“I’m going to ask some questions about your story, Mary Katherine. And behind me — behind this window, actually — is a video camera that’s going to record what you say. Don’t be nervous. Just relax and tell the truth. Everything you say will be considered evidence. So, like I said, tell the truth.”
Why does this guy keep reminding me to tell the truth? Who the hell would lie about something like this?
The room felt like 80 degrees, but I asked for a blanket. “And do y’all have a teddy bear or something?”
I was 13 years old and felt ridiculous for asking. But as soon as the words left my mouth, a child advocate named Cheryl popped into the room with a panda bear and a blanket. She sat down, reached for my hand, and said, “Honey, the hardest part is already over. He can’t hurt you anymore. All you have to do now is tell your story. Just hold this bear and tell your story, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, curling up behind a stack of pillows.
“One more thing,” Cheryl said. “No matter what happens, it’s important that you know this: We believe you, MK. We believe you.”
We believe you.
Those three words gave me the courage I needed to finish.
Through grand jury and humiliating cross examinations, I was able to hold strong. Because they believed me.
When the defense attorney attempted to slander my character and paint me as a sexual deviant, I stood my ground. Because they believed me.
Three years later, when my abuser was convicted and the local news cast their doubts as to his true guilt, I turned the channel and held my head high. Because they believed me.
From the moment I reported the abuse, I was surrounded by people who validated my story — people who believed me. And that belief was the lifeboat I needed to survive the storm.
It’s heartbreaking for me to realize just how lucky I was at the time.
You see, I was born and raised in Alabama, the current hotbed of political controversy where Roy Moore, a white, evangelical politico, has been accused of sexually abusing at least eight children. Yah, eight. You read that right.
One after another, these courageous women have come forward to tell their stories, and one after another, they have been publicly castigated.
Needless to say, the abusive dialogue surrounding Roy Moore’s accusers makes me sick. Not only because I am a survivor of similar abuse, but because I am now a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) and happen to know that an immense amount of data supports the probability that these women are telling the truth.
For instance, did you know that in 98% of child abuse cases reported to officials, the victims’ statements are found to be substantiated? (NSW Child Protection Council, cited in Dympna House 1998)
The sad thing is, that even though they are telling the truth, 73% of victims do not tell anyone about their abuse for at least one year, and 55% of victims wait longer than five years to report their abuse, or they never disclose. (I waited eight years). (Broman-Fulks et al, 2007).
Clearly, the delay between the event and the reporting makes it challenging to prosecute these crimes. And we wonder why these women have a hard time coming forward? Even when they do come forward, justice is rarely served. For instance, for every 1,000 rapes reported, less than six perpetuators are incarcerated. The rest walk free.
Not only that, it appears some get elected to public office.
People, do you hear what I am trying to say? When a person tells you that they have been abused, recent or not, there are only three words you should say in response to that claim.
I. Believe. You.
I don’t give a damn who it is being accused. I don’t care if it’s your best friend, your priest, or Davy Crockett. I don’t care if it’s someone you like and the whole thing deeply upsets you.
You know what should upset you more than someone you like being accused of child abuse?
I am done with the trolls, done with the deniers, done with the horrible human beings who call these women to task for sharing their stories. We already know that chances are they are telling the truth. We also know, statistically speaking, there are even more who are remaining quiet because they are terrified to speak up. We can believe victims who come forward, while still ensuring that everyone has their day in court.
Now, surely, after all of this, you can see why. People, don’t be a part of this problem. Don’t be one more reason a victim is fearful to come forward.
Perhaps it’s a 55-year-old stranger whose story is in the news today, but it could very well be your child tomorrow. And if it was, how would you want the world to respond?
I know what I would hope for.
I would hope for a champion like my child advocate, Cheryl. Someone who would take my child’s hand, look them straight in the eye, and without hesitation say, “I believe you.”
Because that’s the only way we should respond to these stories. The only way.
Say it with me, right now: We believe you.
To Roy Moore’s accusers: We believe you.
To the victims whose stories remain untold: We believe you.
There is nothing left to say in the face of these devastating statistics. The children of our world are being abused. They are waiting years and years to tell us about it, if they ever tell us at all.
And when they finally speak up, I will not have them being met with a chorus of shame and denial.
I’m going to be the person who hands out a lifeboat. I will affirm their story and believe them.
And I’m asking you, begging you, to please do the same.