Sexual Abuse Terribly Serious, Shaming — Victims Can And Do Move On

One of the most serious offenses against anyone has to be sexual abuse, and currently, comedian Stephen Fry is being lambasted over comments he made about Operation Yewtree, according to Telegraph. He apparently said that people need to quit “inventing” claims of sexual abuse, and currently, social media is in a furor on both sides of the opinion.

In speaking with Dave Rubin, Fry said that victims of sexual abuse should not see atrocities in every work of art they encounter. “Self pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity. Get rid of it … Grow up,” he said.

The problem with Fry’s statement is that while he is right about self-pity, survivors of sexual abuse will, of course, be quite offended by his remarks. It can be a years-long process overcoming the physical and especially the psychological trauma associated with sexual abuse, and according to Sexual Trauma and Assault Response Services (STARS), victims might experience symptoms like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), rape trauma (which can include a resolution phase), depression, and flashbacks. It is a terribly painful thing, from a psychological point of view, to overcome.

Memory of the sexual abuse can be triggered by a simple sound, or a smell. Sometimes, it can take years of therapy, and there is absolutely no shame in needing therapy as part of the recovery process. However, the notion that you might need therapy to recover from sexual abuse can also be daunting, as you might perceive yourself as being somehow flawed for needing the help.

“Growing up” is not required when it comes to moving past sexual abuse. Acceptance that it happened and that you were not to blame is needed, though — having learned that lesson the hard way, I know how truly challenging acceptance and transference of blame back to the person who sexually abused you is. It is entirely too easy, in the aftermath of sexual abuse, to pin the blame on yourself because you feel you could have done something to prevent what happened, and the work involved in processing the sexual abuse — whether it happened one time or several and regardless of how it occurred — feels like walking up a mountain in a blizzard. Navigating the feelings you have following sexual abuse is a scary, tumultuous time, but it does not mean you are somehow immature, as Stephen Fry’s words seem to have implied.

RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, says that watching television and movies in the years, months, and days following sexual abuse can be a terribly difficult experience, but there are ways of dealing with media following sexual abuse. One of the most significant ways is through realizing that you are the one in control and can leave the movie or change channels the first chance you get. You might feel embarrassed about leaving, but you also are the one in control — remember that everyone else is likely so focused on their experience in the movie that they are not going to notice you have left.

The organization also says that sexual abuse survivors should also remember that people are going to react following a news story, whether it is positive or positively heartbreaking. Again, you are in control of the media you consume. Walk away, change the channel, or do whatever you need to do so you are not overwhelmed by any feelings that might surge as a result of watching something troubling.

Is Stephen Fry correct when he says that we essentially have a society of victims? To an extent, yes. What he did not add was that there are a wealth of victims who became survivors, simply because they chose to move forward with their lives. It would be all too easy in the immediate aftermath of sexual abuse to stop trusting and lock oneself away — I’ve done it, and I’m sure thousands of sexual abuse survivors have done the exact same thing.

However, you lose sight of the important things in life when you choose to hide away. Being a sexual abuse survivor means — to me, at least — that I was able to unpack the terrible things that happened decades ago and become more fully engaged in my life as an adult. Did I forget? Never. You can’t. But part of survival means taking the lessons I eventually learned and becoming stronger for it.

[Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]

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