I’ve always been the type of person that people tell their business to.
Maybe it’s because I’m a listener, and can give non-judgmental advice and insight. Or maybe it’s because they know I’m not one to go around and divulge people’s secrets and insecurities to others. Either way, I know a lot of deep things about a lot of complex people.
[Tweet "I’ve always taken pride in the fact that people trust me with their secrets and I don’t tell."]
Though out of all the secrets I know, there’s one that I kept that I’m not sure that I should have: When I was 14, my friend revealed to me that she was being sexually abused.
She told me in confidence one day after school, after I questioned as to why she was so adamant about not going home until her mother got off of work. She’d always suggest we go to the mall, or go get ice cream, or go to my house. She never wanted to go home until she knew her mother was there.
“Girl what is the problem, why do you have to wait?” I asked one day after she got upset that I didn’t want to hang out after school and wasn’t particularly trying to have company. I was tired after a long day and just wanted to go to sleep alone.
“I don’t want him to get me,” she whispered.
I knew the ‘him’ was her stepfather, but I wasn’t sure what ‘get me’ meant.
“Get you?” I asked.
The next thing I know she pulls out her phone, types for a minute, then puts the phone in my face: He rapes me.
That was the message she had typed. That was the secret she was telling me.
We discussed that secret for the next two hours, with her telling me everything from when it first started to how she desperately tries to escape alone time with him. She told me all the details, including her feelings and her fears.
“What do you need me to do? How can I help?” I asked her.
“Nothing,” her pupils dilated wide. “Please don’t say anything to anyone about it. I’ll handle it.”
“Okay,” my 13-year-old self agreed, hesitantly.
Immediately after she confided in me, I would notice when my friend was more quiet than usual, or when something wasn’t quite right in her stride, and knew that meant that he had “gotten her.” She wouldn’t feel like talking, she’d skip lunch period, and I’d even notice her eyes would be puffy from crying all night. She wouldn’t want to go to the mall, movies, or parties. And she wouldn’t want to sleepover. She was in out of sadness, and probably even depression.
Though it pained me to see my friend be so down in life, and even more so to know why she was that way, I thought I was being a good best friend by not telling anyone, and thought that just being there to listen was enough. Ultimately, after two years of abuse, my friend found the courage to tell her mother, and they dealt with it within their family.
My friend has moved on to have a family of her own, and seems to be doing well despite the traumatic experience as a child. Though everything worked out in the end, my 23-year-old self reflects on the entire situation and wonders whether or not staying silent was a good decision. I still battle with whether or not keeping that secret was the right thing to do. Luckily, my friend survived that traumatic time in her life and seems to be living a full life without fear and depression. But I still wonder if I actually did the right thing in not telling a trusted adult as soon as I found out.
[Tweet "It’s hard to tell whether your intervention will do more harm than good."]
I always read articles, pamphlets, and commercials telling people to speak up and not be a quiet observer of assaults of any kind. But when you find yourself in the situation, especially when you’re so young, it’s hard to tell whether your intervention will do more harm than good.
Supporting a sexual assault victim and survivor is something that is complex, and no matter how many campaigns and articles make it seem like getting help is easy, the courage to speak up always takes time.
Have you ever had to keep a painful secret? At what, if ever, did you decide to tell it?