Like thousands of others I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. The offender was my older brother, a troubled soul who ultimately killed himself more than a decade ago. I came to forgive him for the years of abuse and in doing so have been able to live a life in which my history has taken very little of my attention and I’ve given my all to the present and the future. I am proud of the life I live, proud I was not beaten by the shame and humiliation of my past, proud that I am strong in every way.
Today though, I am not proud of my silence.
After my brother died I told my family what had happened. I thought it was an important piece of the puzzle. The reaction of the people you love can be as painful as the abuse itself. My mother’s support has never wavered. My father seemed supportive at first but when I told him I intended to publish my story in a journal for therapists, in the hope it might be useful given sibling sexual abuse is still poorly understood – his support disappeared.
I was asked to consider his professional reputation, the health of my grandparents and what people would say about me. A friend and colleague of my father told him that people would gossip on tea breaks wherever I worked that “she was the one who had sex with her brother”. When my father quoted that back to me I felt sick, to this day when I think of it I feel sick. I think it’s the fact that the language implies what happened was consensual when it was not.
So I backed down, I didn’t publish my story, I didn’t speak up despite my hope that doing so might mean that when other survivors sought help and understanding, the social workers and psychologists who listened to them wouldn’t say stupid things like “your brother must have loved you very much”.
I let the shame win.
Today I was reading the paper. There was a story about a man who’d been convicted for child sex offences after being caught downloading child pornography over many years. He faces a maximum of ten years in prison. That man was my father’s friend. I had though this man was foolish, unkind, stuck in the past but today I realised he was a man who benefited from my silence and the silence of so many others just like me. Today I realised I played along with the very trick that allows child sexual abuse to happen in the first place, the trick that allows it to keep on happening to so many children – silence.
That’s why I’ve written this. Over the years the people who’ve ended their own silence have made it easier for others to break theirs but it’s clear that we have to keep speaking up, we have to be louder and noisier than the culture of silence and secrecy, which allows any of this to happen.
NB For the time being I’ve chosen not to put my name to this, I’ve got to think about my own kids, and I don’t want them teased or bullied, although I have told my daughter about what happened because the best defence we have against this behaviour is to speak up.
If this post brings up any issues for you, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.