The Garbage We Say to Survivors

[Today’s guest post on abuse and surviving is from Cyndie Randall.]

Think of a man you know and trust.
A person you love or admire.
A person with whom you feel comfortable.
Comfortable enough to hug, even.
Maybe you look up to him for spiritual or emotional guidance.
Turn to him for advice and connection.
Maybe he’s been kind and tender, giving you attention your heart has needed and deserved.
Is he your pastor?
Maybe he’s a boss or mentor or group leader.
Your father, grandfather, uncle, teacher, coach.
This guy is somebody you should be able to trust simply because of who he is in relation to you.
Other people are drawn to him, too!
He is so lovable, charming, helpful, talented – he’s been respect-worthy in so many ways.
It feels so good to be accepted by this important man. So good to be in his orbit.

Picture him in your mind, would you?
Do you have him?
Good.
Imagine him coming near to you to embrace you.
You open your arms because … well, because it’s him!

–––––––––––––––––––––––––

But instead of embracing you, he stabs you.
Literally. With a knife.
Right through your gut.
He was able to get close to you with a knife because you trusted him.
Because you thought you should be able to trust him.
He made sure of it.
He’s been so … good to you.
You didn’t even see the knife.
You didn’t even think to look for one.
But now you’re on your knees and gushing blood.
Paralyzed by what is happening.
He seems fine with it, though.
Said he loved you while the knife was going in.
Said you were special.
Are you supposed to be fine with it, too?
The confusion is paralyzing.
What is real?
The words coming out of his mouth are kind, but your gut is on fire.
You can’t run.
You can’t scream.
Your body won’t work.
You feel like you’re dying, so you give in to death.
You don’t see an alternative.
You close your eyes.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––

Miraculously, you survive.
How you survived is a bit blurry.
You can’t remember the details.
You know you got to a hospital.
You didn’t tell them what happened.
You were too afraid.
And overwhelmed – a torrent of overwhelm.
Many people had questions, but you didn’t know how to talk about it.
But slowly, your body began to heal.
Your heart, not so much.
You aren’t sure what to do next.
The confusion keeps getting worse.
You keep seeing this man.
He seems “normal,” so you try to act “normal.”
Nothing makes sense.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––

But your family and friends know something happened.
His family and friends know something happened.
Mutual friends know something happened, but nobody says anything.
Better to keep the status quo, they figure.
Some have heard about the bandages, others have seen them.
You are sure they’ll be horrified if you tell them what actually did happen.
You are hoping they’ll believe you. Help you. Stand with you.
Why wouldn’t they?
Obviously you were harmed – there are surgeries and scars to prove it.
Everything has changed, right?
So everything will change.
You begin to tell the story of the day you were stabbed by this man you once trusted.
Your email inbox fills up with words. With replies.
Your phone begins to ding with text messages and voicemails.

You open them all, and this is what you read and hear:

He is innocent until proven guilty.

It’s in the past. Move on.

You’re hurting his family.

Is that really how it went? You probably tripped and fell on the knife.

That was before he was living for the Lord.

Everything happens for a reason.

He’s a changed man.

I’m not interested in what’s true and what’s not true.

Did you fight back?

Women who get stabbed are being too sensitive.

You are gossiping.

What did you do to make him so angry?

Other women who’ve been stabbed are probably lying about it.

You should have _______.

He was a knife addict, so he couldn’t help it.

You’re just saying this for attention.

You shouldn’t “slander” him.

I’m sure he’s sorry.

Why were you alone with him?

I know him, and he would never do something like that.

We have to offer grace.

Please don’t talk about that here. We’ve worked hard to build our church’s reputation.

You need to forgive him. I have.

He wants to join our ministry team. Is that ok?

Did you say “no?”

Why didn’t you go to the police?

Is that even considered a stabbing?

You should have told us right away and warned us about him. What if he had stabbed us?

He probably stabbed other people because you didn’t tell soon enough.

How much had you been drinking?

The details are too hard to hear. Can you stop talking about it?

It might be healthier if we all forget him and try to heal.

I was stabbed too, but I don’t go around talking about it.

What were you wearing that made him want to stab you?

––––––––––––––––––––––––––

If we wouldn’t dare say these things to a stabbing victim, why in the world are we saying them to victims of sexual abuse and assault, to victims of sexually violent crimes? God, forgive us for our garbage words.

TO THE SURVIVORS:

I believe you.

I believe you.

I believe you.

You did not deserve what was done to you, or the worthless words about it.

It’s not your fault.

We’re so sorry that happened.

Some of us are here to listen.

What would you like to do next?

How can we best love you right now?

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

***

Cyndie Randall is a writer, therapist, and song-maker living in Michigan on land that once belonged to the Potawatomi people. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, or on her blog to follow her published or forthcoming work or just to say hello. If you’ve been sexually abused or assaulted, there is help and hope. Contact RAINN for more information, next steps, and resources.

