10 Ways to Prepare to Disclose Sexual Abuse As an Adult
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.
Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan recently disclosed, for the first time, that she was sexually abused at the age of 9 by her music teacher, a family friend, on her Facebook Watch show, “Red Table Talk.” She spoke of how painful it is to keep a secret and how important it is to believe survivors when they speak out. Also on the same “Red Table Talk” episode, called “Betrayed by Trusted Adults,” Clare Crawley — the first Latina “Bachelorette” — talked about the child sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of a priest. Estefan shared that Crawley’s previous disclosure led her to disclose.
I have similar stories to these women and was inspired by their sharing. When I became brave enough to disclose publicly, it was so frightening. I did not know how others would respond and if I would be blamed and shamed. I already felt so guilty that I had done something to cause the abuse. I could not handle pushback from others if they did not believe me. I was already having trouble believing myself.
My first public disclosure was at a fraternity house on my college campus in front of sorority and fraternity members. I was speaking on behalf of the Coalition Against Rape. I shared the story of being raped in elementary school. I talked about how the rape impacted me and how I worked to survive it.
The room was quiet and no one wanted to ask a question. Finally, the silence was broken and I went on to answer many questions that night. We talked about rape on campus and staying safe and that rape was wrong, and that being drunk was no excuse.
As the night ended, I was relieved and proud of myself. I felt somewhat embarrassed that now all these people knew my story but based on the questions, I think I helped at least one person that night and from then on sharing my story has been all worth it. I have been telling my story ever since.
For the most part, my disclosures have been met with belief, care, and comfort. Some shock and concern and even some anger. I have turned my trauma into a blessing for others and I do public speaking and writing about my abuse. Some of my story, I keep to myself still. But I make it a point to share with others that they are not alone and that there is support for them.
I even recently received the following feedback for some work I do with my county’s mental health court. I share openly with the participants about my struggles and am always embraced by them.
From my supervisor at the court: “Mr. Jones has been very positive about his group meetings with you. He thinks you are very relatable and said, ‘She gets it, and it’s nice to talk to someone who understands what I deal with.’ That was music to my ears! I really appreciate the work you do and the education and support you provide to court participants; you are doing good work and are a valued community partner.”
I find disclosure worth it — as long as I am in control of the time and place of my disclosure.
I want to stop sexual abuse and this is my way to do it.
“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” This question, asked by the feminist poet Muriel Rukeyser in her 1960s tribute poem to the German artist and sculptor Kathe Kollwitz.
I ask again, what would happen if you told the truth about your life?
When others ask me about disclosure, I encourage them to think about who and what it serves. If it serves them, then they should do it. If it is to meet someone else’s needs, it is probably not advisable. You need to be ready before you make the leap. It can be so freeing and motivating to make changes in one’s life. Also, know that not everyone will be welcoming of your news. Others will not want to take responsibility for their roles in your abuse. Some may blame you and accuse you of bringing this on yourself. Some will doubt your reality and try to gaslight you. You may find some will stop speaking to you and turn away from your permanently. But all of this rejection should not stop you from doing what is best for you. People did all of the above to me and I still believe in disclosure and its benefits.
What is next for you? How do you tell your story in a way it can be heard and you can be cared for?
How do you prepare to disclose as an adult sexual abuse survivor?
1. Feel confident in your truth no matter what opposition you may receive.
2. As much as you can tolerate, read others’ stories (the good, the bad, and the ugly).
3. Select a trusted therapist, friend, or family member.
4. Select someone with your best interests in mind.
5. Select someone who has the bandwidth to support you at this time (as you are going to need a lot of TLC).
6. Tell again if you do not get the response you were hoping for.
7. Remember your story may trigger others, as did Crawley’s for Estefan. They may have to step back from you for a while.
8. You can tell your story once or repeatedly. It is all about what you need.
9. Reporting may be an option for you. This will be challenging but if your heart is in it, do it. You may be saving another life.
10. Your story is yours to tell and no one else’s, so shout it from the mountaintops or share it in a whisper. You are now in control; you have the power.
Estefan and Crawley were brave, and so are you. In your own time, speak your truth. It will surely set you free from a lot of pain and shame, as it did me. The more I told, the easier it got, and the less power my perpetrators had over me. You can do this if you so choose.
Your voice is Mighty Strong!
Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash