When it comes to child sexual abuse, so much good happens when child sexual abuse is taken from the shadows and exposed to the light. No wise mind will contest the pivotal role media has played in this change – countless articles, documentaries, even films, and blogs have shone a spotlight on the devastating crimes committed by members of the clergy and the subsequent cover-ups.
However, this surge in awareness has a flip side that is rarely talked about or understood. It’s a small yet potent side effect of the relentless media exposure, and as legal representatives to hundreds of victims at Horowitz Law, it’s one we’ve come across on too many occasions.
Just Another Unseen Casualty
The backlash is primarily about the blanket of stories that have emerged on abuse. Particular tales of violence and violation seem more nightmarish and blood-curdling than others, leading many victims of abuse to feel like their experience pales in comparison. There’s this damning rhetoric that floats around – “Well, what happened to me is a mosquito bite compared to the brutal assault other kids went through.”
Let’s break this down. We’ve all come across horrifying instances of child sexual abuse that involve physical torture, threats, forced cohabitation with the abuser, or punishment for disclosing the abuse. But many survivors hadn’t had to face such an inordinate amount of atrocities, and thus, might consider their own experiences underserving of attention or action.
What they’re saying, in essence, is this: Because my experience wasn’t as bad, maybe it isn’t bad at all. More often than not, this leads to survivors sealing their lips about their experience and staying silent. But here’s the epitome of irony – if their abuse didn’t involve physical coercion, threats, or repeated rape and violence, they would tell themselves it wasn’t a big deal. They’d tell themselves they’re not victims.
But they are, and so are you if you’ve ever used such a line of thinking to justify staying silent. It’s easier, in the short run, to minimize your pain or overlook your trauma, but truth be told, trauma is trauma.
Trauma is Not a Contest
We at Horowitz Law have listened to and helped hundreds and hundreds of adults who were violated as children. We’ve heard their stories; we’ve seen their pain. We tell you this – ANY boundary that’s crossed, ANY undue touch, ANY inappropriate advance can scar and be harmful to a child.
That inappropriate touch or that ‘one-time’ incident can leave imprints of mental trauma that can last a lifetime, souring almost every subsequent relationship and interaction. This holds true whether the perpetrator was a trusted adult, a neighbor, a family member, a school official, a coach, a tutor, a Scout leader, a priest, or even a random stranger. Whether it happened once, twice, or a hundred times.
While we don’t play psychologists or psychiatrists, our line of work has connected us with a multitude of experts who have time and again assured us that the true pain emerges not from the physical act of violation but from the shattering of a sacred trust.
The Camouflage of Minimization
From our experience, the majority of survivors lessen their trauma as a mechanism to cope with the unthinkable. It’s a survival instinct – a way for them to ‘contain’ the horror and convince themselves that their experience wasn’t as heinous as it truly was.
But here’s the catch – minimizing works in the short run, like a band-aid on a gushing wound. But healing, true healing, needs a surgical procedure, a closer look at the trauma in all its ugliness and ramifications. In other words, continued minimizing is hurtful. It can lead to paralysis when, in fact, what most need and benefit is just the opposite: understanding the full picture of what they endured and having the ability to make choices and take action in response to it.
Understanding Your Trauma
Ridiculously enough, survivors have been conditioned into attempting to grade their trauma or ‘rank’ their pain in comparison to others. It’s as ludicrous as trying to feel better about your car getting stolen because it’s an old clunker compared to a new sports car or telling yourself that your burglary wasn’t all bad because the criminal didn’t take away your precious family photos. That kind of thinking can lead a survivor to do nothing instead of doing what it takes to get better and protect other kids.
But here’s what we at Horowitz Law firmly believe – ANY person who was touched, grabbed, kissed, or squeezed you too long has had their personal boundaries violated. Even if it happened ‘just once,’ they must acknowledge three facets.
1: what happened to them should NOT have happened.
2: it was abuse.
3: the pain and aftermath can continue to reverberate unless dealt with, even if it’s deeply buried in the victim’s psyche.
You deserve justice, healing, and closure—no matter how you ‘rank’ your pain as opposed to others. Because your pain is yours alone to bear, and no amount of comparison can wipe away its impact. The suffering of others, while equally valid, is irrelevant to your recovery.
In fact, it might just be feeding into the very fallacy that has kept countless victims in the shadows for too long, leaving them shrouded in silence when, in truth, even a single instance of abuse is one too many.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.