Do you want to prevent sexual violence? Want to stop cover ups? Want to help victims heal? And do you want to know the single best, quickest and easiest way to do that?
That’s right: Just ask people you know if they’ve ever been hurt. Like this: “I feel awkward asking this, but I care about you, so I wonder, have you ever been touched inappropriately or sexually violated in any way?”
At first glance, of course, that seems like an awfully painful subject to bring up, even to a sibling or very close friend.
But it’s worth doing. Just listen or read the news any day. You’ll undoubtedly hear or find stories about child sexual abuse. In every one, you’ll likely notice how long such secrets are kept and the price of such silence.
“Maybe so,” you may think “But I’d feel uncomfortable asking such a personal question.”
But guess what’s even MORE uncomfortable? Learning, down the line, that someone you care about WAS hurt and carried that pain for months or years or decades needlessly, and could have shared it with you and felt better. . .if only you had asked this simple question.
Even worse: Learning, down the line, that the person who hurt your friend or relative KEPT ON hurting others, because no one spoke up earlier or too few people asked this simple question too rarely.
So pick one person who is dear to you, take a deep breath, and just ask them. (As young people say, put on your ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ pants and just do it!)
You may make that person feel less alone. Or you may be relieved to find out that they have been spared awful pain.
Does this actually work? It sure does.
Look no further than a few days ago, when a Colorado newspaper wrote about when Fr. Lawrence was ‘outed’:
“There had been at least three credible allegations of child sexual abuse by St. Peter and there were probably many more victims. ‘Did St. Peter ever lay a hand on you? his dad wanted to know.
Neil Elms was wading along a lonely stretch of the Housatonic River. Shallow, cold water rushed past him. Autumn leaves painted the surrounding Berkshire Mountains a fiery red.
Confronted with a question he never thought he’d hear, Elms couldn’t lie to his father. He also couldn’t talk, his words smothered by his secret. A decades-long burden bobbed to the surface.
Elms said his dad’s question simply shocked him. No one had ever asked about the abuse, in part because they didn’t have a reason to.
Since then, their relationship — which had been rocky since Elms was a teen — has improved dramatically. They speak on the phone frequently.
“I’ve never had so many conversations with my dad in my life,” Elms said. “We touch base every day now just to see how each other is doing, to see how each other are feeling. The only good thing about this report coming out so far has been my reconnection with my dad.”
In a similar case, thirty years ago, a Missouri man decided to sue his perpetrator, Fr. John Whiteley (who has lived in Florida in recent years). One by one, he called his siblings to warn them about the impending news coverage of his litigation. Three of his brothers disclosed that they too had been hurt by Fr. Whiteley. (He’s David Clohessy, the former long time director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.)
So, does asking this simple, crucial question help? Absolutely.
If the answer is NO, you can feel reassuring that your loved one isn’t suffering in silence.
And if the answer is YES, you very likely will have helped someone start (or continue) healing from horror.