Why do we have a false sense of who the bad guy is? Since the post office has the Most Wanted Posters for criminals, imagine if we post the most infamous relatives or persons that we know that are sexual offenders on the refrigerator in our kitchens?
With compassion, I know just reading these lines might make some people uncomfortable and only you know why. But the reality is, over 93 percent of sexual assaults are committed by people the victim knows and most of the time it’s a relative or friend of the family. And most of the times, the victim is a child. Maybe this is making us uncomfortable because deep down in the memory of our emotional DNA we are still co-signing to the notion of what happens at home stays at home. Or that we don’t want to get our family members in trouble. Well, don’t shoot the messenger, but our families are already in trouble. Families are bound to the destruction of a generational curse of sexual assault and abuse that is stripping humans of a basic right to be free to live in peace and with dignity in their homes and communities.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and so far all of the events and all of the social media posts, focused on helping survivors rise above these criminal acts inflicted on them…but I have not seen any programs offering rehabilitation services or help for the offenders. During a conversation with an organizer of an international conference on sexual assault and domestic violence, I asked, “Why don’t we see events focused on offenders?” Her response was, I guess we leave that to the police. Obviously this is a failed strategy, since the vast majority of sexual assaults that happen in the home don’t get reported. So we are left with the carnage of broken, hurting, angry souls. Emotions that they don’t even know how to explain or how to find healing.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is so critical to those who carry the guilt, the pain, the visible and invisible scares of sexual assault and silently suffer because we still live in a society that does not make us feel comfortable saying,,…"You hurt me."
Thus, giving power to perpetrators who dare, threaten and muzzle their victims from even thinking about saying, “You hurt me and I’m going to report you.”
Why shouldn’t everyone feel empowered to say…I’m going to tell on you…next door neighbor, cousin, spouse, brother, partner, sister, babysitter, uncle, aunt, teacher, dad, coach, ex-lover and yes granddad and pastor…"You Hurt Me…and I’m going to tell on you."
While Sexual Assault Awareness Month is only 21 years ago, women have been crying out in the wilderness for years. Many family members and neighbors heard the cries, but few had the courage to do anything to stop the suffering. In the early 1900s, women determined to protect their bodies from attackers used their 10-inch hat pins to stick and jab as they tried to make their way to safety, even if safety did not include the protection of the laws.
During the 1940s and through the Civil Rights Movement, the woman known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks worked to bring awareness to Negro women being raped and beaten with no recourse. The following decades mobilized survivors and advocates to call for legislation and funding that would support survivors, such as the Violence Against Women Act of 1993.
Addressing sexual violence as a systemic issue…has me asking the question, how did we as women lose our ability and power to protect ourselves and the children that we borne?
I interviewed a judge about victims of sexual assault. He shared with me about two pending cases in his court about which he had received a pile of letters.
One case was about a woman with a house full of dogs and cats living in deplorable conditions. The other case was about a father who had been molesting his daughter for years. The little girl was now 13 years old. Her mother remained silent.
With weariness, he continued. “I received 100 letters giving me instructions on how I should punish the woman with the animals. And the one letter about the little 13-year old girl being sexually abused by her dad, simply read, Judge, you need to stay out of that family's affairs.” The reality is that America has more shelters for animals… than for abused victims.
Years later, I interviewed a young lady who could no longer carry the burden of the family secret. After her dad passed, she found the courage to break the silence and wrote a book.
Her father molested her and her sister for years. Her brother and the next door neighbor, also participated in these sexual assaults.
I asked, "How could your mother not have known?"
She said, “My father was the superintendent of schools in our community and my mother was the principal of the high school. My mother was not willing to give up her status and country club lifestyle." She continued, “When I decided to write about our repeated sexual assaults, this was my first time mustering the courage to talk with my mother about the repeated rapes that had happened to us our entire lives. In a very cavalier tone, my mother simply said, “You must have enjoyed it, you kept doing it.”
You see, her mother had put on a veil of silence and could not protect herself nor her children. She was chained to the economics that keep so many sexual assaults hidden behind the closed door of the place called home. Experts say cases of sexual assault have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the true numbers will never be known because children and families were on lockdown and victims had no outlet for reporting the sexual assaults. So they continue to suffer. Those suffering family members, they are the ones in trouble.
When will America be willing to send a bold, loud and clear message to all perpetrators of sexual assault, regardless of your name or your title, you are hurting people and we are going to report you and we will tell on you?
We must encourage more open conversations about issues like sexual assault. We must reduce the shame and stigma felt by survivors and encourage them to seek support…with the confidence thatwe believe you. And we will help you fight for your rights to live with dignity and to be protected in the community and most importantly in your home.
Commit to informing and equipping children that inappropriate behavior is inappropriate regardless to who the person might be. We must protect our children from this generational curse that is perpetually sweep under the family reunion picnic table.
Pamela D. Marshall, Author of The Art of Forgiveness, Actress, Journalist, Podcast Host, Yoga 2 Life Coach, Executive Director, At The WELLness Network, Inc.
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