Originally posted on April 19, 2009
Richard Jeffrey Newman recently wrote a post about the need to speak out about sexual abuse. His comments are pretty insightful, particularly this portion:
I responded in all the predictable ways–thanking [his former student] for her trust, acknowledging the courage it took for her to speak out, and encouraging her to get in touch with someone about her daughter’s situation, though since I was running out the door, I couldn’t take the time to look up crisis hotlines or other phone numbers–and I am hoping to hear back from her, but what her message made me think about was, as I said above, just how important it is for us as a society to talk openly about the reality of sexual abuse. More, though, it made me think about how important it is to talk about that reality not just in contexts where sexual abuse is the topic–i.e., talk shows, conferences, seminars, etc. that are set aside for the specific purpose of addressing sexual abuse–but also, simply, merely, in the contexts of our daily lives, because abuse is always already part of our daily lives. Because you never know who is listening and how important your words might be to them.
The last comment is one of the reasons why I started this blog. It is very easy for abuse victims to assume they are the only ones this happens to. I think this is especially true for boys and men since male sexual abuse is so rarely discussed and when it is, it does not always get framed as rape or abuse. Even in situations where there is more than one child being victimized, it is still easy for some to believe that only they were ones. As a result of both the abusers’ efforts to silence their victims and society’s indifference, countless people may think that they are some sort of anomaly, someone who deserved what happened because no one else is like them. Knowing that others had the same kind of experiences, that you are not the only one, can help. One a man I met years ago once put it as, “Once I saw other men had it done to them I realized it wasn’t my fault.”
Newman’s second to last comment about how sexual abuse affects a person’s daily live is also worth noting. I think that it is more difficult than people like to admit to imagine what other people’s experiences are like. This probably stems from the fact that our imagination is limited to our own experiences. If a person has not gone through hardship, loss, pain, severe trauma, great fear, etc. what do they really have to use as a jumping board into empathizing with those kind of experiences? Likewise, what if a person has gone through something that they (and many others) would consider worse than sexual abuse? Those two things might explain in part the reaction abuse victims, particularly male victims, receive. To that extent, I am not sure how effective it is to share how sexual abuse effects one’s life. There is also the problem of comparison, something I personally find unfair to the person making the comparison.
When I first spoke to people I did not know personally about my experiences, even without sharing any details I would often hear the men (many of them old enough to be my father or grandfather) writing off their own abuse as trivial in comparison. That struck me as grossly unfair since no two people respond the same way to trauma. What they perceived as me being able to handle what happened was and is more of my own general apathy. I have noticed though that sharing one’s daily life with others, particularly other victims, can be just as depressing as it can be uplifting, especially if the person cannot see themselves as being that capable of managing their abuse in the same way.
That is not to say that such experiences should not be shared. To the contrary, I think it is very important to let other victims, particularly male victims, know that they are not alone. However, I do think that sometimes sharing the daily experience might be overwhelming for some.
On a related note, something else Newman mentioned in his post stood out. He mentioned the connection between his abuse and his writing. I have noticed that is quite the trend among abuse victims. Eventually they seek out some creative method of dealing with their experiences. Newman turned to writing (I suppose I did as well, although I am not particularly good at it). Another person I know turned to art (he did the banner at the top of the page). Others turn to music, such as Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.
I am not certain why this happens, although I think something I heard said on the Lord of the Rings extras might explain it. One of the men interviewed noted that Tolkien’s experience in WWI was such that the professor was compelled to write about it. The man said that quite often when someone needs to come to terms with something so profound they cannot do it directly, meaning that cannot simply speak about that experience. Rather, they fictionalize it, often into grand fantasies, in an effort to understand it. I suppose this may be true for abuse survivors. It may be cathartic for some to express their own experiences. However, for others perhaps they can only discuss them indirectly through poetry, writing, art or music. That may also be why those things are so important to so many victims.