Stories in media about sexual abuse have seemingly reached an all time high. Some may feel bombarded and unready to deal with the reality that sexual abuse is all too common. I remember a class discussion where I explained black women writers in the 60s and 70s caught a lot of flack because instead of solely talking about the sociopolitical ills of being black in America, they began to verbalize the ills of being black in the home. They shared stories about rape and molestation at the hands of men they knew; men who were supposed to be their protectors and not their predators. Those women writers just wanted to share how they have been victimized, but instead they were expected to be silent. This is still going on today.
While I never had someone try to force me into having sex, as a child and teenager I’ve been abused in more ways than one. When I was fifteen someone more than twice my size decided to open palm me in the face for the umpteenth time. I ran across town in my slippers to my friend’s house in tears. I was tired of being hit in the face and no one would stand up for me. I finally told the one person who was supposed to protect me, to which he replied, “If he ever does it again, tell me.” Again? What about right now?! That day something in me died and the anger I already had inside of me continued to grow and fester. Since the person who should have intervened did not, I decided to keep a pocket knife on me whenever I was in my abuser’s presence so that I could handle things my way. Over time I developed a hardness that I desperately tried to hide from the people who knew me best. I had to let the world know that I was no easy target and if they wanted to get in the ring, I was ready to go all fifteen rounds. It wasn’t until years later when I gave my life to Christ at the tender age of twenty, that I began the self-work necessary to dissipate the anger that festered inside of me so that I would not be consumed by it.
Unfortunately, we may find ourselves in countless situations where we feel vulnerable and that no one cares about our plight. This is why many of us who want to come forward and share stories about being abused choose to remain silent. There is a fear that we will not be believed, taken seriously, or unjustly labeled for telling our story. There is the dread of listeners wanting to sweep things under rug because taking action would force them to upset their own world. Some may even have to confront their own inaction as there are people who know the abuse is happening but are too afraid to do anything about it. However, when the paths of passivity and complicity cross, they lead to a continuation of victimization.
Another unfortunate situation is that for some of us, abuse is so normal that we do not recognize that’s what it is. Consistently yelling, talking to people in a disrespectful manner, passive aggression, name calling, taking and never giving, not honoring the terms of a relationship, mind games, et. al., are all forms of abuse that we tend to accept as normal behavior. We get so used to it that we think dealing with it means we’re tough, when in fact it may mean we’ve become emotionally numb to things we need to feel in order to eradicate them from our lives. I’ve seen with my own eyes what happens when people do not stand up for themselves. Once that door is open, it is hard to close. And on the flip side of that, we must recognize when we are engaging in the aforementioned behaviors as well. We all have been hurt, but we all have hurt people. Everyone has someone to whom they need to say “I’m sorry”. Everyone.
While we should not walk around with a chip on our shoulders and look for reasons to pop off, it is important to let people know that we reserve the right to be respected and if we are not, we will govern ourselves accordingly. Mistreatment in any form is not okay; not even a little bit. Those seemingly small things we let go for the sake of peace can turn into patterns of behavior that may upset our lives for years that we cannot get back. Who knows what life would be like if we had the guts to put our foot down from the beginning, or if someone stepped in and said, “Not on my watch!”
Below is a list of sites for those of you who may have been, or still are, being abused and need to begin the journey to get the help you need:
For all the victims past and present, I pray that you get the boldness to take the first step in getting the help you need. Don’t tuck it away and sweep it under the rug. Abuse in any form impacts us all in ways we may not realize and it’s time to get healed.