I found myself reading this article about Queen Underwood, a female boxer represeting the US at the Olympics earlier today. The headline grabbed my attention, because she is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, but the story actually contained something I don’t see often, although I doubt she is alone in this. She admits to regretting telling her story.
No, she doesn’t regret telling her story because she’s in danger of repercussions from her father, or her family. She regrets it because people made assumptions about her:
A few months ago, Underwood did an interview with the New York Times in which she revealed her father Azzad sexually abused her for years. She described how Azzad would creep into her room as a child and touch her, often taking her older sister Hazzauna off to another room. Later, she said, Hazzauna would return, weeping.
It was a powerful story, made more powerful by a small tour of TV interviews the sisters made. And then, a boxing official says, she came to regret all of it, because instead of being a fighter, she became something else. Something weaker.
“It’s not who I am today,” she says. “People are trying to make connections that aren’t there. I’m strong because of my mindset.”
Now boxing is a very tough sport, one in which you do not want to show any weakness. Most of us will never know what it’s like to step into a ring with someone who’s job is to hit us as often, and as hard, as possible. Given that, I can see why she is offended by anyone who assumed she is a weak victim. She is anything but weak. But it’s illustrative of how we deal with abuse survivors that she has now come to regret saying anything about her abuse, because the general public made assumptions about her, based on nothing more than a news story about her being abused as a child.
I’ve seen the same thing, over and over again, in the Jerry Sandusky coverage. There are a lot of stories that describe for us what the witnesses lives must be like now, what sort of issues they are dealing with, etc. without one of these “experts” actually talking to any of those survivors. There are a lot of well-meaning advocates who feel the need to tell us how difficult life must be for these men, how they’ll never lead a normal life, or that their lives have been ruined beyond repair. I’ve already talked about how dangerous it is to talk about survivors in those terms, letting all survivors think there is no hope of healing and overcoming their past, but there’s another, more personal, reason these statements bother me so much. That’s because, as someone who has been vocal about my own story, I’ve seen lots of people come to this site, and make plenty of assumptions about me, based solely on this one fact of my life. I am a survivor of child abuse.
Other than that fact, you don’t know me. It’s dangerous to assume that you do, and it’s offensive to many survivors to assume that you know them. If the statistics are true, and 1 of every 4 girls, 1 of every 6 boys, is abused, that means there are millions of survivors currently, just in the US. To assume that we all have the same ideas, share the same political affiliations, and have the same opinions about how to protect children and how to support survivors, is insane. We are all individuals, and we are all dealing with our past in different ways, with different results. I try to be welcoming to all different survivors here, and I would hope any survivor blogger, community, website, etc. would be. But, just because I am a survivor, and I willingly share that fact, doesn’t mean you can make assumptions about me. In fact, I’ve been doing this a long time and have seen plenty of assumptions made about who I am, what sort of beliefs I hold, and what my personality is like. Some of them were correct, some of them weren’t even close. Most of them, however, were misguided assumptions based on nothing more than being a survivor.
Queen Underwood and I are both survivors of sexual abuse. You may also be one. Aside from that, we’re each our own combination of many, many, things, and there’s nothing wrong with that.