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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I think it’s safe to say that most people are opposed to sexual violence. Rape, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse of children are considered heinous acts that most of us would not be caught defending in a debate. And of course, they are classified as crimes by our legal system. In theory, at least, opposition to sexual violence is considered a shared cultural value. 

Why then is it that in practice, it’s common for people to turn a blind eye to these destructive, devastating behaviors–and tacitly allow them to continue right in their midst? It’s a question that comes up for me a lot, especially in the area of sexual abuse.

You see, my own family members have a history of behaviors that actually support sexual abuse. 

For one, I have known them to repeatedly leave children in the care of adults who are either suspected of–or admitted to–having abused kids in the past. 

Also, when I was eleven, my parents befriended a local photographer who found ways to be alone with me and tried to get me to confide in him. They invited him into our home several times a week and when he offered to take my picture, they allowed him to be alone with me and photograph me in a child-sized gauzy white dress and veil. Though my parents accepted the photos as a gift and kept the album for years, I was fortunate that their friendship with him ended soon afterward and thus, so did his access to me. Years later, I learned he was charged with sexually abusing children and fled the state to avoid arrest. 

Before I was estranged from my family, they chose to leave me out of gatherings in favor of including the person who abused me as a child. My mother’s response to my hurt was to say “I didn’t invite you because I knew you wouldn’t attend if he was there.” Over the long-term, they have enthusiastically aligned themselves with this person while scolding me for objecting. All the while, they claimed they didn’t want to “take sides” between us. As if it’s acceptable to claim neutrality when one person robbed the other of their childhood, innocence, and sense of safety in the world…and later that person tells the victim that she is the problem.  

Of course, my story is sadly far from unique. As I speak and write about frequently, the “Second Wound” is the pain felt by survivors whose family members deny or minimize their abuse, victim-blame, shame, reject, and/or ostracize them for disclosing and addressing their abuse within the family. It is a shockingly common response that adds to our trauma, continues indefinitely, and is generally impervious to our efforts to be heard, respected and appropriately cared for. 

At times, I look at my family and the countless others who re-victimize survivors and ignore obvious dangers and I ask the question: “Are they okay with sexual abuse?“ 

It sounds absurd, I know. 

But let’s focus on what they DO instead of what they claim to believe: 

  • Reject, shame, ostracize and otherwise punish survivors for speaking up, even when their abusers are found guilty in a court of law. 
  • Remain in close and even intimate relationships with people who have committed sexual assault or child sexual abuse.
  • Prioritize the keeping of secrets and the family’s reputation over standing up for victims and protecting minors in the family from abusers.
  • Turn a blind eye to red flags like past acts of sexual violence, inappropriate behaviors, and boundary violations–especially dangerous when combined with controlling behaviors and narcissistic traits.
  • Threaten and lash out at those who choose to: tell the truth, reject abusers, and protect minors. In far too many families, these actions are considered unforgivable infractions. Even while the sexual violence itself is somehow considered forgivable. 

So I ask you, do these sound like people who are opposed to sexual violence and care about the destruction it causes every day in families across the world? 

My answer? Only in theory, if that. And that’s not good enough. 

Here is what I’d like to ask.

If you believe that you…

  • are against sexual assault and abuse,
  • support victims,
  • believe perpetrators should be held accountable,
  • think survivors deserve to be heard, 
  • stand for the protection of the vulnerable and wounded…

I ask you: are you living those values within your own life and family? 

And here is what I suggest. 

  • Start by examining your beliefs, biases, and most of all, your actions. 
  • Treat survivors with respect and authority when it comes to their assault or abuse. Listen to what they have to say and carefully consider their needs and feelings.
  • Steer clear of anyone with a history of sexual predation or other indicators that they may be a danger to others.
  • Keep children protected, no matter what it takes. 

Because if you don’t, or you won’t…

You are perpetuating the problems you claim to be against. And I’m sorry to tell you, THAT makes you part of the problem. 

Our values are only meaningful if we consistently put them into practice. Are you living by yours?

The Second Wound

 

Comments(4)

  1. REPLY
    Samantha says

    Excellent well written piece and spot on in my opinion. I was sexually assaulted by a male relative, just the most recent in a long line of abuse. It took me over a year to tell part of the family what happened. Everything I hoped to hear, they said, It felt wonderful to be believed as I hadn’t been in a previous situation, but then when I refused to just forget it and move on and still be part of the family, with him in it, everything changed. As you said, invites stopped, I was branded a trouble maker, selfish, weak, pathetic. I went once more, at Christmas, as I felt I had no option, this brought on Complex PTSD which I am still fighting. I then found out he had done it before, many years earlier to another family member, infact the same person who had called me selfish, pathetic, weak etc ! He has since died, reputation in tact, loved by all the family and a pillar of society. The mess he left behind remains, he was a disgusting excuse for a human being and what he and the rest of the family did, very nearly killed me, yet I am the troublemaker, I am in the wrong, simply because I wouldn’t bury my feelings and shrug it off as ‘ a little bit of foolishness’ ( the actual phrase used ). It was ‘ sexual assault ‘ Fullstop!

    • REPLY
      miranda.pacchiana says

      Thank you. That’s unfair and terribly hurtful. I’m so sorry. So many of us have lived this too, you’re far from alone, sadly. Take good care of yourself as you deserve it, no matter what backward things they say.

  2. REPLY
    Jilena says

    Fabulous article.
    I have experienced the second wound also perpetrated by my mother especially.
    And you are right it’s continuous and long-reaching.
    How can you put the past in the past when the second wound continues to go on day after day in the present? The only way to stop the cycle is to step away from the second wound perpetrators, especially the narcissistic ones.

    • REPLY
      miranda.pacchiana says

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m sorry to hear you understand this firsthand and I agree.

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