I recently watched a documentary called The Keepers – it’s part murder mystery, part discussion about sexual abuse. I have always believed that there should be no statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims. The big criticism of victims of sexual abuse is that they rarely come forward within the statute of limitations.
However, unless you’ve been a victim, you really can’t understand why victims don’t speak up sooner. You can teach your children to come froward, but abusers are smart and manipulative and they can make sure a child holds their tongue for a long, long time.
I know, because I am a survivor of sexual abuse. It happened when I was seven or so. My parents had divorced, my father remarried, and I gained a step-sister. My step-sister became my abuser. She would repeatedly tell me “If you tell anyone, you’ll get in trouble.” I was one of those kids that was actually afraid to get in trouble. Not because my parents were harsh disciplinarians, but because it meant I had broken the rules and disappointed my parents. If she had used anything else in an attempt to keep me quiet about the abuse, it probably wouldn’t work. But she didn’t, she knew my weakness and used it against me.
I was in my late 20s, almost 30 before I ever told a soul about it. One day, talking to my mother, I told her about it. Of course, by then, nothing could be done about it. By then, I had made my peace with it and worked through it in my own way.
That doesn’t mean I don’t understand. I was embarrassed: how could I believe I would get in trouble for telling my parents what she was doing? I was ashamed. People who have been sexually abused are stigmatized in our society. People who live in silence are treated even worse. For the most part, my mind blocked out most off the memories associated with it. I didn’t repress them, I have always remembered it happened, I just don’t have many of the details – a perfectly normal thing to happen to abuse victims. It is very easy for victims to blame themselves just as much as blaming their abusers.
Which is why I think we should remove the statute of limitations on sexual abuse. We are forcing victims to admit to the abuse while they themselves are still trying to figure out what is going on.