An episode of Dr Phil aired recently in which a woman spoke about being born into sexual slavery. She talked about her life having been sexually abused from before she could talk right through to adulthood. An “owner” had control of her, and sold her to wealthy clients for sexual/sadistic abuse and torture.
People have had mixed reactions to this. A number of people seem to have taken Kendall’s story on board and believe her, and consider this information in light of several other stories that have brought to light the reality of organized sexual abuse. To scratch the surface in the mainstream media:
- 4,444 victims: extent of abuse in Catholic church in Australia revealed
- Massive paedophile ring uncovered by police in Norway after arrest of 51 men
- Fifth man charged with dressing up as an animal and raping a small boy as part of sick ‘furry fetish’ pedophile ring
- Massive online pedophile ring busted by cops
- ‘World’s largest paedophile ring’ uncovered
Some people do not believe her, and are unwilling to entertain the possibility that organized groups with a lot of money could be engaged in such practices.
I completely get that. I don’t want it to be true either. My work with sexual abuse victims, however, has opened my eyes to a horrific reality that exists in our world — including in small, everyday communities in Western society, where people would never imagine this is happening. I have met people who were prostituted by family members for money, trafficked through gangs, and abused by groups of trusted people.
For these women and men to even be sitting in front of me ready to talk, they have to have already (mostly) overcome the overwhelming fear that they will be found and killed for telling the truth about what happened to them. Abuse like this is so incredibly horrifying to experience, that the shock of it alone can be enough to fear any possible repercussions for trying to get away or reach out for help once they are away from the abusers. Many people who live through sexual /sadistic abuse cannot bring themselves to talk about what happened because they fear no-one would believe them.
How has this widespread problem existed in relative secrecy for so long?
I believe there are a few elements to this.
Physical Control by Perpetrators
Perpetrators go to great lengths to cover their tracks. This can mean ending someone’s life in some cases. Other sexual abuse victims can be kept in slavery and never given the opportunity to escape.
Mental Control by Perpetrators
For those for whom there may be a possibility of escape, perpetrators will use skilled manipulation to keep a victim terrified and under control. People or animals may be killed in front of them, to demonstrate what will happen if they don’t comply or ever try to escape. Other abusers who harm children who are still living in the community may make threats while carrying out the abuse, like: “If you ever tell anyone, I will kill your Mother/baby brother/best friend,” or “If you try to talk about this, I will do to your little sister what I have been doing to you.”
Other manipulative words focus on the victim being the one who is to blame for the abuse. Some perpetrators tell the one they are abusing things like: “You are dirty and this is your fault,” or “If you didn’t look like that I wouldn’t be doing this to you.” In the case of Kendall, she was told “You were born for this purpose” and nothing in her life proved otherwise.
Manipulative words have the potential to sink in and become belief systems. Victims can feel either too afraid to talk because of what the abuser will do, or they can believe that it is their fault and no-one would offer them help anyway.
Abusers whose victims still live in the community have usually gone to great lengths to establish themselves in positions of authority and trust. The perpetrators of abuse on these children are usually known to them or their family, but trusted because of the position they hold or their ability to manipulate the parents into believing they are good people.
This can make it even harder for victims to speak out, because people react with disbelief because it does not fit the picture they have built in their minds of the alleged perpetrator. The more well-established this positive picture is in people’s minds, the harder it is to get someone to believe that the perpetrator would actually do something like that (think Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, and Bill Cosby).
A huge step for victims of sexual abuse is finally making the decision to reach out for help and speak to someone about what happened to them. For some, this has happened after a big internal battle where part of their conditioning tells them they are worth nothing and they don’t deserve any help. A small voice inside, however, is saying “No, it’s not okay for this to happen to anyone” and this is the voice I hope they listen to.
Failure to be Believed
Sexual abuse perpetrators and human traffickers know that most people are good, decent people, who would never dream of committing rape/sexual abuse, or sadistic torture. They exploit this fact to the utmost degree. Many victims who have spoken out about being abused/trafficked/tortured have been met with utter disbelief. It is so incredibly hard for a person to have lived through what a sexual abuse survivor has lived through, have fought a battle to find the courage to talk about it, only to be dismissed.
Why Does This Happen?
Why do good people sometimes fail to believe victims of sexual abuse?
For many people, it is actually too much to believe that this is happening, and happening to great numbers of people. Of course we all want there to be another explanation. But where are all these women and children who go missing every day? Where are they?
I have listened to people whose parents didn’t believe them ask me why. “Why didn’t they believe me?” It is such a heart-breaking question. One of the ways I have tried to make sense of it has been by looking inside myself. There was a stage as a newly practicing therapist when I wasn’t sure I could do a job where my sole focus would be to work with people who had suffered sexual abuse. I knew that I would have to be there with them, fully present and with an open heart, holding space and helping them work through the depths of their pain, and I didn’t know if I could do it.
What I have found through working in mental health is that sexual abuse is happening everywhere. People like me had to learn how to face our fear and help anyway, even if we thought we might cry. Because if not us, who? If not now, when??
This is why I think that people sometimes turn away from victims and do not believe them; because they are not ready to face that amount of pain. They are not ready to accept that humans do this to each other, or would do that to their own child. Maybe they have no explanation for why humans do this to each other, so because they can’t rationally understand it, they reject it. Maybe they are not ready to accept that we live in a world where this is happening every day, by people in all levels of society, because that is far too horrifying.
It is time for us all to realize that this is happening. Widespread sexual abuse and human trafficking is a reality in our world today.
To help the ones who need our help now, or may one day reach out to us, we as a collective need to learn how to face this painful truth, with all the emotion it brings up in us.
When we can turn toward our own painful emotional reactions with acceptance and compassion, we can begin to come to terms with what is happening. Doing this helps us learn how to nurture ourselves with love through our own pain, and we then feel more compassion and empathy for those who are suffering around us. This is how we as humanity can come through this as a whole, in support of each other.