My Turn: A voice for the systemically silenced

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Published: 2/23/2022 7:33:28 PM
Modified: 2/23/2022 7:33:05 PM

Hello again from the hill on Wisdom Way. We have had an incredibly busy start to the year up here on the hill, with this week feeling like the first time our staff can take a collective breath. Slowing down for a moment certainly has its advantages, but also allows an opportunity for reflection.

I am an advocate at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin for kids who’ve been sexually assaulted. As a woman and a survivor of child sexual abuse and teen sexual assault, I have spent many years trying to find my own voice, a voice that often felt shoved into confined spaces and tightly bound.

My “voice” is a theme that has reoccurred quite often throughout my life — a thread that has sometimes strangled, sometimes unraveled, and sometimes been woven into beautiful, synchronistic moments. There, in the synchronicity, the threads of my voice weave the entirety of my experience into something new, powerful and strong.

Like a bird who has finally found its wings and has begun to fly, I have found my voice and I’m going to use it for those whose voices are systematically silenced. Their stories are considered too hard, too scary, or too difficult for people to imagine. Adults — it’s time to imagine hard, scary, and difficult experiences because the responsibility is too heavy for children to carry on their own.

I’m not writing this because February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, but I do find it ironic that almost 80% of our cases this year have been teenage girls who’ve been assaulted by similar-aged boys. I need you to know that every single one of these girls is still going to school with her assailant. Every. Single. One.

I was going to write this article anyway because I feel the need to be a voice for every girl that has been, is being, or will be sexually assaulted. First, girls, I need you to know that I believe you and that it is NOT your fault. I want you to know that your strength and courage and power does not go unnoticed and that I applaud your efforts to put the responsibility back into the hands of the person who deserves it. You are not only taking a stand against an injustice that happened to you, but also against future injustices. And if you are a girl that finds yourself unable to talk about your experience, please know that many of us have been in your shoes, and we are here for you, too.

Dear community, I impel you to think about the abject stress and responsibility that is placed on the shoulders of these girls. If you know anything about trauma, you know that the brain tends to compensate for traumatic events by going offline — decision-making is impaired and people become unable to think critically.

This means that the age-old question “Why didn’t you say no?” is no longer valid. We know that after a traumatic event, certain things can trigger a similar bodily response. A sight, smell, or taste can send a victim directly back to the moment of the trauma, which in turn, can cause fight, flight, or freeze reactions. The weight a victim has to carry even after an assault in order to keep herself safe is heavy, so heavy in fact, that shame, embarrassment, and guilt often quiet her voice, too. Nobody should have to carry the burden of a sexual assault alone, nor be forced to see their abusers every day.

As a culture, we are just learning to stand behind survivors of sexual assault, but we have a long way to go. These girls are vulnerable in the same ways our daughters are vulnerable. They have hopes and dreams like every other living human and they deserve our tenderness, love, and support. They need to know that we will speak up for them when they are unable or unwilling or too frightened. We must do better, and to do better, we need to disentangle that single thread that carries our voices out of the darkness, and let ourselves be the ones to carry the torch — to start by believing, to make accommodations for, to stop asking why they didn’t say no, and to let them know “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.”

All it takes is one voice. Be the voice.

Abby Bliss is a case manager at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin Inc. (cacfranklinnq.org).


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