We have a huge problem in this country when it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse, and that’s denial. As an Executive Board member of Peaceful Hearts Foundation, a child sexual abuse nonprofit, one of the most common issues I come across when a survivor discloses their abuse is denial – from family members, teachers, friends – the list goes on. Myself, a survivor of incest from my late mother from the ages of 9 to 13, and a male figure at the age of 8, I know what it’s like to finally come to terms with the abuse and entrust others with the information, only to have them deny that it ever could have happened. The psychological effects were beyond damaging; I questioned my own sanity, the trauma, and attempted suicide. After all, if no one believed that such heinous acts had occurred, what reasons did I have to go on living? Child sexual abuse left me scarred with depression, psychosis, suicidal ideation and many other mental illnesses, and without proper support, it was only a matter of time before I permanently checked out.
By the way, silence is just as bad as denial. When a child or survivor discloses their abuse, remaining silent is just as bad as denying the abuse. Why? Because silence enables the culture of sexual abuse to continue. When you don’t speak up for the helpless, you are giving the abuser a platform instead of the child, who is, by nature, already a vulnerable person.
I’ve been working to eliminate this negative culture for the past few years through writing and advocacy. Both have been incredible tools to combat denial and silence. In my recent book, Washed Away: From Darkness to Light, I talk openly about the abuse I went through in my childhood and how it led to an array of mental illnesses, and on January 4, 2017, I was honored to speak at the New York Capitol in Albany to lawmakers in support of S809, The Omnibus Child Victims Act. The bill seeks to eliminate New York’s Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse in criminal court and civil court, and gives adult victims a year in which they can sue their abusers and the institutions that facilitated their abuse. Senator Brad Hoylman, Stop Abuse Campaign, myself, and Gary Greenberg, a survivor and investor who created a PAC that supports lawmakers who support the Omnibus Child Victims Act, are leading the push to protect NY kids, but we still have a lot of work to do.
It’s time that we stop the pattern of denial in this country – in our homes, schools, communities and government. I urge you to support the Omnibus Child Victims Act in New York to protect children, and when someone discloses abuse, please believe them, even if you don’t know what to say. Be the person that they can turn to, not away from. Here’s a list of what to do when a child discloses abuse. Remember, in order to prevent child sexual abuse, we must accept that this is a societal problem, and then take the initiative to change it.