It is hard enough for someone to tell her or his story of childhood abuse. I think the only thing harder is being silenced after finally having the chance to give it language.
The point of telling one's story is usually to give one ownership of that story. Victims do not choose the horrors that are thrust upon them. But they can choose how they will share and release their truth.
That's why this piece on Jezebel this morning struck me so hard. 20-year-old Emily Kwissa "was able to share her own account of surviving years of domestic violence and sexual molestation at the hands of her former stepfather" on the eBook self-publishing website Lulu.com, only to have it taken down when her former stepfather complained.
His name and identifying facts and characteristics were changed, Kwissa says. Still, he told Lulu.com that it never happened. Lulu.com took it down, silencing Kwissa again, as her story has been rejected by various adults including doctors and lawyers in years prior.
Kwissa issued a statement:
Yes, my memoir does contain detailed memories of abuse that occurred when I was a child. However, the name of my abuser has been changed, and there are no characteristics included in the book that could be used to identify him. He has been told about the existence of the book, and because he denies any of the abuse taking place, he is upset that the book exists. This is his perfect right. It is not, however, his right to silence me. I have done nothing wrong.
I find it deeply unfortunate and ethically questionable that you have removed my book from availability without first asking me about the claims that were made against it. No one has suffered any defamation at my hands. By taking down my book, all you are accomplishing is the support of a man who abused me all through my childhood and has stalked and threatened my family through most of my adolescence and adulthood. I protected his identity. Do I not receive some protection? Does my right to free speech not stand, when I have gone out of my way to shield a man who has done wrong to me?
I don't know what the truth is. But I do know we all have the right to tell our stories. I also know that abusers take away so much from their victims and that the very, very least those victims deserve is the opportunity to share their truth.
Kwissa certainly could reframe her book as fiction. Unfortunately, suc a move would just add to the whole "the victim has to do all the changing and tip toeing even though she/he didn't choose to be a victim" thing. But at least she might be able to say her piece that way.
For now, though, she is offering a free download of her memoir on her own website.
I know people make up stories like this for attention. But it's hard for me to imagine that's the case here. The abuse allegedly took place when she was ages 3-7. Now she's 19. And she's not looking to gain anything. The download of her book is free.
As far as I can tell, Kwissa just wants to share her story as a way of claiming her truth and helping others in similar situations to do the same. What I don't get is why Lulu.com would so quickly cave to her stepfather.
Why, so often, do we protect the rights of the accused? Why are we always worrying about how rapists' lives are ruined or the well-loved school teacher's image is tarnished?
These people choose their victims and their crimes and we, all too often, fall all over ourselves to protect them. I wonder sometimes if it's because the fear of false accusation is so heavy. There is little-to-no-way to recover from a false accusation, even long after it has been well-proven to be false.
I worry though that it's instead because we still feel universal shame when it comes to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, especially of children. We still see the abused as damaged goods and have no desire to have her out there outing her abuser and claiming her story.
The thing is, until we do support the victims, the predators will continue to thrive and they will continue to hide behind our own communal fear and shame.
The one good thing to come out of this is that far more people are likely to read Kwissa's story because Lulu.com took it down. I hope that turns out to be the case any way. And I hope one day, for everyone's sake, that her stepfather decides to admit to what he's done.
It will be a small victory, but one that Kwissa, and every victim, for that matter, deserves. Making her out to be a liar just continues the abuse that was perpetrated so long ago.