“Who Would Believe You?”

The first paragraph in the article below prompted me to share what happened to me last week when I went to see my facialist, whom I have developed a friendship with over the past year.

My facialist knows about my father raping and sexually abusing me, and that my mother facilitated the incest, but I had never told her about my mother, or sister, sexually abusing me. I was feeling strong that day, and told her about Grace’s article and story. From there, I just suddenly decided it was time to reveal that, like Grace, I was also sexually abused by a female family member.

It was a beautiful moment for me because the words flowed out of my mouth very naturally, without fear or trepidation. Then, when I realized I was speaking without holding my head down in shame, and without feeling any physical reaction to disclosing what I had been threatened to never say to anyone, I felt pretty damn good.

My facialist reacted with no judgements, and her words were filled with encouragement and love. In the moment that I realized she believed me, I was overcome with joy and the rest of my day was pretty awesome. I ran errands, went grocery shopping, and conducted mindless tasks with gratitude and peace.

The article below reads, “and who would believe her?”

It is a subliminal message to victims and perpetrators. It’s the same (or worse) as articles about child sexual abuse, murder, and torture written with the words “unbelievable” and “unimaginable.”

These seemingly innocent words are transmitted as subliminal messages which propel the disbelief in society, and perpetrators are subliminally taught, “see, no one will believe her.”

Who would believe her? Countless people would and should. No victim of child sexual abuse should ever be told, “who would believe you? …not by a journalist, not by a friend, and certainly the victim themselves should never think those words.

“Who would believe you?” needs to be replaced with “speak your truth, someone will believe you, and keep speaking out until someone does believe you.”

Article:

“For most of her life, Angela Williams kept the abuse to herself. There were no words for the horror and the guilt and the shame she felt. And who would believe her?

In some ways it was just easier to pack it away, soothe herself with drugs and alcohol, to attempt suicide.

Then one day at age 35, nearly 20 years after the abuse had finally stopped, Williams said her therapist suggested she take a trip to be alone with herself and the memories of the abuse. And she did.

There, in a park off the Chattooga River, in a scream mixed with tears, Williams said she laid her burden down and the words came to her. She was not the person her stepfather made her out to be. The abuse was not her fault.

It was a hard-earned truth but one the Marietta mother of two would use to forge her way out of the darkness, launch the nonprofit VOICE Today, and begin helping other victims of childhood sexual abuse find the courage to speak their truth, too.

The grass-roots effort seeks to “break the silence” associated with child sexual abuse through awareness and education. “Our mission is to prevent child sexual abuse and help survivors heal by providing a voice of healing to survivors, a voice of protection to children and a voice of prevention to adults,” Williams said.

On April 1, Williams — who was recently named an “unsung heroine” by Saving Our Children And Families Inc. for her efforts — will host the second annual White Out public service campaign to raise awareness about and help put an end to childhood sexual abuse. Every hour she will post prevention tips on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. (Links can be found on VOICE Today’s website: voicetoday.org.)

Also in April, which is National Child Abuse Awareness Month, Williams will be speaking at events across the state, including the Emory University Global Summit on April 14.

“We have got to get people talking about the issue of child sexual abuse and then take action, to finally let survivors know that people care about their suffering,” Williams said.

For years, Williams suffered alone. “My mother didn’t want to look into my eyes to see what was really there,” she said.

And so, she said, from age 3, when her stepfather began touching her vagina, until age 17, she spent her days trying to figure out how to avoid him, wishing she were invisible.

“Every chance he got, he’d touch me, feel me,” she recalled. “If we were working, he’d put his hands in my pants, rub up against me with an erection. From very young, I was told I was a whore, called a liar. He’d break my crayon, tear up my coloring books.”

She thinks she was 8 when he began penetrating.

“I remember the weight on top of me and not being able to breathe,” she said.

If she cried he threatened to give her something to cry about.

“I remember feeling like I’d died inside,” she said.

Her mother, a schoolteacher, would always be out of the house, shopping, at school or at the beauty salon.

“He’d always summon me to their bedroom. If I didn’t come I’d get punished or he’d punish my mother,” she said. “He wouldn’t even stop if I were sick. The only day I could count on being safe was Christmas Day.”

By age 17, Williams said, she’d had enough. She took 64 sleeping pills and drank a half bottle of vodka.

“I thought that was the hardest day of my life, but the next day proved to be the worse,” she said.

That’s when Williams finally garnered the courage to tell her mother, who then gave her a trash bag and told her to pack her belongings.

She sought refuge at the home of a friend, whose father, a local attorney, agreed to file for her emancipation. If she wanted to file charges against her stepdad, he told her, it would be her word against his.

