Thousands of survivors of childhood sexual abuse and women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted were emboldened last week. On Monday, a Huffington Post entry communicated that the “#MeToo quickly became the top trending Twitter hashtag” as sexually abused and assaulted women were emboldened to inform the world that they too had been affected by this blight. According to the Huff Post, the first round of #MeToo was initiated by Tarana Burke in 2007. The trending last week began with a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano who followed the suggestion of a friend that “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
While I am glad for the recent emboldening, I continue to be saddened by the shame that silences so many survivors of childhood sexual abuse and other forms of sexual assault.
Three reasons why it is difficult for survivors to #MeToo
Here are three reasons why it is so difficult for women and men to disclose the sexual abuse that has been inflicted on them.
1. The “grooming” of the perpetrator
In childhood sexual abuse, grooming refers to the subtle, intentional, and manipulative conditioning of the victim for the inappropriate and insidious advances of the perpetrator. For example, simple touches over time transition to more sexual strokes. Or, secrets are concocted that form the framework for the bigger secret of keeping the victim silent about the abuse.
But the perpetrator also grooms his or her community. Whether it is an achieved status or charming personality, the goal of the perpetrator is for the community to think, “he/she could never do such a thing as sexual abuse.” Having groomed the community, it is possible for the perpetrator to be respected before ever being suspected.
Sadly, when childhood sexual abuse is disclosed, the innocent survivor is too often suspected of lying or blamed for having done something that prompted the abuse. The threatening nature of disclosure for the survivor of childhood sexual abuse is like climbing a spiral staircase – it is impossible to see what is ahead. Consequently, disclosure is always risky for the survivor.
2. The shame inflicted by the abuse
John Bradshaw in his book, Healing the Shame That Binds You, describes shame as “a deep cut felt primarily from the inside. It divides us from ourselves and others.” Shame and guilt are two different experiences. The survivor of childhood sexual abuse is not guilty, yet is filled with shame.
Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.” The wrong done against the survivor inflicts them with the taunt that they are wrong.
Therefore, the survivor is silenced by a shame that drives them to isolate themselves from others. They are paralyzed by a fear that “if others really knew me, they would see how dirty and damaged I really am.” Disclosure of the abuse feels like a disclosure of their soul and is deemed too risky.
3. The threats of the perpetrator
The threats of the perpetrator silence the survivor as well as the shame of the abuse. If the abuse occurs within the family system, the perpetrator imposes lies upon the child victim.
- If anyone finds out about this, it will ruin our family.
- If you tell anyone about this, I’ll need to leave and you’ll never see me again.
- I’m doing this because you are special. This is our secret.
- This is really your fault.
If a family friend inflicts the abuse, the threats are similar. The child is warned that some harm will come if the secret becomes known.
Hearing the disclosure
If a survivor discloses to you their childhood sexual abuse or having been sexually harassed or assaulted, the good news is that they probably felt safe enough with you to disclose the trauma to you. Sense of safety is a prerequisite for disclosure. Your response to the disclosure(s) plays a key role to their future health.
It is therefore vital to understand the characteristics of disclosures when they are given. Be watching for my next blog in which I’ll identify common characteristics of disclosure from someone who would say, #MeToo.
Mazza, E. (October 16, 2017). #MeToo: Alyssa Milano’s Call For Sexual Abuse Victims To Come Forward Goes Viral. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/me-too-victims-come-forward_us_59e4271ae4b03a7be5817b3f