“If only I had gotten up and left sooner, I could have stopped it.” That’s what I repeatedly told myself after I recovered my memory of being molested by my brother. I was 42 when I remembered. I was ten when it happened.
It’s common for survivors to blame themselves. We may think we should’ve stopped it, or that because we didn’t resist, say no, or tell anyone, that it’s our fault. We may have felt that we participated in the behavior and therefore are to blame. If we continued to return to the person who violated us for affection or attention, we may blame ourselves.
If our young bodies were physically stimulated, our minds didn’t yet know how to interpret this. We weren’t yet emotionally or intellectually equipped to understand or handle these sensations. Thus, we may think ourselves complicit in the actions and feel responsible for what was done to us.
Through my healing process, therapists told me: “It’s not your fault; you did the best you could with what you knew at the time; IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, AND IT’S OKAY.” With much repetition of these statements, spanning years, I finally learned and accepted these facts to be true.
I ultimately stopped blaming myself.
Now I have the perspective to think: In what world should a child be responsible for keeping herself from being molested while in the “safety” of her own home?
The fact is, in the moment, we freeze in the face of fear and shock from being sexually violated, whether that’s through physical assault, through images, or even words alone. Adding coercion or threats magnifies the fear. We can’t move. We can’t act. We become trapped. We later blame ourselves for not stopping it.
The longer we hold in this belief of self-blame, the more engrained it becomes. Helping victims understand that they are not to blame is crucial in helping survivors heal. Furthermore, when all members of society understand and exemplify this reality, we can only hope that survivors will be less afraid of speaking out.
To survivors, I repeat: IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.
To the rest of the world, I proclaim: IT’S NOT THE VICTIM’S FAULT.
To each other, we declare: IT’S. NOT. OUR. FAULT.