One thing I’ve heard over and over in regards to the news that Harvey Weinstein sexually abused women for decades is why it took so long for the revelation to come out. More so why others involved didn’t step forward sooner. When people learn about something outside their comfort zone the natural thing is to question it. It seems illogical someone would hold a secret for so long. They use words without knowing the background and experiences of living with such a secret. Our society has a history of blaming the victim. It’s ingrained into our culture and everyday life. The messages are clear, that men are superior which makes them invisible whenever they use their power to abuse others.
If you look deeper than you can see that many of the victims in the Weinstein case did try to speak out and were usually silenced in some way or another. One victim of the abuse even went as far as reporting it to the police. There is even audio proof of the abuse but even still he was never prosecuted for the assault. This speaks volumes as to how victims are treated. When the victims do speak out they’re met with opposition both from the abuser and the public. They’re shunned back into silence. Secrets eventually find their way to the surface. People can question the credibility of all the victims because they’re privileged to do so. They’ve not had to live through the pain, guilt or shame. Often times how others respond to abuse is just as damaging. It reinforces the shame and guilt from the assault, echoing the voice of your abuser in your ear.
Another thing I see people questioning is why so many victims come forward at once. As if the more victims they are the more likely the news isn’t true. When you speak out about something as tough as sexual abuse you liberate others who have gone through something similar. So many of Weinstein’s and Cosby’s victims were silenced. It’s tough enough to face the abuse let alone a judgeful world that will most likely blame you. When someone is able to break free from the shame, guilt and public pressure it gives all the other victims strength. There is strength in numbers.
Predators like Weinstein get away with these crimes because of rules of society. One that blames the victim. The victimization from Weinstein was so widespread and lengthy that it became a legend in Hollywood. It’s the ultimate plausible deniability. Just look how our culture treats people like Woody Allen, Bryan Singer, Hugh Hefner, Casey Affleck, etc. We reward them with admiration and awards. The evidence is always there. Unless the evidence is too massive to overlook oftentimes the victims are disregarded and overlooked. For example, the Weinstein company. They knew about the abuse for years and tolerated it until the secret hit the press and the public. It was then that they cut all ties because it hit their bottom line. How many more predators like Weinstein are there in and out of Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein justifies his horrible deeds by brushing them off to a time that was different. Wrong is wrong, no matter how long it has been.
Using the excuse of well I didn’t know better is bogus. It’s how you reflect accountability. Regardless of the time in our history, the difference between right and wrong has always been clear. The lack of judgment and being a horrible person in the past doesn’t exempt you from taking the heat when you’re hold accountable years after. So while Feinstein might not treat women like that anymore (which I find hard to believe) it doesn’t erase all the years of abuse. The damage caused to the women he assaulted will last a lifetime. When you’re sexually abuse your soul is split into two. You will go a lifetime having to deal with effects from the trauma.
While women take the brunt of this abuse it occurs frequently to boys and men. There is this boys club where people justify the horrible deeds of men. It’s the boys will be boys mentality. I lived in a family with that philosophy. Being gay was abomination when being a child molester was not. If you don’t fit in with society’s rules of what it means to be a man you’re seen as less than and worthy of abuse. What it boils down to is misogyny.
When I spoke out about the sexual abuse in my family, many tried to oppress the revelations through denial and disbelief. Boys will be boys is how my Aunt responded to my Mom. As if sexual abuse was a pastime. The sexual abuse in my family was rampant and widespread. For years it was this dirty secret that everyone in the family knew. It was an unspoken rule to be like everybody else and not say a word. To talk about the abuse was to bring great shame to the family. The impact of shame completely outweighed the damage of silence. I was ostracized and made to feel less than because I was speaking the truth. I was rejected and blamed. I became the black sheep of the family. I was trying to break out of the cycle and everyone including my cousins tried to silence me anyway they can.
For years we pretended that the dark secret didn’t exist. It was swept underneath the rug with all the secrets. We were brainwashed into believing that sexual abuse was acceptable and common. The years passed. Family gatherings such as our annual Halloween party went on. We had a predator in our family and the adults knew that the abuse was going on. They did nothing. They were complacent and did just as much damage for trying to silence us all. The adults of the family didn’t stop it and more children were forever damaged by one person’s sick game.
