Reproduced with permission of Sierra Waters from Sierra D.Waters: Emerging
October 13, 2016
There I was, sitting in a florescent, light-filled classroom anxiously waiting to be handed back the essay that I had written about our cat, Tyrone. I tried to mentally prepare myself for the admonition I would surely get from the writing professor as she handed me back my essay along with the compare and contrast chart that I’d been asked to fill out for the next assignment. It would not have surprised me if she had written all over my essay things such as ‘poor grammar.’ That isn’t what happened however, and when she handed me back my essay and the pages that went along with it, I was left sitting in a silent vortex of self-awareness. I found myself to be both frustrated and excited at the question she asked of me, “No other interests?”
Under both “Personal Causes” and “Personal Interests” on my compare and contrast chart I listed childhood sexual abuse, childhood sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and injustice. The awareness of those topics are highly important to me as I am a survivor of each of them. The professor simply wanted to know if I had other interests, but her simple question left me internalizing it over and over again in my head in various forms of “What are your interests?” and “Who are you?”
I have only a vague idea of what my other interests are due to the prolonged abuse that I have endured in my lifetime. I’ve had to deal with the questions before within myself and outwardly with others, the cliché question of “who are you” and other clichés such as, “go find yourself again” that leave my head spinning. The latter is often said to people as they go through a hard break-up or divorce. The opinion of the well-meaning commenters seemingly being that the party to the break-up simply needs to find within themself who they were before they were in the bad relationship. If only it were that easy for some of us.
As a child I was repeatedly molested and mentally abused. That means that my pre-trauma identity “go find yourself again” doesn’t really exist. Who am I to go back to being? Shall I return to being the tormented little girl that was violated repeatedly at the hands of monsters or should I return to being the teenager that people called a “slut,” whose being promiscuous was the only way she knew to have a sense of feeling loved? Maybe I should return to being the adult woman who didn’t know that she was so traumatized and unable to function in a healthy way. What would society think of her? Sadly, I already know.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime’s website [N.C.V.C] (2016), studies by David Finkelhor, Ph.D., [Finkelhor], state that one in five females and one in twenty males in the United States have been sexually abused. How many males and females are in your workplace, classroom, or following you on social media? Do the math. How many survivors were abused at such a young age and for so long that they have no pre-trauma identity or sense of real self? It is a topic that has little coverage or awareness. Children are most “vulnerable” between the ages of seven and thirteen years of age (Finkelhor). As hard as that is to process, imagine being one of the others. Imagine being one of the survivors who can’t answer the well-meaning and seemingly simple questions that people routinely ask without pause, “Who are you?”
I was under the age of two years old when I endured sexual violence for the first time. The horrific abuse was ongoing. That means that my pre-trauma identity never had a chance to develop. I was being molded into who the abusers demanded I become, for my survival. I was being molded into someone that some of you would readily call a “slut,” so that I would fit into your generic sense of the world and you wouldn’t have to think beyond your own reality.
Another example of a cliché many people use is, “God will protect you.” When some survivors, including myself, hear someone say this, we revolt. For many survivors, the revolting is muted so as not to disturb the beliefs of the masses. Survivors are to be understanding. We were trained to be understanding of our abusers, now we’re told to be understanding of the masses, but who is understanding us? Imagine a survivor speaking up about it on social media to the people who say they support the survivor: “Please don’t tell me that your God will protect me again,” would likely send the offending party to mute or block the survivor because “God” forbid survivors stand up for themselves. I find that I am wondering how naïve someone could be to have said that to a survivor at all. Where was their God when we were being brutally raped? Where was their God when we prayed for it all to end?
“In America the prayers of a little girl fell on deaf ears, but she kept praying and she kept hoping that someday she would matter too. …down on her knees, the little girl prayed, ‘Please take me away, Jesus. I’m a good girl.’” (Waters, 2016) Debbie.
Some survivors still believe in God and I, for one, would never try to diminish their faith. For some survivors “God” is their lifeline in this dark world and the fact that they are trying to hang on after what they’ve gone through, is commendable and brave. However, there are many survivors, including myself, who would appreciate never again being told, “God will protect you” when we know that he clearly never has before. Maybe it was in “his divine plan” to leave us there being raped by a monster created for his divine plan.
This one won’t be such an obvious cliché but, “sending prayers” on social media is an empty and over-used comment with little value in regards to prevention. Would your God want for you to send empty prayers without taking action as well? I don’t believe that’s how it works. Then there are comments similar to this; “God protects the little children.” I bet the little girl who is being raped somewhere right now is actively praying that it will stop and I bet that some of you even take the well intentioned time to pray for children like her, but it isn’t stopping it. Maybe she will be able to follow through on some other clichés once she’s in a safe space and “get over it” and “move on” in the timeframe society sets for her to grieve in and if she doesn’t, maybe tossing another cliché at her like “just stay positive” will help her to not want to commit suicide due to the traumatic flashbacks she faces almost every day.
Other comments that survivors tend to hear from well-meaning individuals and even, at times, from other survivors are similar to these; “You can’t heal if you don’t forgive.” or “Forgiveness isn’t for them, it’s for you!” No, it isn’t. Forcing a survivor to forgive in order for them to fit into society or their biological family is further abuse. It is minimizing. It enables the abuse to continue within society or a family unit in various ways. This type of survivor shaming is simply a fast track to another’s denial for their own comfort.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I can tell you for certain that I was molded to fit into a world of sexual violence and now that I’m healing from that, in order to look “healthy” or “stable” I am forced to “stay positive” and “get over it” in order for people to care about me. If I don’t act grateful and if I don’t stay silent, I’m shunned as “bitter.” My survival went from one extreme of abuse to another. To be loved and fit into this world, under both circumstances, I am to be someone else even though I have little idea of the basics about my identity prior to the traumas ever beginning.
We’ve all done it. We’ve all tossed out clichés to get out of a situation hoping that we have helped somehow, to make ourselves feel better, but clichés can cause survivors more harm. The survivor that you want to help may begin to isolate further because they can’t do all of the things demanded of them in order to fit into your generic viewpoints and clichéd perceptions.
So what can good people do instead of tossing out clichés? They can take action to help prevent another child from being sexually abused. They can help prevent the next mass shooting and the next domestic violence assault by simply thinking beyond themselves. They can contact their lawmakers. A simple phone call or email to a lawmaker that says, “I want for you to stand up for the rights of survivors” would do more real world good than self-soothing “prayers.”
I may not have a pre-trauma identity that I can recall, but my time on earth thus far has served to make me a fairly good mom despite my upbrining, a victim without justice, a survivor caught in red tape, and an un-silenced warrior for the removal of the criminal statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse. That is more than enough for now.
Learn how to contact elected officials by clicking here. (usa.gov)
“How to Contact Your Elected Officials.” USA.gov, n.d. 2016 Web. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials (External government link, no affiliation.)
Waters, Sierra D. “Praying Prey” Debbie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9PcS5nJcCY YouTube, 22 Apr. 2016. Web.
Victimsofcrime.org, and David Finkelhor. Child sexual abuse statistics. 2014. Web. 2016. [N.C.V.C.] [Finklehor] (external link. no affiliation.)
© 2016 by Sierra D. Waters. This content may not be used or reproduced without the consent of Sierra D. Waters