Let’s Do the Math

Anyone who knows me well will be immediately suspicious that this blog has been hijacked, because I am bad at math.  I am notoriously math averse.  Don’t worry friends, I am O-KAY.  Math hurts my feelings, and steals my lunch money- so you know if I am WILLINGLY bringing up math, it is important.

At last count, I have had 415 people speak of their abuse in response to my post, He wrote it down.  Some in comments on Momastery and Jen Hatmaker– some in emails, Facebook messages or comments here on my blog.  I had the shards of so many broken childhoods held out, in trembling hands, for me to look at. I read every story. I was profoundly honored to witness them. I  recorded every first name.

I wrote them down.


Of those 415 women and men, 23 are people I know.  Some acquaintances, some I went to high school with, some college, and some I know really well.

Some are my dear friends.

That shatters me.

I had no idea about any of them.  They had no idea about me. We all passed in and out of each others’ lives, thinking that we were alone in our abuse- which is what our perpetrators were counting on.

That’s the way it works, friends.  That is the ONLY way it works.

Childhood sexual abuse is like one giant pyramid scheme straight from hell. Someone is abused, and they either turn it inward, or outward.  Those of us who turn it inward are mired in shame and repeat self destructive and unhealthy patterns, become enablers, or gravitate toward more abusers throughout our lives.

A certain percentage of victims of sexual abuse turn it outward, and become abusers themselves.  And a certain percentage of their victims will become abusers, and so on and so on, an so on.  Each generation with more abusers and more victims.

People have asked me if the numbers are higher than they used to be, or if we are just more aware of it now.  The answer is both, I think.

Of the 23 people I know personally, 14 are women with whom I went to high school. Upon learning that, someone asked my younger sister why there seemed to be such an epidemic where we grew up.  I know.  14 seems like such a high number.

Except it isn’t, when you look at what we know.

The statistics tell us that 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys  will be victimized.  Experts also tell us that is likely a conservative number, given how underreported this type of crime is.  I had about 300 people in my graduating class.  14 out of 300?  If that really is the number, and I  feel certain it isn’t, it would be well below average.  Still too many, of course.  One is too many.

A month ago looking at those numbers I would have felt hopeless.  I would have despaired at that math.  The past few weeks have changed my perspective.

There are many negative effects of child sexual abuse- shame, anger, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety, promiscuity, patterns of abusive relationships…   While there are similarities from victim to victim, survival looks a little different on each of us.

The one common thread that ran through every story offered up to me is the feeling of aloneness.  The sense that you are the ONLY one.  I felt that way.  I think there are several reasons for that.  Many children are told by their abusers that they must never tell.  They are threatened with all manner of dire consequences if they do.  Many children, even if they are not threatened directly, see their abusers as all powerful.  They cannot conceive of a world where they will be believed over their abuser.

Many children summon the courage to speak their truth, and are NOT believed.  Are told to SHUT UP.

So they do.  And then they move through life believing the lie that they are alone.  I have had many women email me and tell me of the similarities between my story and theirs. They marvel at the fact they’ve stumbled upon a story that so closely mirrors their own. The truth is, I am just telling a common tale.  There isn’t anything extraordinary about my story, other than the fact that I am telling it publicly.

The opposite of being alone is being in community.  All of you who shared your truth with me?  We are IN COMMUNITY now.  We are a community of survivors.  We are speaking our truths.  Some of us are shouting them, and some are bravely just beginning to whisper.  Doesn’t matter.

I hope the women and men who entrusted me with their stories feel less alone.  I know I do.

This is how things change.  I am sure of it.  If we can create a society where when a child is abused, the norm is to TELL.  When we have had the awkward conversations with our kids that will empower them to come to us when something happens, abusers will be stopped sooner.  Stopping perpetrators sooner means fewer victims.  Fewer victims means fewer future perpetrators, which means fewer future victims.

And that?  That is math I would happily do.  That is math I could LOVE.

Sweet friends- Come join me over on Facebook!

27 Comments on “Let’s Do the Math

  1. I don’t ever recall having been warned not to tell, but I was told this: if you tell about IT, then people will think you and your sister are bad. And since I knew IT was true, well then that must mean we really are bad. That kept me quiet for over 30 years. I tried to make a lot of noise when I finally stopped being quiet, but I never came close to what you’ve done. Thanks from all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks…. I wish it had been courage. It might have happened earlier. It was more of a dam break. I couldn’t stop it. No one could stop it. 14 years later… I don’t feel shame now. I don’t cry regularly, I don’t think of suicide. I do still let people walk over me a bit, but when I notice it I can stop it. If you had told me 14 years ago that I could ever feel this normal I would have set you straight. Sounds trite, but the truth most certainly can set you free.

