Whatever we do as decent men and women in the midst of all these voices coming forward and telling us their most grievous, humiliating, intimate and forbidden experiences; it will be one of the most important opportunities we take or miss as humans in this century.
We must start by putting aside our own fears and agendas and start listening. I have listened and been humbled by hearing experiences far more degrading than mine; although, I do not minimize the personal impact of mine that left to me a legacy of bad dreams.
I have been shocked by some of the descriptions of brazen sexual narcissism that required only a shamed witness. It is truly beyond my comprehension that someone would even think about involving someone else in his/her own perversion. Some fantasies should be kept to oneself.
But those are the stories that are spilling out in a frenzy of pent up voices being released. Nearly every story is coupled with a story of the damage caused by the victim’s silence often brought on by an initial effort to tell the story which was rejected or shut down.
Since my column of a few months ago (April 26, 2017 “Frozen Voices”), Shenna Younger and I formed a group called “The Beginning.” Shenna’s own experience of liberation in finding her voice despite the obstacles that keep victims silent was the inspiration. We are now a part of a small group of women that began by telling our stories at whatever place we could comfortably start.
We are all here to tell you how difficult and painful it is; how complicated it is. We are all pained and horrified when we share experiences of telling that were rebuffed and, as a result, allowed the abuse to go on.
How difficult, perhaps impossible, to understand how someone could choose a fragile family stability or the future of the pedophile as more important than the dignity and safety of a child.
It’s not a far reach to extend the same dynamic to the abused young women or men who keep silent in an environment of denial and disbelief that powerful and respected men or women would wantonly degrade another person.
Denial and disbelief have never seemed plausible to me. The power of a predator who holds a person’s future in their grips isn’t a far reach from power of an adult pedophile who instills fear for safety. We know there are witnesses and the unsurprised.
In either case, a life of the abused is forever changed and ruined in some way that interrupts the natural joys of life. The victim often becomes hypervigilant. The hypervigilant individual is always on alert, always. He/she is always surveying. Certain places or people becomes the individual’s only haven of safety.
At last, we are beginning to see the perpetrators face consequences of their acts. Enough women and a few men came forward so that there was no choice but to excise the powerful perpetrator from the business; if for no other reason but the survival of business. A few powerful men have been effectively ruined. A few powerful men have been effectively erased from archives of honor.
I don’t recall a wave of consequences like this ever occurring unless, the perpetrator was convicted of a crime.
Today’s consequences seem right to me but criminally late. We can hope that at least this sends a warning to perpetrators to think before they proceed with unwanted intimacy at any level.
At most, we can hope there will be a reasoned and compassionate examination of the culture that gave and gives permission to perpetrators and pedophiles.
The examination should include the understanding that there are men and women who make false claims to gain something for themselves. We need to determine the measures of credibility.
We now seem to be saying there is credibility in hearing from many, many voices, especially if they come from unrelated backgrounds. We need to believe more than multitudes; if not, we cannot account for the lone victim who is willing to speak.
We also need to come to grips with our tendency to want to save the future a young boy or man who has forced a young girl or women into sexual intimacy. We have read of cases where judges have done exactly that when they dismissed the case along with the dignity and future of the girl or young woman. It is at best confused and one-sided compassion when we deny the same for the victim.
A far better first step is the prevention of sexual abuse in the first place. First and foremost, we must allow, encourage and support victims to come forward as soon as possible after experiencing sexual abuse. There should be no reason to wait for 5, 10, 40, 60 years.
I am saddened to learn of incidences among the youth experiencing non-consensual intimacy in our community. I am shocked until I remember that, even in my youth, there were those “wild girls.” Strangely, there were never “wild boys” unless they were caught stealing a car.
We, of The Beginning, have made talking with and educating interested parents, adolescent girls and young women our top priority. We can learn from each other.
We, parents, counselors, school, clergy, and others need to listen to our sexually maturing children and grandchildren to try to understand the environment in which they live. I’ve come to believe they know more than they are telling.
It is our job to talk with them about handling their maturing, their inclinations, and recognizing the signs and signals, including grooming, of a predator, even one of their own age. Our kids need to understand what is or isn’t consent.
It is our job to stop young boys and men from becoming predators; to convince them that deliberately humiliating and/or forcing intimacy on anyone is not manly.
We all want our kids to know the joys and beauty of intimacy with another human being. It is our job to help them want the same thing for themselves.
The earlier and better we do in talking with and teaching them, the better it will be for them.
We start by facing the truth. Our kids are out there getting into mischief that can ruin their lives.
Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.