Before I begin, I want to say that if you or someone you know has been or is being sexually assaulted or abused, please call the confidential crisis line at 1800656HOPE. this is a national crisis number. The website for the program, RAINN can be found by clicking here.
* I will primarily be using the word survivor, as opposed to victim in reference to sexual trauma. There is a stigma with the word victim, and to me, the word Survivor has connotations of strength and empowerment that are much needed in regards to the situations I am discussing and fit, to my mind, more appropriately. It happens at any age. To any gender.*
In a recent article in the New York Times, Woody Allen’s adopted daughter said a great deal about her experiences with Woody Allen. Her letter appears to be sincere and heartfelt…as well as heart wrenching.
This has sparked a debate on Facebook about whether he did or didn’t abuse her.
The letter Dylan wrote speaks about having to see her abuser’s face plastered on T shirts and bulletin boards. I can not even begin to imagine that. Though she escaped the abuse itself, she faced daily reminders of his power. If what she said is true, he told her that it was a ‘secret.’ Again, that is not something a 7 year old would create alone. Also, I can not imagine that being a detail that someone else would plant. I could be wrong about that in some cases. I am not sure.
Here is what I know. Dylan’s story looks familiar. It looks like the story of millions of men, women, boys and girls. It reeks of fear and abuse of power. It screams of misery and pain. It gnaws at your soul while you are awake and while you are asleep. Abuse changes who you are, especially at such a young age, but at any age, really. It will try to make you feel worthless, dirty, tainted, unlovable, broken. I know too many people that have been affected by this. It happens too often. And god damn it, the person saying that it happened should ALWAYS have the benefit of the doubt. And maybe if more people knew how difficult it is to step through the shadows of the shame and to say “This was done to me” when all that you feel about it is that it is your fault and that this admission to others feels the same as an admission that you are worthless, dirty, tainted, unlovable, broken. If you knew how much courage it would take, at any age, to say that the unspeakable happened to you, maybe more times the survivor would be believed. And the more that we believe the survivors that come forward and embrace them and tell them that they are okay and that they are believed, then maybe, MAYBE more would have the strength to step forward.
If more people knew that most of the perpetrators threaten terrible things if their “secret” gets out, they would realize that sometimes survivors have to walk through the fear that they or someone they love might be harmed in order to speak out. See, that is where the power comes. It comes in secrets and power plays. If your mother is threatened, by speaking out, YOU may be responsible for her getting hurt. And of course, you don’t want to be responsible for that, so you stay quiet.
Or the survivor may be told that no one will believe them if they do tell, so they don’t because what is the point?
Or the survivor may just tell themselves that no one will believe them, so they don’t tell.
Imagine the thing that you have most been afraid of. Imagine your biggest fear. Now imagine that happening every day. Imagine being told that the thing you are most afraid of is a big secret that no one can know. ever. So you live with that fear, daily.
Now, imagine that you learn that you will be cared for and believed. You see someone on television speak out about it. And the response is that they are supported and cared for and sheltered from this fear that has dominated your life. And maybe, you feel a little bit more like you can speak out too. This, people, is what we need to stand for. Not doubting the word of an alleged victim. Looking at someone that has the courage to speak through all the terror they felt and just saying “I believe you. I am sorry.” We need to stand together.
What have we learned in all the horror stories and movies? The bad things like to stay in the dark. Perpetrators of sexual assault are not unlike all the scary things we have watched and read about and created in fiction. They want to stay hidden. They want their existence to stay a secret. They want their actions to remain hidden. That is where their power lies. Well, I for one think we need to pull out the spotlights.
I will start. My name is April and I am a survivor.