One of the things that often goes unmentioned and even forgotten, is how sexual abuse doesn’t just effect the victim for her lifetime, but for generations to come. My mother was sexually abused by someone close to her. She didn’t talk about the abuse other than to tell me that I couldn’t have a canopy bed when I was a kid because they give her bad dreams. Come to find out, she was abused in one. She has since passed away after a lifetime of dealing with depression, borderline personality disorder, severe anxiety and often had suicidal thoughts (which she acted on a number of times). I miss her terribly, but I know with certainty she is in a better place where she no longer feels the life time of pain that her abuser inflicted upon her.
Growing up with a mom that suffered sexual abuse brought it’s own struggles. Because of the trauma she endured, she didn’t quite have the capacity to be a mother (or to know that she didn’t have the capacity to be a mother). She was committed to mental health inpatient care units numerous times when I was a kid. Despite her trauma, she did her best and I’m stronger for it, but it took years and years of therapy to get to the point where I am today. I’ve spent so may years being angry at her for everything — having kids, being mentally ill, not putting the abuser in prison where he belonged, making me grow up too fast. Then, there was that time a teenage boy (son to my babysitter) asked to see my privates. I was in kindergarten and scared and I showed him. ME TOO. I mustered up all of my confidence and guiltily told my mom what I did. She said “okay” and I kept going to the in-home day care where he lived. What hurt way more than being taken advantage of at that age was being taught that it was ‘okay’.
I hated my body after that and grew ashamed of it. I developed an eating disorder that lasted almost two decades and spent the same amount of time believing I didn’t have ownership over my body. It left me deeply insecure and unable to have healthy relationships. Men made me very uncomfortable for most of my life. I saw them as potential threats vs allies (even the ones I really liked — except my husband of course). I didn’t capitalize on relationships with girls/women because I had too much anxiety and never felt like I fit in. I felt unhappy and alone for most of my life and felt guilty for feeling that way. Years later, I realized that we’ve all had trauma. Perhaps not sexual, but it’s not unlikely. That is not okay.
Sure, we can all talk about our abuse and I applaud all those who have com forward, but we need to change our whole culture if we are going to fix this. As one friend put it:
Culturally, it starts before your daughter is even born. Men, when telling their friends they are expecting a baby girl often tell each other, “better get your guns ready.” Think about what this actually means. You are accepting that men are creeps and that your daughter will be subject to some sort of predator or harassment. This is not funny. This is not something to laugh about nor congratulate each other on. Yes, it’s your job to protect her from the sad inevitably that someone will likely hurt her one day but this should not be the most defining or anticipated quality about her… give her a chance to show you that she will bring more to this world than physical attraction. Nor is she a burden, something to look out for. She is not the problem to fix. -Rachel Melby
Be conscious of minimizing the issue, by just writing “ME TOO” on social media. Instead, think of what we can do as a members of society, male or female, to shift our cultural beliefs about sexual abuse and mental health because they go hand in hand and they won’t just go away. We need to stop the silence, but more importantly, we need to show up and support those that need it and end the cycle.
Graphic by my friend Max Rosero