Monday, February 10, 2014

When Someone Speaks Up, Don't Silence Them

I can't believe the uproar over Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen is still going on. Some weeks ago, Farrow wrote an open letter confirming the old accusations (dismissed at the time after much debate and media craze on all sides) that her adoptive father Allen sexually abused her as a child. Woody Allen returned saying he didn't do it. People on both sides are pointing fingers and revealing evidence.

And you know the sickest thing about it? It's not how the media are lapping it up like milk, but how it isn't about truth any more. This is, quite simply, about who will live their life in peace (relatively) and who won't. It's about who we can hound and who we can call a hero.

But the debate is bigger than the two people at its center. This has gotten much bigger than Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen. It's no longer about them. This is about everyone who has suffered sexual abuse; it's about whether they can come forward without being thrown in the muck; it's about whether it's safe to share your story, to admit your brokenness, your fear--about whether you'll be questioned or helped to heal.

Sexual abuse is one of the biggest problems of our day. The numbers are staggering. I would venture to say that no one is untouched by sexual abuse today. You can hardly walk into a room without encountering a sexual abuse survivor. If it's not you, it's a friend, a family member, a coworker. Some of them you might know about; most keep it secret.

I can't walk into a room without there being someone there who was sexually abused. That's because I bring her with me. When I was a child, I was sexually abused by someone outside our family. I didn't tell anyone for years and refused to remember. When I had to start facing the PTSD and my issues that were tearing me apart, I refused to talk about it for a long time with anyone outside my close-knit support group and my counselor.

I talk about it now. I finally found peace in Jesus: healing and a reason to stop running. I wanted to share my story so that anyone who experienced what I did could find the same peace.

I began to find people who had suffered similarly to me. They sought me out and shared their stories. I found that the number of people I knew who had been sexually abused in any way was staggering. Verbal assault is almost commonplace, as is inappropriate touching. I found, too, that the number of people who were raped, like I was, was also appallingly large. More friends of mine than I had ever realized. Many in their childhood. Both gals and guys.

Of the many I know, only 3 share their stories openly. One because she had to: her story was dragged out in front of my school and local media while lawyers did their work.

Most people I know who have survived sexual abuse--I say "survivor" rather than "victim" because it sounds strong and not helpless--have never told their stories. This is because sexual abuse takes away your power, your courage, and your ability to connect with others. It leaves you with only fear, weakness, and isolation.

They also stay silent because in our culture, naming the cause of your fear can bring doubt and questioning upon yourself.

The girl whose story got dragged through my town: her sister was my friend. The boy who did it was my classmate. I remember in weeks afterwards being confused and angry at why his friends weren't avoiding him. Some did, but some acted like nothing had happened. My friend, ripped up by her grief over her sister, lost as many friends as he did. Not many people were willing to come alongside her and even say, "I'm so sorry for you." It's like people didn't know how.

I understand that plenty of people don't understand the nature of sexual assault. They don't know what it's like, and they're afraid of it, so they're afraid to ask even simple questions like, "How are you doing?" They're even afraid that asking could be offensive.

But people could've at least not pretended like things were the same and a young girl's life hadn't been torn apart.

I tell my story openly these days. I prefer talking one-on-one where I can explain the difficulties of healing, and help them understand what I went through psychologically and what I'm like now: both normal and not. I like being honest. It feels freeing.

But then, the only person who ever doubted or shamed me was myself. I'm the only one who ever asked me, "Are you sure it was real?"

While I was in the throes of trying to pretend it wasn't, my counselor said something that changed my life:

"Right now, it doesn't matter whether it was real or not. You bear the psychological marks of it as if it were real, and we need to deal with those so you can find peace."

It broke the spell of my self-doubt. I had issues to face. So I grabbed hold of Jesus' hand. At long last, when I was stronger and more whole, I was able to say, "Yes, it was real," without dying inside.

Is Farrow telling the truth? It doesn't matter. If she bears the trauma of sexual assault, she needs love, sympathy, and understanding. Peace.

We need to stop shaming her--and any other person who speaks up about sexual abuse. We need to stop questioning. We need to stop running. I ran, and the truth haunted me everywhere I went. We can't run from the truth.

What can we do?

It's too late to stop the spread of sexual abuse in our culture. It's everywhere. Rape doesn't respect gender, race, location, or socioeconomic status. It has a tight hand around the neck of our future, and the only way we can wrench our future back is by facing the issue and finding help for those who need it. It's the only way we can ever be whole.

Word count: 1,030.

Please share with anyone who is trying to work up the courage to share their story.