Why victims are often not believed, silenced, and shunned by the very people they depend on for support.
Unless you've experienced it, or have known someone who has, you probably don't understand how this could happen to one, let alone many if not most survivors.
The pain of being denied by friends and family is often a second form of trauma for survivors. If you are looking for some examples, check out Project Unbreakable.
So why? Why do the very people that children expect to protect and nurture them do the very opposite? Through our many conversations we have come up with a few suggestions and we hope this may alleviate some of the pain and bring forth some understanding.
A prime example: Dottie Sandusky. Despite all the victims that spoke out about Jerry Sandusky, the adults admitting they knew or suspected and failed to protect these children from being sexually abused, not to mention his conviction, she still believes her husband is innocent.
So what is the deal when a person chooses to live in denial and ignore the child in need, once the initial denial fades and they are able to process what is being communicated to them?
What is the purpose of denial? From a psychological standpoint, it is a defense mechanism to protect the ego from a reality that is difficult and undesirable. The pain of having to accept this new reality is terrifying and overwhelming and the person chooses to shut down the truth. If they can convince themselves that it didn't happen, they can continue life as usual. And with sexual abuse, often the only proof is the child's word. And how easily do adults find it to disregard what children say? They may even go so far as forcing the victim to apologize to their abuser for speaking the truth. And often, children will recant because the trauma of being disbelieved makes silence seem like a much better option.
Friedrich Nietzsche phrased it best, "Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed.”
Such denial is often accompanied by...
"Why did you let this happen?"
"Why didn't you stop it?"
"What did you expect dressing like that?"
"I told you to stay away."
Whatever it is - if you were a victim of abuse and someone blamed you, that person does not have the mental strength to accept reality. Blaming the victim is how they try to avoid feelings of pain/guilt/shame that this happened. If it's the victim's fault, they don't have to feel bad about the fact that it happened and/or that they don't have the courage to do the right thing and help the child.
Add In A Side of Minimizing.
"It wasn't THAT bad."
"You're overreacting - you always were dramatic."
"She was old enough to know what she was doing."
"Boys can't really be raped."
"It was a mistake."
They weren't there, but yet they're trying to dictate to the survivor the extent of the abuse. Again - not reality. Just another way to reduce feelings of guilt and shame on their part.
Some may even go so far as to act as though the victim is attacking them by speaking such a painful truth. "Why are you doing this to me?" In other words, they're killing the messenger, "Why are you ruining my perfect little world with a painful truth?" They're angry and hurt - but they're directing it at the victim because, lets be honest, the abuser certainly isn't about to tell someone what they've been doing. But the victim is looking for someone to make it stop.
Forgive and Forget!
Wouldn't it be nice to start off with a clean slate and just forget the trauma of abuse? Survivors don't have the ability to choose their memories. And even when survivors do come to a place of forgiveness - it doesn't mean that they need to allow their abuser back in their life. Far from it. Forgiveness is about letting go of anger. Accepting the past and that it cannot be changed. Forgiveness has more to do with the victim's personal healing and ability to live a fulfilling life - none of which requires the presence of their abuser.
A Lack of Basic Compassion.
Possibly combined with...
A Weak Constitution.
In The End, It's About Them.
It is never the responsibility of the survivor to convince others to understand and support them. As a survivor, you must do what is necessary for your healing process. And many times, that means walking the path without those you want by your side. Silence and denial do not heal the trauma of sexual abuse. The good news is - there are thousands of people just like you who are walking that path and will gladly walk it with you.
The bad news, there are a lot of children out there right now that can't get this support without the help of an adult. Which is why is it the responsibility of all caring adults to be educated and prepared for a disclosure of abuse. If a child asks for help - believe them. You may be the first or last person they ask for help.
For more information:
How to Handle a Disclosure
Online Resources for Healing & Support
Books for Healing