I Thought I Was The Only One
April 13, 2022
How could it be that, given the staggeringly high prevalence of sexual abuse* so many survivors feel so alone and so separate from others? So often survivors feel isolated in their suffering, believing that something has happened to them that isn’t a part of the human experience. The incongruence is difficult to fathom – a life-changing act of sexual violation in childhood that has happened to an average of 1 in 6 adults** leaves each abused child believing that they are somehow very different and most certainly disconnected from others.
We understand the reasons that children most often do not speak up or tell anyone of their abuse. The deep sense of shame and self-blame that children experience from sexual abuse makes it nearly impossible to reveal the abuse. After guarding their secret so carefully for so long, desperately wanting to be “just like everyone else,” as the years pass by the risk of exposing their deepest shame and fear is simply too great. Reaching out for help can seem impossible or even futile. Too many times survivors have told me, “I didn’t think there was anything that would help me.”
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In so many ways, awareness of the very difficult reality of sexual abuse is a welcome and potent antidote to the secrecy and stigma that surround this issue. Sexual abuse is the only crime that I know of in which victims blame themselves. Raising awareness of the astounding prevalence and the profound injustice of sexual abuse allows the shame and stigma to decrease. As the stigma recedes, adult survivors become empowered to step forward to ask for help, release the layers of shame and fear, and begin to know they are not alone in their struggle.
Changing the culture around sexual abuse will not come about from some grand plan or directive. Cultural change can only begin as individuals commit to bringing awareness to this incredibly important and far-reaching issue of epidemic proportions. Although a subject that is as deeply personal and uncomfortable as sexual abuse is often difficult to acknowledge, much less discuss, let this not be a barrier to increasing awareness.
Your Awareness Makes a Difference:
- Wear a teal awareness ribbon every day in April to spark conversation about the prevalence and reality of sexual abuse.
- Become educated about the myths and the facts about sexual abuse. Much of the fear around sexual abuse is fueled by dangerous myths. Education is an important tool in bringing light to this critical issue.
- Believe survivors. The most powerful and healing words any survivor can hear are, “I believe you."
- Support survivors. Whether you realize it or not, someone in your life is a survivor of sexual abuse. Your willingness to speak about this issue lets the survivor know that they are not alone.
- Support groups and organizations that support survivors and speak up on their behalf.
Acknowledging that sexual abuse is a reality that matter to us all, every day of every month of the year, lets survivors know that they are believed and that they need not suffer alone. Each individual who gathers the courage to speak to the reality and the harm of sexual abuse brings us one step closer to creating a safer and healthier culture for us all.
*It’s estimated that there are over 42 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the United States today.
** In proportion to the current adult population in the U.S., that averages to 1 in 6 adults who are living with the effects of childhood sexual abuse every day.
(Source: U.S. News and World Report)
Acknowledging that sexual abuse is a reality that matter to us all, every day of every month of the year, lets survivors know that they are believed and that they need not suffer alone.