Why disclose sexual abuse?
FYI: The average age of an individual who discloses sexual abuse is 52.
And that’s if they disclose at all.
According to the child safety organization, Darkness to Light, 60% of child sexual abuse victims never tell anyone.
So why don’t the 60% disclose?
In this blog post, I shared a number of reasons. Some were my own. Others were from an informal poll I conducted. Those reasons include:
- What if no one believes me?
- What if they say it was my fault?
- I don’t want to get him/her in trouble.
- Everyone will feel sorry for me.
- I feel shame.
Here’s one reason to tell your truth:
The weight of your secret.
The omnipresence of it. It’s everywhere! It’s everywhere! Or so it seems.
The feeling that everyone can sense it on you. Like old campfire smoke.
I didn’t tell all my truth all at once.
My story leaked out in drips and drops.
- Veiled references at slumber parties.
- A murmured, “My childhood was really messed up.”
- A whispered, “Me too,” when someone said they’d been abused.
In time, I became braver, disclosing more details.
I found when I was more specific, I felt freer.
Finally the day came when I spoke very clearly. To my doctor.
It was my third visit in 18 months. To procure a prescription for an antidepressant.
My doctor picked up his prescription pad and pen, then paused.
Looking me in the eye, he said:
“Antidepressants are often only a bandaid for a deeper problem. Is there a deeper problem?”
For at least two minutes the exam room was silent.
While I decided which was the better choice: keeping the silence I’d kept for nearly three decades, or telling my truth. And possibly getting help.
I closed my eyes, opened my mouth, and let a few particulars spill out.
For the record, disclosing sexual abuse can feel like a gamble.
At least it did for me. In the moments leading up to my “leap of faith,” a myriad of concerns buzzed inside my brain. The ones listed above and then some. Including, “What will he think of me?”
I’m not 100% sure, but I think my doctor’s eyes were wet when he tore off a prescription sheet and flipped it over. He scrawled names of several counselors and the clinics where they practiced, filling up two sheets.
Holding them out, along with a prescription for my “happy pill,” he said:
“You need help. Or this—he gestured with his hand to indicate chaos…confusion—will never go away.”
He asked if my husband knew. I teeter-tottered my hand to indicate: sort of, some of it, not really.
“Tell him. So you don’t do this alone.”
Before he left the room, he placed his hand on my shoulder. “Call me if you need anything.”
When my physician responded to my disclosure with compassion and resources, it felt like he handed me a flotation device.
A life preserver.
Finally, I could stop my incessant dogpaddling against a riptide. Against the vortex sucking me down.
For the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt buoyant. Light.
My breathing eased. My heart rate slowed.
The thing beneath me—and really, all around me—wasn’t going to kill me after all.