Today I am shaken. I have a mix of emotions.
Yesterday my husband read me the report of Ravi Zacharias’s many accounts of sexual abuse. Ravi is deceased now, but many years ago a woman spoke up about her abuse story. I remember hearing about it and feeling a mix of emotions that day too. I believe her, but then many sadly did not. Her brave story was ignored by most and pushed under the rug. Ravi continued on as a respected spiritual leader and she was deemed a whistleblower, an attention seeker, a liar.
This is the way of so many of us. Silence. Often if we use our voice we will be shamed. If we use our voice we lose it. Many times, we lose everything.
So we stay silent, we seal our lips tight. We dare not speak because we’ve been threatened and warned what happens to those of us who do share our stories. We’ve seen it time and again, and we’re terrified of losing even more than what has already been taken from us.
And so we say nothing.
Yesterday I heard the report. The extensive record of manipulation, grooming, rape. And I was sad and relieved all at once. Relieved for this woman who finally has her voice heard and the support that she is long overdue. I was also sad, no angry, for all the women that are silent. Women like me.
Those women that have had so much taken from them, and yet don’t even have the voice to express it. The women that like me must stay quiet because of the threats that linger. I’m angry for the women that have lost relationships with family and friends, because no one believed them. Because suddenly the story spins and now she is crazy, and cruel, and dramatic.
Ravi used his position and power to abuse women and then used it to keep them silent. I have experienced it firsthand, not with Ravi, but with my own abuser. I’m mad, not just because of the abuse, but because of people like Ravi, people like my abuser who just get away with it. They abuse their power and people let them do it. They make excuses for them, they ignore what’s right in front of them because it’s too damn uncomfortable.
We stay silent because we have to, because no one is there to support us. Because even when all of it is so obvious, people refuse to see what’s right in front of them.
So we live in a box. We put up walls, because how can you let people in when you must live in silence. How can you connect with anyone when your story is off limits.
Victims live lonely lives while abusers draw crowds.
I haven’t spoken much about my abuse. Years ago I was threatened with words like “lawsuit” and “slander”. Those words sparked fear in me. They still do.
What power do I have? I’m just a woman crying in my bathroom wondering if it will ever be safe to speak up. If I do, will anyone listen?
People like me will never feel safe until we are free to speak. We already live in fear, because of our abuser, so we cannot possibly feel safe as long as powerful people like Ravi are protected. We cannot have a voice as long as the voices in power carry more weight than our own.
Over ten years ago, I broke free from my abuser. I was a young woman taking control of my life, and all I asked for was peace and space to process and heal. Instead my abuser harassed me. He used his power and position against me and my husband, and he didn’t do it alone. He rallied other influential leaders and used every ounce of power he had to try and ruin me. He used his position to try and tear apart my marriage, going so far as to go after my husbands job. We felt so scared and alone, because he used his reputation and status to vilify us. We were no ones, and it was used to his advantage.
To be clear, I wasn’t even trying to speak out. I simply took back control of my life. I refused to be a possession, and suddenly the victim became the defendant. I lost a lot then and I learned to keep quiet.
That’s the way it goes when you’re a victim of abuse. Your only safety is in silence and isolation. So that’s what I’ve done for over a decade.
I’m not sure I’m ready to share my story. It still hurts too much, but things need to change. We can’t speak up only to be silenced and then vilified. Too often when we use our voices we are only met with shame. We need support and safety, and most of all we need to be taken seriously.
I can only hope that we can learn from this high profile situation. Abusers come in many forms and we need to recognize that, or they will continue preying on victims.
So today I’m asking you to do something different. Uncomfortable even. Listen. Listen to what we’re saying as we tearfully struggle to find the words. Listen to our voices, quiet as they are, because we’re scared and we just need someone to hear us.
2 thoughts on “Listen, Please”
Sarah – thanks for this post. You are brave and strong and I am rooting for you. Thanks for being a voice for the voiceless.
Sarah – thanks for your courage to call us to listen. Thanks for being a voice.