******* TRIGGER WARNING*******
This blog post will touch on topics of coming forward, speaking up and what that means as a survivor of sexual abuse/assault. While I won’t go into detail, the topic in itself may be triggering for many survivors. It is not my intention to trigger, only to inform. Continue reading at your own risk.
I’m feeling inspired this morning after I came across a social media post from a survivor seeking advice from those that have come forward about their abuse. This person is seriously considering coming forward, filing a report against her abuser and is looking for support.
My personal thoughts on this matter, I fully support her decision and know first hand just how difficult this is.
Could you imagine if all survivors took immediate action against their abuser(s)? A society where we could come forward, be believed, not have to relive our trauma over and over as we explain in full detail the vile acts that we were forced to endure. A society that wasn’t corrupt and the sexual predators weren’t protected but rather all given a minimum of 15 years in prison with no chance of early release, no special privileges. Imagine if that punishment was universal in every State, Province, and Country. The same sentencing should be imposed upon those who knowingly make false claims. I do imagine this and I think the acts of sexual violence would decrease because of harsher punishments with no wiggle room to bribe down to a lesser sentence.
The reality is, that’s never going to happen. Greed and corruption exist, not all humans possess the qualities of integrity and accountability; sadly I don’t see things changing for the better anytime soon.
The best opportunity for a survivor to come forward is within 48 hours of the encounter. This small window of time is the only chance to retrieve any evidence that may be present/left behind. Having the courage to get yourself (or get someone to drive you) to the local hospital is your best chance to ensure that your abuser(s) gets taken into custody.
Without evidence (physical, video, audio) a witness or another survivor that is willing to speak up, the odds of a survivor being taken seriously rapidly decrease. It’s now a matter of a “He said, She said” scenario and it becomes more difficult to prove/prosecute.
Coming forward is especially difficult if there is a Statute of Limitations that prevents survivors from reporting the crime against them after 7, 10, 15 years after it took place. It is frustrating when we process trauma differently and for many of us, our brain has protected us by hiding that trauma for 15+ years. We weren’t aware that a crime against us had been committed until it’s too late. Where’s the justice in that? There isn’t any!
Coming forward within the 48-hour window doesn’t ensure that the brave survivor is granted a “happily ever after” ending. Coming forward doesn’t just affect the life of the survivor, but in most cases affects the lives of those around them. That idea alone is enough for many of us to not come forward at all, especially when the abuser is a family member.
Does coming forward about the abuse you endured make you selfish? Absolutely NOT!
Does coming forward about the abuse you endured come across as “Seeking Attention”? Absolutely NOT!
Yet so many of us are made to believe the opposite is true. That’s because those that are making us feel that way are scared, afraid and don’t want to deal with the aftermath, the judgments, the whispers, the rumors and the hardships that will most definitely follow.
Should that guilt be enough for us survivors to stay quiet and keep our mouths shut? That is up to the survivor. I can’t answer that and speak for everyone.
I was told that there would be “consequences” should I choose to speak up and tell my “story”. I was 9 years and my mother who walked in on my last encounter with her boyfriend was in complete denial. She didn’t believe me even though she witnessed it happening. I knew that this moment was my opportunity to speak up and tell her everything. That wasn’t enough, she was still siding with “him”. I was told that if I was ready to deal with the “consequences” that she would drive me to the hospital and that I would have to endure some very uncomfortable tests and there would be questions that I had to answer truthfully.
I knew that I didn’t do anything wrong, I wasn’t the one lying to my mother about what she walked in on. I had no reason to be punished. I knew that if I couldn’t prove to my mother that I was telling the truth, the abuse would continue and her boyfriend might actually follow through with the death threats he made against my younger brother and mother. How could things get worse for me than they already were at that moment?
The testing and procedures performed at the hospital to collect the evidence took place, not one of my favorite moments. I still have a hard (emotional) time at every OBGYN appointment some 30+ years later. But I knew it had to be done, not just to prove my abuser wrong, but to help protect myself and my brother from possible harm. Also to ensure this bastard doesn’t hurt another little girl. I couldn’t live with that guilt, knowing that I could have done something and didn’t.
The consequences of coming forward appeared shortly after, while still at the hospital. Due to the nature of the crime, me being a minor and the doctors were convinced that my mother was not going to break off the relationship (they weren’t wrong); Child Services were called along with the local police detectives. Long story, short. My brother and I were placed in foster care that evening. What was supposed to be for the weekend, turned into a few weeks, that turned into a few more months. I entered the foster system at age 9 and never got out until I aged out of the system.
Sure, I pressed charges against my abuser and had my day in court. The evidence was tested and obviously came back as his, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A small victory for me. My younger brother was completely innocent, had never been abused, had no idea what was going on. He didn’t know what was happening or know why we couldn’t go home. I fought for him, pleaded that he should get to go home.
Being 9 years old and not fully understanding the whole picture.
We later learned that our mother was still visiting her boyfriend (my abuser) in prison. It was those secret visits that caused her to lose her parental rights. We were close to coming home (after 4.5 years). After the proof, after all that I endured and sacrificed to protect myself and my brother, this was how I was rewarded. This was my consequence and my brother was an innocent bystander.
Was Justice served? YES. I got to the hospital, evidence was collected and used to put my abuser away for 10 years. One less sexual predator out in public.
Was the outcome what I had hoped? Not in a million years. I can only be accountable for myself, and I did just that. I didn’t do anything to be ashamed of. Just ashamed to have a mother that didn’t believe me and kept putting my abuser before her kids.
My mother has failed me on several occasions, but that’s a story for another day. The best thing she did was to allow me to make my own choice and drive me to the hospital that morning.
While the situations are similar, there are many variables to consider if you are thinking about coming forward/speaking up about the abuse you endured. As much as I love the idea of all survivors coming forward, I know that many can’t, some aren’t aware that they should. All of which is okay, just know that I support your choice.
For anyone considering coming forward:
- Do so when you are ready, not because you are feeling pressured.
- Be prepared to relive your trauma and share your story several times to several people. It’s mentally exhausting.
- Without evidence or witnesses, filing a police report is still helpful. Should another survivor report the same abuser, that might be enough to prosecute.
- Most importantly, Know that you didn’t do anything to deserve this. The abuse you endured was not your fault in any way.
- Start your healing process when you are ready, not because the court mandates it. When YOU are ready.
- You are not alone. There are many support groups that you can join, even online to help you process what you’re feeling. There is no shame in seeking support. Nobody understands better than someone who’s been through it.
- For the Parents of a child that comes forward- bring them to the hospital- be supportive no matter the outcome- Protecting your child comes FIRST- Be the adult they need you to be, hold the abusers accountable, no matter who it turns out to be.
Coming forward and reporting the abuse that you endured isn’t easy on so many levels. The courage and bravery required to speak up doesn’t come easy. When you finally do, it’s possible that your claims aren’t taken seriously or they are dismissed as a misunderstanding, especially without proof/evidence. Even with proof and there is no shadow of a doubt, the aftermath is unpredictable. One thing is for sure, you won’t get a Thank You and your efforts won’t get recognized, because it’s not seen as heroic when it most certainly is.
If the TV and Movies have taught us one thing, it’s that in this world, there are Heroes and Criminals/Villians. Heroes help to put the Criminals away, Heroes protect the innocent. This seems to be an acceptable norm, except when it comes to sexual abuse. Sexual Predators are often disguised, hiding in plain sight right under our noses, posing as heroes. Sexual Predators have infiltrated many positions of power and they use that position of power as a means of protection. Now, these Criminals are able to protect other criminals and the Heroes are the ones that suffer.