These are precious words for victims of child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, it’s still common for victims to hear “Are you sure?” uttered by incredulous friends and family. Apparently, in spite of the grim statistics, it remains difficult to believe that someone who looks fairly normal has actually been sexually abused in childhood by a trusted adult.
It’s hard enough to deal with one’s own struggle to get clear on what actually happened. For me, when my own memories first surfaced, I didn’t want to believe what I was learning.
In my memoir I write:
I didn’t want to have been sexually abused. I wanted to be the girl from the respectable family whose father adored her ….I wanted a nice family. I wanted to be a normal healthy woman, not a trauma victim.
(Confessions of a Trauma Therapist, pages 150 & 151)
Meeting with family’s disbelief is extremely painful. First we get sexually abused and, after disclosing to family, we are seen as mentally disturbed, confused, given to distorted fantasy. We’re still so alone with our pain.
Those of us who have struggled to make sense of our memories of child sexual abuse need to hear the magic words: I believe you. If you have someone in your life who discloses fresh knowing of abuse, here’s some helpful information.
There’s a difference between knowing and believing. Dr. George Fraser, one of the early leading teachers in the area of childhood trauma put it this way:
“When you walk into my office, you believe the certificates hanging on my wall have been presented to me. But you don’t know that. You weren’t present when I was studying and you weren’t at my graduation.”
It’s reasonable for you to believe. Why wouldn’t you?”
In the same way, given the fact that child sexual abuse is endemic in our society, why wouldn’t you believe the victim? Anyway, why would any sane person lie about something so ugly and painful?
If you’re not able to adapt an attitude of support for the person disclosing abuse, please check your own discomfort. Are you a part of society’s blind denial of crimes against children? Maybe you’re more determined to believe you live in a “nice” world than in helping the victims. Could it be that you yourself are carrying some dark personal secrets?
Just remember before you express your incredulity, the person you’re doubting has no doubt spent sleepless nights struggling with her own doubt. She (or he) doesn’t’ need yours.