The Abused, their confessions and the vital importance of “we believe you” (Part 1, Content Note)
Please be aware, a very personal post will follow this intro. If child abuse is a trigger for you. Please be prepared.
When I was 5 (possibly 6, it’s still blurry), I was sexually abused by an older boy on our estate. It involved touching, and significant other experiences I find impossible to put down onto paper. He was at least 12 when it first began, I know this because he went to “big school”. It carried on to a lesser and greater extent until I was at least 9. As is the way with piecing together repressed memories, I know it was around then, because that’s when he suddenly disappeared. He was an only child, he was a bully, we all feared him but we all followed him around like the little rats in the tale of the Pied Piper. Two other people knew, my younger brother and another boy from the estate, I believe it was happening to the boy too.
I forgot it, literally pushed it away to some hollow nook where you can’t see or hear, or feel. When I was 13 I remembered, suddenly, one night. It was the first time I’d attempted touching myself intimately, the minute I did, I remembered. Like a flash, like a slap. And I simply didn’t know what to do with myself. My immediate reaction was that it couldn’t have happened, that my mind was playing tricks, that I was confusing it with other memories, that I was going mad. But as it came through thicker and faster I knew it was real and I knew I had to confess, I had to tell my mum, I had to “get it off my chest”. I felt hot and cold, I shook for days, my mum, dad and brothers in turn all asked what was wrong, all wanted to help. They thought it was school, they thought it was “boys”. They didn’t understand.
It was an impossibly heavy burden to carry, that feeling that I had done something SO bad, that I was so filthy, so wrong, so beyond repair or forgiveness. It took me at least a month of feeling this way, to build up the courage to tell my mum. When I did, she cried, she held me, I could feel the tension in her arms, in her back, the anger emanating, but I knew it wasn’t anger for me. I knew even at that young age that the anger was for herself, for her perceived failures. She said and did the right things – there is no blueprint for this, but her reaction for me was right. She told me I wasn’t to blame, she explained what had happened was never, could never, be my fault or my responsibility. She held him accountable fully. She asked what I wanted to do, if I wanted to take it further, asked if I wanted my dad to know, she gave me the power back-she gave me choice. I did tell my dad, with my mum holding me. He cried, he shouted, he punched a wall. But he ultimately accepted that I didn’t want to retaliate, I wanted forgiveness to help assuage my guilt and that was enough.
Every day there are stories in the news, high profile cases of abuse, it’s endemic it would seem and it garners many responses. “it’s so long ago, why dredge it up now”. “They’re only after 15 minutes of fame”. The people making these comments thank God, must surely never have been on the receiving end of childhood abuse, if they had how could they possible be so naive as to come out with such all encompassing statements.
Firstly, it can take years for these types of abuse to surface, it took at least 8 years for mine, the mind protects in an incredibly complex way. Secondly, the guilt, the shame, the lack of confidence that you’ll be believed is palpable, it takes an incredibly brave person to own up to this type of experience, 15 minutes of fame is so far from what anyone would be looking for, from what anyone in that situation would want. I mean honestly, give me their names, these “fake victims” I can’t name one. Not overly famous are they?
The best that we can do, as the madding crowds looking in on this shameful period of history, our history (which incidentally is also still operating in our present), the only thing we MUST do is to automatically believe, to give our complete, unequivocal support to those coming forward. To NEVER judge, to ALWAYS put their view forward as the truth and to promise that we as those consumers of the tabloids, of the daily fodder of opinion and judgement will be on their side and will not waiver until all those responsible for these heinous crimes are held accountable.
If it’s true that so many sat back and let this happen, turned blind eyes, dismissed confessions and pleas for help then it is the very least we can now do.