Helping Ourselves, Helping Others: Why It’s Crucial For Victims to Come Forward
If you’ve had an alcoholic parent, or if you’ve been sexually victimized, you are more vulnerable to feelings of shame and self-doubt, along with the belief that all problems are your fault. These factors can also create a drive to be perfect and a deep-seated fear that no one will like you if they learn your darkest secret.
Actress Teri Hatcher understands this. A survivor of sexual abuse, Hatcher said she wants to “help stop the pattern in women to take less than what they deserve, and to help stop the burnt-toast syndrome for their girls . . . I don’t think you have to be molested to be in pain as a woman, to feel like you don’t deserve good things . . . we are all women who don’t treat ourselves well enough. Women walk around feeling like everything is their fault, and if they could only be better they could get something good” (Vanity Fair, 2006).
Before we can begin to help (victims) thrive, we must first help them survive various types of abuse and their own negative feelings. So the silence and secrecy must be shattered. That means anyone who plays a role must be willing to talk about it, instead of helping to hide it by pretending we have no such thing as sexual abuse or domestic violence. It begins with parents who aren’t afraid to ask hard questions, when a child is acting out for no apparent reason. If your child’s been victimized, then you’re only allowing the damage go deeper, by refusing to see it or by failing to obtain the necessary medical care and therapy your child needs.
* * *
When it comes to standing up and helping (victims) who can’t help themselves, a good example comes from my time spent as a police reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. A couple was driving by when they saw a man choking a woman on a city street, so the couple stopped their car and went to help. The injured woman had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, so Rhonda Kennell, a registered nurse, performed CPR. Police said the consequences could have been tragic, if not for Kennell’s help.
“I just feel that’s the right thing to do,” Kennell told me when I interviewed her for a news article. City Police Officer Lt. Brian Lepley said Kennell’s help was “deeply appreciated by city police and . . . just shows that people still care” (Cumberland Times-News, Dec. 16, 2007).
* * *
Jerry Toppins Jr. acted out during his teens, due to family violence. In 1990, Jerry’s dad gunned down his stepmother, Wanda, in Arthurdale, W.Va., in front of Jerry’s brother David, who was then three-years-old. That was years after Jerry’s first stepmother, Cindy, died under suspicious circumstances—and long after Jerry’s own mother, Peggy, barely escaped with her life. When she did, she took Jerry and his sister, Gujuan, with her.
Jerry’s life taught him to advocate for these victims, who are often unable to do so on their own. Abuse victims should “never hide it . . . tell everyone about every detail . . . Don’t die easy, go out kicking screaming and struggling.” For everyone else, who can do something about it, he has another message. “Fight it wherever you see it. Stand up for those you see in need” (Personal correspondence, Sept. 22, 2008).
* * *
So whether it’s domestic violence, child abuse or depression, do it anyway—because you have no idea how you would feel if you do nothing.
Editor’s note: This condensed information is taken from chapter one of the forthcoming Lethal Silence by Daleen Berry. This book is an academic text that looks at several case studies involving families whose lives were shattered by a lethal silence that left children dead, and the role such stressors as child sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, depression and domestic violence played. (Copyright 2011)
If you are a parent and want to better protect your children, or if you’re a victim who has survived child sexual abuse, please go to Amazon and read the foreword of Sister of Silence. Written by renowned (and now retired) FBI special agent Kenneth V. Lanning, it’s well worth your time.