Looking back I wish I had had the courage to get justice, but I didn’t,” she said.

Whatever courage Williams lacked to seek justice, she summoned to get on with her life.

In 1983, she graduated high school and, with money from a Pell Grant, loans, jobs waiting tables at the Moose Club, and cleaning homes and offices, she managed to keep a roof over her head and get through college.

Three years later, she graduated with a journalism degree from Georgia State University and began work as a receptionist for a real estate developer before working her way up to marketing director.

At 3 a.m. one morning in 1987, police arrived at her mother’s home in Savannah. Her stepfather had been killed in a car accident.

Showers of relief and responsibility rained down on her.

“I had wished him dead a thousand times,” she said.

But not even death could wash away the horror and shame she still felt. Even after she married in 1985, after giving birth to two children, Williams was haunted by the abuse she’d suffered. The nightmares escalated. She worried she might abuse her children, too. She rejected her husband’s touches. She started to drink and take drugs to numb the pain.

Then one night in 1995, she finally agreed with her husband that she needed help and went into therapy.

“I had some really ungodly beliefs about myself,” she said.

That day in the woods she told God, “I’m going to lay my life down, quit pretending and striving, and let you guide.”

“It was the best decision I ever made,” she said.”

~By Gracie Bonds Staples

___________________________________________________________________________

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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6 Responses to “Who Would Believe You?”

  1. little nel says:

    When I read about Angela Williams’ sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father and her mother’s cold response, I knew that she would never get the validation, compassion, and justice that she deserved until she spoke up about it.

    Abusers are all the same. Habitual sexual gratification at the expense of someone who is helpless to stop them, and then follow up with blaming the victim as a troublemaker.

    You are so right, Alethea, that mothers like these are just as guilty. I was saddened to learn that Angela’s mother was a school teacher and most likely a mandatory reporter.

  2. Grace says:

    Very interesting comments Alethea…there is certainly tremendous power associated with subliminal messaging, as we see every day in the media. Thank you for continuing to share your story, and for doing so in an increasingly unabashed way. The support from your facialist is a testament to the fact that truth is often met not only with anger/negativity from others, but with love also.

  3. mary says:

    I think the “and who would believe her?” statement was used rhetorically by the writer to tell the survivor’s story, as a way to initially illustrate to the reader what the mental landscape at the time looked like to the victim, from her point of view… like how victims wonder to themselves “who would believe me even if i did tell?” and have that fear of not being believed, even in situations where it is likely that they would, there is still that fear initially. That’s how I took it anyway, in the context of the article.
    “speak your truth, someone will believe you, and keep speaking out until someone does believe you.” that message should have been incorporated at the end of the article, it definitely would have made it more empowering.

    • Alethea says:

      Hi Mary. Although you are probably correct, it is a subliminal message nevertheless to victims and perpetrators. It’s the same (or worse) as articles about child sexual abuse, murder, and torture written with the words “unbelievable” and “unimaginable.”

      This kind of mind-set propels the disbelief in everyone, and perpetrators are subliminally taught, “see, no one will believe her.”

      Subliminal words have a lot of power.

      • mary says:

        Yeah, true that. Unless you’re always consciously aware of it, which most people are not, subliminal messaging has incredible power. I think a lot of writers in the media, especially of music, movies, and television are very irresponsible with their use of subliminal messages. And if you turn on the radio, and hear what most popular music says in their lyrics today, it really does not look good for our future generations. (See just right there, I realized that I just made a negative subliminal statement haha….but it is true) If more people were educated about the workings of the subconscious mind, good people could change the world for the better because they would be much more effective. I bet the writer of the article had the best of intentions in publishing it, But I think alot of people who want to help others and bring positive and real change make the mistake of merely placing subliminal focus on to the problem (although don’t get me wrong, it must be acknowledged) and unintentionally perpetuating it.

        • Alethea says:

          Hi Mary. More often than not, the writers, producers, and advertisers in media/TV/films/documentaries/ etc. do it purposely, not just irresponsibly.

          I don’t think this journalist did it on purpose. I think she just used a catch phrase that is often associated with sexual abuse. I try to choose my words carefully, but I often fail. But I think that with my history as a child of being called a liar, it struck a nerve with me.

          “See just right there, I realized that I just made a negative subliminal statement haha….but it is true”

          You are not being “negative,” nor subliminal by speaking the truth. The truth is neither negative nor positive..’it just is.’ That’s what is so beautiful about the truth, it has no agenda, and does not placate to those who don’t want to hear it.

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