Why do victims of sexual abuse and assault wait so long to speak up?

As soon as the docuseries The Keepers aired, I received several messages asking my opinion because ten years ago, my daughter was molested by her teacher and there was a lot of cover up by the school.

When the news van showed up and wanted to interview my daughter, I made her wear a disguise because I was worried for her safety. Now, we talk about it openly. She was given an award for her courage by the District Attorney in front of 8,000 people that was televised.

Why did I go from completely hiding my daughter’s identification to speaking about it on every public platform I can? Why did the women in The Keepers and the victims of Bill Cosby come forward 20 to 40 years later?  The simple answer that defense attorneys and perpetrators do not want the jury or the public to believe is that everyone comes forward when they are ready. This is why the statutes of limitations on sexual abuse or sexual assault cases should be abolished.

We were the first family to go public with our accusations of the teacher. None of the children who had been molested by the same teacher had told their parents because they had never been taught about inappropriate touching. Most children are not taught earlier enough and do not have the words to articulate what has happened to them. The predators know this and count on it.

No matter what age you are, when you or your loved one has been a victim of sexual abuse or assualt, you are consumed with fear, shame, mistrust, sadness, and anger. It can be so overwhelming you just go numb. You aren’t calculating your next move. You are not plotting and planning. The thought never enters your mind that maybe you should look up the statute of limitations on how long you have before you tell the authorities.

You are just trying to get through each day as it comes. You never know what will be a trigger. You don’t know how you will ever be the same. You don’t know if you are worth caring about. You don’t know if people will believe you. You start asking those misogynistic victim-blaming questions that have been brainwashed into society since before you were born. What did I do to deserve this? Did it really happen? Maybe it was my fault?

Then come the scarier thoughts or threats from the predator. Nobody will believe me. What if he kills me? What if he kills my family? This may sound absurd to someone who has never been traumatized or who is not currently in crisis mode but they are very real to those who have.  From the documentary, it looks as though those questions are quite valid.

Not to mention that our society turns on the victims and slut shames them. Their families abandon them. Their employers fire them. Their schools kick them out. The way victims are treated is almost worse than what the perpetrators did to them. When the criminal justice system fails them and they seek retribution in civil court they get labeled as gold diggers. This is the most absurd thinking of all. Any victim will tell you no amount is worth going through what they went through.

The trauma will affect them for the rest of their lives. No amount of money will cure their PTSD, their anxiety, their fears. My daughter still has nightmares ten years later! Money is necessary to get them treatment, therapists are not cheap. Money is needed to help them move on with their life. There have been studies on the physical and emotional damage victims suffer that found it can lead to cancer, migraines, depression, alcohol and drug addiction, and a shorter lifespan by about twenty years. What price tag would you put on twenty years of your life?

Another reason it can take so long for victims to come forward is dissociation and repressed memories. Our bodies have the ability to completely block out the memory of a traumatic experience. It is a protection mechanism and it is very real and valid. Some victims have no memory of the abuse until something triggers the brain to unlock the memory and then it all comes crashing back. I’ve helped victims who had zero memory for thirty years and then suddenly, they remembered every single detail as if it were yesterday. They remember the smells, sounds, the clothes they were wearing, and how the room was decorated. Sometimes only pieces of memories come back, little by little.

I am thankful for documentaries like The Keepers, The Hunting Ground, and the movie Spotlight. The public needs to pull their head out of the sand and acknowledge this is happening at epidemic proportions and justice isn’t being served.

No matter how long it takes, I am always grateful when other survivors are willing to share their stories. Even though justice isn’t always served and it can be re-victimizing, speaking up about abuse has the potential to save other victims. The average pedophile abuses 117 victims in their lifetime. They do not stop until the day they die. Even if you are past the statute of limitations to seek justice in a courtroom, it is important to share your story to save others.

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