i've had a pretty gruelling day today. i went up to auckland for the survivors of sexual abuse summit. i was expecting it to be difficult, and yet felt i had to be there. i got there late, at 10am, just when morning tea had started. by 10.15 i had already shed a few tears while talking to one of the women at the auckland sexual abuse help stand, which made me wonder how i was going to manage the rest of the day. but though i was on the verge of tears much of the day, and maybe shed just a couple listening to the stories, it wasn't quite so bad.
what a great range of speakers! starting off with louise nicholas, and this was the first time i'd heard her speak. and some wonderful maori women sharing their experiences as well. in the afternoon, there was aron gilmore of dancing with the stars fame, talking in some detail about his experience of abuse. he was an excellent speaker, and brought a lot of humour (some quite black) to the topic.
i asked him how he went about telling his parents about the abuse (some years after it had stopped and after he had started counselling), and how they reacted. to me, this is one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with sexual abuse, especially if the abuser is a close family member. if the abuser is still alive and still in the position to abuse, then perhaps the decision to tell is more clear cut, in terms of looking after the safety of others.
but if the abuser is no longer alive, then there are no justice issues. and telling is a traumatic experience, mostly because the teller knows that what they are telling is going to cause grief and distress to the people listening. it's hard enough dealing with the effects of the abuse, and usually hard enough to tell a counsellor or someone outside of the situation. but telling your own parents or your own children, well that is really a scary prospect, depending on the relationship the abuser might have had with you.
telling close family members doesn't always lead to support or healing. some of the stories i heard today included enstrangement and anger from family members directed at the person who was abused. which tends to keep victims silent, and keep the issue more hidden than it should be.
so i honour the women and men who stepped up to tell their stories. who suffered abuse, survived, and are now out in the community helping others. what precious work you do, and what wonderful inspiration you are.
only one negative: other than the maori women, i was the only ethnic minority woman present, that i could see. there didn't appear to be any pasifika, asian or african women present. i know that the publicity wasn't lacking, as the information went out via the aotearoa ethnic network, which is how i heard about it, and probably through other networks as well. but women from these communities didn't turn up, and i think that needs to be explored further. because they do need to be brought into the conversation, but i'm not sure how exactly. given how difficult a day it was for me, i can hardly recommend it to others who aren't ready or able to sit through that kind of thing.