Blood is thicker than water. That’s what they say isn’t it?
You can always count on your family. They say that too.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s a particular favourite isn’t it?
Am I allowed to cry bullshit on behalf of those that can’t?
I have friends who over the years have shared stories which are beyond my comprehension. Not just because of the abuse involved, but because of the response they received from the people they trusted to help them.
Here’s a sample from my own circles –
One friend told her mother when she was about ten that her brother was sexually and physically abusing her and her mother replied ‘Boys will be boys’.
Another friend in her late teens told her mother that her father had been sexually abusing her since before she started school and was told ‘That God forgave him so she should too.’
One told her parents that her grandfather had raped her during a sleepover and her mother said ‘If you tell your friends nobody will want to play with you.’ She was six.
One told told her parents about how her grandfather had been abusing her and was told to keep it quiet ‘because she would never get a husband if they found out she wasn’t a virgin’. She was 12.
One friend told his mother that her boyfriend had raped him while she was away and she kicked him out of the house for being gay. He wasn’t. He was 13.
And the stories go on. In the cases above – the expectation was on the survivor to maintain a relationship with their abuser and say nothing.
Their families were outraged when they spoke up eventually. When they were adults and found the strength to fight back.
But strangely, they were not outraged at the abuser. Not at the guilty party. Not at the person who violated the child.
“How dare you air the family’s dirty laundry like that?”
“How dare you?”
“Who do you think you are?”
“What will people think of you?”
And most importantly – “what will people think of us????”
When you’re told something like this for the first time, you feel that the person telling you must have got it wrong. Surely they misunderstood? Surely the mum meant to say ‘God might have forgiven him but when I get my hands on the son of a bitch he’s not going to have a penis any more?’
Or words to that effect.
Or even if they got it horribly wrong when they first heard. Shock. Denial. Anger. They can cloud our thinking, impair our judgement. Surely, once they had a think about things, they’d apologise and support them. Give them love, shelter them, remove them from risk. Support them. Get them professional help. Report the abuser.
Help them to understand they they have nothing of which to be ashamed?
In these cases. Not once. Not once.
“Get over it”.
“It happened so long ago.”
“What difference will it make?”
“How do I even know this shit is true?”
In all of these cases, as angry as the abuse makes me, the element that gets me inarticulate with rage, shaking with impotent fury, is the response of the families and the burden on the abuse survivors not to shame the families by seeking justice, or speaking out in any way.
Perhaps that is now in part because I’m a parent now myself and I think I would be incandescent with anger and a desire for justice if my child was hurt in any way. But in truth, the fury was there when I heard the first of these stories over twenty years ago.
I don’t even like the polite word ‘abuse’. It sanitises rape, sodomy, incest, paedophilia, violence.
It essentially means that we can trivialise somebody’s experience so it’s palatable to us.
But why aren’t we focussing more on the people that have suffered the abuse? If we silence them, if we disbelieve them, if we don’t give them an audience or a voice, they continue to suffer.
They continue to take responsibility for a series of actions which are not their responsibility. We become complicit in the abuse. We help perpetuate the idea that this is something that ‘just happens’ or people can get away with.
We play the shame game.
Which makes us collectively a pack of arseholes.
It’s not a comfortable truth but I think we are all probably complicit in the shame game at times. Whether it’s the lingering attitudes of previous generations, ingrained misogyny, a lack of equal experience, not knowing that the right thing to say is, whatever – we silence people.
I don’t have the answers but I do know that it needs to change. I do know that my friends and the horrific number of people just like them, need to know that they can yell as loud as they like or whisper quietly if they will, but that they are not alone.
They are not to blame.
They have a right to mourn the loss of their childhoods.
They have a right to seek justice and tell their stories.
And most of all, they are loved.
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