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Deafening Silence: What Abuse Sounds Like

Recently, I’ve been thinking that I should have had a career as a sex crime prosecutor. What survivor doesn’t want to stand up to perpetrators and see them locked behind bars? Not knowing too much about life as an attorney, I envisioned it being glamorous and rewarding, similar to the tv shows. After reading a recent Washington Post article, however, I quickly changed my mind. I don’t have and probably will never have the strength to do what they do. And I’m perfectly ok with it.

The article is titled, I watch child pornography to prosecute sex crimes. The kids’ silence is deafening, and it instantly captured me. And then it hit me: these lawyers watch countless hours of child porn to make their case. Wow. The author, Sarah Chang, writes she was advised by another attorney to watch those videos on mute because the young victims’ silence is deafening.

“But all I heard was silence. The 5-year-old girl said nothing — not even a sob. Disturbed, I continued to watch each video with the sound on. I tried to beat back the silence by turning the volume up as high as it could go. The quiet was too deafening, too defeating to accept. Surely, these children must make a sound?”

Then I remembered. I was silent too. I didn’t scream, moan or utter a word until I was out of there. I used to lay still and flat and zone out — I can’t remember exactly where I would go or what I’d think about, but I was always able to mentally disconnect from the physical violation.

And when it was over, I never spoke about it. I somehow managed to forget it ever happened. It was strange. I think I believed the lies I told to keep others from finding out. As a result, I pushed down all of the guilt, shame and anger and never looked to express it outwardly.

“Psychiatrists say the silence conveys their sense of helplessness, which also manifests in their reluctance to report the incidents and their tendency to accommodate their abusers.”

But as every survivor knows, the emotions eventually boil over. You begin to take it out on yourself, then those around you. As you struggle to keep silent due to the guilt or fear, most of us eventually reach a point where we’re ready to explode. We want to tell someone or even everyone, how we were violated. I know it took me decades to tell my truth and I’m always amazed by a child’s courage when they come forward.

“We think silence can’t indicate that something hurts. Without an expression of pain, we assume there’s no injury…we refuse to hear silence as anything but a vacuum of feeling, a void in experience…but in reality, a voiceless cry is often the most powerful one…it makes audible the psychological hold an abuser has over a child. Silence can be the most devastating evidence of sexual abuse; it can be the sound of pain itself.”

Deafening is defined as being “so loud as to make it impossible to hear anything else.” So I thank you, Sarah Chang, for helping victims find their voice and stand in their truth so loud, making it impossible to hear anything else.


Written By Elona Washington

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