The truth is, in comparison to most people I know, I have very few solid memories of my childhood. I own approximately 20 photographs from when I was a kid, so I can't even really use pictures to jog my memory. I'm not really sure when the most traumatic events from my childhood happened, but I feel like the worst of them happened when I was 8, therefore, everything has just become "when I was 8 years old" when I talk about it.
The reason that I'm bringing that up is because, when reading about people who finally come forward with a history of abuse, a lot of people won't believe them. I mean, if they were abused, why didn't they come forward sooner, right? Why did they wait so long?
I can't speak for every abuse victim, but I know why I never pursued any sort of action against the people who sexually abused me (yeah - there was more than one. Three, to be exact.). First - my memories are screwed. Like, they are so disjointed and all over the place, it's just a disaster trying to put them in any sort of order. Apparently this is not uncommon with childhood trauma. When everything is a mess in your life, it remains a mess in your mind for a very, very long time.
The worst memory that I have is really, really bad...and then it's just blackness. Like - I literally cannot remember past a certain point. I can guess what happened based on my unfortunately very vivid recollection of what I do remember. I'm pretty sure I know what happened. But I'll never really be sure. The most vivid part of that memory is waking up the next day and thinking something along the lines of, "I really didn't like that. I don't want to do that again. But I don't want to make ***** mad."
I decided to turn it into a game. I found string and I put it across my bedroom door and I told everyone that my room was now a museum, and no one was allowed to cross the red velvet rope to get inside. I then moved a pillow and blankets into my closet, told everyone it was my "fort," and that's where I started sleeping.
The thing is - I didn't even realize that I was being abused. I mean, if you knew that you were being abused, you'd be like, oh hey! Stop that! You're abusing me! Or something...right?
But...when you're young and naive and trusting and really, just a kid...you literally have no idea what the hell is going on. For me, I just knew that I was uncomfortable. And I didn't want anyone to feel bad about me being uncomfortable, so I just...worked around it.
Our family also had deep Southern roots, and those roots require that you keep up appearances, and you never, EVER let anyone know that anything is wrong.
When life was probably at it's worst in our household (I don't know exactly when - when I was 8?), the Department of Children and Family Services came to see me at school, and pulled me out of class for an interview. They wanted to know about life at home. Was it good? Did I feel safe? Did I want to talk about it? Did I know how my brother got that black eye?
It's good. I feel safe. There's nothing to talk about. I think he fell down.
When I got up to leave, I could see the sweaty outline of my handprints on the table and I remember feeling terrified that they would be able to tell from that that I was nervous, and lying.
I mean - think about that. Life at home is absolute hell, and I was scared that the people who wanted to help me might find out. Because abusive people just screw up everything about the way you think and what's supposed to be normal. Because they're abusive.
A few years later, in a family therapy session, I told my mom about the sexual abuse. She loudly declared that I was manipulative and lying and that I was trying to destroy our family and her life. So...you know...telling someone didn't really turn out so great.
Years later, I know people that know and love *****. And if I really got into this history, they would be hurt. I don't want to hurt people. And, I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't believe me anyway. After all, the ***** that I was so afraid of so many years ago, is not the person that they know today. And besides, the official stance from my family is that life when I was a kid was practically the Brady Bunch.
Everything was awesome, we swear.
So, in a nutshell, why do I think people don't come forward? Because their memories are chaotic, and people will use that against them. Because they literally may not have had any idea at the time that what was happening was abusive. Because telling someone might be worse than what's actually happening...or you might think that it could be worse. And because, when you finally do decide to tell somebody about it, the flat out refusal to believe what you say hurts so much, why on earth would you ever want to talk about it again? I mean - what's the point? So you can relive the traumatic event and people can call you a liar?
But then...you know...you get to a place where you feel like maybe, if you talk about what happened to you, then other people will feel ok talking about their experience, and you can all hold each other up during the healing process, because you are absolutely not alone, and that's really comforting to know.
And then somebody is like, "Well why didn't you say something sooner? I mean, if it really happened, why didn't you call the police or something? I just don't believe this really happened."
And the reason is because it's just not that simple. And until you have been completely violated by the people that you trust most in the world, you're never going to know how you would react. You're never going to know what it's like to be on this path. The very best thing that you can probably do is listen, and try not to loudly declare the million reasons why your own life experience dictates that someone with a completely different life experience must be a liar.