The Importance of “WHO”

The timing of this is no coincidence. For the past week I have struggled with exactly how to handle a multitude of decisions and choices. Now that I’ve had some time to process, I want to share something incredibly important, essential even, to how we handle survivors of sexual abuse.

I remember the day like it was literally yesterday. I can pull this specific memory to the forefront of my mind as if recalling my own name – it’s that detailed, it’s that etched in my mind.

When my parents suspected abuse, went to the police, had me meet with CPS and detectives – “followed the process” so to speak, they were advised early on to seek therapy for me, the sooner the better.

Knowing little about any experts in the field, they reached out to a family friend and former school counselor of mine with a list of names they had compiled, to seek her advice. This resulted in the same former school counselor to pick me up for lunch three days into the investigation. It’s important to remember, at this time I had all but gone mute. I wasn’t speaking to a soul. I was terrified, I couldn’t process, and I felt so incredibly small. I was not prepared or skilled to deal with anything that was happening, but I liked the idea of this lunch date. First, it got me away from my parents who at the time were constant shadows – terrified to let me out of their sight. Secondly, I genuinely adored this person from a young age – as many who know her do.

So she picked me up and it was so… easy. For the first time in three days someone made me feel normal, safe even. It was as if my world was not upside down and the person in my presence was not staring directly into my soul, searching for answers. She was perfectly content talking about the weather and school while we shared chips and salsa.

Then, on the way home – literally seconds from my house a series events orchestrated, no doubt, by a higher power, caused my emotions to shift dramatically. Like a dam breaking, I disclosed enough about my abuse for it to be real to someone other than myself and my abuser. The only other person in the world who knew without a doubt that I had been sexually abuse was sitting in the driver seat – calm, collected, and letting me speak, process, go through the emotions safely. She was the first person I talked to.

It didn’t matter that there was an open investigation. It didn’t matter that a handful of people had now suspected this very real thing. What matters in this memory is that the person I told, the SURVIVOR told, was someone I knew, someone I trusted and had spent significant time feeling safe around.

So why do I say this?

A massive amount of feedback I see about which curriculum schools want to choose for body safety comes down to what is fastest and simplest. Generally that means letting someone else come in to give the lessons. What may not be clear here is why that is a huge deal. It’s huge because the person that comes in and talks to students is foreign to the child sitting in the seat who may be on the verge of disclosing and getting help – and the one thing that holds him/her back is that the person that is attempting to make this connection with them with the curriculum being taught, is someone they’ve only just met. There is no safe feeling, there is no trust, and therefore, there likely is a significant chance they won’t say anything at all.

It’s huge because the person that a child does disclose to – or anyone for that matter – is something they will remember and have strong, STRONG emotion about for the rest of their life. It’s no secret that teachers and counselors and support staff become a second, sometimes even preferred, safe space – a family. So, who better to open this delicate conversation with the strong likelihood of stopping abuse and/or getting someone help towards healing?

I get why the decision is made. Teachers and educators throughout the nation have high demands and little to no resources. They are treading water and it’s only just now a topic of conversation in society but it’s been going on for years. It’s burning them out and they will take any help they can get. I get it. When presented with a panel of options – the one with the most help seems logical.

BUT.

Let me be frank – if we knowingly do something that is easier over better, simply because “something is better than nothing” then we are quite literally doomed. That line of thinking has no place in the way of success. So, if our goal is to prevent this abuse – we have to do the best we know. That’s the only way to make a difference.

I’m still unsure of how to combat it. On the one hand, I know that educators struggle and in my position, I struggle with that idea immensely. On the other hand, I’m deeply troubled by knowing that so many are eager and encouraged to bring in a curriculum that is “good enough,” knowing there is something more modern and more effective – because of a lack of resources or time (in most of their own words).

I’ll wrap this up by saying this:

If someone discloses abuse to you, know that you are incredibly valuable to that person. This isn’t happenstance. You are trusted and they feel safe with you. Help them in their process, allow them time and a space safe to process, and encourage them or help them get the help they need to stop being abused, if it isn’t stopped already.

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