Watching the Golden Globes this evening was a tearful one for me. I cannot recall ever having shed as many tears during this show as I did tonight. Some of my tears were happy tears, some were “it’s about time” tears, some were sad tears, and many were tears of the pain that, so many women have had to experience.
We have been a society of rape culture. If something happened to a woman and she attempted to seek justice, it was her sexual past, her fashion sense, her use of alcohol, and the audacity of being out on her own that were on trial. Not her abuser/rapist/assailant. We teach girls from an early age to be safe - to go out in groups, to not walk around alone in the dark, to have her keys ready to gouge someone, to park under lights, to attend self-defense classes taught by men, to carry pepper spray or mace and not spray themselves, and that heels are not only fashion but a great weapon. We have special words to say to bartenders if our safety is feeling threatened. There has even been nail polish invented that by dipping your finger into your drink, you can tell if your drink has been drugged. Women have been taught that they need men to protect them and keep them safe. However, the question and perplexity are – which men are the good guys and which ones are the ones who will hurt us. And, why must we have men protect us? Why can we not be equals? Companions? Friends? Lovers? Confidants?
I have been sexually harassed. #metoo. I still remember walking down a street in my hometown with my friend. I was wearing my Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and my blue espadrille’s. I must have been a freshman in high school. When the construction workers whistled, and cat called us, my friend and I giggled. I look back at that incident and think how warped it was that these adult men calling out at barely teenagers boosted my self-esteem. That it was my belief at that moment in time that this was a compliment and not something that I/we should be disgusted by. There were, of course, many other times of harassment, but this one stands out. It speaks volumes to me as to what I thought a young female in the late 70s/early 80s represented as well as the belief of how I increased my self-worth at that time.
In all honesty, I have not been sexually assaulted. Over the years I have reflected on how did I escape the 1 in 4 girls will be sexually assaulted by the time they reach 18. That is a staggering number. I do not know why I was not one of those who have been. I don’t believe there is a secret to not having this happen.
However, over the past 25 years many, many of the individuals I have worked with have experienced rape/date rape/incest/sexual assault. Oftentimes, this was the first time these individuals ever shared with anyone that they had been hurt and, if they could find their voice, was ignored and silenced against their will. I am honored to have had the trust by these individuals to be part of their journey in doing this very difficult work. My role was one of compassion, nonjudgment, and teaching how to find their voice, use their voice, empower them, cope in a healthy positive way and engage in self-care. For them, it was painful and heartbreaking as well as freeing and empowering. There have been tears, rage, shame, guilt, self-harm, eating disorders, use of drugs/alcohol, and suicide attempts. For many, there was healing and recovery.
There were calls to insurance companies to get authorization for treatment and denied because they weren’t moving fast enough in their treatment. There have been calls to the Department of Children Services that were not deemed serious enough for follow up by the very organization that was to protect these individuals. There were multiple calls to the Department of Children Services for any little thing that could be reported so that the system would be alerted and investigate. There have been calls to the Department of Children Services where parameters were put in place to get the individual and their family help. There have been calls to Department of Children Services where a family member was removed from the home for the harm they had been causing thus causing relief and guilt by the individual who had been abused.
My tears tonight was also for those brave girls and boys who shared their story with their family. The families who were supportive and felt horrible and willing to do anything to help their child. I wish I could say those families were the norm. The families that denied anything happened. The families that said, “get over it already”. The families that were initially supportive but then became angry once they realized they had to choose between their children on how they would handle family gatherings. The anger the family felt toward the abused individual who took the risk to share what had happened – anger at the victim, not the son who had abused their daughter. The girl recanting her story once she realized she was being ostracized from the family. The girl who became an adult and did well living on her own but then needing to return home for one reason or another to only decompensate because how can one function effectively if living near their abuser? The adult whose abuser died, and she was left with unanswered questions and wondering if it was okay to love the person who had also caused her such harm. And, the many, many, many individuals who thought if they confronted their abuser they would get a heartfelt apology and remorse over what happened only to be heartbroken and disappointed when the incident(s) was denied. These scenarios do not represent any one individual’s story. They are some of the main themes I have encountered working with trauma over the years.
My tears tonight was for their courage; taking a risk to find their voice; working so hard to learn how to live without harmful coping behaviors; moving beyond what happened to them, and taking back their lives. One will never forget their abuse. Yet, one can live beyond it and learn to trust themselves and others. One can find their voice and learn to use it. One can learn to trust in themselves and others and have healthy relationships. These reasons are why I am so passionate about working with girls/women to empower them, find their voice, use their voice, and take care of themselves. I believe in them.
This past year has been a tumultuous time in our country. Yet, there has been some positives one of which was women standing up and speaking out. Not every woman wants to make their story public or are ready to share and that is okay. Their story is their story and it is their choice to share what and if they choose. Those women who have been vocal have helped change the landscape. Men who harm women, take advantage of them, use power and manipulation against women are learning that we will no longer stand by silently. Women are empowering each other and supporting each other. We are strong. And we are finding out who the good men are as they stand up and speak out against these behaviors and are supportive.
Oprah’s speech was powerful, inspiring, and empowering this evening. If you didn’t see it, I strongly encourage you to find it and watch it. Two takeaways from Oprah that resonated with me were,
“speaking your truth is the most powerful tool that you have” and
“a new day is on the horizon”.
Time is up. No more. Me too.
Denise M. Styer, PsyD, GLCC
January 7, 2018