One Simple Act
Sara Teristi, Secretary & Director, The Army of Survivors
I have spent this past weekend mad as hell. This is not because I feel retraumatized from the headlines and trends on social media, even though much of what going on cuts me deeply on a personal level. Larry Nassar began abusing me when I was 14, I saw him twice a day, 4 days a week for 4 years during which at every treatment something that should have never been allowed to happen did. I am not mad because I blame myself for what happened to me, nor because I was let down and not believed by so many including my friends, coaches, and therapist. I am not mad because the relationship with my mother is falling apart, nor am I mad that I have lost friends over telling my truth. I am not mad that I was called a whore and slut when I went public. Nor is it because I am still waiting for my second abuser to be brought to justice.
I am mad at the state of our society. Forget my abuse that is just a small drop in a vast pool of the systemic problem that we as a country are plagued with. Survivors who come forward are shamed and threatened, and let me tell you from personal experience coming forward is a destroying decision to make. Many have already been shot down, ignored, disbelieved, and threatened when they first told someone, why should the next time be any different? It takes an unbelievable amount of courage, strength and resolve to push ahead and publically name your abuser. You have already been abused, and now you are willingly allowing yourself to be abused again. You will be hated, you will be shunned, you will be threatened. But you know that justice and the truth are more important than the personal attacks and the devastation you and your family will face. What drives you is justice and hoping that if you come forward you can stop this from happening to the next person, and that’s enough to come forward. Because no one should have to go through what you did, ever again.
When I was a child and abused, I thought the adults in my life knew better than me. Those who knew about it didn’t seem bothered by what was done to me, they claimed the only reason it upset me was because of my overactive adolescent emotions and I should just suck it and and deal with it. I believed them, or at least tried. That process nearly killed me. For years I was depressed, engaging in dangerous behaviors, filled with suicidal thoughts, self-harming and self-medicating my trauma away.
Abuse and harassment have occurred other times during my life. Each time I reminded myself that it was normal and acceptable since all the other times were explained away as being my problem. Finally as an adult woman in her 40s when I was sexually harassed by a male superior at work. I had enough, I decided to report it. I went to his female boss and explained what happened. She was shocked and bothered by his actions but decided the best way to resolve the situation was for he and I to sit down, alone, to resolve the matter. No official report was to be filed. Talk about giving the perpetrator the upper hand and reinforcing his power over me, and this time he had the backing of his female boss. The meeting did not happen, I quit and ran away from the situation. I was shot down yet again, and you ask why women don’t report.
Here is why I am mad. We have forgotten how to care about people other than ourselves and those close to us. We are taught to hate and fear those who are different than us. We are bombarded by the news and media telling us the other side is the enemy, do not trust them because if we let the other side win, our nation will be destroyed.
People build this vision of their world where they feel safe and comfortable, they place labels and expectations on others to validate their beliefs. We are all guilty of it. If we can just slot everyone into categories, ignoring them as individuals, life is much simpler, you feel safe. You see a homeless person, you know they are lazy. You see a black man wearing a hoodie walking at night, you know he’s trouble. You see a woman wearing a short skirt and revealing top and you know she’s a slut. This makes your life easier, you automatically know how to treat people.
You also have these ideas about people in your inner circle. Your pastor is a man of God and will never do wrong. Your daughter's coach loves kids and always looks out for them. Your political group is always right, the other side is evil. This helps us feel safe and sleep at night.
So here’s the problem. When someone accuses a person we already dislike we get out our pitchforks and join the fight without asking questions. But what happens when someone accuses a person from our world? We do the same thing. We get our pitchforks, but this time we blame the accuser, again without asking questions. After all who wants to believe that the coach they leave their daughter with 30 hours a week is a rapist.
This needs to stop. We need to start treating people with love and respect. We need to stop jumping to conclusions to validate our preconceived notions to protect ourselves. We need to understand if a survivor reports their abuse, that maybe they are not doing it for media attention or political gain. Maybe they are trying to get the justice they deserve, maybe they are trying to stop this from happening to someone else, like your son or daughter. I am not saying there are never times people falsely accuse, this is a big world and lots of things can happen. What I am asking is that we need to treat everyone with love and kindness, and listen if someone is brave enough to come forward and talk about the most humiliating, devastating, painful, destroying thing that has ever happened to them. For them to come forward, it took more courage and strength than you most likely have ever expressed in your entire life and they deserve to be heard.
All this takes is one simple act to save another human being, one simple act on your part can change the world….listen, believe, be a compassionate human. That’s it, if you do that the world will change. It doesn’t take money, it barely takes any time, just open your heart and show someone the compassion you would want to receive yourself. If we all do this this sexual abuse won’t be a secret anymore, survivors won’t be scared to come forward, abuse will decrease, the world will be a better place, and we will all be better humans for it.