In the last six weeks, rarely a day has gone by without another #metoo revelation. I’m not sure if anyone understands how this emotional and social earthquake began. Yes, I’m sure that one person speaking up has provided the courage and support for others to step forward as well but historically, there have always been the courageous few who stand up. It may have been the egregious, appalling and habitual abuse by some of the offenders that generated the fury.
What shocks me is that everyone is surprised.
Where does the sexual abuse of children fit into this picture? There are distinctions for sure. The #metoo phenomena that we are experiencing appears to be generating wide spread support, media coverage and a public willingness to listen and accept the victim’s outcry. This is all good news for adult victims. Adult victims have often had to endure the shaming and destruction of their reputations: blame the victim.
However, for child victims, only the very courageous and committed are willing to hear about what happens to children when their young bodies are sexually assaulted. The assault can be both violent and terrifying. Children lack the voice and permission to speak out. They don’t often have the liberty to choose where they are left by parents or where they are taken by caregivers. Although the age at which childhood “legally” ends can vary from state to state, a child cannot give consent. The child usually understands the power of adults and generally believes that they must obey the adult. Make no mistake…the child’s instincts make them aware that the abuse is wrong and with a certainty that adult victims may escape, the child almost always thinks that what has happened is their fault. They often don’t disclose the abuse for years, if ever. Should they be brave enough to tell someone, they face a complicated criminal justice system and often, their parents don’t believe that the abuse actually happened.
I keep hoping that I will hear a reporter raise the issue of child sexual abuse. We’ve deluded ourselves for generations about the incidence of child sexual abuse as well as about who the abusers are. This appears to be the case currently in the adult world when the rich and famous are accused.
There are certainly differences between the sexual abuse of a child and the sexual assault that we’re all discussing today but both child and adult victim share so many commonalities. Neither should be blamed. Both need public disclosure and, although the needs may differ, both badly need support.
Decades ago, early in my education, I came across a statement that I’ve seen proven true over and over again. I’ve no idea who to credit with the wisdom of this statement, but I do know how useful it is in understanding the devastation of sexual assault at any age: “Guilt is about something you think that you’ve done and shame is about who you think you are.”
Shame plants the seeds of many destructive behaviors and physical maladies. Both adult and child victims must be freed from the feeling of shame and the rest of us must work to ensure that our voices and our actions do everything possible to prevent the sexual assault of anyone at any age.