What Now? Dealing with the aftermath of Abuse
As I have followed the uncovering, stories and confessions in the Larry Nassar case, I am reminded that the pain on sexual harassment, violation and assault and violence, is long lasting.
First let me say to the victims, families, the network of professionals in this industry, our heart goes out to each and every one of you that have been impacted by this unconscionable crime. We will pray for the long journey of healing that will begin for so many, knowing that no more girls will be hurt by his hands.
The access this man had for so many years to innocent girls is horrific, but not unbelievable. Sexual abuse, sexual violations to our body, harassment and violence almost always is caused by someone you know and / or trust. In the case of children and teens, these trust relationships are reinforced by parents, peers and our community, leaving us very vulnerable.
Abuse is often prompted by power and control. People in prominent positions, positions of authority either because of their education, experience or expertise often gives way to blind trust. Now we have hundreds of victims, parents, and a community in shock, disbelief, and feeling responsible because they recommended this ‘monster’ and held him on a pedestal. The National Sexual Violence and Resource Center states, “The majority of sexual violence is committed by people survivors know and trust. People who commit acts of sexual violence sometimes abuse celebrity or authority status and the illusion of trust that comes with it. Each of us has a role to play as a bystander to intervene to stop problematic and disrespectful behavior.
People who sexually abuse can have strong social ties in the community. We must continue to hold those who commit sexual violence accountable, regardless of their position in the community, their power, their fame, or their wealth.”
My heart breaks for the parents of the victims…
Kristin Myers-Chatman, mother of Chloe Myers recently wrote in a letter to the NY Post so eloquently put, “We, the parents, unknowingly entrusted our most precious daughters to someone, who on the surface looked like a lamb, but was really a wolf in sheep’s clothing,”… “I am here to tell you that not one parent knowingly allowed their child to be abused – in front of their own eyes, no less,” Chatman wrote. “We, like our girls, were blinded by the success, accolades, charm and warmth of the doctor. We, like our girls, developed a trust that ultimately was used to manipulate us. And while we were not directly assaulted, we carry the pain of our girls with us every minute of every day. We, more deeply, carry the guilt of not stopping it from happening. The ‘what-ifs’ are overwhelming.’”
Missing the warning signs is a problem, but so is the secret shame surrounding sexual abuse, violence and harassment for those that have been victimized. Even for me, when I wrote the words: sexual harassment, sexual assault, I stopped for a moment and thought about the times I had been harassed and assaulted before the age of 20. I too had an experience with a licensed professional counselor that I saw as a teenager. He eventually moved himself to the ground with a pillow, and then asked me to join him. Then he would ask me to kiss him – he told me this was all part of the ‘therapy.’ Disgusting, wrong and criminal.
- We need to ask how we can change the culture to be more supportive of survivors.
- We must continue to hold those who commit sexual violence accountable, regardless of their position in the community, their power, their fame, or their wealth.
- Understand more about sexual abuse and violence. Here are five main types of sexual violence:
- Rape – attempted or completed unwanted penetration
- Sexual coercion – unwanted penetration that occurs after a person is pressured in a non-physical way
- Unwanted sexual contact – unwanted sexual experience, acts, touched, fondled, grabbed
- Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences – unwanted exposure of another person’s body parts, forced to see sexual acts of another, in any way the victim feels unsafe
- Being made to penetrate someone else – victim is made to engage in sexual acts with another person
- How to help a friend:
- Believe survivors when they disclose. Many victims of sexual abuse and/or violence are often not believed when they come forward. They are often discounted or asked why victims didn’t speak up sooner. It takes an incredible amount of courage for a victim to come forward. We need to ask how we can change the culture to be more supportive of survivors
- Listen to their story. Give them time to verbalize the experience, talk about the trauma they experienced and are feeling. When someone is in trauma they may sound confusing, all over the place, and have difficulty putting events in a logical or chronological order. This is normal because of the way the brain responds when someone is in trauma. Giving them time to speak about what they remember. Listening to a person’s story validates them, their experiences and can make them begin to process the traumatic experience.
- Search and find resources they can use or someone they can talk to
- Emergencies call 9-1-1 or call your local law enforcement
- Sexual assault help line 800-656-4673
- National sexual violence resource center: https://www.nsvrc.org/
- Seek professional help from a licensed counselor or therapist
- Seek medical help or legal advice
- Find a support group for survivors of abuse and violence
- Check back and ask how they are doing. Victims of abuse often process their emotions and feelings over long periods of time because of the intimate nature of the crime or experience. It is not uncommon for years to go by before a person really begins to remember and process the experiences. Blocking the painful memories is often the body and brain’s way to survive and cope through a difficult memory.
- Don’t try to force someone to ‘move-on’, ‘get over it’, or tell them to ‘forgive and forget’, or that they must have had something to do with it. Be supportive, encouraging and allow for the victim to work through their steps of healing in their time. Remember victims are victims – it isn’t their fault. Forgiveness is an important part of the healing process, but in the right time after working through many levels of the pain. Never tell them it is required that they must seek reconciliation with this person as a part of their forgiveness journey.
Again, my heart breaks for any victim of sexual violence and abuse. I stand too and say Freedom for all from abuse and violence #MeToo #Nomore #YouKnowSomeone. If you have ideas on how we change the culture and want to spark a conversation, let’s start talking today. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some stats that might surprise you:
- 7 out of 10 sexually assaults happen by someone we know. Source
- Nearly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience some form of contact sexual violence during their lifetime
- Most female victims of rape 79% experienced their first rape before age of 25
- 35% of females and 28% of men raped as minors were also raped as adults
CDC.gov The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2014
National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) https://www.nsvrc.org/
NY Post. Feb 9 2018. How Larry Nassar Molested My Daughter Right in Front of Me. https://nypost.com/2018/02/09/nassar-victims-mom-sickos-a-wolf-in-sheeps-clothing/