Sexual abuse and molestation, the open secretBy Starla Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Feb 1, 2012 - 2:08:08 PM
“I was five-years-old when I was molested by my babysitter. She actually was a friend of my mother. My mother and father, they had separated. My mom had to take an evening job so my mom would have to leave us over there at her house while she went to work,” Mr. Wright-El told The Final Call.
“The next day, you know I didn’t say anything. I just stared at my food. When it was time for us to go outside and play, I literally just ran out the door … I was terrified,” he continued.
Molestation, sexual assault and physical abuse are the elephant in the room. It happens daily, but people walk past it like it is not there. That is how Lyda M. Muhammad of Los Angeles, Calif., describes the never ending cycle inflicted upon victims.
“Many cases of abuse are unreported due to shame, fear, and even because of what we think love is,” said Ms. Muhammad, a survivor of domestic abuse and founder of Vanguard Empowerment, a nonprofit organization. Its goal is to educate communities on eliminating domestic violence and sexual assault. “There are so many cases of abuse happening these days and women are speaking out more than they have in the past, so it may seem like an epidemic but it has always been there but never spoken of. These people with these big names think their money and false power can put fear (in) and silence victims,” she adds.
High profile cases involving abuse allegations at Penn State, Syracuse University, the Catholic Church and those leveled at Bishop Eddie Long bring national focus to the issue but millions of victims remain nameless, their stories never told. Most suffer silently while carrying the emotional, mental and physical scars with them into adulthood.
According to a recent survey released by Centers for Disease Control sexual violence, stalking and intimate partner violence is widespread in the U.S, affecting millions. The survey found nearly 80 percent of female rape victims were raped before age 25. Of the males surveyed, more than one-quarter of male rape victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger. The survey did not include a racial breakdown, but sexual abuse is a critical issue that must be openly discussed in the Black community because it happens, say analysts.
Sexual abuse is an issue the Black community is reluctant to deal with, says Sylvia Coleman, founder of Black Sexual Abuse Survivors, a national online support system.
“There’s a lot of stigma attached to the issue of sexual abuse particularly in the African-American community,” Ms. Coleman, told The Final Call. Blacks have historically been portrayed so negatively that to acknowledge an issue like molestation and sexual abuse is to highlight even more problems, but it is a conversation that must be had, adds Ms. Coleman, who says she was molested by an older brother and cousin as a child.
“Many of us don’t want to risk having to deal with that. And plus it means to actually now have one more problem to deal with. You actually have to face issues of perhaps confronting a perpetrator in the family since most sexual abuse is done by a family member or an acquaintance—and perhaps even having to confront your own issues of past sexual abuse,” says Ms. Coleman, a lecturer and author of “Creating a New Normal: Cleaning Up a Dysfunctional Life,” which chronicles her healing and recovery.
“It’s a really complicated issue in our community many of us are still not willing to face. To acknowledge it means that we have to get an authority figure involved, be that it’s the police or child and human services who many of us tend to have had a bad history with for a variety of reasons,” notes Ms. Coleman.
Among “coping mechanisms” victims of sexual abuse may develop subconsciously and listed on www.blacksurvivors.org include: promiscuity, controlling behavior, overly humorous personalities, difficulty trusting others, addictions, using religion to avoid intimacy of any kind, and being obsessed with love relationships.
Mr. Wright-El said as he got older he became extremely shy and was always afraid of the dark. In college he became very promiscuous and had a volatile temper. Getting help made him realize the source of his behaviors was due to molestation, he says.
Now 34, Mr. Wright-El is not ashamed of sharing his horrifying experience and says Black men in particular must understand that early exposure to sexual activity is not part of “being a man.”
“Quite often in the barbershop, I’ll hear you know brothers come in there and say ‘my first sexual experience was when I was like 10, 11 years-old and she was older than me; she was like 15, 16, you know it was my babysitter,’ ” says Mr. Wright-El.
“I’m sitting there thinking, I’m like, ‘Brother, no, you were molested and you bragging about it.’ And there’s other brothers in there and they’re like ‘yeah, yeah, that’s what’s up.’ But the whole thing in a nutshell is, they were probably molested as well and don’t even realize it,” adds Mr. Wright-El, founder of the Philadelphia-based No Boundaries Mentoring Program.
Ms. Muhammad, Mr. Wright-El and Ms. Coleman share their experiences not just as living testimonies of healing and survival, but to educate and foster much needed dialogue in the Black community.
“It is really hard to judge the reality of the number of people being sexually, verbally and physically abused because so many do not speak up. The silence must be broken in order to know how many are being affected,” says Ms. Muhammad.