“Nothing fixes a thing
so intently in the memory
wish to forget it”
I am not someone given to sitting around lamenting what might have been, and for a long time if someone had asked me what I wish had happened after I told about my abuse I probably would have said that it didn’t matter.
I told. My mother believed me, my father did not. I never had to see my grandfather again, but I lost half my family.
Mary told. No one said they didn’t believe her, but they also didn’t help her. Nothing changed. She endured years more abuse.
I railed against my abuse for years, fighting the FACT of it, but for whatever reason I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking or talking about what should have happened afterward. Those things simply were what they were.
I think that started to change when Mary asked Officer Paul what would have happened if our abuse had been reported to the police back when it occurred. I think having him say, “I would have driven down the street and arrested him,” opened something up in me.
Then, the next day, sitting across the police conference room table from the mother of another one of our grandfather’s victims, I felt overwhelming sorrow and guilt.
I know, of course, that as a traumatized little girl it was not my job to report him to the authorities- but bearing witness to that mother’s pain and knowing that it did not have to be that way? That her daughter’s abuse could have been prevented?
Because it could have. It should have been prevented.
For the first time, I felt rage.
That she was harmed is honestly harder for me to accept than my own abuse.
The more Mary and I reflected on it, the more determined we became to use that perspective- a perspective only survivors have- to try and change things.
A few months ago we put out the call to our community asking what they wish had happened in the wake of their abuse.
We read each email and felt the pain, the anger, the frustration, the sadness. The loss. We decided to use their words to help parents and other adults understand what a vital role they can play in a child’s ability to heal after sexual abuse.
Many parents think the worst case scenario is their child disclosing the fact that they’ve been the victim of sexual abuse.
The worst case scenario is your child is abused, and they never tell you.
They carry that unbearable burden alone, they feel forsaken. They don’t get help, so their trauma plays out again and again. Their story remains in the hands of their abuser, being told every day in ways that are toxic and harmful.
If your child tells you, you have a chance to believe, protect, support- your only three jobs.
This project is in honor of our beloved Say It, Survivor community, so many of whom were not believed. And for the children who were believed but dismissed. For the children who were told to shut up, and get over it. For children who were not chosen. For the children who were not protected. The children whose families chose comfort over compassion and reputation over responsibility. The children whose trauma went untreated. The children whose behavior screamed out, “I AM NOT OKAY!” only to have it fall on deaf ears.
We hear you. We believe you. We choose you.
Listen to these voices- voices that cried out to be heard, that cried out for justice, protection- the voices that cried out to their parents to honor the sacred contract they entered into when they brought a child into this world.
Maya Angelou says,
“When we know better, we do better.”
Then do better.
We could not fit all of the responses we received, heart-wrenching glimpses into what should have been, into the video. Read below for more wisdom from our astounding community of survivors:
The I Wish Project
“I wish I would have told my grandmother what my step-father had done to me. I was afraid, but who could blame me since my own mother didn’t believe me?”
“I wish someone had told me that when my family fell apart it wasn’t my fault. They spend a lot of time telling you the abuse wasn’t your fault but say nothing about the aftermath.”
“I wish I had been stronger and had the strength to say no!”
“I wish I had a home where I felt safe enough to say what he did to me.”
“I was very young, so I didn’t have the right words to describe my experience (though I tried), but I wish someone had taken the time to wonder and investigate and figure out what was going on.”
“I was abused by a youth pastor. The entire church turned against me. I wish so, so many things were there for the me back then but what I wish most of all was that I had pressed charges and sought justice.”
“My biological parents trafficked me. We attended church often and I was told I had bad thoughts and nightmares because I was naughty. I wish someone would have caught on and told me I was innocent. Then I could have undone a lot of brainwashing a lot sooner.”
“I wish I was treated as though something tragic happened and not as if I was “doing” something to or causing trouble or being in the pain in the ass by speaking up and out – as though it was strange that abuse and trauma hurt me – as opposed to completely normal.”
“I wish someone wrapped me in a blanket, held my hand, let me cry and said, “There there.” That first. And then worked on advocating for and protecting me. I wish this as both the teenager I was when I disclosed and even the young adult who spoke up and out and with a pretty big consequence.”
“I wish ABUSE was seen as the problem not my talking about it.”
“I wish someone had told me I was a good girl but no amount of being good would make it stop.”
“I wish I had told when I was 7, when it first started so that the sexual abuse would have stopped then.”
“I wish that when I did try to tell my parents that they would NOT have blamed me and would NOT have said that I must have asked for it & it was my own fault.”
“I wish I had been noticed, seen, heard. I wish I wasn’t invisible to everyone other than my rapists, all my life.”
“I wish I didn’t hurt myself for what someone else did.”
“I wish someone would have noticed my pain and the pain in inflicted to try cope.”
“I wish someone would have helped me, protected me, asked me how I felt.”
“I wish I didn’t blame myself.”
“I wish someone would have asked me if I was safe, if I was being hurt, if I was okay. I probably would have told if someone had asked me.”
“I wish others wouldn’t be so shocked or weird at the sound of uttering of the words “I was sexually abused and raped” why should my abuse make me feel defective because adults or family members can’t cope or handle my abuse?”
“I wish someone had told me that I wasn’t alone. I’ve been alone and had this deafening silent secret all my life.”
“I wish they didn’t pretend it never happened because they are so uncomfortable.”
“I wish I had felt safe in my own home, my own room and my own bed.”
“I wish someone had told me no one was allowed to do the things those bad men did to me so many times.”
“I wish I had been brave. I wish I was braver now. I wish I wasn’t so afraid of being rejected and hated for what someone else did to me.”
“I wish my mother would have noticed how many back rubs my stepfather gave me, and I wish that she would have sensed the feeling that she was interrupting something when she walked in.”
“Most of all, I wish that every child could have someone to talk to, that they would be believed, and that the abuser would go to prison.”
“For anyone working in a school setting, I wish that someone had recognized my anxiety and depression in high school and had cared enough to ask me questions.”
“I desperately, desperately wish that my mother would have chosen me and my daughter over her husband.”