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Dear Society: No, I Don’t Need to Forgive My Abusers

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I’ve been thinking about something that was said to me about “getting over” the sexual abuse and rape I endured and how I “need to forgive” and “put it behind me” and “stop being a victim.”

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I interpreted this as, “Shut up, and figure out how to accept and ingest all the blame and shame yourself, because it makes me uncomfortable when you display the audacity to talk about its effect on you. I can’t handle the power of your rage and the depth of your sadness over what you were forced to endure.”

How can someone not carry in their mind, body and soul, the trauma rape and sexual abuse has on them? I don’t know how you put it down, white wash it and say, “It’s fine, that was then, this is now, it shouldn’t matter anymore, it was “no big deal.” I don’t know how to “put it down” because in doing so, I’d feel as if I’d be burying me, the little girl I once was, and still am, under all the mud and shit I’ve worked so hard to wash off. It is part of me. It’s part of what makes me who I am.

But I’ve also learned I’m much more than the things that happened to me. Though it’s part of the skin I wear and I still need to practice shedding certain parts, if I stop fighting and yelling into a bullhorn, they win. People need to know what happened to me and millions of others, and continues to happen every single day. Silence perpetuates these heinous actions. For generations, the enforced cultural silence enabled the assault, abuse and rape of millions of children and adults, trapping them in the misery of self-blame and self-destructive patterns. Our culture allows a system to stay in place that attacks, blames and denigrates victims and perpetuates the disgustingly low investigation, prosecution, conviction and sentencing of those who have victimized others.

Our “hush, this makes me uncomfortable” culture has for centuries allowed perpetrators of sexual violence escape without ever having to own the devastation they purposefully and willfully inflicted upon others. It puts the onus on the victim, insinuating if you really want to heal, “it’s best that you forgive,” even though they never received any form of apology or real restitution.

Statements are just empty words. The proof of repentance and real change are in actions. Our culture never demands the rapists or abusers earn forgiveness. No one demands they offer a real explanation, or heartfelt apology, that asks for forgiveness while acknowledging the damage they’ve bestowed upon someone’s life and soul. It only suggests if the damaged party truly wants to be free and heal, they forgive their abusers and/or rapists. It’s bullshit and it’s wrong.

Maybe when I don’t have to see stories on the news about the “liars” who just want money, or those who “jump on the bandwagon” or just “want attention.” Or hear the unending and formulaic stories about how it was just my “’crazy’ ex” who made our kids say things that aren’t true, the children get thrown under the bus. Maybe when I receive some truthful acknowledgement, sorrow and acceptance of their responsibility in how they chose to despoil and violate me when I was an innocent little girl, I would be able to forgive. Maybe not forever or all the time,  but where its impact doesn’t spill over into every crevice of my life. Maybe the rage I feel would lesson.

I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with an amazing therapist. We have worked very hard learning to accept the truth of what my childhood sexual abuse and rape has done to me, my life and all the opportunities it has stolen from me. I have also learned, I am a badass and have overcome much, while managing, through realized opportunities and careful choices, to make a pretty good life for myself. I have learned I can be full of rage or sadness some days, and it will pass. I have learned I am not required to forgive my abusers or excuse what they chose to do to my prepubescent, hairless and formless body to “move on,” but I do need to forgive and comfort that little girl I was.

I have learned “moving on” isn’t some magic thing that makes it so it never happened to me or that I will never feel upset about it.  I will always be affected by it in some way. It means I can look at, feel and experience lifelong effects from it and I will still be OK. I am not weak or “playing the victim,” but I am in fact human and having normal human reactions to the abnormal and life-altering trauma I endured. It is always part of me, of who I am. I am entitled to tell my story or not, how I see fit.

Other people’s discomfort about my abuse and rape — it belongs to them. I have zero responsibility to be silent for others. I can do great things, things I never thought I could do (like go back to college or announce to the world, without shame, I was sexually abused and raped as a child). I can fight for my and every other victim’s rights, without having to re-experience the trauma. I have discovered I have a need to speak out and I will never, ever again be silent.

Getty image by Magdalena Kleemann

Originally published: June 26, 2021
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