Hi. My name is Laura. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
I’m seriously considering starting most conversations that way, given the statistics. 1 in 4 women. 1 in 6 men. It’s staggering.
When I disclosed my sexual abuse my parents’ marriage was already fractured and headed toward divorce.
My abuse became part of that narrative. It should not have. It was, or, should have been, a completely separate issue. The story of my abuse, my violation, was hijacked.
Because we were presumed by my abuser’s side of the family (he was my paternal grandfather) to be lying, that we’d been ‘put up to it’, we essentially lost half of our family during a time when our world was already in upheaval.
I lost my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my godfather, my grandmother. I sort of lost my father, too.
His anger was so overwhelming to me. I internalized it, believing I’d done something terribly wrong both by being abused and by telling about it. I remember sitting in a family counseling session and feeling the waves of rage emanating from him. If, in that moment, I could have taken the truth back, I would have- but there are some bells you cannot un-ring. I felt myself getting smaller and smaller, folding in on myself. The origami girl.
That’s how the seeds of shame get planted, friends.
When I was a little girl I thought the sun rose and set with my dad. After I disclosed, there was a fissure. Spending less and less time with him after the divorce, the fissure became a chasm so deep and so wide that it would eventually prove to be not traversable.
My abuse was the earthquake, the ensuing divide was caused by how it was handled.
The timing was incredibly unfortunate. I will never know how things would have played out had my parents been in a healthy, intact marriage, or had they been on the other side of an amicable divorce. What was probably always going to be an unpleasant divorce became downright nasty. Both sides mired in outrage and anger. In my head, the divorce became my fault.
I am grateful to have had a parent who believed me, who ensured my safety in the sense that I never had to see my abuser again in an unsafe setting.
I remember seeing Oprah, this was years ago, talking with someone about how we all know exactly what should happen to sexual predators- that is, until it is our brother, or our husband, or our father-in-law, or our son.
Everything looks different close-up. That seems obvious in the abstract, but it’s true. What happens when both the victim and the abuser are people you love? What happens when the bad news is being delivered by someone with whom you are doing battle? What should be clear lines of action and loyalty become blurred.
It becomes terribly inconvenient.
My abuse was terribly inconvenient.
Thirty-five years later, I reconnected with one of my cousins from that side of the family. Mary, of Dish with Mary, found me on Facebook and almost eleven months ago we compared our stories of abuse at the hands of the same predator. We subsequently reported the crime to the police, wrote about it, and had our story go viral.
I had hundreds and hundreds of people share their stories with me.
We decided we needed to do something with the unexpected platform we were given. We wrote an article for this month’s Boston Magazine about the experience. We formed an organization, Say It, Survivor, which offers workshops for survivors of sexual abuse to help facilitate them telling their stories, on their terms. We are taking our message on the road. We are giving our pain a job. We are passionate about talking to parents about the vital role they play in both the prevention of abuse, and the aftermath once it has occurred.
In most cases, what I hear from many survivors is this- the abuse itself, though awful, pales in comparison to the trauma brought about by the adults in their lives once they summoned up the courage to tell.
If your child comes to you and is brave enough to speak their truth, any response other than belief, support and protection is unacceptable. As a parent, your job to protect your children. That’s the sacred contract you enter into when you bring a child into this world. They come first, no matter what. Even if you are in conflict with your ex, even if you are in the middle of the awfulness of divorce. Even when it’s hard.
Maybe especially then.