By: Vonnie Hawkins, LCSW, STAR Board of Directors
The feeling of being alone in my pain was so paralyzing and dark.
I literally felt frozen and stiff, hard-hearted and judging as I walked through my life because that’s what it took to hold it all together. I judged others harshly because I was judging myself harshly, even when it wasn’t my fault.
Once I did the inner work to actually acknowledge what happened, that it wasn’t my fault and that I wanted to be free of the weight of it, I could take steps to tell my story. But it took a huge amount of courage to decide to be that raw, exposed and vulnerable when reaching out for a mere connection of help.
I was so afraid of judgment, of people thinking I was weak, broken, defective, unrepairable. The threat of having to defend myself seemed an impossible weight to bear after what I had endured already and I’m sure it’s why so many go unreported.
Choosing to believe a survivor honors and affirms their courage to do an incredibly difficult thing. It could be the single most important moment in their healing journey, the key to open the door for more healing.
Aren’t all of us better off if wounded people could feel safe to come out of their personal darkness? If they could heal and reach their potential? They have that possibility when we as a society are committed to believing.
It’s overwhelmingly most likely to be the right response given the statistics. Judging by the statistics (meaning extraordinarily rare false reports and countless non-reports), a society’s culture of choosing not to believe is the result of myth acceptance.
Choosing not to believe is unsupported by the data and creates a hostile environment for reporting. In my mind, this means survivors have to decide what is more threatening when they are already wounded – keeping their pain to themselves to fester below the surface and erode their quality of life and happiness, or mustering up the fortitude to face a hostile gauntlet of disbelievers intent on proving they are lying. Survivors suffer and the culture of not believing continues just so disbelievers can live in a pretend world where rape and molestation rarely happen.
Avoiding that disbelief was part of why I kept my secrets for over 40 years. The diminishment in my quality of life in that time is incalculable, because I was afraid to talk about it. How does that help us as a society?
Believing is the compassionate thing to do to encourage someone who has overcome their fear to reach for connection and begin to heal. It’s also the most practical and the most likely correct response to benefit us as a society, and it is a position well-supported by data.
I’m living my best life now, because I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who #StartByBelieving.
Hear more about Vonnie’s story in this installment of Truth Out Loud, our survivor story-telling workshop. If you are interested in sharing your story or hearing more survivor stories, please visit our website.