When abuse is revealed, one of the most common things you hear is “but they are such a nice person, they couldn’t have done that”. Case in point, look at how people responded to the allegations of sexual assault towards Bill Cosby. People started attacking the women who were speaking up, defending Bill Cosby. They based their defense on a character from a TV show, they don’t even know the man personally. You have seen this in other media news articles as well.
The same thing happens when an abuser is exposed. The community has not seen the abuse. In fact, in some cases, individual family members have not seen the abuse – it is so well hidden and family members are so well isolated that they cannot see the abuse being inflicted on the other members of the family.
When I was a young girl, our family was a prime example of this. We were popular, lived in a fancy house, had extravagant toys, entertained friends, and were well thought of. To the community, we were the poster family of happiness and success.
Within our family, we were divided, isolated from each other. Our bedrooms were even spaced out throughout the home, even though we could have all been put in the same area. Lily was the favored child. She received gifts, affection, praise, and more. We were envious of her.
Lily was an abused child.
I’ve already shared that I broke the silence in Why Talk about Abuse?, but I was the only one and the result was to have my credibility denounced at every opportunity. Every hint of falsehood was embellished and blown out of proportion. I gained an unfair, and untrue, reputation of being a liar. In addition, he also had Lily denying any abuse was happening, thus causing a further breach in our sister relationship. In order to build on that breach, he compared me unfavorably to Lily, he praised her and criticized me, he went out of his way to spend more time with Lily, and finally, he physically separated us when our parents separated.
It is hard to speak up about abuse. It is terrifying for any victim to give voice to their deepest shame, but especially for a child. Lily was 3 years older than I was and had been sexually assaulted by our step-dad from the time she was 6 years old. By the time I spoke out, she was 11. By the time I spoke up, she had spent five years having Dad sexually assault her. He would go to her room when the rest of the family was asleep. He would take her to work with him. He would choose her to sit in the truck with him on road trips while the rest of the family stayed in the camper section.
Lily did not remain silent. While I was being disbelieved and discredited at home, she told a close friend. Her friend did not know what to do so she asked her mother and they decided to record Lily’s story. Once they had the recording, this friend’s father decided they would not do anything with it, it was not their business and they should stay out of our family affairs, they did hold onto the recording, however.
Lily was 14 when our parents separated. Dad wanted her with him, and he had destroyed her relationship with Mom, me and our brother so she went. For another three years, she lived with him, suffering abuse at his hands. Finally, her (secret) high school boyfriend realized things were not as they seemed.
Around the same time, the mother of Lily’s childhood friend reconnected with our mom and finally shared the recordings they had made years earlier. Mom took the recordings to the police and an investigation was begun.
Lily discovered the investigation at school when a child of the social worker involved told her. She had found out at the dinner table when her parent told the family. Lily told Dad, and he sent her home to Mom. I have never understood why he did that. When Lily arrived, she admitted the abuse had happened, telling people who were defending Dad. She also fought with Mom and ran back to her boyfriend.
When Dad learned Lily was returning to her boyfriend, he threatened the life of her boyfriend if he showed up at the bus depot. As a result, the police showed up in plainsclothes, along with Lily’s boyfriend, Dad, his sister and mother. Our aunt approached Lily and asked if it was true, after Lily confirmed it she left with her boyfriend.
Dad was subsequently arrested for the abuse. When he was released on bail, he sent his mother and sister home and then went home and committed suicide.
The abuse was over.
The abuse is never completely over.
People still refused to believe our Dad could do those things.
Along with sexual abuse (and physical abuse) there is always emotional abuse. The emotional abuse lingers long after the abuser is dead, arrested or otherwise out of your life. There will always be the messages ingrained on the heart, there will always be the lies running through our heads that this was our fault somehow, that there is something innately wrong with us. Along with those struggles, it is hard to believe that no one did anything when we revealed the abuse.
There is nothing, EVER, wrong with the victim of abuse. The age of the victim does not matter, the blame lies solely with the abuser. When a child is the victim, this is triply true.
Lily survived. Lily did not become an abuser.
It is an awful, horrible excuse to claim that abusers become abusers because they were abused. There is some proven truth to the statement but it is not the root cause of abuse. Abusers become abusers because it gives them power and control. When abuse is kept silent, when the victim never speaks out, when the victim is never believed, the chances of them becoming abusers is amplified, but never is that guaranteed. If this false belief was true, there would be far more abusers, until everyone has been abused or becomes an abuser.
Let us treat victims with dignity, with respect, with belief. We must watch every word, every question in our investigations and responses to ensure we do not blame the victim for the abuse they suffered. Abusers reveal a different personality to the world around them that is contrary to what the victim has experienced. The person they know is not the person everyone else knows.
There is a safe place.