A friend I have known for a long time sent me a message a couple weeks ago. She wanted to ask my opinion on something. In her message, she alluded to the work I do with abuse survivors. It is always in that instant that I know, even if I had no suspicions of abusive experiences in the person’s past before. It is one of those, “Well, damn” moments. It is always a story I hope not to hear. It is not that I don’t want to hear the person’s story, I just really want the world to get to the point where I hardly ever hear a person’s story of abuse because it is so rare hardly anyone has a story to tell.
As we talked later that day, she had two primary questions for me. “Is it my fault?” and “Am I the only one?”
Survivors of abuse have been so isolated by their abusers and so convinced that they did something wrong that these are probably the two most common questions I hear. The really sad part is that I hear them from survivors and from people who know little about abuse. Did the victim do something to cause it? Abuse is pretty rare, isn’t it? In the year 2013, we shouldn’t have to ask these questions anymore. It should be a fact that no one has to think about. No, it is not the victims’ fault, and no, frighteningly, it is not rare. For a crime that is vastly underreported, it is estimated in the United States that one in three or four girls are sexually abused before they turn eighteen and one in six boys is sexually abused before they turn eighteen. It is far more common than rare. I don’t know all the statistics for other countries, but the rates I have seen are similar.
If you have been abused, or know someone who was, it is not their fault. They are also not alone. It is probably more truthful to say that someone who has not experienced sexual abuse is rare and more alone in that untouched-ness.
As my friend cried and told me her story, it broke my heart to hear, as it always does. No one should have to experience that much pain and despair. She said, “I feel like the only one. Is it my fault?”
I try to let people tell their stories and not interrupt. It breaks the flow of words they may never have said out loud before. It can make someone feel as if I am not listening, but in that moment, I had to interrupt. “Let me be clear. It is not your fault and you are not alone.”
When I was in the early stages of my healing, other people would tell me that. It was almost as painful to hear as it was to feel it was my fault and that I was alone. I needed people to keep saying that to me, until I could finally own those words and know it was not my fault and I was not alone. As I work with survivors, I have found that I was not alone in my inability to own those realities either. The owning is painful, and sometimes, a survivor needs lots of positive affirmation that it is not their fault and they are not alone.
To my friend, I said, “I don’t care if you write out “Jackie says, You are not alone and it is not your fault” and hang it where you see it everyday. At some point, you have to be able to say that to yourself and believe it. In the meantime, please let me help you remember.
From that grew an idea. Jennifer and I discussed the commonality of these two questions. As we discussed how often survivors ask these questions to us in English, we surmised that survivors all over the world ask these same questions in their own languages. So we have started the “Signs of Hope” campaign. We have asked a couple survivor photographers to supply pictures upon which we are placing these two sentences in as many languages as we can. At this point, we have only asked real people we know to translate them into languages they know and when we have exhausted the knowledge of our friends, we will ask Google Translate.
We have added and will be adding more pictures to a new part of learninghope called “Signs of Hope.” We encourage the printing of these pictures. Use them, share them with people who need to hear that they are not alone and it is not their fault. Print one for yourself. Read it until you can say it to yourself and know that these two simple sentences, “You are not alone” and “It is not your fault,” are indisputable. Wear out the paper it’s printed running your finger over the words. Smear the ink. Read it until it becomes part of your own knowing. It is not your fault and you are not alone.
You deserve to heal and Jennifer and I hope that this can be an aid to your healing. Healing and hope are possible and each and everyone is worthy of it. If you know a language that we haven’t used yet, email us. The more broadly this can be circulated, the more people can begin to know that they are not alone and it is not their fault.