Pain in Silence
Hallo, sugar bears. Normally I’d open with a fun quip, but the subject matter of today’s author interview is a bit more serious. Child abuse—and sexual assault in particular—is a serious concern not only nationwide, but worldwide. In 2016, child trafficking (sexual assault inclusive) reports in the UK reached a record high. Physical, mental, and emotion misuse of children isn’t unique to any one culture. Consider the Family International (formerly Children of God), whose leaders indoctrinated followers into the belief that it was right and Godly to have sexual relationships within one’s own family, and with one’s own children in particular. That cult is still around and still being run by the very, very sick Karen Zerby. And, of course, that cult was founded right here in the US.
I’m not going to get deep into the cult part of this, but I wanted to bring it up for a reason. There is not simply one category into which people who sexually assault children fall—these needs and desires can be caused by mental illness (which in itself has multiple categories), the need to show power/dominance, needing to inflict one’s own injuries onto another, having been indoctrinated, etc. So, the reason I bring up the cult aspect is because it forces us to see ourselves—a society that knows this shit went on and is still going on. And yet…
Survivors of childhood assault are not as few as you might think. Or might want to think. You could be in the presence of a survivor every day and not know it—maybe your boss, your coworker, your best friend. And, just to muddy the waters a little more, there is a stigma surrounding survivors of childhood sexual assault that can make healing that much more difficult.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rosenna Bakari, author of Too Much Love is Not Enough: A Memoir of Silence About Childhood Sexual Abuse, on this topic and on the writing of her memoir.
RJ: You mentioned in another interview that you finally wrote Too Much Love is Not Enough because you felt it was time—something inside told you it was time. Were there times during the writing process that you thought about quitting or taking a break? If so, how did you overcome those moments?
BAKARI: I never felt like quitting, because there was a “knowing” inside of me that this book had to be written. It was the same experience as writing poetry for me. It just pours out. In fact, I tried to do it academically and started with an outline. But that didn’t last long. When I completed the book and went back to look at my original outline I just laughed, because it wasn’t even close to what I wrote.
RJ: Our society has a bad habit of victim blaming, which we can see with women who come forward about sexual assault. I can only imagine victims of childhood sexual assault have even more issues to contend with, one of the largest being whether they are believed once they come forward. How can we better tune our society to be more accepting and understanding when victims step forward to discuss abuse?
BAKARI: I hope that this book will begin to open the discussion between survivors and listeners. I’m launching it with a We2 mission so that listeners can identify as such and share the platform with survivors to break the silence and create a safe space to heal.
RJ: Silence is often an obstacle for childhood sexual assault survivors. Do you think this silence stems from being afraid that people might see the survivor differently?
BAKARI: There are a lot of contributions to the silence. One is certainly the fear of rejection or abandonment if people know what happened. But another issue is that what happens to survivors is often bizarre and complex and is difficult to put words to. It often takes years for survivors to even sort through what happened.
RJ: Terminology matters when talking about anyone who has survived some type of trauma. Do you think using “survivor” instead of “victim” is important? Is there a strength in differentiating the two to say, “I was a victim, but am now a survivor?”
BAKARI: Yes, we were child victims, but we are adult survivors. The word survivor allows us to identify with the experience but acknowledges our resilience. When we learn how to stop suffering, we become “thrivers.”
RJ: You’ve earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology. Did your own struggles influence what career field you went into? Did you ever want to do anything else?
BAKARI: I went with educational psychology to avoid any clinical work. At that point, I felt I could no longer work with survivors because of triggers. I had no intention of ever having anything to do with survivors. It took ten years after earning my Ph.D. to engage in the work.
RJ: An estimated 60 million American adults are childhood sexual abuse survivors. Have you looked at or studied the psychology of people who commit sexual assault against children? Do you think a better understanding of the perpetrators can lead to a decrease in these crimes?
BAKARI: The relationship between survivors and perpetrators is highly misunderstood, as are most statistics. It’s true that people who violate have usually been violated themselves. However, most people who are violated never become violators. The greatest evidence of that is the fact that 90% of violators are male and 90% of victims are female. So, if the victim were to become the violator, then we would have a lot more female violators. From what we know, female violators only account for 10% of victimization. We know men violate. We know that this is part of a greater issue of the general male violence. When we address male violence in general, I believe we will see a decline in sexual abuse.
RJ: You founded Talking Trees, Inc., a non-profit organization for survivors of childhood sexual assault. What has the growth of this organization meant to you? Where do you hope to see the organization in five years?
BAKARI: If I have my way, Talking Trees, Inc. will have a million members in five years—still a drop in the bucket as there are 60 million survivors in America alone. I hope that the organization grows in its ability to offer resources for survivors from more conferences, books, and videos that keep the survivors at the center of their own healing.
RJ: Do you ever give symposiums at lecture halls or on college campuses to discuss the topic of childhood sexual assault? If not, is it something you’d like to do in the future?
BAKARI: I speak anywhere an organization will have me, because there are survivors everywhere. Creating my own platforms for quarterly workshops is definitely in my near future. I created Safe Space Day in 2010 to celebrate the resilience of survivors and have held six annual conferences. This year, I will hold a teleconference for Safe Space Day with Talking Trees members as well.
RJ: What can you tell survivors who are afraid to come forward or are struggling to cope with their past?
BAKARI: Healing is not about coming forward. Coming forward happens at some point on the healing path when people are ready. Living openly is a process. It is not a task that makes everything better. So, I would say focus on healing and living in truth. You will increasingly become more open about the past as you heal the trauma little by little. Please do not disclose because you believe it will make things better.
RJ: What advice can you give a new author wanting to write about his/her own life struggles?
BAKARI: I advise people to be at a point in their healing journey where they have something to offer people other than a story of victimization if they want the book to be a resource. Being a survivor doesn’t qualify you as a leader or expert. On the other hand, if writing a book feels like the next step in the healing journey, then write away. It’s your journey and you are the author of it.