Give Voice to Survivors, End the Silence - A Speech by Tim Lennon on All Survivors Day
The below speech was delivered by Tim Lennon at the inaugural All Survivors Day event on November 3, 2018 in Philadelphia's Independence Mall.
We gather in solidarity with victims and survivors sexual abuse and assault. We honor the courage of those who have come forward and shared their story. They have provided leadership and guidance to the many victims who suffer alone and in the dark.
Victims of sexual abuse face condemnation, shame, humiliation, censure, and silence.
The culture of shame and silence must end. Survivors and advocates stand up today to be recognized. No longer will we be regulated to the shadows, subject to stares and silence.
Our society reproduces the culture of shame and silence from an early age. Too many times we hear of stories of young children ignored, dismissed, and disciplined when they come forward with stories of sexual abuse and assault. How many children have been threatened because they dared to accuse an uncle, a neighbor, a priest?
In the church, where a different set of themes are practiced, you are condemned to hell, commanded to confess your sins, apologize to the clerical abuser, and similar insults.
The mechanism of blame and shame is place on the victim with comments about what was worn, how late at night, why didn’t they fight back. For men, they receive different censure, why didn’t you fight back, along the lines of blaming the victim as being less of a man. Victim blaming reinforces an already unnecessary burden of self-blame many victims carry.
Comments by the unthinking suggest that the victim should ‘get over it,’ forgive the abuser, put aside your anger, it happened a long time ago, it only happened once, you enjoyed it, only serve to further isolate the victim and the harm they suffered.
Victims face another form of insidious censure in the form of silence. When we disclose sexual abuse, we are met with silence. Even when the topic is ever raised in conversation with family and friends, we get an averted gaze, then silence. Maybe a quick, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘that’s too bad’ then followed by silence and a quick change of conversation to the weather or the local sports team. To victims, the response we receive is many times hollow, muted, insincere.
Victims need recognition of their harm not silence. In a quick moment, the victim is again alone.
Worse, many victims carry the unnecessary burden of self-blame. Somehow, it is their fault, that they are soiled, dirty. Believing, wrongly, that they could have prevented it, or were the blamed for being provocative, seductive, willing, easy, gullible.
There is a strong thread in our society expressed in the cultural view that a victim is weak and soiled. That rape and sexual abuse could have been prevented in all cases. This, in turn, renourishes the culture of ostracization, shame, and the darkness of silence that is piled on victims.
Survivors no longer accept the culture of shame and silence. They want to give voice to their harm and name the crime and name the criminal.
The #MeToo movement forced society to look. No longer can our society say sexual abuse is “over there.” Now we know that it can be present in any family, any school, any church, any sports team, any church.
The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report ripped the cover off festering corruption of widespread sexual abuse in an institution that was once held in trust and respect. Instead we see how power, authority and prestige were used to hide and cover up the sexual abuse of over a thousand. The façade was stripped bare.
The revelations of systematic abuse as we have seen in the exposure of Sandusky, Bill Cosby, Weinstein, Nassar, et al. are not unique or outliers. Now we know. Rape, sexual abuse and assault flows through society like blood in the body.
All Survivors Day takes aim at silence, taboos and ignorance. No longer will survivors hid in fear of being shamed. Survivors will not longer tolerate silence and ignorance of the ubiquity of sexual abuse in our community.
Knowledge and awareness compel us to act. No one can sit on the sidelines. Stand up, step forward, speak up, act with courage. We have a world to change.
Believe the children. Embrace survivors with warmth. Welcome their disclosures. Honor their courage.