To the Scotch Plains Fanwood Community, and Beyond:
Today I attended the service of a victim of my perpetrator who died of an overdose last week. A stark reminder of why some of us victims of sexual abuse use the word survivor.
Studies on the impact of childhood sexual abuse highlight devastating statistics including a significantly greater risk of Post-traumatic Stress, other anxiety issues, depression, and suicidal attempts; higher levels of risk behaviors including substance abuse and dependency by a three to fourfold increase in rate; Delinquency and crimes often stemming from substance abuse and including behavior difficulties, poor school performance and dropping out; An increase in the rate of teen pregnancy.
While all of these problems often persist in adulthood they often can and do emerge in adolescence. 2/3 of those in drug treatment centers report being abused as children. Those who have been abused are 9 times more likely to be involved in criminal activity. Indeed, there are many reasons some of us call ourselves survivors.
To me, there is no doubt that the demons that followed this victim were manifested by our perpetrator. I say this because I live this. I have faced many difficult challenges in my life. At the same time, none of them follow me as these demons do. Sometimes, like the present, they are front and center. Other times they are stored somewhere deeper, and at the same time, they are always there. They are not something “we let affect us” or that we can just “let go”. They simply will affect us, and it is they, and not us, that are holding on. The only possibility we have is to somehow process our trauma and radically accept what happened to minimize or stop the suffering. To “let it be”, not to “let it go”.
To do this we almost always need help and support. It is truly a struggle. Beyond that, it is up to us to decide what to do with the terrible secrets of others that were thrust upon us to carry, and whether and how to act on the information we hold. This young victim found the courage to come forward to begin to act to hold our perpetrator and others accountable. Something that most victims do not disclose until the average age of 52, and that some never disclose. Today, I honor that courage.
While the brunt of this devastation lies with the perpetrator and others directly complicit, institutions and communities do indeed contribute to this problem. Failure to believe and stand with victims and to visibly support them leaves us feeling we do not matter enough. That the community and institution are more important and that it is just way too uncomfortable to truly consider this issue, even if it directly impacts someone within. Openly disparaging victims in defense of institutions and failed leaders and even perpetrators are nothing less than re-victimization.
Silence and looking the other way in the face of this crisis is only slightly less egregious. I greatly appreciate everyone who has expressed support for both this victim and me. At the same time, the silence and inaction of some others leave me with feelings of disappointment. I have called on this community more than once to stand with, and visibly support this victim from your community. I now call on you to support any other victims who may be in the shadows, as well as any victims who may come forward.
As always my fellow victims and survivors, and especially their mental health, are of my primary concern. I do not judge any who chooses to stay silent and not to act. This is an extremely difficult decision to be made by each individual and respected. Regardless, the shame and blame do not rest with them, and instead squarely rests with the perpetrators and enablers. The wheels of justice indeed move slowly, and more often not at all for survivors of sexual abuse.
To them I would say most importantly please tell someone, anyone you trust, about your abuse. Please do not bear the terrible secrets on your own. Please seek the mental health services you need, as I strongly believe we all need such support. In interacting with more and more victims and survivors I have found that many of us, myself included, are exquisitely sensitive individuals. This is not a bad thing, it is just part of who we are.
If you are a victim, you need the support of a trauma-informed professional who provides compassionate care. My greatest wish for you is that you seek and find such support and experience true healing. At the same time, I still do hope that some do find the courage to come forward and try to help hold our perpetrator and his enablers accountable, even if anonymously.
Admittedly there is no guaranteed outcome, and at the same time I feel we have to try our best, and there undoubtedly is strength in numbers. As always, I stand with you regardless. I ask please if you can, stand with me, and more importantly survive with me.
Michael T. Mautone
Editor's Note: Statistics in this letter are quoted from Darkness to Light.