am afraid that they think of me differently. That I am weakened or vulnerable when I protray myself as really strong. Obviously I am both.

    Many people have said they feel unqualified to offer a reaction to my childhood experiences. I try to reassure them that I don’t need a reaction as such. I’ve just got to a point when I want them to know who I really am. Some people can handle it and some can’t. I’ve more than accepted that. It’s fine. I’ve just wanted them to know because I am holding back from being the real me.

    Blogging about everything has been very strange. A lot of people I know read it and many do not know any of my past. I find it telling that the people who comment are 95% people I do not know personally. I quite like that.

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