When a child is molested or an adult is raped they are rightly told that it’s not their fault. However, it is far less common to then point out what they can do different. What steps they can take so that it’ll be less likely to happen again. It’s in this place that many of us survivors of sexual abuse are let down and tend to harm ourselves even further. If it isn’t our fault, and there are no steps we can take to avoid it happening again, then the world is frighteningly dangerous and unpredictable. And it has chosen to hurt us specifically.
My step-dad (who we all called dad) molested me when I was twelve. I knew it wasn’t my fault, and I knew that if I told my mom she would not only believe me, she would also make it stop. But I also worried that telling my mom would mean ruining our family, and that a strong girl could keep her mouth shut. I mention this because no matter how sincerely you tell a victim that they are not to blame, they’ll find something to feel responsible for; so it’s important to give them more.
After my step-dad came into my room a second time I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle life in our home if I didn’t tell my mom. Plus, by then I’d started to see other things he was doing inappropriately, even outside of the midnight molesting. It took some time and an unlikely segue (my mom told me I needed to keep my room cleaner and so I yelled at her, “Well maybe if someone would stop sneaking into my room at night to touch me, I would!”) but I did disclose the happening, and she did believe me. She also made it stop and we spent years learning about the cycle of abuse.
After I told my mom about the molesting our lives did change. For my mom it meant taking care of eight kids (six adopted, four on the spectrum of autism) by herself, but with a freedom to learn and teach and become who she’d always wanted to be. Life was much better, but it was also harder. Learning what you could have done different is important, but it hurts. Because before you learned, you made dangerous choices. My molestation wasn’t my fault, and it also wasn’t my mom’s fault, but we both could have made choices that would have kept it from happening.
This is what we are afraid to tell victims, because it sounds dangerously like blame. But it’s not blame, it’s knowledge and power. And if we care about victims then we need to be strong enough to listen, believe, and then let them hate us while we reveal what habits they can change to stay safe. In truth, it is the victim themselves who will have to discover their own habits that need changing, but a friendly push in that direction is often needed. And potentially lifesaving.
Think of it like this. You’re driving to the mall and sitting stopped at a red light. The light turns green, you go, and some distracted dork runs the red and hits you. The accident is not your fault, but you’d be a fool not to change a habit. From now on you’ll hopefully look and assess before going through the green, even though it should be perfectly safe. Likely you’ll also start wondering if maybe the accident was your fault. Were you distracted and thinking about that purse you want to buy? or the hot guy that works in the shoe department? Truth: it was not your fault, but there are things you can do different.
When I was twelve, all I had to do was tell my mom about my step-dad’s lingering looks and touches that had begun to happen at bed time, and he never would have actually molested me. This is true, because my mom would have kicked him out. And if my mom had taken the steps to learn why she had been raped, molested and beaten as a younger woman, she never would have married my step-dad in the first place. [Please note: In the case of children being abused, this is a much bigger challenge. Often they do tell and are not kept safe. As they grow-up they’ll likely be told they were not at fault while they drown in emotions and memories that try to say otherwise. So learning about the cycle of abuse and how to make safe choices remains a valid point.]
Please, if you are a victim, if you know a victim (or an abuser!) speak up and out. Don’t blame, but don’t ever be afraid to see what can be done different.
The world is full of all types of kind and cruel, and though it isn’t your place to judge which is which in the lives of others, it is your place to judge for yourself. It is your right to keep yourself safe. You are your most important responsibility. Love yourself, respect yourself and take care of yourself. Almost always that means taking the time to learn from yourself, revealing what you can do different.
It’s not your fault.
Now, discover what you can do different and take control.
*If you are looking for help or information, please reach out. RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) is a great resource–my mom, Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD, is a speaker for them. They are knowledgeable and kind. They understand and have answers.