They’ve Told You…Now What? Part 2
It happened: Someone you love and care about has disclosed sexual abuse. You have supported them though some healing already: Remembering the abuse, finally allowing themselves to believe it happened, and the confusing nature of grieving loved ones lost in the battle of finding their voice. Now, you are faced with a newer path on this journey of healing: The survivor’s decision to break their silence outside of the privacy of home. As significant others of survivors, we have to remember that sexual abuse breeds in secrecy and thrives on silence and complicity. Without sharing openly, your loved one will continue to suffer with the terror all alone. Finding their voice and speaking openly about what was done to them is critical in order for survivor to heal. Whether to one person or to thousands, the most important thing is sharing the truth with others who listen, support, and validate them.
Some survivors find great strength in support groups, art therapy groups, and individual counseling. Hearing from others who have been abused or who are experts on trauma reminds survivors they NOT alone; There are other people in the world who understand what they have gone through and what they continue to struggle with. This is a powerful way to break the silence and normalize the conversation around abuse.
What is unique about support groups and therapy is confidentiality. This means that survivors can speak openly without the fear of what they say being made public. Professionals are bound to confidentiality and many support groups agree to, “what is said in group, stays in group”. This allows survivors to feel safe speaking out loud without the fear of everyone in the world knowing what they are sharing. Remember, survivors are learning to trust again and create healthy relationships. Survivors learn coping skills, find the courage to speak the unspeakable, and begin to see how resilient they truly are. Breaking silence can begin in support groups and counseling…but some survivors find themselves wanting more.
Breaking silence can become more than just a step in the path of healing. It becomes the foundation of advocacy, inspiration, and change. Rather than stopping at personal healing…soe survivors of sexual abuse want to help heal the world. The survivor may speak at Take Back the Night Events, participate in organized art shows, create movements, and even educate children on sexual abuse through creative and engaging curriculum. This level of sharing could reach millions and inspire countless victims to ask for help. It is cathartic for survivors to be candid and share what they were taught to keep a secret. Speaking publicly lets other survivors know they are not alone in their struggle and there is still life and love after trauma.
As the significant other of a survivor you will have to manage your feelings and confront the beliefs you have about sharing sexual abuse publicly. Some people believe this is “airing dirty laundry” or “making people uncomfortable” or even “changing the way people see you.” Please understand you are allowed to feel what you feel but you are not allowed to silence them or quiet their voice. The amount of determination and resiliency involved in getting up again and again to help others is something we need in this world; We know millions of men, women, and children are still being sexually abused and forced into silence. Breaking the taboo of discussing sexual abuse will bring those victims into the light and onto their journey of healing.
It can be exhausting supporting a loved one on their healing journey. You did not abuse them yet you are present with the survivor’s trauma symptoms and the confusing path of finding their voice. We ask that you support the survivor but also take care of yourself and your needs. Reach out to a counselor when you feel overwhelmed. Speak up if you feel that you and your needs have taken a backseat or been ignored in order to focus on the survivor. This process require patience, balance, and honesty. Remember that the person who disclosed to you is still that same person, but now you know them in their entirety. They have determined you are a safe person to go to, a safe person to rely on, and a safe person to help them break the silence.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor, welcome to another Be Seen and Heard© Journey. Thank you for being here with me today. We are continuing last week’s conversation on the topic of They’ve Told You Now What? In other words, when a child finally has the courage to share, what do the support system, the trusted heroes and the trusted adults, how do they respond? Well, I can only talk from my experience and my experience was overall a really good one. My family was very supportive. They were very caring. They were there for me, but it doesn’t always work that way. When someone is being abused within the family, when the child finally has the courage to share, a lot of times the family members deny it. That in itself becomes an abusive situation because they don’t believe the child. Well, I’m very grateful I didn’t have to deal with that.
I was believed immediately. And even though my family didn’t ask the right questions, their heart was in the right place and they were very caring and supportive. And ultimately we talked about it. And one of the things that I wanted to do was to go talk to a professional. I always tell this to children that when you tell a trusted adult many times a trusted adult is not going to be that counselor. They’re going to be the grandparents or the parent. And so they’re not going to necessarily know what to do. So you have to be proactive and say, okay, I think I need to go tell a school counselor. And I am in full support of talking to therapists and psychologists and counselors in general, because I think it’s really important to keep talking and to process it and to really do a self reflection and to figure out how to heal.
And one of the things that I did was to write a letter to the abuser. And I’ll never forget this. I wrote the letter and we were not going to send it, but the fact that I wrote it out and all my feelings came out. All of a sudden it became a realization that I had something inside of me that I wanted to share. And that writing turned into many poems and those poems turned into lyrics and the lyrics turned into songs that ultimately help kids to believe in themselves and to feel good about themselves. So out of the pain of being abused was a therapy and a decision to create out of it. I do believe a certain creative piece can come out of any past pain.
And what I ultimately did was not only go to therapy, but the beginnings writing and journaling. When I finally went to college to finish my degree, I started dedicating all my projects on how to deal with my abuse. I had to do a public service announcement on something to help people. So I thought to myself, if I were to create a billboard on the side of the highway, do something that would help someone who had been sexually abused. So I came up with this, I’d like to share it with you. I did all the photography myself and I actually used family members to be my models. But this is what I did. I took the pain of being abused and I never dismissed it. I’m not saying that you just forget about it. In fact, I turned it upside down and said, you know what? I’m not going to be defined by it. I am now going to turn it into something that I can create out of it. And I’m a firm believer in that and I’m a supporter of that. And that’s what I tell kids all the time.
I think it’s important that we believe the children. I think it’s important that we listen to the children because again, I grew up in an environment where I was told I should be seen and not heard. We turn it upside down and we say, you know what? Every child deserves to be seen and to be heard no matter what is hurting them. So with that being said, I want to thank you so much watching the video and listening to the podcast. Please take a moment and share this with family and friends. Thank you.