Being a survivor of child sex abuse can be a very lonely, scary and misunderstood place. I remember when I first disclosed my abuse how frantic I felt. It was like a massive, ugly, horrible power was trying to consume me. I felt like I would never again get to a place of ‘okay’ let alone be anything near ‘thriving’. Mostly, I felt a need to talk and share. There was so much that I was learning including the fact that I was FAR from alone. The many fragmented pieces of myself were finally starting to come together as I learned the why of my addictions, my mental illness, my failed relationships, my failure to thrive, my shame and my desire to die. In my small recovery group, I met others who understood. I found my voice. Eventually, I shared it with a larger audience so that they too could learn. Still, I felt shame. Few really wanted to listen. Few understood how important it was for me to be heard. Few understood that I was still that little girl hurting so terribly. They saw a grown woman who really ‘should’ just ‘get over it’ and be ‘okay’. I dreamt of a time when survivors of child sex abuse could speak to others and share in meaningful dialogue. Not just the celebrity voice – but the every person voice.
The inaugural Voice Found, Words of Courage event was the realization of that dream come true. Three courageous survivors of child sex abuse shared the stage and engaged in thoughtful dialogue that surpassed even my wildest dreams. The audience was completely engaged and moved by what they heard. They heard insightful and honest conversation rather than a series of ‘sensationalized media stories’. Not a single person left that evening without an appreciation for the lasting devastation that child sex abuse has on survivors and those who surround them.
We learned about the different types of abuse and how it is rarely a stranger. We gained insight into the reasons children (and adults) don’t disclose. There were lessons on the impact abuse has on marriage and relationships and how families don’t always rally around the victim to help support them. There was discussion on mental health, suicide, substance abuse, anger and pain. Incredible, raw and unrelenting pain that does not magically disappear at the moment of disclosure. We heard about the ongoing impact and the significant work that goes into recovery.
There was magic in that room. We witnessed strength and saw what courage looks like. Every day people who don’t want anyone to feel sorry for them. In fact, just the opposite. They feel they have been given a gift in their recovery. The desire – the overarching theme – was for people to speak out. Engage in conversation. Talk with and about survivors of sex abuse just as you would talk about someone who survived a car crash or a debilitating disease. Help remove the stigma and silence that surrounds the issue of child sex abuse.
Sincere gratitude and thanks to Jean-Paul Bedard, Carrie Ann Kent and Matthew Sandusky for sharing their stories so selflessly. I understand it comes at a personal cost emotionally. I understand also that we do this because we know that we can not be silent. We must use our pain and our stories and our experience to help others. Whether a survivor, partner, friend, family member, colleague, neighbour or acquaintance of a survivor – we all have so much to learn and we can all do so much to help. Given the statistics, we all know someone.