Dear Sue Ellen,
I am a college student and one of my roommates is my best friend from home. We have been close since kindergarten. She’s like a sister to me. Lately, she has been acting weird. She has been skipping classes and hanging out with a different group of people that frankly scare me. I tried to talk to her about it, but she got mad. Then, just last week she told me she had been molested as a kid by somebody we both knew and trusted from our church. I don’t understand why she didn’t tell somebody when it happened. I’m a little bit hurt that she didn’t tell me. It happened when we were in the 7th grade. Why did she keep it a secret from me so long? She still doesn’t want her parents to know. I just don’t understand this whole thing. How can I be supportive of her when I’m not even sure I believe her?
Are you aware that 1 in 7 girls are sexually abused, and 1 in 25 boys are sexually abused? These numbers are based on reported cases and not like the situation with your friend, where she has kept it quiet for the past 6 or 7 years. Researchers really think (but can’t prove because it is under-reported) 1 in 6 boys are actually molested. I could speak for hours about what sexual abuse is, and why it is so damaging to victims, and also society.
Why did she keep it a secret? There could be a number of reasons. The abuser may have threatened her if she spoke about it, and as a little girl, she believed him. Maybe she thought it was her fault…abused kids think that a lot. I’m pretty sure she wears shame like a heavy, dark cloak over her soul. Did you know that when a person claims they’ve been sexually violated and decide to press charges, all too often the victim is traumatized again through the reporting process and then little or nothing happens to the abuser? It happens.
To me, the more important question is why do we tend to disbelieve it when someone claims they have been molested? Is it just too horrible to accept? Do we secretly blame the victim? Are we conflicted because we can’t imagine the reported abuser would do such a thing? Sometimes people lie about their claims of sexual abuse, but it is very rare. When we hear of a situation like this why do we think we are the ones that decide whether it is true or not? We have the law and courts for that.
My suggestion to you is to love and pray for your friend. It is her journey, not yours. Let her know you care, but don’t dive head first into her situation. There are counseling centers at every university. Perhaps she would be willing to start there, to begin her healing path. Some victims choose a longer, more “scenic,” route to recovery. Abused children have a 60 to 70% greater likelihood of having social problems into adulthood such as: mental and physical illness, poor social skills, poor relationship skills, addictions, anger issues and even criminal behaviors. I hope your friend gets help and avoids building a life that is centered on the shame of her alleged abuse.
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