When these cases of sexual abuse come to light there is an underlying thread that weaves through all of the dialogue. The word is mentioned but rarely addressed in any depth. Without question perpetrators and survivors will go to incredible lengths and intentionally sacrifice time, relationships, money, and reputation to keep the secret.
The media races to the front and describes the perpetrators as evil, unscrupulous, manipulating, monsters. The survivors are viewed as innocent, quiet, vulnerable, lambs. Once the two sides in the story have been identified, the mudslinging begins and lost in all the rhetoric is the reason for the secret. Why do men and women choose to abuse? Why do survivors choose silence instead of speaking out? Why do communities refuse to step into the aftermath for either party? What is so powerful that paralyzes the entire world on this issue? Shame.
Shame is the gut wrenching feeling of absolute helplessness and loss of hope. It is not simply the sense of guilt from wrong doing. It is a mental, emotional and physical condition that convinces the mind that a person has no value. It is a feeling that aches so deeply in the heart that a person weeps in a prison of solitude. It wreaks havoc on the body while searching to find answers for the pain.
Shame is intense in perpetrators and survivors because it honestly identifies the character of evil present in this world. Sexuality is the most powerful force in every human being as well as the most personal characteristic. When it is exploited by any means it instantly damages the core of every human being; the person’s value. The damage is inflicted in a moment of time and it lingers in the heart for the rest of life. It may remain silent or dormant or unnoticed or addressed, but it is there, the seed of doubt is ever-present.
As the years pass, the lie that one has no value takes on a life of its own. The lie is validated by failures or additional mistreatment. The lie intensifies and the fear of what others will think, how others will respond takes over. Shame is relentless. Safety mechanisms and behaviors are put in place to keep the secret hidden. Later after a period or lifetime of “normal” behavior the secret finds its way out. Perpetrators and survivors run for cover. Communities respond to the horror with outrage and disgust. The power of Shame disables everything for a moment as everyone attempts to manage the feelings. People watching from the outside, who were never victimized by someone, or never harmed anyone themself sexually ponder the stories and share the shame vicariously. Anger rises and contempt is spread in all directions. Not long after disclosure, when the emotion settles down, and there is time for rational thought, the shame clouds roll back into the community. The fortress of silence remains until the next story comes to light.
My self-worth defines me. My desire to be accepted, loved, and noticed drives all of my thinking. I want to be liked, valued, and accepted. Whenever that value is questioned, and or injured I experience shame. When the most valuable piece of my being, my sexuality is compromised the shame wins every time.
Shame leads to destructive behaviors, depression, and pain. Sexual abuse will never go away. Evil will not allow it. Addressing the shame is a necessity for survival. Rebuilding value from years of suppression takes a lot of time and compassion. Until we face the truth and act upon it, the issue will surface now and then in the public eye and then return to the darkness. It will not be healed with programs or institutions. It is healed when one walks with another one at a time for as long as it takes. When value is affirmed in anyone shame and its powers are diminished. Seek out a survivor or perpetrator and walk with them…for as long as it takes…one at a time. Restoring value is worth it all.