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7 Responses to The Garbage We Say to Survivors

  1. Laura says:

    My mum needs to read this. It describes exactly what happened to her and my dad’s cousin. Thank you for the article.

    • Laura,
      Thank you so much for reading and for sharing. I hope these words give validation to your mum.
      ~ Cyndie

      • Laura says:

        I can’t discuss it with my mum. I was in the next room. I heard my mum cry in the morning. I was a four year old who grew up over night and just couldn’t find the right words or actions. Thank you for replying. It makes a lot more sense when reading this.

  2. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Thank you, Cyndie. I wonder why people seem so eager to ally themselves with perpetrators rather than victims. I suppose it’s mostly fear: it feels easier and safer to just stand quietly in the shadow of power rather than stepping out on a limb with the victim and being exposed ourselves. What is heartbreaking (as some of your lines indicate) is that those who are/were also traumatized can be the ones insisting most harshly that victims be quiet and “get over it.” And I’m sure there are a million very sad and painful reasons for THAT, too. In any case, your post really makes me think. Am I a person about whom people would say “I could never share this with her; she would never understand and she would just blame me”? I don’t want to be.

    • I hear you, Jeannie. I have not always responded well to disclosures of abuse, especially when I was younger … and even to my own story! I think that happens because of an internalized shame and contempt and confusion, like you alluded to. And there’s also this thing we do as a culture where we want to rescue people from their legitimate shame rather than letting them be transformed by it. And we don’t want to face hard things; we’d rather bury them, ignore them, excuse and justify them. It is easier to take on the narrative of the perpetrator. Absolutely. It will always cost us something to stand with survivors and step out on a limb, as you said. But it is a price worth paying. Survivors deserve so much better. May it be so.

  3. This is powerful! Says a great deal about the method of a predator, and how trust is betrayed. Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit and greatly needed among us. Come, Holy Spirit.

  4. Anu Riley says:

    Just wanted to let you know what a fantastic job you did with this. Tim brings on some of the most unique and talented writers.

    I had a LOT of thoughts running through my mind, but I can’t share and sort them out now due to time—-but I wanted to make sure you knew how well you wrote this.

    Lately I’ve been so honored in posts I’ve read, because they echo so many of my own thoughts. NOT a brag comment—just a wonderful confirmation that the Lord helps ALL His children see what He so clearly sees. And that I’m not alone.

    I’ve had the honor of using a few “knife” analogies of my own, with other victims and/or survivors, and it’s so interesting how quickly they catch on. They know exactly what I am talking about, because they have lived it. It also confirms a lot of their own experiences. I’d love to share them with you sometime, but I will condense them for you so I don’t take up too much of your time.

    It is imperative that a clear picture of the blood, sweat and tears is clearly shown—in order to catch a good glimpse of what victimization does to a person. Don’t sanitize it. Don’t dumb it down. And for crying out loud—keep your lips zipped unless you have something Biblical to offer.

    And keep in mind that it’s best to NOT speak, when you don’t even know what you are talking about.

    A very short message to victims/survivors: Often WE are the ones who are questioned, interrogated, cross examined, probed, grilled and given the third degree until our testimonies are drowned out and nearly lost in the endless back and forth.

    Nothing wrong with asking questions, but often I think they are trying to catch us in a lie, because they’ve already assumed we are lying.

    Turn the tables around. No, don’t ask me why I was dressed that way. Don’t ask me what I was doing at a party, drinking and dancing in supposed suggestive way. Flirting and flaunting yourself, looking for a good time. Looking for attention. Don’t ask me “what kind of a girl acts that way.”

    The reason why is because those questions have nothing to do with the crime I am accusing him of. They’re not relevant.

    Ask the accused: What kind of person violates another human being, against her will? What gives you the right to objectify another human being based on how she dresses or acts, reducing her to nothing but prey in your eyes? What the heck were YOU doing at that party, drinking and looking for opportunities to victimize? What kind of a man acts that way?

    Your’e making it sound like she was “asking for it, ” but you never bothered to ask HER for informed consent before you destroyed her from the inside out.

    You made a choice because you love power. You are not a horny male. You do not have raging hormones. You are NOT lusty and you did not have a “moment of weakness.” The reason why those are lies is because you exercised power over the powerless. No amount of hormones leads a person down that path. Evil led you down that path.

    Who in the world gave you the idea that you were in the right? You took HER rights away, but now you are asserting that it was YOUR right was to steal, kill and destroy a precious woman, made in God’s image. Made to be loved and respected, not to be hated and shown contempt.

    Why did you throw dirt onto her that she didn’t deserve? And why are you now crying and asking for pity when the dirt is thrown back at you—-dirt that you DO deserve?

    Ask the right questions, to the right persons. Ask the relevant questions. They reveal the truth.

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