In my experience, when a conversation regarding domestic violence begins, people get uncomfortable. The taboo on speaking of abuse has not fully faded away. There seems to be a fear that speaking of abuse will expose it, hurt, or encourage dissolution of marriages. People are afraid that those who educate on domestic violence matters will see abuse where it doesn’t exist.
Educating on domestic violence does not mean that we are looking for abuse where it does not exist. It does not mean we WANT to see it. It does not even mean that we expect to see it. Educating on the signs of abuse will not cause abuse to happen.
So, in the face of these fears, why would we keep talking about it? Why do we need to keep talking about it?
We need to talk about domestic violence because it IS happening. Because abuse exists and it will not stop until it is brought into the light. Speaking about abuse is the only way we can end domestic violence.
When I was about eight years old, my family traveled to visit relatives a few hours away from our home. While we were there, Lily and I began exploring the woods with our slightly older male cousins. At some point in our adventures these boys took us to a shed and decided to sexually assault us. I remember watching Lily be assaulted by the older boy, but I think the younger boy “chickened out” before ‘fully’ assaulting me. We told our step-dad what had happened and he confronted the boys with their father and they were disciplined.
On the way home, my step-dad chose me to ride in the cab of the truck with him while the rest of the family rode in the truck-bed camper. I felt special – he didn’t usual choose my company. During the trip, he forced me to perform sexual acts on him while he drove, and told me not to tell. I later told Lily and she just told me that he did it to her too and we shouldn’t talk about it.
On Sunday mornings, our entire family would gather in Mom and Dad’s bed to snuggle, wrestle, talk, etc. Not long after the “incident”, I didn’t want to join the family. I wasn’t comfortable being that close to Dad, but I didn’t want the family to know why either. I didn’t want to get Dad in trouble. I tried to say I wanted to read my book, but they wouldn’t believe that was the real reason. Eventually, Mom pushed and pushed until I finally told her what Dad had done on the drive.
Mom confronted him immediately. She demanded to know if it was true. He denied it. I told her Lily had told me he did it to her too… and I remember Lily hiding behind my bedroom door, denying she had said anything like that. Mom believed his denial over my accusation.
From that day forward, I was known as a liar to my family… but I don’t remember him ever touching me sexually again.
Speaking up stops abuse.
It’s not a happy story. It’s not a pleasant memory. My sister was sexually abused by him from the time she was 6 years old until she finally decided to speak up at the age of 17. When she finally shared the story, when she finally admitted to his abuse, she set in motion a series of events that would lead to her escape, our step-dad’s arrest, his release on bail, and his suicide to avoid going back to jail. The story finishes with speaking up. Speaking up is the end of abuse.
We cannot speak up if we do not know how to recognize abuse – either in our own life or in the life of someone else.
This is why we educate on the signs of abuse.
We educate to save lives.
We educate to save souls.
We educate to stop abuse.
We need to take control of the power of our voice.