"I've sat at a table with a victim and an abuser. They were family. No one ever talked about it and they wouldn't pay for therapy."
This was a 140-character tweet I sent out a few minutes ago while participating in a discussion about child sex abuse at TEDxFargo. There's a limit to the stories we can share in 140 characters. Sometimes, as in this case, they aren't our stories to tell. But part of why I love Twitter is because it's direct. No sugar coating. Just telling it how it is.
Now time for the stats. Studies by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research center showed that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. 20 percent of females recall the incident compared to only 5-10 percent of males. Over the course of their life time, 28 percent of youth ages 14 - 17 have been sexually victimized. They are most vulnerable between the ages of 7 and 13.
Do you know someone who has had such an experience? I do. More than one. If you do know someone, that means that you were close and important enough for them to reveal something so personal and traumatic. Listening to these stories holds a lot of weight for the people telling them and your reactions most likely shape their views on the incident. Maybe you're the first person they told. Maybe you're the fiftieth. Either way, your views and the way you express them in the heat of the moment matter.
One time, a confession from someone close to me about their experience caught me off guard. It was someone I cared about. Instead of listening respectfully and reassuring my friend, I broke down. I screamed and I cried. I couldn't take it. I was out of commission. I didn't know what to do. I continued to bring it up. I told my family because I didn't know how else to handle it. I went off the handle. For a while I thought this was the wrong response and I regretted it. In many ways it was wrong. But a few years later, I came to a strange conclusion. Through my over-the-top reaction, I was showing how horrible the incident actually was. For years it had been normalized - shut to the back of my friend's brain. No one confronted it. But nothing about child sexual abuse is normal. It can't be rationalized fully or pushed down or repressed without consequences. I'm not saying I was the perfect advocate by reacting harshly and negatively. But I do hope my response shed a little bit of light on how wronged my friend was and how that experience shouldn't be taken lightly.
When responding to crisis, it's vital that we know and follow our own boundaries while respecting those of the people to which we are responding. Maybe I even overstepped by writing this post about something so personal and controversial. But if it helps highlight how sensitive and important this issue is, I've done my job. As responders to crisis, we help shape the story. And that responsibility can be a serious, vital turning point for victims.
Founder/CEO, AK Kerani
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