There is a safety that comes with keeping abuse and trauma quiet. It is easy to feel like by protecting it you are protecting yourself. You think that not talking about it means you can ignore it.
But sometimes the silence inside you becomes so heavy that you feel it taking up room in your lungs, and you want nothing more than to get rid of it. It is too heavy to dislodge by yourself and nobody else knows it’s in there, so you clear your throat and focus on taking one breath after another. In these moments it is not safety that keeps you quiet, but fear. Fear that you’ll drag up something so heavy that nobody will be able to help you carry it. Fear that you will share it with someone only to have it laughed at or diminished. Fear that your words will get back to the wrong person, and you’ll put yourself in danger. Or, worst of all, fear that you will speak your truth and nobody will believe you.
Silence is often rooted in shame, that voice in the back of your mind that still blames you for the things you have been through. That voice is powerful, but it is a liar. You are not responsible for what someone else chose to do to you. They alone are responsible for their actions.
Read it. Repeat it.
It is not your fault.
It is not your fault that it feels as if silence is your only option. That’s the way you have been made to feel by someone who knows the value of keeping you quiet. Abusers thrive on the silence of their victims and do almost anything to get it. They isolate you. They condition you to believe you are not important, that you are nothing, that you are somehow to blame for the way they mistreated you. They hope you learn to put the wants of your abuser before your own needs.
When I was sexually assaulted, there were a million reasons for me not to break my silence. Guilt, shame, and fear all played their part. I, like so many others, had known and trusted my abuser. How could they do this to me? Had I deserved it? Did I lead them on? But the main struggle I had was that my abuser was female. I wasn’t sure how many people would take female-on-female assault seriously. I felt dirty and alone. I showered more than once. When I threw up I didn’t know if it was because of the alcohol from the night before or because my own body now disgusted me.
But I did break my silence. I told my best friend and to my overwhelming relief she took my experience seriously. Her dedication to protecting me and her unwavering faith that I would get through this held me together at a time when I could only see myself as weak. I got lucky. I know not everyone has the same luck when confiding in someone.
I know how hard it is to speak up. If you have broken your silence, you know that there’s a new kind of silence waiting on the other side of that: the silence of others. The silence when your friends don’t know how to console you after a panic attack. The silence that lives in the gaps between you and other people when a rape joke is made and you don’t feel like laughing. Worst of all, you might find it on the lips of those who know what has been done to you and say nothing, people who feel like it is their place to forgive what has been done even though it has not been done to them. People who try to stay neutral have inadvertently chosen a side. Inaction is still a choice. The only person that silence protects is your abuser.
An estimated 1 in 5 women will face sexual assault. Only 15% of people will report it to police and less than 6% of cases will end in convictions. Something needs to change. I am not writing this to put people off coming forward – quite the opposite. Things will only change if enough of us speak up. If you are living in silence know that you are not living in silence alone. There are thousands out there who are just like us. If we all spoke out, maybe we could make a difference. Maybe at least we would all stop feeling so alone.
If you have experienced rape or sexual assault, no matter how close you are to the perpetrator or how unusual you feel your experience may be, please remember that it is not your fault. You did not deserve it. You are not weak for not speaking out. You deserve justice.
Please find the people who will help you carry your secret and offer their support. They are out there, I promise. Do it because you deserve to be heard. You deserve to be taken seriously.
And no matter what, please remember that you are not alone.