You Are Not Alone

This has been a tough week or so for many women. Anyone who has been victimized by sexual harassment or assault has probably had a moment of sadness and/or anxiety while watching news coverage of the latest sex abuse scandal.  Reading the victims' stories may have caused you to relive an unpleasant experience of your own or remember a long forgotten one.  I'm sure many of you have seen the Twitter and Facebook posts marked with #MeToo.  Women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault have been given an opportunity to safely add their voices to the growing number of women who have come out and publicly declared that this has happened to them.  The numbers are heartbreaking! Women are coming out in droves to report that they too have been victimized.

I can almost guarantee you that at some point these women thought they were alone.

They have never been alone.

The statistics on abuse are staggering. One out of five women will experience childhood sexual abuse.  One in four women will experience date rape during their teens to early twenties. One in three women are likely to experience sexual harassment in their workplace.  I feel confident in saying that nearly 100% of women have experienced sexual harassment on the street through catcalls, whistles, comments yelled from construction sites or passing vehicles- comments designed not to compliment, but to diminish, to make us uncomfortable.  I don't even know how to categorize the sexual abuse coming from allegedly "safe" places- schools, churches, doctor's offices.  No place is off limits to a sexual predator. The scope of the problem is mind blowing.

These common but unpleasant experiences are usually kept in the dark and never brought into the light of day.  Why?

We learn early on that we need to be the keeper of the castle when it comes to our bodies and our dignity.  We must build tough walls that can deflect crude and demeaning comments.  We have to create a wide moat to protect ourselves against sexual aggressors who may come our way. We need to develop a set of strategic maneuvers to help us navigate around unwanted sexual advances. We are in a near constant state of battle and we don't always know or recognize the enemy. And while this philosophy is technically correct- we are ultimately the ones in charge of our bodies-there is not a castle strong enough to keep out men who decide to take what isn't theirs. When there are "infractions", it feels like it is our fault, our mistake, our castle didn't hold.  We build bigger walls and wider moats and still, we feel we have somehow failed when someone else succeeds at their unwanted and unwelcome advances.

So, we feel guilt, we feel shame, we keep quiet; we don't confront our abusers, because somewhere deep down we are sure it was at least partly our fault.

We should have known better...
We probably didn't read the signals correctly...
We must have led them on...
We should have known that's just how men are...
We thought we were in control...
Maybe we flirted a little...
Maybe we dressed too provocatively...
Maybe we had too much to drink...

Who would believe me anyway?

The part of the equation we never seem to give equal weight to is who and what was on the other side.  Were we outmatched in age, experience, power, position, size, status?  Was there force, intimidation, excessive persistence, or manipulation involved?  Were we threatened or bullied to stay quiet? Were we convinced that we brought it on ourselves? Many serial sexual abusers know exactly what they are doing.  They know who to target, how to groom you, how to manipulate your feelings, how to catch you off guard, and how to make you feel like it was your fault.  This is part of the sick game they play.

And yet often in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we take the blame.  We tell ourselves we won't let it happen again, we keep rebuilding the castle, and we beat ourselves up for it. We take our bad experience and wrap it up in shame, and then tuck it away somewhere deep down where it's safe and we don't have to look at it or think about it.  But when we keep it a secret, it can become bigger and more powerful in ways that we don't even understand. And when we stay quiet, we let other women think that this is only happening to them.  And when we keep it to ourselves, we don't ever let light shine into that ugly  darkness. And when we don't tell anyone else, we continue to believe whatever "truth" we have told ourselves without ever considering what the actual "truth" might be. We feel alone, ashamed, and embarrassed by our perceived failings.

It's important that women come forward and talk about this so: 1) women and men will understand how widespread this problem is, 2) women will feel the power in numbers and know that they are not alone, 3) women can finally start to believe that maybe it wasn't their fault, and  4) women can let go of the shame and finally start to heal.

Christian author, speaker, and victim of sexual abuse  Beth Moore recently added her own voice to the list of #MeToo's and offered this series of tweets to the many women speaking out:

#WeToo have a voice. For all the times we were bullied into silence, we get to speak up & call wrong WRONG. #WeToo for fewer future #MeToos.

#WeToo get to stand on solid ground and be counted.  We too get to help other girls stand.  We too get to say, "I understand.  I believe you."

#WeToo have dignity. We too have courage.  We too can heal.  We too have community.  We too can be unashamed. We too can see to change. 

If you have your own story of sexual harassment, assault, or abuse; you don't have to go public with it if you aren't comfortable, but sharing it with a trusted friend or counselor can help.
Women standing together in the light are so much more powerful than women standing alone in the dark.  Have courage.  You are not alone!


For more information:

Date Rape
Child Sexual Abuse
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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