I found this post on The Friendly Atheist a few days ago. In it, we see an entire town turn their backs on a girl who had to deal with a decade’s worth of sexual abuse. Why? Because her abuser was a church leader and a “pillar of the community”.
Think about that for a moment.
Part of this mentality is springing from the christian idea of “forgiveness”. You know of which I am speaking: forgiving everyone of every sin, no matter how grave it may be. But that’s probably not the only source of this town’s disbelief. It comes from a very common idea, one that is very prevalent in society today.
“He was a good man, not a monster. Of course he wouldn’t do this!”
To most people, the idea of a child abuser conjures up the image of a horrible human being, a greasy-skinned savage who wears dirty clothes, reeks of alcohol and lives in abject squalor. The “abuser” just barely passes as human; they look more bestial than man. In other words, most people believe that they know an abuser on sight, that his or her physical appearance will give him or her away. Oh and they’ve never done a positive thing in their lives either so the entire neighborhood knows that this supposed person is a demon from hell.
This cannot possibly be farther from the truth.
It is true that some abusers look the part but a greater majority do not. If anything, they have the look of someone who is concerned about their potential victims, someone who does so much for the community, someone who helps those in need, someone who cares. What most people do not realize is that abusers know how to manipulate others, how they have learned over the years to form a very careful public mask that won’t give them away. Most abusers know how to turn on the charm in order to lure in the victim so that they can groom them for later exploitation.
The sad thing? Most normal people can’t look past the mask. All they see is the “perfect” facade of the abuser. It is easier for them to believe that the abuser was tempted or led astray by the victim or worse, that the victim is lying.
I’ve dealt with this myself for a while. One of my former friends did not believe me when I said–in a rather roundabout way–that my mother had abused me when I was young. She claimed that my mother never laid a hand on her and that she just didn’t “see” it, so I had to either be misremembering or blowing things out of proportion. It was all in my head really and it couldn’t have been “that bad”.
But it was that bad. Even though most would have seen my mother as an overprotective parent, they would see that in a positive way. Almost everyone I knew, from friends to teachers, saw my mother as a concerned and caring adult. They had no idea what went on behind closed doors, when no one else was around. Even worse, I had no idea how to tell anyone, as my mother had said that foster care was hell and no one would believe me anyway. I was screwed no matter what I may have done.
This is what it’s like for a lot of victims. This is why a lot of them won’t come forward until many years have passed. They know that their chances of being believed are slim to none and that they risk ostracism from the very communities that are supposed to protect them.
This is why I blog. This is why I write. This is why I try to speak truth to power on this subject every chance I get. This is why I make this public: so that other victims know that they are not alone. So that other victims may be able to find their own voice and speak. If enough of us do this maybe, just maybe, we can rip the mask off our abusers and the world will finally be able to truly see beyond it.