:: guest post by Mary DeMuth
I love Mary DeMuth. And I don’t mean that in the lame say-it-but-don’t-mean-it way. She was my roommate when we were in Haiti together in 2012, and she is genuine, whole, brave, loving, funny, and smart. And her morning alarm was a song by Elvis Costello. She has written a very important book and I am so honoured to share my space here with her hard-won wisdom today.
As a sexual abuse survivor, I’ve heard my share of insensitive comments. I’ve also talked to enough victims to be able to gather some of the most damaging words here—all for the sake of those who truly, truly want to be loving, sensitive and helpful.
My intention in writing these is not to shame those who want to help, or make them walk on eggshells. Instead it’s to help friends and family members of victims best love and understand the sexual abuse recovery journey.
One. That was so long ago, why can’t you just get over it?
In this case, I simply ask, “How long did it take you to ‘get over’ the death of a loved one?” Sexual abuse involves grief—the loss of innocence, the shame of sexual violation, the removing of living life free. I’m not sure we ever “get over it.” We grow. We heal. We process. But there will always be that grief.
Two. Are you sure it happened?
Telling is the hardest thing to do for a sexual abuse victim. While there are people who make up stories, err on the side of belief. Believe me, none of us wish we had this terrible story to tell. And yes, we’re sure it happened.
Three. If you talk about it so much, you’ll never heal.
Processing is important. There will be times when a victim spends a lot of time talking. This is part of the process. It won’t always be so. Offer your understanding. Listen. Ask questions. Making snap judgments about someone’s healing journey and how long it “should” take only makes them want to quit.
Four. You know that song, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Or it makes you weaker, jumpy, more fearful, less trusting.
Five. I could never go through what you went through.
What this communicates is that, in a way, you’re glad it didn’t happen to you. Which is completely natural to feel. But it also makes us feel like we’re marked somehow, and we’re left with the very real truth that it did happen to us.
Six. That perpetrator must live with such awful regret.
Maybe. Maybe not. Sociopaths and psychopaths don’t process regret or shame like others. They tend to blame society, their upbringing, and even the victim for their violations. A sexual predator is redeemable, but their pathway to health is long and excruciating. One article that truly helped me understand how many predators process “getting caught” was a recent one by Boz Tchividjian.
Seven. That’s how men act. It’s normal.
This is one of the most demeaning things anyone can say about a man. Men aren’t enslaved to sexual desire unless they choose to be. Men can act nobly, honoring the women in their lives. They will not die without sexual release.
Eight. So and so forgave her abuser; it was easy.
While forgiveness is an important part of the healing process, it is not simple or easy. And it can take years to get to a place where you choose to forgive. Telling us how easy it was for someone else makes us feel like the path of healing we’re on is the wrong one.
Nine. It’s just sex.
Unwanted sexual touch is violation. It’s not just sex. That’s why there’s a difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. One is an act of choice and love. The other is predatory and criminal.
Ten. But was it full sexual abuse? He just leered? That’s it?
Dan Allender in his book The Wounded Heart shares that healing from sexual abuse is difficult no matter what form it takes. Don’t minimize someone’s journey just because it doesn’t fit with your idea of violaton.