One of the “advantages” of being a writer who writes about his traumatic experiences with mental illness is that many people open up to me about the pains they’ve gone through.
I am simply amazed at how many people have gone through horrific trauma in their lives. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve met who have been raped, abused, manipulated by moral crooks, gone through moments of mental instability (to say the least), or been through other traumatic moments. It’s come to make me realize just how much is hidden underneath the existence we’ve come to think as “normal.”
I actually find their opening up to be amazing, not a negative thing. Any trauma can be addressed. Any pain can become a source of growth, even if the scar always remains, even if every time we touch it we wince. And opening up is a sign of that growth.
But there is something else I’ve seen, something that has caused me enormous pain among that beauty.
The world still has not become a safe place for them to be open.
I often imagine to myself a world where my friends felt comfortable enough to share their pain with the world (if they so wished): a world that would understand, or try to understand. A world that would embrace them. Care for them.
What a beautiful world that would be.
That’s not the world we live in.
We live in a world where 68% of rape victims don’t accuse their abusers. Why? Many reasons, but a big one is the very real feeling that the world will shame them if they come forward.
And you know what? Maybe they’re right to feel that way. From college campuses to the world of celebrity to religious communities, there seems to always be a backlash against those who come forward. Whether it be about rape, abuse, or any other trauma.
And so the people who speak up are thus doubly brave: for overcoming their own shame, and being willing to confront the shaming of the world.
The reaction to the abused speaking up, of course, has improved steadily for decades now. Awareness, more people speaking out, and general societal education has improved so much.
But what is old still remains. What is entrenched is still deeply embedded. The reaction, whether it be the vocal minority, or an entire community, is one of utter fear and paranoia. Anger, vitriol.
A person speaks up about abuse, and they are accused of everything. Accused of lying, trying to profit off of someone else. Accused of trying to start a “lynch mob.” Accused of being the actual abuser. In more sheltered societies, they are actively intimidated, attacked, and ostracized.
This is a reality, not something I am making up or imagining. My friends who have spoken up, those brave souls, have all in some way experienced this. One only needs to search Twitter for the word “Cosby” and you’ll find this in droves.
It does not matter if the person they speak up against is a celebrity or simply a man living his life. It does not matter if they’re accused of rape, manipulation, physical abuse, or anything else. It does not matter if the abused does not even mention who has abused them.
“We are not the judges!”
“You have no proof!”
“Why didn’t you speak up earlier?”
“Innocent until proven guilty!”
“You’re evil, a liar, you’re out to get something.”
No matter how much progress we’ve made as a society, these voices ring loud and clear, are legitimized by others, or simply silence those who want to support the abused.
I’ve often wondered what I would say to such people if I ever confronted them, was ever faced with them.
I think I would say this:
Do you know how much more pain you are causing? Do you know how much these people are going through? How much they had to overcome in order to finally speak up? Do you know how small of a minority they are, how unlikely it is for someone to say anything at all? Do you realize that this is part of their healing process?
I would say: you are the second abuser.
No one says we have to take an abuse victims’s claims at face value. But they, most often, are not speaking up only in order to be believed. They are speaking up in order to be heard, to attempt to be understood. To start turning the world, “society,” into a community of support. They want to help others like them. They are not vengeful, they are healing.
And your voice, it does not have to be the way it is if you don’t believe. Accusatory. It can be questioning. Open. Thoughtful. Interested in being educated and entering the mind of someone whose experience is so far removed from your own.
I would say: You do not need to act the way you do. You choose to. You are choosing, knowingly, to hurt this other person. Maybe you are afraid of facing a world where abuse, trauma, and manipulation are the norm for so many, so you’d rather turn the abused into the abusers. Maybe you truly think such people are out to destroy the world and others.
Whatever your justification, your shrill voice is the knife in the dark that attacks when a person finally decides to come into the light. You should know that. You should know that your words are not without power. They are extremely powerful. And their power is what has caused the abused to be silent for generations. Their worst nightmare is reliving their past abuse and then being told that the dark voices in them are right, that they deserved it or that they were really the guilty party. Or to simply be unheard, misunderstood. Better to hold it in, better to hide it, they think.
I would say: Even if 99% of the abused speaking out were lying or misguided, that would mean there is a chance that they are honest, that they are right for speaking up. That means that your words are hurting someone more than you an possibly imagine.
Hoepfully the juries, judges, and laws will catch up with the world, will provide the closure victims need and the safety to speak up. One day. But they do not, not for many. And someone’s guilty or innocent verdict does not change their need to be understood, heard, and accepted. It does not change the fact that they may want with all their hearts to protect future victims of those who have escaped the justice system.
And most of all, most of all, it does not change the fact that we have a responsibility to make a space for them to speak. Whether they be flawed, perfect, angry, emotional, calm… it does not matter. They must be heard. They must feel safe. It is the least they deserve.
I would say: society does not need to be this way. The world does not need to be this way. And it starts with you.
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