Reporting sexual abuse can take time

In relation to the recent Robert Hughes and Rolf Harris trials, the following question has been often asked: Why do some alleged victims of sexual abuse take so long to report it/come forward?

Sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes, but when victims do come forward their reasons for “waiting so long” are often as follows.

1. If they told someone of the assault at the time, they may have been rebuked, blamed or even not believed.

2. They may not have told anyone at the time because they feared being rebuked, blamed or not believed. They may not have told anyone at the time because they didn’t know who they could tell, or who to trust.

3. Depending on the type of abuse, the victim may have been threatened by the perpetrator with physical violence, that their revelation would destroy lives/marriages/relationships/health, or told they would not be believed.

4. Because the human body responds to stimulus, some victim/survivor’s bodies “respond” to the touch of their attacker making them feel dirty, ashamed and somehow responsible for the unwanted sexual attention. (Some victim/survivors are unaware, until they are older, that the behaviour by the perpetrator was wrong/criminal.)

5. Sexual abuse/assault goes unreported often because the nature of abuse is one of secrecy. Abuse survives and thrives through secrecy. The perpetrator can be confident that the shame/embarrassment/fear the victim feels will keep them silent.

6. Traditionally, the patriarchal police and justice system has not been set up to appropriately process complaints of sexual assault, making it very daunting and upsetting for victims, only adding to their trauma. If the complaint goes to trial, the victim/survivor will have to face their attacker, relive their trauma, and be subjected to extensive questioning and scrutiny by the defence counsel, often having their sexual history (unrelated to the complaint) brought up and dissected.

7. The mainstream media often portray alleged victims of sexual abuse/assault as opportunistic, prudish, over reactive, money-grubbing and even vengeful. Perpetrators, particularly those who are in positions of trust and/or rank – priests, teachers, entertainers/celebrities, family members – are however seen as persecuted, misunderstood and victimised.

8. For male victims of sexual abuse/assault, there is often an issue of their sense of masculinity and sexuality being in question, particularly if their body responded to stimulation. (This happens whether the victim identifies as gay or heterosexual.)

Given just some of these reasons (which are in no way exhaustive) perhaps it is not surprising that it can take many years, even 30-40 years, for a victim to be able to report a sexual assault. The vast majority will not.

The fall out from sexual abuse can be debilitating emotionally, psychologically, physically and sexually. It changes a person irrevocably. And while many brave victim/survivors go on to lead “normal lives” it is not too finer point to say, that the damage done lasts a life time.

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Where is Superman?

It seems in the past year we have seen the ‘fall from grace’ of several of our sporting personalities and champions. The most significant, if only for its international reach, was Lance Armstrong. A hero, a champion, a philanthropist. Everything you want to see in a hero. But not only did he let us down, he spat in our face. It really wasn’t as much about the cheating in the end, but the lying and the aggressive, bullying and even litigious way Armstrong dealt with accusations of him being a ‘drug cheat’. That would have been hurtful enough if it wasn’t for the millions of disheartened, crest-fallen, desperate cancer sufferers and survivors who saw in Armstrong a chance at hope, at survival, of beating the unbeatable! He put them in an untenable position of having to chose between continuing to believe in the champ who beat cancer and the man who had broken the rules and broken their hearts. As Oprah’s interview with the seven times ‘Tour de France’ winner had barely finished airing, you could read the Tweets and Facebook message of undying support for Armstrong. Their faith and belief in the face of so much outright deceit and narcissism was touching but also sad.

 

ImageNow in Australia we’ve seen the case of the Essendon Football Club and the charges made by the AFL Commission of negligent governance and bringing the game into disrepute. While there are no charges or suggestion of using illegal or prohibited drugs, EFC’s cutting edge sports science programme was at best foolish, and at worst, as shown by the sanctions imposed, reckless and ignored the duty of care towards its players. In the firing line of those sanctions are two of the greatest footballers ever to grace the game – James Hird and Mark “Bomber” Thompson. When the supplements story first came to my attention in early 2012, I couldn’t have expected a more different result from the investigation and subsequent sanctions. While not an Essendon fan, the club had always held a soft spot in my heart from a young age. Timmy Watson, one of the youngest Essendon players at the time, was dashing, brave and skilled, and perhaps one of a few I knew from outside the Carlton team I had grown up to follow. I had even managed to get his autograph one year as we both travelled on the same airplane. There have always been non-Carlton footballers who I’ve had the greatest regard for. Men like Paul Roos, Jim Stynes, Robert Harvey and Paul Couch. Men with determination, class, integrity and a humanity that was not for show, and not for sale. James Hird was in that group for me. A champion player, a courageous captain, the type of footballer even opposing teams couldn’t help but respect and admire.

