Friday, 17 September 2010

The sound of silence

A blog that I go back to time and time again is Lesley's blog, perhaps because she deals with so many issues that come close to my own thoughts and experiences, and so often articulates them much better than I can. I am often amazed by her courage in talking about painful and personal experiences in a way that I'm not sure I could. The above post on sexual abuse is no exception, like myself Lesley has survived childhood sexual abuse and here she writes about the problem of being open about this.

People who have been abused have spent their whole childhood believing that the one thing they must never do is to tell anyone. The abuser relies on their sense of guilt and shame, the child's sense of how taboo this matter is and their fear that to tell will unleash anger, hostility, disbelief, denial, rejection, stigma and even blame. They can barely admit it to themselves. The child fears that the adults around them simply will not cope ( and how frightening is that for a child?) Someone once asked me why didn't I *simply* speak out? I answered that I kept silent so that everything would be OK and nobody would go to prison. Most victims of abuse do this, they do not realise that everything will NOT be OK and that their abuser may not go to prison - but they will.
The painful dilemma of whether to speak out or keep silent continues into adult life. Survivors fear that those they tell will see them as attention seeking, lacking appropriate boundaries, that they will label them as victims, as damaged and unstable, that they will be shocked, disgusted, too deeply affected; that they will not be able to cope. At the same time, the feeling that something that is not your fault is too taboo to be told can breed anger, resentment, isolation , shame. You feel it is not acceptable to tell people, and it takes you right back to being that silenced child.
It is interesting that Lesley's post was entitled "coming out about sexual abuse" because the experience of LGBT people, especially those in the church who cannot "come out" is very similar. Take every one of those emotions, guilt, shame, a fear of rejection, of telling a truth that others will not cope with, and they apply to those who are silenced by the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of the church, one of the reasons why I have come to see that unwritten policy as abusive. It is a policy designed for the convenience of the church, not really one that helps those who are silenced and forced to hide their truth.
I do not believe that Jesus silenced anyone. He may well have discussed everyday topics and ordinary things, but I do not believe he treated anyone as beyond the pale, or felt that they should hide their difficult stories or situations.
I suspect Jesus heard a lot of the stories of those who had been abused, seeing as he spent his time with prostitutes he might well have been privy to the painful stories of those who had faced sexual abuse and had troubled lives. No wonder he told his hearers that it is better to have a millstone around the neck and be cast into the ocean than to cause a child to stumble; Jesus was no stranger to outrage, or to truth telling.
These issues are particularly pertinent given the visit of the Pope. This visit of a spiritual father and authority figure has been overshadowed by the horror, not only of abuse, but also of the further abuse of silencing. Let us hope that those who for so long have been shamed and silenced will be allowed to speak with dignity and freedom, and that their stories will truly be heard.


  1. Thanks Sue, found myself going 'yes, yes, yes', except one bit - in no way do I write about this better than you!

  2. Well, I'm touched that it meant something to you, and I do find you write powerfully on this and many other sensitive subjects.