*Note: I am honored that Jo agreed to write this post for my Quivering Daughter readers. This is a painful subject not addressed enough throughout Christendom and particularly, among conservatives.
Childhood sexual abuse is a taboo topic, to be never spoken about in polite society. And often, not even among family members and those you love the most. If you are a fundamentalist daughter, this pressure is increased ten fold. Silence is golden is a fundamentalist family, and complete obedience and respect is demanded. To question an adult’s actions is the ultimate in disrespect and disobedience: to the point where your very faith is questioned.
Sadly, childhood sexual abuse thrives in silence. As the daughter of paedophile, I grew up knowing all too well the powers of silence, manipulation and fear. Living, breathing, haunting fear. As a fundamentalist daughter, I also grew up knowing the power of the threat of being labeled as disobedient or disrespectful: and thus, a member of one of them: the worldly, the unsaved, condemned to hell for eternity.
But equally, I knew in my heart what my father had done to me was not right: not in the eyes of God or men. My father was highly respected and active in the church, and I knew that no real action would be taken, if I was to turn there for help.
So, I chose to speak up to the government authorities, and have seen the many and varied impacts my choice has had on my life. In many ways, me speaking up was just as traumatic as the actual abuse. My case was severely mishandled by the authorities from start to finish. My family (both immediate and extended) was destroyed, never to be reformed as it was. My father never served his full sentence (which was small to start with), and now lives in a major city close to schools, parks, pools etc.
So I am well aware as to why people remain silent about their abuse, and keep it tightly wrapped up inside, never to be spoken of again. I can also understand why people don’t report their abuse to authorities.
However, I am firm believer in the power that lies in revealing the truth. It is an incredibly powerful thing to speak up when you, as both victim and survivor, are ready. In my case, the timing may have been wrong for others, but for me, I was at breaking point: I no longer wanted to play the happy family. As it was to turn out, I had to play the game for another 2 years: thanks to incompetent authorities, and a father who was an expert at manipulation and trickery. Those 2 years were sheer hell: I had been promised that if I would speak up, I would never have to see him again. Instead I saw him night and day for the next 2 years. The church did nothing in those 2 years: indeed, it operated a very successful cover up of his actions.
But the actual act of speaking out to my close friend M? Was completely priceless. To be validated and told that yes, I was speaking the truth, and that yes, it had happened to her too is/was an experience that changed my life totally. Yes the 2 years after were hell, but ultimately? When I left home (after which he was finally charged), I could hold my head up high and know that I had done the very best job that I (as a teenager) could do. In saying that, I have a few recommendations that I would make to others that come after me, and that I wish someone had told me.
- Do have a “safe house” option for after you report (trusted friends, family etc) . You may not (regardless of what anyone may tell you) be removed. So plan ahead, and be prepared to put that plan into action yourself.
- Be prepared to be deeply questioned, doubted and ignored, particularly if you have a very well presented family image. The bigger the image, the harder it will be to get someone to listen. Be prepared to tell everything to people who appear not to care. And be prepared to tell it all, in every horrible, horrifying detail.
- Remember that by your actions you may save others that may be abused after you. If someone does molest/abuse/rape you, chances are that they have:
a) done it before to another child,
b) will do it again to another child,
c) or has done it before and will do it again.
- And above all, talk, talk talk. Talk to your friends, talk to your family. What you find out might surprise you. And if someone does try to “shut you up”, talk louder. You are doing the right thing.
- If you are a parent (or any adult), believe your child if they tell you something. Why would your child, any child lie about something so horrible? Particularly if that child has been trained from a young age that lying is a terrible sin, and has little or no knowledge about sexual behaviours? Watch your child: is he/she acting out? Showing an unusual knowledge/obsession of sexual acts/touching? Is an adult showing a particular interest in your child more than usual (ie: at a public event the adult prefers the company of the child, not the adults)? Trust your intuition, both as a parent and as a person. Only 10% of offenses are carried out by strangers : so it isn’t the scary bogey man you need to be afraid of: it is the people you know.
Every situation is different, and these points won’t apply to everyone. But if one person can use what I have learnt, then this post would have fulfilled its purpose.