Coming forward with a claim of abuse is never an easy endeavor. In fact, many victims of abuse will attest that coming forward can actually be far more painful than enduring the abuse itself. Not only is coming forward an extremely vulnerable and often courageous act , but it reveals a hidden woundedness that the community as a whole has suffered causing a great deal of discomfort, which in our modern culture, we are conditioned to avoid.
If your contemplating coming forward, I’ve written this blog for you. I am by no means an expert, but someone who has gone through the process. I know what it is like to fear what people will think of you and fear how others will be affected by what you have to say. I’m here to share with you that you are worthy of being of heard and you are worthy of living in the light regardless of those who desire you to remain in the dark. I’m here to share with you what my experience taught me in the hope that you can see Christ working through the very thing that so many dread and perhaps you yourself are dreading.
The human heart’s reactions to claims of abuse point to the fact that the human experience is a communal one. And there is no way around this. Like any social sin, sexual abuse effects the entire community. While, the perpetrator and the victim are at the center, it is truly a threat to all they are involved with. This is perhaps the most stark reality I was confronted with following coming forward, and in all honesty something I came to resent for a time.
“All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God. The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1878-1879.)
Communion and fellowship is core to our identity, as stated so eloquently in the catechism. Any time this communion is disrupted by grievous acts such as abuse, our identity is threatened.
When I came forward I received a stark mixture of reactions and often different reactions at different moments from the same people. Those closest to me did not want to believe what happened but could not deny the clear evidence I presented. But why was there a temptation to denial amongst those in my immediate circle?
From a physiological perspective, humans typically respond to mental and physical danger through what is referred to as a “fight or flight response.” In other words, the two main responses to a perceived threat are to run or fight. Within the flight response exists the freeze response in which a person hides interiorly within themselves (in my own life- something that has tempted me to inaction).
When I came forward, I observed this response manifested in two ways: retaliatory accusation against me and denial against the evidence I presented (sometimes presenting in the form of justifying the actions of the abuser). While in hindsight and in the immediate moment, those removed from my community could see that these responses were not rational, why did they occur?
What I underwent was hidden in plain sight. It took place in the environment that was created by the very people who displayed conflicting responses when the veil was lifted. Just as the abuse had communal effects, so it had communal causes.
And this is a hard pill to swallow for those who were obligated to care for me and other young people but had no knowledge of what was happening right in under their noses. In this sense, the abuse I experienced was also an attack on them.
In the immediate aftermath following coming forward, I often took these two reactions very personally. It was hard to separate my woundedness from the reactions of others. While they failed to recognize my woundedness I also failed to account for theirs. In recognizing their woundedness, I may have been able to bear their reactions much better than I initially did.
I believed I had already endured the worst of it. While in many ways true, I failed to account for the fact that I had had the luxury of time to process what happened, while others did not. I had been living in this attack on my identity for years, and this attack on the identity of my community was new to everyone else.
Why did my perpetrator pick me? While I may never know for certain, I suspect it was in part due to the inconsistent care I received by nature of being a child a divorce along with my own propensity for silence. I also suspect it had a lot to do with the vulnerabilities of those who had authority over me at the time in my circle of influence.
In other words my abuser chose to exploit the externalities around me that were embedded in my community for the ends that he desired. I was not the only victim in this attack.
You were chosen for a reason and this choice, more than likely, involved more than your own naivety because you are a communal being made in the image and likeness of God.
While coming foreword did involve a great deal of pain, the memory of this communal reaction now serves as source of encouragement that I truly did belong to a place that I felt so othered from for so long. While God never actively wills pain, He allows it to happen because He knows how He can mold us through it. In this experience I was molded to know my identity as beloved, to know that my identity was not dependent on the reactions of others but dependent on the fact that I am loved by Christ.
In coming forward you will be presented with a choice to embrace your truest identity as beloved by Christ as you learn to stand independent of the perceptions of those around you. I can say that this is by far the best choice you will ever make.