On and off throughout my life I have been known to keep a diary of my struggles with depression and anxiety one of which I published as the book, Diary of Secrets.
So I’m no stranger to laying my life out as an example of what living with depression and anxiety (and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociative Personality Disorder) is like and how I cope or not cope as the case may be.
Interestingly, I write because I feel I’m lead to do so. I have a heart for those who believe a diagnosis of an emotional health illness means that they are in some way less worthy than those who do not. And, I also write for the large number of people, both men and women who have been subjected to sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
These survivors who often struggle with the legacy the abuse has left, not just in a diagnosable emotional illness, but with the shame and humiliation of being unable to protect themselves from the unwelcome and often illegal attentions of others. The feelings that they have somehow ‘submitted’ to unwanted sexual activity and cannot cleanse themselves of the cacophony of emotional responses that cannot, once introduced, be silenced.
In the shadow of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse there is the lingering and much broader issue of ANY Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Whilst we willingly and rightly so investigate the abhorrent behaviour of institutions charged with the care of the most vulnerable members of our communities, we forget that sexual abuse and violence against children in their own home appears far more prevalent. And we are yet to establish an ‘enquiry’ or other vehicle to improve our culture’s attitude and response to domestic violence; our sentencing and parole provisions for sex offenders; or our general attitude to sex and sexuality.
To me it seems an easy (I use the term easy quite loosely) task to point the finger at institutions, tell them they acted unconscionably, and hold them in some way accountable. The current ease of this task is due almost entirely to the victims who would not remain silent on the abuse that occurred and it’s enduring effects. Those people will be without doubt the heros in any positive outcome this Royal Commission may effect.
It seems a little sad to me, that we have forgotten that the precept of family is the care and nurture of each other. Forgotten that our sexuality is a gift for the giving and receiving of pleasure. Forgotten that the human spirit requires attention. Forgotten that the love we desire is for the benefit of others. And, that we are no more or less feeble than our ability to stay strong in the midst of adversity.
For me, my sexual assault at the age of 9 was the result of a stranger coming to the door of my home where I was home alone. This is possibly the most rare type of sexual assault. An unknown (later known and arrested) offender.
Sexual offenders of children are more often family or friends of family. They’re the people we should be able to trust to respect the sanctity of family. They’re the people it’s the most difficult unveil. They’re the people who are able to use the trust and vulnerability of others to select their victims. They’re the people who have the ability to coerce and manipulate their victims because they understand what will motivate and silence their victim. They know what the victim will lose as a result of the crime’s exposure.
Sadly I became a victim of sexual assault a second time during my early teens at the hand of a family friend more than 10 years my senior. I was told during many repeated assaults, “you enjoyed it”; “you want it”; “no one will believe you”; “you’ll be in trouble”; “you asked for it”; And, in my naivety I was unable to refute these assertions. (Not the least of which was my seeming ability to attract sexual attention.) After all, this was a person I loved and respected. I didn’t want to expose him because I genuinely liked him. I was prepared to keep his secret because I was fearful of being exposed as the perpetrator. I didn’t want him to get into trouble. And, if anyone had tried to intervene (as happened infrequently and with greater naivety than my own) I could not admit that it was happening.
Enough about me.
How many children are currently at risk or held captive in abusive situations because they are convinced they will be one found guilty? How many children are reluctantly accepting sexual abuse because they are scared of how disclosure will affect the people they love? And most of all, how can we, as a society respond appropriately and meaningfully to an abhorrent crime that seems to be unstoppable.
I think, like the survivors of institutional abuse, perhaps it’s time for the silent majority of sexual abuse victims to unite in a cause that will assist in defining how our society responds to the coming generations who, without change, will endure the same silent fate as those who went before them.
Today, from the scriptwriters for the movie Fried Green Tomatoes: “A heart can be broken, but it will keep beating just the same.”
If you need to talk to someone NOW call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Deb Shugg is an awarded businesswoman, wife & mother, author and a sufferer of depression and anxiety. .
If you need help to deal with your symptoms see your doctor.
(Abuse of another person is NEVER okay. If you are being abused or, if you are an abuser please seek help.)