By: Margaret Marion
When I was 23, I learned that my mother was raped as a child by a family member. Even today, my mother does not know that I too experienced childhood sexual abuse by people with whom I was, and indeed still am, indebted to silence. Why, my sisters, have we gotten so darn good at keeping the secrets of sexual abuse?
For generations, we have been cracked open and spoiled by both men and women, both black and white, who believed in their own rights to our bodies. That is the first trauma. To be deprived of any sense of personal agency, “to be made into an object, the victim of someone else’s rage, of nature’s indifference. The realization that one’s own will and wishes become irrelevant” as David Spiegel, M.D described. The second trauma, then, is our collective numbing of the experience, and our silent agreement to avoid any suggestion of its reality.
And though we might have more celebrities and educators talking about it in the media — it is still incredibly difficult for us to talk about these experiences within our families. Many of us still fear backlash, judgement, and accusation, which too often are perpetrated by our own mothers, aunts, and sisters — women who themselves likely have experiences. In our natural responses to the first trauma, we inadvertently commit the second. In some respects, the silence is just a painful.
As a consequence, we might move through our adult lives with sexual behaviors, reactions, even dysfunction, that are confusing to ourselves and others. For example, I flinch when my husband touches me too swiftly. He is my husband, I love him and I feel safe with him — but I just can not help myself from freezing up — even after 8 years of being married. To make things more complicated, most of my friends know that I am often the most flirtatious and sexually provocative person in a social scene. (Your sista has a pole in her living room). I imagine many other women might be living in this space between expressing a liberated sexual identity, and yet finding themselves freezing, zoning out, or otherwise unable to enjoy sexual intimacy with those we actually choose to love. Because I am social worker I understand the connection — the numbing, avoidance, freezing, zoning out, and the sexual acting out- these are all mental and biological leftovers of my childhood sexual abuse.
These are also very clear symptoms in the clinical definition of post traumatic stress. Let’s name it, so we can call it out, and talk about it. If you experienced childhood sexual abuse, it could be affecting your mental health today. I encourage you to talk about it, join a support group in the Sista Afya Community, and seek professional help. As women, as wives, mothers, and sisters, we owe it to ourselves.
“ ‘No’ might make them angry but it will make you free.
- if no one has ever told you,your freedom is more important than their anger.”