Prior to me, there was one other person who tried to speak out… my Mother. She didn’t know my secret but she knew someone else’s. When she spoke out she was chastised and shamed back into silence. Her cries were disregarded. My Aunt whose child was the predator didn’t talk to her for years. There was no way that her golden boy was a child molestor. How the family treated my Mom sent a clear message to the children to shut up. To be good little children. Be seen, not heard.
The predator would strut his stuff at family gatherings like he was the top dog. He knew that no one would stop them and could do whatever he wanted. He terrorized my cousins. We lived in a big family. By the time he was done he’d sexually abused most of my cousins. He didn’t stop at our family and started to branch out to other children in the neighborhood. Eventually he got caught molesting a girl next door. The lawyer his parents hired ended up getting him off.
To this day he’s never been prosecuted for the many crimes he committed. He’s never received help. He’s what you call a serial child predator. It haunts me to know that he’s probably out there abusing children and there is nothing that I can do to stop him. I had even heard that years ago he was coaching a boys basketball team in the same town we grew up in.
To my knowledge no one in the family has ever confronted him… Most of my cousins grew up damaged in some way or another.
When you try to speak out about a secret those who are trying hard to hide them will stop at nothing to keep them hidden, including those who were damaged from that secret. I was 18 when I first spoke out about the sexual abuse in my family. I had went eight years of hiding my secret and wallowing in my shame and guilt. I couldn’t hide my pain any longer.
You can only put so much air into a balloon before it explodes or goes flying around the room like a chicken with it’s head cut off. I couldn’t take it any longer and exposed my secret to my parents. I was free just for one moment. The secret was free but the shame and guilt remained.
I didn’t just come out about the abuse that day. I had another secret, I was gay. The fact that my abuser was a male was of great shame to me. It was one of the reasons I waited so long to tell anyone because I was worried that they wouldn’t believe me. I remember walking up to my parents door the night I was first abused. I was about to knock on their door before the shame set in. How could I tell them about the abuse when my attacker was my male cousin. So I showered and pretended like it didn’t happen. To this day I still remember the couch I took refuge in that night. I can feel the fabric. I can see the pattern.
My Mom never doubted me. She always believed me. The rest of the family did not, including my father. Well he believed me but he just didn’t care. The next day he went hunting with the cousin who sexually abused me. He told me that I needed to forgive and forget. This was the same man who told me that I was going to die in the hospital alone from AIDS because I was gay.
There is a lot of stigma still attached to sexual abuse. It’s a subject that so many don’t find acceptable to talk about in the open. It’s easier to talk about when something big like the revelation of Weinstein happens. We need to start talking about abuse in the moments in between. Silence deafens the cries of victims. It continues the cycle. If we don’t speak up and out about these horrible deeds these perpetrators will continue to hurt more people.
Until society stops blaming and shaming the victims nothing will ever change. There is never an excuse that justifies a crime. Sexual abuse has never been acceptable. The difference between the present and the past is that more people hold the perpetrators accountable today. We have more courage and strength today than we did yesterday. This happens when victims become survivors by speaking out and giving a voice to others who aren’t able to speak.
When you’re sexually abused you lose your voice. The ability of saying no is taken from you. Your body, mind, heart and soul are violated. There isn’t an aspect of you that’s not affected. I was ten years old when I had my innocence taken from me. It was stolen and it’s not something that can be returned.
I’ve not always had my voice. I’ve not always been able to say no. There are times still that I lose my voice. I have to fight daily against the demons of my past. When I am finally able to verbalize the world NO, I am free. The strength behind this word is powerful and doesn’t match the smallness of letters.
When I feel like I can’t speak it’s the strength of other survivors that inspires me and reminds me that I still have my voice. I know that the other side is loud and persistent. They expect us to be silent. They’re depending on us to keep our mouths shut. I refuse to remain silent. I know that the words that don’t escape my belly are the ones that could open the door for more harm to come at the hands of a sexual predator. I share my story in the hopes that I might reach someone in need. It’s so easy to feel like you’re alone when you’re dealing with this sort of trauma. So many victims continue to be silenced. They oftentimes have no one to turn to so they go anywhere they can whether it be addictions or suicide. If you’re able to come out on the other side it becomes pivotal to stand up for those like you. While I didn’t have the power to stop the sexual abuse when I was a child I now have that power returned. When I share my experiences, both the good and bad, I liberate others to do the same in return.