Sexual abuse is not a single-victim crime. It impacts families and communities worldwide. Most people know someone who has experienced sexual abuse. How will you respond when you learn someone you love and care for has been hurt so deeply by this heinous crime? In the years following my disclosure and people learning about my experiences, the reactions have varied across the spectrum from outright rage to assuming I was lying. Each response impacted me- some were extremely comforting and healing, while others caused added distress in my life (unintentionally and intentionally). I hope that through sharing my encounters more people will be aware of how important their responses are to learning of abuse. In this post, I am going to discuss the reaction of wanting to inflict significant injury to an abuser.
In the days following social services’ intervention and the separation from my abuser, some of the people closest to my family, including extended family, were informed about what had happened. Anger, rage, and the desire to hurt my abuser were very frequent and common reactions. These emotions are absolutely justified and warranted. They are normal reactions and it is okay to experience and express these emotions (not actions)- just not to the person who experienced the abuse. (Just a reminder that these are clearly my opinions and do not apply to everyone). I found myself pleading with people not to “kill” my abuser for what he did. Thus, I experienced further emotional turmoil because I found myself “protecting” my abuser, but also feeling thankful that someone did want to make him pay for what he did to me. I recall thinking “if you kill him, then I’m going to lose you too!” What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused. I was going to have to work through those things despite the condition of my abuser. So, for someone to go and cause him pain, it would only have further negative impacts on me.
“What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused.”
I do not want to discourage people from expressing their understandable and normal emotions of fury, anger, and rage after learning someone you love has been abused; however, it is more beneficial to the person you love if you can find healthy ways of coping with those emotions. It is also best to avoid expressing these emotions directly to the victim and rather than worrying about the abuser, turn your focus to the needs of the people impacted by the crimes. What are some healthy coping mechanisms to consider when you learn someone you love has been abused and you become consumed with anger?
· Find a trusted person to talk with about your emotions and reactions
· Exercise to release some of the intense feelings of anger
· Focus on the person who was abused and seek to bring them comfort
· Pray for the strength to not act on your emotions
· Find a way to turn that anger into pro-active action such as raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse, fighting for stricter penalties for child abusers, etc.
· Journal – write a letter to the abuser to express the anger you feel, then shred it (probably not a good idea to mail it)
Due to the staggering statistics regarding childhood sexual abuse, it is unfortunately likely that at some point in your life you will have to choose how you will reach in this situation. What are your thoughts?