In her acceptance speech for her Best Supporting Actress award at the Golden Globes last week, Mo’Nique spoke to victims of childhood sexual abuse, saying “it’s now time to tell.” I support Mo’Nique and think acknowledging childhood sexual abuse is an important, positive thing. But there needs to be a public education campaign aimed at victims’ loved ones.
So many of society’s messages regarding abuse are aimed at the victims: This is how you should act. This is what you should do. And I am not directing this complaint at Mo’Nique specifically. I don’t think it’s fair to put yet another expectation on abuse victims when the content of their confessions are so often swept under the rug, denied, or ignored. People’s reactions to revelations of molestation can cause victims more pain and suffering than the initial abuse.
I am not saying, “Don’t tell;” I don’t believe that. I think “Tell” is incomplete. In a rape culture, “telling” often leads to revictimization. It leads to parents siding with the family friend who raped you. It leads to questions about what you could have done to invite that sort of touching. It leads to commands to just get over it already. It leads to the same bullshit adult rape victims deal with when they report their attacks.
No, terrible things are not inevitable. One could argue that telling is necessarily cathartic and healing regardless of the listener’s reaction. Victims can use their discretion if they expect certain people to react poorly, and they can tell as much or as little as they want. Telling a therapist can be especially helpful. But overall, the cracks are with the adults. It’s the adults who need to be taught how to handle it when loved ones “come out,” so to speak. Kids need to hear, “Tell,” but adults need to hear, “Listen.”