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Why do so few survivors of abuse speak out?

Why do so few people speak out? Whether survivors of abuse, or those who have witnessed dynamics at work or amongst friends that seem wrong, or whether you are made to feel uncomfortable by something someone has said. Why do so many of us struggle to speak up?



When I was in a cult I was forced to take vows of silence. Put my hand on the Bible, as you would in court, and swear on the thing most dear to me, that I would never share my story. That I would never talk about my experience, what had happened to me, to anyone. Ever. Can you imagine anything more isolating? Can you imagine a greater repression, than to put a lock on someone’s voice, their self expression, their communication of their experiences?


We were told there would be dire consequences if we broke the vow of silence. There were many stories of women who’d broken their vows who’d suffered ill health, died, had terrible things happen to them, who had Fallen… Oh, yes Eve fallen, from their spiritual path. Irretrievably. Damned.



It was an extremely effective psychological tool for keeping even people who left the cult silent.


When I first shared my story I was shaking, sweating, paranoid. I heard a noise in the house and I thought momentarily that my wall had fallen in (it hadn’t, of course). I am an intuitive, informed, educated person. But this is what years of conditioning, ignored fear, discarded intuition, repressed emotion and bounded choice will do to you.




The next time I shared my story I was scared I would get ill, that my health would suffer. It did not. That I would lose all sense of my spirituality and moral compass. In fact, the more I spoke out, the stronger and clearer these grew.



Sometimes when I shared my story I was numb, numbness and repression are protective mechanisms and ones that are common to us.


It is so hard to share your story, as every time you share it, you relive it in some way. Not everyone is trained, prepared, aware enough to hear you. Their responses, questions and attitudes can be insensitive, intimidating, upsetting, re-traumatising. No wonder that seggsual crimes, domestic abuse and coercive control are massively under-reported. I completely get why many people just walk away, pretend it never happened. You know that legal structures are not set up to support victims of abuse and that the police are unlikely to do anything.


A survey of nearly 500 survivors of rape, undertaken by the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, has highlighted just 14% believed they would receive justice by reporting the crime to the police.

Yet, the power of the voice used reflection is great. The more I share, the clearer some things become, the deeper my understanding of what happened and how. The vow fades into an oceanic collage tapestry of meaningless untruths. Things so devoid of meaning that they must masquerade as absolute truth.


The more I share, the less and less power they hold over me. My voice is returned to me, together with so much more.


The more I share, its not that it got easier. It’s exhausting, challenging, terrifying, painful. You can never tell what people’s reactions will be.


You expose yourself repeatedly; out in the cold, the wind, the rain, sometimes falling into the safety of another’s comprehension or gratitude, sometimes feeling the stinging wind on your bare skin on the mountaintop of your commitment to yourself, sometimes on a battlefield you didn’t expect to be there. Your only comfort is the sometimes distant, sometimes raw memory of why, why I am doing this. For myself, for my voice, for the truth, for justice and accountability, for those who suffered more and spoke less. For the silenced.


My story aside, humans commonly think that if we have had a negative experience; especially with a ‘spiritual’ group, a teacher or another authority it is probably just We were often conditioned to believe the same thing when expressing negative emotion as children.


We are told to ‘be nice’ and ‘not bitchy’, and this belief that we must be nice in order to be acceptable, to be liked, is foundational societal conditioning.


Success conditioning teaches us that a marker of success is your level of happiness and positivity; so sharing good things about your life and experience shows success, sharing your darker and more challenging experiences is a downer, and shows some kind of ‘failing’ at life. So, we silence ourselves from sharing the difficult bits with most people, much of the time.


This binary thinking of ’success’ ‘failure’ ‘positive’ ‘negative’ leaves little room for the full range of our human and personal experience, which means it doesn’t always get a voice. What would happen if you had the courage, if you gave yourself the permission, to share your truth, no matter how supposedly ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ with someone today?





You expose yourself repeatedly; out in the cold, the wind, the rain, sometimes falling into the safety of another’s comprehension or gratitude, sometimes feeling the stinging wind on your bare skin on the mountaintop of your commitment to yourself, sometimes on a battlefield you didn’t expect to be there. Your only comfort is the sometimes distant, sometimes raw memory of why, why I am doing this. For myself, for my voice, for the truth, for justice and accountability, for those who suffered more and spoke less. For the silenced.

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