Catherine McCall MS, LMFT

Overcoming Child Abuse

Childhood Sexual Abuse: To Tell or Not to Tell?

10 Reasons why telling is transformative

Posted May 21, 2014

This week another celebrity revealed that she was sexually abused as a child. Pamela Anderson made this disclosure at the Cannes Film Festival while speaking at the launch of her new conservation foundation For many survivors of childhood sexual abuse her disclosure raises very personal, emotionally-laden questions about whether or not to tell anyone about what happened to them; about how to tell; about when to tell; and about to whom.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in THE BOOK OF FORGIVING co-authored with his daughter Mpho, writes that “…when we lock our stories inside us, the initial injury is often compounded. If I tuck my secrets and my stories away in shame or fear or silence, then I am bound by my victimhood and my trauma…when we name the hurt, just as when we tell the story, we are in the process of reclaiming our dignity and building something new from the wreckage of what was lost.”

The theme of telling as part of recovery from sexual assault and child sexual abuse is evident in the titles of many memoirs, such as : TELLING by Patricia Weaver Francisco; AFTER SILENCE, by Nancy Venable Rain; HUSH: MOVING FROM SILENCE TO HEALING AFTER CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ASSAULT by Nicole Braddock Bromley; SAY IT OUT LOUD by Roberta Dolan, and my own memoir, NEVER TELL: A TRUE STORY OF OVERCOMING A TERRIFYING CHILDHOOD. Children who are being molested are requently told by their perpetrators - as I was - that they must never tell, and yet telling is an important part of the healing process. For this reason even Jessie, a nine-year-old survivor of sexual abuse, wrote a book specifically for children, entitled PLEASE TELL!

Here are ten reasons why telling is transformative. The first eight are from a list in THE COURAGE TO HEAL by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis and the last two are, again, by Desmond Tutu in the previously named book:

   1. You move through the shame and secrecy that keeps you isolated
   2. You move through denial and acknowledge the truth of your abuse
   3. You make it possible to get understanding and help
   4. You get more in touch with your feelings
   5. You get a chance to see your experience (and yourself) through the compassionate eyes of a supporter
   6. You make space in relationships for the kind of intimacy that comes from honesty
   7. You help end child sexual abuse by breaking the silence in which it thrives
   8. You become a model for other survivors
   9. You begin to take back what was taken from you  
  10. Telling the truth about our hurt and our loss lessens the power it has over us

Do you need to tell comeone about your experience of sexual abuse or assault?

Call 1.800.656.HOPE is the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network website for information & help