By Shari Botwin LCSW
Days before October 15, 2017 when Alyssa Milano tweeted #Metoo, a friend told her, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too,’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Seconds later Alyssa tweeted on, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply.” Millions of women took to social media and started coming forward with allegations of being sexually harassed or abused by celebrities, priest, doctors, and other men who held position of power. During this last year headline news has been filled with stories of young women alleging they had been victimized by a man in power.
I noticed a shift in my psychotherapy practice starting in late 2015. It was days after Bill Cosby was charged with aggravated indecent sexual assault and 13 Jane Doe’s appeared on national news outlets men and women. My counseling office began to explode with people uncovering their own histories of assault and abuse. I have been counseling survivors of all types of abuse for over twenty years. In the first half of my career many patients waited years to disclose their abuse history. Patients were coming to therapy because they had been struggling with eating disorders, addictions, and other forms of self-destructive behaviors to numb their pain and shame.
The week that several Cosby accusers spoke out on air and on social media outlets, my office felt like it was in upheaval. Patients I had known for years were sharing stories of being sexually assaulted by boyfriends, religious leaders, family members, teachers and doctors. Years before the Cosby story broke, I came forward publicly about my own history of childhood abuse. But I never shared who abused me, how long it went on for or why I stayed silent. I never shared why I went to therapy for over two years and said nothing to my therapist about what happened to me. Like most survivors of abuse, I felt afraid and protective of the ones that hurt me. I walked around carrying many secrets at my own expense.
Day after day I tell my patients that speaking about what happened to them is not the problem. The problem is that it happened. When the Cosby accusers spoke out in early 2016 they were shamed, blamed and humiliated by the public. No one wanted to believe that somebody like “America’s television dad,” could have committed such heinous crimes behind the scenes. When my patients began telling me about their secret histories of abuse, they were also made to feel like liars and some were shunned by family for speaking. When I spoke about my incest almost all of my family members turned their back on me.
Times are changing. #Metoo turns one year old on October 15. Bill Cosby was sentenced to prison after a jury of 12 people from all walks of life unanimously found him guilty on all three counts of aggravated sexual assault. Millions took to social media and thousands marched in protest across the country when Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a justice for the Supreme Court after being accused of sexual misconduct.
“Finally, survivors are sometimes being believed and heard. Yet, we still have such a long way to go.”
Finally, survivors are sometimes being believed and heard. Yet, we still have such a long way to go. After attending both Cosby trials and his sentencing I starting thinking, “If these women can be brave enough to stand up to someone like Bill Cosby why am I still keeping my mouth shut.” Silent no more! I am a survivor of incest. I was raped repeatedly by a family member throughout my childhood. The abuse did not end until I moved out of my house at the age of 22.
“I propose we start a new revolution.”
It is time for more people to feel less afraid to come forward about abuse done to them by their family or close circle of friends. So many patients who have reported being date raped, physically abused or sexually harassed have a back story of abuse done to them when they were a kid. We need to come together as a society and accept that every day one in three or four kids are actively being abused in their homes by their parents, siblings, relatives or close family friends. We need to educate our teachers and doctors about how to help a kid when they want to tell someone if they are getting hurt by someone who is supposed to love them. We need to make it safer for kids to speak by reassuring them that telling is not the problem and that it is not their fault. Every day I wake up and wish someone would have told me that when I was still being abused. Every day I sit with patients I witness the deep pain and shame they feel because they were made to feel at fault or responsible for their abuse. Every day I bear witness to the long term affects for patients abused as kids. I propose we start a new revolution. #Someonepleasehelpme. There are resources out there for young folks who are living in dangerous environments. The sooner some speaks, the less damage done over the course of a lifetime. Childhelp National Abuse Hotline is available 24/7 and their phone number is 1–800–4-A-Child or 1–800–422–4453
About the Author
Go-to expert during the Cosby trials, Shari Botwin LCSW’s is the author of THRIVING AFTER TRAUMA. Shari, a therapist who herself was the victim of childhood abuse shares her advice based on her 20+ years of experience to help women deal with a range of traumatic experiences, including physical and sexual abuse.