By Erica Staab, HOPE Center
Whenever large scale trauma happens in the world we now have access to it 24 hours a day, it is constantly surrounding us, infiltrating our every waking moment…. And yet that is what life like for so many, every waking moment at the beginning is surrounded by whatever “it” is.
For those who have been sexually abused as children events like what is happening at Penn State often bring out the healing that is left to be done. For many survivors seeing it on every news channel in every newspaper, hearing about it, hearing people talk is like reliving the trauma. Everyone is talking about it, and there is no escape. And yet, it can also be an incredible opportunity for healing. Many survivors who have never shared their experience may find out that they are not alone, that there is hope, there is healing. This is an opportunity for us as a community to assure victims that they are believed, that they are surrounded by people who will assist them in the journey to healing. Whenever we are having conversations, posting on Facebook, tweeting our thoughts and opinions on recent events if there are more than four women or eight men we can pretty much guarantee that someone who is listening or reading has experienced some form of sexual violence and they are determining whether or not you are a safe person to talk to about their experience.
For someone who has turned it off like a switch sometimes discussions like this can switch the floodgates on and suddenly what they have spent years running from is right there, and they may find that this is the time that they need to reach out for help. For others they can find solace in the solidarity that has been shown for the victims of child sexual abuse by the Penn State fans wearing blue to the game to show their support for the victims, by the players walking on to the field interlocking arms reminding us that to begin to heal it takes us supporting one another, working together. It is these little moments woven together that help lay the groundwork for healing to happen.
Because people are talking about it is an opportunity for everyone to learn more about how predators groom victims, how the society contributes to silence around sexual abuse. It opens the door to hearing individual stories of trauma that have turned to triumph.
Healing from the trauma of abuse, of the betrayal of trust, of the imbalance of power and the lack of control is a long process. But it is critical junctures like this one here that can help or hinder that journey.
Healing will take a long time, but by remaining open, by having conversations, by engaging one another in honest dialogue, by being open to the process healing will happen. We also need to remember that there is individual healing, but there is also the institutions that need to heal, and the community as a whole.
When we are healing we need to acknowledge and grieve what we have lost as well. We have lost our sense of faith, our trust in leadership, child sexual abuse shakes the foundation of the community and it requires coming to terms with the recognition that these things do happen here. Trust, faith and a firm foundation- things that take time to rebuild.
Sometimes we need a dramatic moment to rally around, to remind us what is important, to shake us from our complacency. As the author and researcher Brene Brown says: The universe is not short on wake–up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.” And I am hoping that this is our wake-up call for us to recognize that we need to act, that we as a community need to make some changes in our response, at all levels- the community level, the institutional level, and at a personal level.
What can we offer, how do we come together as a community, to bear witness, to pledge that this will never happen again, to assure others that healing is possible, that concern has turned to action.
For true healing to begin each of us must turn to ourselves and answer these same questions for ourselves. What are we willing to offer, what are we willing to share, what are we willing to hold ourselves accountable for, and how are we going to support victims of violence not only at Penn State, but in our lives.
What can we offer to Demand the Change for Children?