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Jul14
2016

For When Speaking Out Is Hard

By Clara Ross

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.

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Comments (9)

  1. Pingback: Repost TWLOHA – For when speaking out is hard | wenigvielleicht

  2. Jessica

    I have tried 5 times. Since I was 15. I am now 25. People ask me all the time what the scars are on my wrists. My brother killed himself two years ago. In April I was unconscious in an abulance on the way to a 5 day stay at the hospital. I still have the shirt I bought from hot topic with your message . It’s a daily struggle for me but I hope you know your are making such an influence and providing help to those that are scared to ask for help.

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    1. Bellla

      Jessica, I’m glad your stories still going. I’m so sorry for your pain. I’m proud of you for commenting here and for being you
      I’m so sorry about your brother. He was and will always be blessed you’re his sister
      God bless

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  3. Bellla

    I’m sorry for all you’ve been through and will always go through
    I’m glad you had such a wonderful friend
    I’m proud of you for using your voice. I’m proud of you for knowing your worth
    God bless

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  4. Madi

    The scars came with my anxiety and my depression but I would blame it on barbed wire fences I was working on or the cats. Then the sexual abuse came and I actually became mute for a while. It’s been 3 years. I went to counselling but it’s not helping a lot. I’m starting to speak louder but my confidence? Zero. I’m hoping that I can get better so my story won’t end tragically but will inspire others that there is light in the darkness.

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  5. Mona

    This is extremely powerful and matches up with how I feel! Shame plays a huge part in silence for survivors. It happened from 16-18 and I told no one! This allowed the abuse to keep happening. Worse, he was someone I loved and trusted like a brother he was my youth leader. I’m now 35 years old and I’m in a safer place mentally so I’m finally telling my story. I don’t ever want to feel alone again. It has been such an isolating time for me. I kept this secret because like you said I was afraid and I was ashamed. I dissociated because I had to see him at church. It was my way of surviving. I hated myself for not speaking up sooner and trusting him. But I was only 16 and he can now bear all that responsibly and ugliness. I derserve better!

    Recently I called the cops and was interviewed and it was not easy to do. I’m an emotional runner, I run from my issues. But it’s exhausting and Im doing everything I can to remain present and face them. Even though I know nothing will happen to him because evidence is lost. At least I finally spoke up. I can move forward in love and healing. I’m ready to live life to its fullest. For years, I felt trapped and bound by my secrets. No one really knew me, people would say that I was closed and hard to read. Men would say I would never get married because I pushed everyone away. It was safe and lonely.

    But I’m not alone. I am happily married and have a wonderful life. Thanks for posting this amazing article! I will come back and read it when I need encouragement.

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  6. Eric

    Thank you for sharing this

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  7. hayley

    Thank you for sharing this. I got so much out of reading this.
    I did speak up and go to the police, and it went to trial, but he got off.
    Hearing that was the worst moment of my life. The following months since the trial have not been easy on me, or my mom; she has taken this really hard. Now knowing what it’s like to be cross-examined by his defense lawyer and the insinuations he made and the false accusations against my character…. I don’t know if I would have gone forward. It crushed me over and over again. It’s been really hard for me, I tried to take my own life this past December. Thankfully I am back in therapy now but it’s been a tough road. I just pray that the next girl that comes forward gets justice. God Bless to all my sisters

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    1. Claire Biggs

      Hi Hayley,

      We’re so glad to hear that you go a lot out of reading this.

      We’re also sorry to hear about your experience. We hope you know that the result of that trial doesn’t invalidate your experience, nor does it have any reflection on you as a person. We can only imagine how hard that must’ve been. We’re very, very glad you’re still here. Our world would not be the same if you were not in it.

      We’re proud of you for going back to therapy, Hayley. The road may be tough right now, but we believe better days are ahead.

      We’re here for you. If you ever want some encouragement, please email our team at info@twloha.com.

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