It has been said that one of the most powerful things that you can say to an adult survivor of nonrecent child abuse is ‘I believe you’.
Why is this so difficult for people? Because in my experience it is almost impossible for people to say, at least people that haven’t experienced it for themselves. On disclosing nonrecent abuse I have been met with everything from ‘Well I don’t disbelieve you’ through a silent, confused look to ‘You must have dreamt it’ and I wont even go into the ‘well all teenage boys are up for it’ type responses!
So why is it so difficult for people?
It maybe that my experience of childhood abuse happened in the home, by a parent. This is something that while making up forty plus percent of abuse cases is something that go against deeply held and engrained beliefs. The belief that family is safe, that parents are loving and that because the vast majority of cases reported on are ‘stranger’ abusers then if it does happen in the family then it must be very very rare indeed.
To say ‘I believe you’ to somebody that disclosed abuse in the family home is asking a lot of a person. It is asking him or her to discard some strongly held beliefs, to push against societies preconceptions and prejudices and to put themselves in a vulnerable place. You just have to see the reaction some people receive on Twitter when they are open about believing abuse victims to see how strongly society reacts against the idea of nonrecent abuse.
Another part of the jigsaw is possibly people see the now adult disclosing abuse and do not see the child that was abused. Comments like ‘Well why didn’t you speak out at the time’ or ‘why didn’t you stop her / him’ are far from uncommon.
People are much more accepting of reports of abuse when the child is a child, and preferable a girl, as this plays to all the accepted stereotypes. An adult man, or woman, however isn’t, can’t be, mustn’t be that vulnerable and no matter that the abuse happened forty years ago all that is seen is the now adult and not the then child.
The Survivors Point of View
But from the survivor’s point of view it isn’t a grown adult disclosing something that happened to him forty years ago, it isn’t an adult woman relating a memory of a long distant event.
That adult standing, or sitting in front of you, is the child. The very child that was abused, scared, vulnerable and desperate for somebody to believe him and make him safe again.
You will never see an adult disclosing nonrecent abuse, you only every see, or hear, the child that was abused, no matter how long ago it happened or how old the person is now.
And that is why saying ‘I believe you’ is one of the most powerful things a person can say to somebody that discloses non recent abuse. Just remember you are hearing it from the child that was abused.