 

Hird now finds himself adrift for 12 months, NOT for drug cheating, as some would slanderously suggest, but because in the pursuit of taking the Essendon Football Club to a higher level he (along with others at the EFC) made errors of judgement and did not properly protect those in his charge. He failed in his duty of care. James Hird’s reputation as a brilliant athlete and champion of the AFL will not, and should never be questioned or diminished by his most recent failings. However, because he is a champion, a man that so many have looked up to as a shining example of integrity and honesty, his recent failings and behaviour have been his undoing. I speak of his sometimes arrogant behaviour, his perceived narcissism, and his lack of accountability or acceptance of wrong-doing. He has taken his punishment/sanction on the chin for the sake of the Essendon Football Club moving forward, and it seems he will be back in the Coach’s job when his suspension is complete. Where I believe James Hird is similar to Lance Armstrong is in the sense of betrayal of our expectations of champions and heroes. Hird was our champion, our golden boy, the exemplar of greatness and a great bloke to boot. No matter the outcome of the charges, he was always going to fall and fall hard in some people’s eyes. Some may question that if he had been more contrite from the beginning he may have walked away from this sorry saga retaining our respect and admiration. That may be true, but we will never know. For instead, in the eyes of some, he will always be tarnished. The unfortunate truth is that like many other champions of our past and present, James Hird will be always be seen as guilty. His crime, that of being a flawed human instead of the infallible superman we expected him to be.

 

 

© 2013 Benjamin MacEllen

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Surviving the Unsurvivable

March 16, 2013

It could be the greatest legacy to know that your support or actions could help make survivable someone’s battle which seemed unsurvivable.

It can seem naive and idealistic to believe that an individual can change the world for the better. It seems almost impotent to just focus on being a whole, emotionally, physically and morally responsible person. It can seem selfish and narcissistic. I am alive and a mostly functioning man today because of the mistakes I’ve made the successes I’ve achieved. But significantly, I would not be the man I am today without the women and men who did for me; who empathised with me; pushed and challenged me; nurtured me; believed in the greater part of me; and trusted in me. They were my family when family was a dirty word. They held my hand and often gave of themselves more than I deserved – above and beyond. They taught me lessons whether I was ready to learn, and expressed truths when I was unable or unwilling to hear. Even when my supports felt they had failed or I was beyond help, their messages of wisdom and love transcended the temporal, and became sage advice and counsel for the moments in life when I was ready to hear, to change, to take responsibility and heal.

I am not a great teacher, as I would’ve liked to have been. I hold no degrees or qualifications. But I believe in the notion of community action and that it takes a village to make positive change. I can’t save someone from disease, poverty, depression, danger, or abuse. But, I can help them save themselves.

I spent a lot of time in a black hole – mentally and emotionally. For years and years I wanted desperately to be “rescued”. I would forfeit self-esteem and pride in order for someone to lift me out of the hole. But I was a dead weight. Anyone who tried to pull me out, offer a hand, would be swamped by the desperation and my need to be saved. Like an animal caught in a steel trap I would often turn on my rescuer, frightening and overwhelming them. Some kept trying, many ran far away, and others found themselves caught in the same trap.

It was the analogy of being trapped in hole that helped me see the situation clearly. If I pulled my “rescuer” down into the hole with me, then they would be unable to help me or themselves get out. Those who truly taught me how to get out of my dark hole showed strength and wisdom. ‘W’ set a cordon of safety around the hole to secure it; ‘S’ ensured I had a walkie-talkie to keep in contact with the rescue team; ‘J’ sat on the edge and reassured me that I would be okay; and ‘M’ gave me tips on how to change the walls of the hole into stepping-stones. There were times when it seemed the darkness would envelop us and the earth would quake. But those amazing rescuers held fast. And as long as there is breath in my lungs and ink in my pen, their actions will be a lasting legacy of courage and comfort, wisdom and love. I will learn from them, to one day be a gift in someone else’s life.

© Benjamin MacEllen 2013

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Gay is: Revisited

In 2000, I wrote the following letter to the Editor of the Bendigo Advertiser. It was published a short time later. In light of the ‘No to Homophobia’ campaign launched last week, I thought I’d revisit this letter. This piece, ‘Being Gay’, can easily be about being ‘Bisexual’, ‘Transsexual’, ‘Queer’, ‘Lesbian’ and/or ‘Gender Diverse’. And it reminds me to stand up for being ‘Me’.

 

Dear Sir, 

I recently had an occasion to need the assistance of a telephone counsellor. Despite her earnest desire to withhold judgement, and willingness to be a supportive listener, the female counsellor still struggled with her own beliefs and issues about gays and lesbians. In response to this counsellor, I wish to address this letter…

Being Gay is not a choice, belief of religion. Gay is not about uncontrollable urges, unnatural encounters, unrestrained promiscuity, or sexual deviancy. Gay is not irresponsible, irregular or irreverent. Gay is not a cult, a culture, or lifestyle. It is not a decision, an experiment or phase. Gay is not an adventure, a direction or undertaking. Gay is living. Gay is breathing. Gay is Being.

Gay is irreversible, irrefutable, and irresistible. Gay can be monogamous, loving, loyal and faithful. Gay can be good, spiritual and wholesome. Gay can be celibate or virginal. Gay can be passionate, provocative and untamed. Gay can be mysterious, beguiling and captivating. But Gay is not catching; it is not contagious. Gay does not infiltrate, propagate or procreate; it poses no threat and takes no prisoners. Gay is healthy – coursing through veins, flexing in motion, and beating in cardiac rhythms. Gay is Natural. Gay is Real. Gay is Being. Gay is being Me.

 

© 2000 Ben “Sam” MacEllen

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