12 Walls That Prevent Abuse Survivors From Ever Telling

People can be quick to question the motivations of abuse survivors who choose to tell their story. “Why now? Is it for revenge? Money? Attention?” Questions like these come quickly and easily in a culture that has long demonstrated a tendency to shun such stories – perhaps because we see them as reflectors of shame. These questions divert attention away from what I believe is a more reasonable consideration: the number of motivations that exist for never telling. Here are 12 walls I’ve observed in my own work and research that prevent abuse survivors from ever telling their story. Creating a safer future – one in which survivors are supported if they choose to tell their story – requires removing many barriers that should have never been built to begin with.

1. A major reason for remaining silent is the understandable belief that the credibility of the truth-teller will be called into question. If the story threatens the identity, power, or position of a well-known and loved individual, then many might immediately seek to discredit the story to protect the more powerful individual.

2. Some might feel they have a moral responsibility to remain loyal or submissive. Religious communities sometimes inculcate such virtues into followers, without exceptions, conditioning them to believe that to remain silent is to be a good follower. Revealing information about an abusive person or organization will likely cause others within those communities to blame the truth-teller for betraying virtues like loyalty and submission. Truth-tellers are then manipulated into feeling their decision to speak out was wrong and brought undeserved, needless harm to another.

3. Survivors are often very close to their abuser. The abuser might be a family member, boss, friend, or co-worker – someone in a position of trust. Therefore, survivors might have a natural concern for the well-being of the abuser or for the tight-knit group of family, friends, or co-workers and perhaps will fear what will happen to those they are exposing. They also know many close to the abuser might suggest they lack compassion, mercy, forgiveness, for not just “letting it go.”

4. In contexts where the accused is considered an important contributor to a religious belief system or cause, truth-tellers might be condemned for bringing public shame upon the spiritual community. Communities that trumpet their glory will bury anything they might perceive as a display of shame. These self-righteous communities will condemn any who might be seen as giving reasons for outsiders to look upon the people and their beliefs with suspicion.

5. Fear of being blamed for the abuse can easily outweigh any motivation to tell. Tragically, many survivors have been made to believe their abuse was self-inflicted or deserved, either through their attire, attractiveness, assertive personality, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Source: Church Leaders