        Liked by 1 person

      • For some people that dam breaking doesn’t include speaking their truth- they just…BREAK. Someone asked me when they would be able to speak their truth. I replied, when not speaking it becomes impossible. Maybe that’s what you mean? It’s still courage. You’ll never convince me otherwise. xo

        Liked by 3 people

      • Yeah, I think my sister just broke. Very sad. She still keeps the secrets, even knowing that they’re not even secret anymore.


  2. This made me cry. Not just because you are attempting to do math (tee hee), but because I can feel things changing, one person at a time. I hope it becomes the norm for victims to tell and be believed. And we can watch the numbers diminish, one beautiful soul at a time. It’s happening thanks to you. xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I simply want to thank you for your bravery. When we reveal, we lessen the stigma, and then we have a tool to fight with which to fight- our fellow overcomers.


  4. I was abused as a child and I became promiscuous as a result. Having sex with lots of guys was a form of self harming. I was bound by shame. My perpetrator didn’t tell me not to tell anyone and I actually told my dad and sister. That’s great I hear you say except we never spoke about it again. I didn’t receive counselling or press charges. It became my secret and I began a secret life. I see that now. But it never would have crossed my mind that my school friends at the time may have been through something similar to me. Thank you for your honesty its brought clarity.


    • It never crossed my mind, either. We were all alone, together. I’m sorry you didn’t get the help and support you needed and deserved. And shames causes everyone in its grasp to do self harming things. You need never apologize for what you did to survive, Elaine. You’re here. You made it. WARRIOR.


  5. I read your story here first, and then I saw it again on momastery… Incredibly moving. It was like your actions and the actions of Officer Paul validated… all of us. I felt triumphant with you, I felt like … ME TOO! With a fist pump to the sky. thank you so much for your story and for your writing. Both are beautiful or as G would say… Brutiful…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I live in a state where approximately 11,000 children are abused every year … and those are the ones that are reported. It’s estimated the numbers are closer to 35,000. It’s sickening. I have the deep honor of working at a children’s hospital where men and women are on the front lines trying to help victims receive medical help, mental health services and legal support every day. Thank you all for being brave enough to share your stories. Hearing where you are now in your journeys helps those of us in the trenches keep fighting the good fight to end this epidemic and break the cycle of abuse.


  7. I didn’t tell you my name or story but maybe you could make a mark on your sheet for me anyway.


      • Because it is a devastating thing. Something was stolen from you. Something that cannot be replaced. You are mourning that loss, and grief is not linear, and there’s no time limit on it. I hope you have support and are getting some help, friend. And I am so glad you are here.


      • I am. Started late in the game and wish I had younger. But I did eventually start.

        I have a good therapist. I have a wonderful husband and marriage. I have good friends in my life. I have a good career where I am valued (although it took a handful of years of therapy to recognize that.)

        And yet. At some level it’s not enough, never enough. There’s still, always, the gaping hole inside that nothing ever fills.

        Pretty dumb with all the good I have going for me.

        I want something so much and yet I don’t even know what it is I’m yearning for.

        Maybe to be free from so much sadness. I just don’t know how.

        Thank you for the word friend. Something simple, yet so much.


  8. it’s interesting to me, thinking about this post and the surprise of finding out people close to you have been tormented this way. 27 years ago today, when i was 16 years old, i walked into my first AA meeting; i’ve been sober ever since. i grew up in AA, hearing people tell the stories not just of terrible things they’d done while drinking, but also of terrible things that had been done to them. the downside was that i still have a hard time believing anyone grows up happy and secure…but the upside is that it feels absolutely natural and normal to me, telling people about my pain and hearing about theirs. i know that just about every woman in my life–and lots of the men–has a story like yours, or like mine. and yet, when i learned that the pastor of my childhood parish was one of the hundreds of pedophile priests preying on catholic children–when i thought of all the little boys i went to school with, had my first crushes on, suffering at his hands….devastating. i never would have guessed. and yet in retrospect, it makes perfect sense.

    the numbers just keep going up.


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