I have heard more than once as the stories unravel of Larry Nasser’s abuse to so many young girls over so many years, ‘Why didn’t these girls tell their parents?’ I cannot answer this for the young women who have come forward most recently on the news, but I can answer it as a victim of sexual abuse by someone I knew and trusted myself. I must begin by sharing the emotions I feel when I hear this question is rage and anger towards the people asking it. Behind the question I hear accusations that this was my fault, that I had a way out if I had only made the right decision and that there is no fault towards the abuser or those around him who knew.
We own our emotions, they do not own us. So when I acknowledge that these are my own emotions towards a question that may be innocently asked out of naivety and truly just not knowing what someone who has been abused goes through, I stop and say, instead of being reactive, why not be proactive and share your story to make those who are so fortunate to not know the effects abuse has on someone for a lifetime so you can help society understand so they can be apart of a healing process. Elie Wiesel, survivor of the Holocaust, has said that one who was not there can never truly understand it.
When I think back over 35 years ago to when the abuse began, and wonder why didn’t I tell my parents, my first reaction if I put myself in that moment is the physical and emotional drain the abuse took on me. By the time it ended and I had shedded hours of tears, I just didn’t have the energy or want to go back and relive it by telling someone. Secondly, since my abuse was from someone I thought I could trust, love and look up to I have to think, now as an adult, that this young girl may have unconsciously thought that by telling her parents, who she also felt she could trust, love and looked up to would do nothing or not believe her. Thirdly, if it was happening by someone who should have been a protector in your home, a place that I should have considered safe and secure, I was being taught the only thing I knew. This was my normal. Fear with the thought that no on was going to come to my aid lasted for years and the sense of feeling loved or safe died at very young age for me. Lastly, when I did finally tell my parents the response was unhelpful and damaging.
For years after the abuse ended I felt alone as if I was the only one who had gone through anything like this. I used a lot of energy to try and forget and pretend it didn’t happen. Because of courageous women like the Olympic gymnasts and others in recent years, I know I am not alone. The thought that someone out there understands gives me hope that maybe I can move past this. Abuse not only silences you, but it creates lies inside your head that tell you your voice is not valued or believed. Even years later, I find myself saying why can’t I move on, when will I ever be over this. I blame myself for not having the strength, wisdom, courage to heal. Healing is a process though and it hurts. Facing the demons is scary but necessary to become powerful to overcome. I am slowly doing just this.
No matter what you are facing, I want you to know you are not alone. Feeling you have a safe place you can share and be believed is necessary to move forward and heal. Dr. Langberg states, “To be a survivor is to rise above the difficulty, to move on in spite of pain, to defy the odds. On the other hand, it means living a life that has been profoundly affected by an atrocity. You develop certain thinking patterns to live with the abuse. You create coping mechanisms to horror of it all. It shapes you.”
I hope and pray that I use the good that came from my abuse more so than I do the bad. I am grateful to be a survivor because it has given me tools to be grateful and strong and have grit. I do not give up easy and I appreciate each of the little gifts life offers. As a mother, I am so thankful to choose to give my children a safe and joyful home where there is j laughter and their voice is valued and believed. Instead of finding fault in a girl didn’t tell her parents, I choose to take responsibility to move forward and be a parent my children will always come to in need.