It’s always a measure of a real community when they hear about news of abuse. How will they respond when they learn their community may not be as safe as they thought? Will they react defensively then eventually begin the real discussion? Or will they never have that real discussion? Ideal communities consist of well-intentioned individuals who advocate their way of life and will address safety issues directly and productively. But we know that not all communities are ideal, so we must work with what we have.
As a public speaker I am never truly surprised with the mixed reaction I sometimes receive in the communities I have spoken in throughout the years. Whether it be at a church. Or a college. Or a corporation. There are always some who wonder “why are you here, speaking to us about abuse? This doesn’t happen in my backyard.”
Yet it does.
If abuse didn’t occur in your community I would be doing something else. I would be rock climbing. If I had my choice I could retire early and rock climb for the rest of my life. But I work in abuse for two reasons: I am a male survivor of childhood abuse and because IT’S HAPPENING in your community. When abuse, and all attempts to hide it’s presence, in our communities ceases to exist, then I will happily retire and move on to a happier profession. Until then, you can guess where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing.
The tendency of the ‘not in our community’ types is to attack the messenger. To scrutinize their every word. To attempt to break them down and discredit them and all they say. WSO has been under scrutiny more than a few times. We come to expect it. This is the defensive reaction. Yet, it’s our hope that the real discussion takes place at some point. Maybe not when I come to your town to talk about abuse. Maybe later that day. Maybe a week later. Maybe a year.
But at some point if we can get you talking about abuse in your community then we are happy.
Growing up as a boy, nobody talked about abuse in my community. Actually that’s wrong. No parents or adults talked about abuse in my community. My childhood best friend was one of the few souls who told me that he was abused. He was 16 years old at the time. Oh, and my classmate and his little brother who lived next door told me of their sexual abuse. They were 10 and 6 years old respectively at the time. Also, my other friend who was beaten bloody when he was 5. He was 15 years old when he told me.
Adults don’t want to talk about abuse. Kids do. But they are too scared. They don’t have a safe person to tell. They don’t have a safe place to go to tell it. For those children who haven’t been touched by the scourge of abuse you, as an adult, are doing a grave disservice to them by pretending it doesn’t happen in all communities, all societies, all cultures, and among all religious faiths.
For all intents and purposes, my family was what one would consider a model family, with model parents, in a model community of people who cared for their children. That model community was a complete illusion.
As an adult, I went back there, to that model community. I spoke with many of my old friends from model families. I told them that I survived abuse. It was only then that I learned of their abuse. At the hands of their fathers, mothers, uncles, neighbors, and teachers. Admissions from the most shocking places and from so many who I never would have suspected. We were all harboring that secret, and our community wasn’t talking.
As a speaker, I rarely set foot in a venue filled completely with ‘not in our community’ types. Usually there is one survivor in the audience. Often in our Q&A sessions we will get skeptics who don’t believe in our message, who don’t believe in our statistics, who can’t stand our presence because talking about abuse in their community is felt as an indictment on them. Then a friend of there’s stands up and announces that they are a member of this community and they were abused. All it takes is one to quiet a room. One courageous soul.
So if you believe that abuse doesn’t happen or is too overblown or too minuscule to really matter in your community, invite me to come speak. I have a feeling you may be in for a surprise.
Chris de Serres
christopher @ womenspeakoutnow.com