This might be a good time to simply “rip the band aid off” and get back basics: Abuse is abuse. Research has shown a particularly challenging truth; that those who are abused don’t always view their experience as abuse.
One insidious characteristic of non-violent sexual abuse is that it may be unrecognized. When people are asked why they didn’t report the abuse, they sometimes say they felt duped, perhaps complicit, but mostly confused. And when victims otherwise liked their offender, they often didn’t report because they were afraid of the uncertainty of the aftermath for themselves and for the offender.
This leads us to question where violence begins and ends. Does it need to be overtly and blatantly violent to be abuse?
“No one was hurt” is a common rationalization made by perpetrators, victims, family members and society through the myths that surround abuse; especially historic child sexual abuse ("why complain now years later?"), rape ("why didn't they fight back?") and inappropriate/under wanted touching ("it wasn't that bad, it wasn't rape!"). Which begs the questions, how we understand, discuss and recognize abuse as a society as well as individuals? Do we really recognize and process abuse? We hear and see so much that we become desensitized and need the extreme case to come along to begin a conversation, so not the daughter sexually harmed by her father but the movie mogul that abuses so many on their casting couch.
The answer is no and we must remind ourselves that:
1) The effects of violence, including sexual violence, can be brief or last a lifetime.
2) Abuse poses an unacceptable risk of harm, even if it does not cause acknowledged harm in every case.
The world has watched as many of our favorite people have recently come to light as having sexually abused others (e.g., a parade of entertainers, athletes, politicians) and we are once again challenged to re-visit not only what abuse is, but what it means in our lives. 2017 was an unforgettable year in world politics, and many of us experienced grief at the realization there wasn’t much we could do to make a difference. Just the same, it is vital that we not take our eyes of at least one prize: the elimination of sexual abuse.