As an abuse survivor, I live with the past on a daily basis. For the most part I can function normally and not dwell on the horror of the past. But sometimes events happen in the news and when I read them or hear about them it sends me into an overwhelming sadness because it triggers memories that I would rather forget.
You would think that in the 21st century we would have evolved to pay closer attention to those who have been abused. However, recent events make it very clear to me that Canadians are mostly only paying a lip-service to protecting survivors and not bothering to empower victims of physical and sexual abuse to speak out.
When I first attempted to report my abusers, I had taken months to muster up the courage with the help of my therapist. She came with me to the local police station and I went in to report the crime. It took every bit of courage to speak with the front desk officer who stopped me when I told him I wanted to report sexual abuse crimes against me when I was a child. He abruptly stopped me and asked if it had happened in that jurisdiction. When I said no, he said there was nothing he could do because I had to go to the town where it happened to report it. He then grabbed some papers and walked away from the desk as he was feeling uncomfortable speaking to a crying six foot four man. My courage was dashed and I felt such an overwhelming feeling of shame for attempting to speak up about my abuse.
After a few more weeks I went to the small town where the abuse happened. I went to the police station (alone) and attempted to report the crimes again. I was cut off by the reporting clerk and told rather coldly that they could not do anything because the crimes happened too long ago and reporting them would be useless. Again I left the station feeling ashamed and disempowered.
It’s taken a very long time for me to speak out publically about my abusers and what happened to me. As a male it seems that few people care – really care – about the effects of abuse on survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse unless it has happened to them. I pray one day there will be no such thing as childhood sexual and physical abuse. The hidden scars and wounds – the psychological ones – are some of the hardest to deal with alone. I still feel alone at times, and I wish I didn’t.
This morning I was looking at the news feeds and the Jian Gomeshi case. For those of you who may not know, Ghomeshi was accused of sexual and physical assault against a number of women. His history of abuse dates back to university in 1988. He was recently acquitted of all charges. He is free. The judge, Justice William Harkins ruled against the plaintiffs and found that their stories were inconsistent, and did not seem truthful. I would like to speak to that.
If you have ever been abused physically and/or sexually you are immediately in a position of doubt. Only a small amount of cases ever get reported because of how difficult it is for survivors to come forward. I tried to report the crimes against me years after they happened and it took years because I had to process those events and come to some understanding that what happened to me was not my fault. I am proud those women who came forward did so. I am sad as a Canadian that there is such a lack of support for victims of abuse – both male and female – to feel protected when they do come forward. We are taking several steps backward in dismissing those women as liars. This is exactly why survivors find it so hard to speak out.
I am tired of the shame. I am glad that Justice William Harkins obviously has not ever been a victim of physical or sexual abuse. I am glad he was never left in a bathroom bleeding because he was raped at ten years old and thrown down stairs in an attempt to have his neck broken. I am so happy he has had a perfect life. I am so sad that men like Gomeshi have to choke women in an attempt to feel powerful. In fact, I am just plain sad.
If you are a victim of physical or sexual abuse, I believe you. The courage to come forward far outweighs the ridicule and the shame that doing so creates. There are people and groups who will listen. It is important for you to stand up and speak out. Too many cases of abuse continue to be unreported. This is the biggest crime. I applaud those who come forward as much as I applaud those who stand up for those who cannot.
And reporting abuse is not like presenting a clear concise paper on the effects of global warming on the north pole. Reporting abuse contains emotion, shame, fear and details can be dropped only to be remembered later. Blaming people for not disclosing fully, or leaving out details is not the way to justify whether or not they were actually abused or not. The emotional wounds are what cut deep and are nearly invisible to see. People often leave out the more painful details when reporting abuse because of the fear they will be ridiculed for it – just like the women are feeling in the Ghomeshi case.
My name is Dr. Nicholas Harrison. I am proud that I speak out about abuse. I am a survivor. I know it was not my fault. If you ever share with me that you were abused, I will support you and let you know it was not your fault.