This week a firestorm broke out with women and men across America joining in on the #MeToo movement. On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano tweeted; “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” The point was simply to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem. Multitudes of people responded by posting #MeToo on several social media sites, and then it happened… victim shaming, but, of course. Even the men who spoke up and came out in support of victims were targeted. They were accused of being disingenuous, and were even called “creepy” by one television commentator.
I noticed several women had taken the courageous step to post #MeToo on Facebook only to later remove it from their page. My heart ached deeply for each and every one of them. No, I don’t believe the abused owe you their story. I do believe, however, they should have the love, kindness, support, and space they need to share their story as they choose and in the timing they choose. I also firmly believe that if we (society) remain silent and continually refuse to address this issue we are as much a part of the problem as the ones inflicting the abuse.
We are conditioned to be fearful to take a stand. We are conditioned to be ashamed. We are conditioned to believe it is our fault. These messages get reinforced with injustice in the courts and in the media. Mistreatment by investigators. Silence (and cover ups) by leaders and those in power. Religious misconceptions: Eve broke Adam. Purity is the greatest gift you could give to your future husband. Women are seductresses. Women are weak, emotional, and irrational. Women are driven by feelings and not logic, they don’t know what they want. This is all nothing more than social conditioning. Don’t let it win.
What happened this week is what always happens. Those who have been victimized are not surprised. Albeit, disgusted and disappointed, but not the least little bit surprised. What happened in response to the #MeToo movement is what happens every time and is exactly why people of abuse don’t report, stay in the shadows, and stay silent.
Everyone is up in arms about how no one was reporting on Harvey Weinstein, but that statement is factually false. A woman, a very strong woman, did report, REPEATEDLY. The same is true with the Bill Cosby case. These women were ignored. Their careers derailed. They suffered personally and financially. But, why? Because they SPOKE UP. The actions against these women didn’t come solely from the abusers but from society as a whole.
Over my lifetime I have met countless women who have been sexually abused. Most of them have never shared their story. Most of the women have disclosed to me what they fear is their deepest, darkest, ugliest secret and they haven’t even told their spouse. But, why? Conditioning, culture, fear….
Let me share with you just some of the possible reasons why victims aren’t allowed to speak up:
- They fear no one will believe them. Abusers profile and select victims whose credibility will be questioned. Manipulation of the imbalance of power and equity.
- They fear they will lose credibility as an individual. Maybe the abuse happened long ago and they have moved on with a career and family. They may worry it will taint them individually if they now disclose the secret. Why drag old skeletons out of the closet?
- They fear their spouse, family, friends will not understand. Maybe they fear others will see them as broken or damaged goods. Somehow the shadow of the abuse will always loom over them.
- They may worry that others will think differently of them. No longer see them as smart or capable or strong. They may worry that others will avoid them or no longer know what to say to them or begin to interact with them differently.
- They may fear that other people will want to know details, forcing them to re-live and be re-traumatized by the abuse.
- They may fear that others will accuse them of “making it up,” or one of my personal favorites, “misunderstanding what occurred.”
- They may fear that others will make fun of them. They will become the topic of gossip.
- They may fear that others will accuse them of just seeking attention.
- They may fear that maybe the nay-sayers are right, maybe it is their fault.
- They may have a need to protect someone they care about who may still be close to the abuser.
- They may fear losing their job, losing their spouse, losing their friends.
- They may fear being isolated or alienated.
- They may be embarrassed, ashamed.
- They may feel they won’t get any help, so why bother?
- They may feel it probably isn’t serious enough to report. They trivialize the abuse just as they’ve been taught to through social conditioning.
- It’s personal. They may believe they can handle it alone and so it’s just better to keep silent and move on.
- They may love or even be married to the abuser and fear being seen as a failure if they leave or end the marriage.
- On some level they may even believe they actually deserve the abuse.
- Maybe they tried to disclose before only to have those attempts met with scorn.
- They may just be afraid.
To those who came out against Sandusky, to those who came out against Bill Cosby, to those who came out against Harvey Weinstein, THANK YOU. Thank you for standing your ground. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for being a voice. Thank you for not giving up.
For those who can’t tell their story, no worries, no pressure, and no fear. Your survival must be your first and foremost priority. Turn off the television and social media if you need to. Give yourself permission to walk away and find peace where you can. If the world won’t provide you a safe place to turn, please accept my apologies on behalf of us all. Take whatever steps you need to protect yourself, and just know you, my friend, you are not alone.