This post reflects on my own experiences with childhood abuse and why I did not report it. It does not represent the experience of everyone who has survived abuse and violence.
Of all of the questions I get about my experience growing up in an abusive family, the number one has got to be “Why didn’t you report it?” People can not fathom how I lived 17 years in fear, hiding bruising and at times even fighting to stay alive. When these people ask this, there is always an element of judgment in their voice. As if I never realized that was an option. As if it was obvious.
However, for those who have lived through domestic violence, abuse and even sexual assault, this is not as simple as it sounds. Reporting is a complex issue, and the reason for choosing to report or not is unique to each person and each situation.
Why I Didn’t Report
Over the course of my childhood, during my abuse, my view on reporting evolved and changed. Now, as an adult working in mental health, I have been able to reflect on my own reporting story and recognize the patterns that weave through many survivors’ stories. I have learned that my reasons for not reporting are similar to others who have lived through abuse and violence.
Below are the three phases I went through during my reporting story.
It started with me as a young girl, not understanding what was so different about my home compared to others. I was a child and still fully reliant on my parents to support me. My home was my world.
People underestimate the role a relationship can play in an individual’s reporting. Early into my abuse story, I was reluctant to report my mother simply because she was my mother. The woman who gave birth to me, the woman who taught me how to ride a bike and took care of me when I was sick. I loved her. I loved her the way any child would love their mother. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt her.
Instead, I justified it and allowed it to be normal. A mother is literally designed to love you (at least that’s what Mother’s Day commercials tell me), so this had to be love. I didn’t know that a relationship shouldn’t be like that.
Abusers are not horrible to their victims constantly. Between episodes, this person is a spouse or parent just like any other non-abusive home. This flip in dynamic can keep a victim devoted to the relationship and give them hope for change.
I Did…No One Cared
Once I got a little older the abuse became more forceful and less justifiable. This is the part of my story that is the most difficult for me. I did report. Many people knew, friends and their parents, church leaders, other family members, and my school all knew at some point throughout my childhood. There were even a few times the police were called by neighbors, particularly loud nights, and still nothing.
It happens too often that people are aware of the abuse a person is living through and do nothing. Thus is the story of many living with abusive parents or spouses. Trust me, people know.
Abusers rarely walk around with a sign saying they are a bad person. Most of the time, they are charismatic and friendly to others. They act the part of a loving spouse and parent, and the outside world believes them. Many are master manipulators and liars, using victim-blaming or seeking personal sympathy. Instead, the victim is assumed to be lying or exudating.
Even when evidence of abuse is undeniable, outsiders may not report it. People don’t tend to like getting involved with situations of this nature. They fear being wrong. They convince themselves that the report is worse than the abuse or simply assume someone else will do it. As time goes by, reporting feels like a futile mission, and will give up.
Fear and Shame
The final phase came later in my teens when no matter who knew nothing changed. The abuse continued, became more severe but it didn’t matter because I knew I was alone in it. No one was going to save me. Only I would be able to keep myself alive, so that’s what I did. I guess you could say I lost hope.
With time the victim can become used to their captivity. Experience has taught them that there is no escape, making survival the one and only focus. With each report or threat of report, the risk of repercussion increases. Abusers don’t tend to like their victim actively working to get them in trouble. Because of this, fighting back or failed attempts to escape can escalate abuse to even more dangerous levels. So instead, compliance becomes the new normal.
This control can also take place in the mind as well as the body. Abuse takes a toll on a victim mentally. An abuser will use manipulation to make the victim believe they are at fault. They will use insults and lies to convince them that there is something wrong with them, that they are worthless, or that this treatment is a twisted form of love. With time they convince the victim that there is no hope and that this is the best life they can have.
There is no wonder that most survivors of abuse suffer from depression, anxiety, trust issues, and low self-esteem. Reporting becomes an afterthought when you believe that either nothing will come from it or that you are not worth anything better. The longer they live in the abuse the more they fall into this trap.
Making a Difference
While every reporting story is different there are still similarities. My story stretched over 17 years and moved through each phase. Others may find the majority of their time in one phase, not experiencing others, experiencing phases in different orders, feeling more then one phase at a time or having new experiences not even listed.
Before you judge a person, who has stayed in an abusive situation, consider what set of circumstances they are living with. Who in their life has done nothing to help? What danger are they in if they are unsuccessful in reporting? What control does this abuser have over them? Those who don’t report are not weak or stupid. They are doing the best they can to survive.
Be part of the solution by learning about how you can report abuse and violence with the links below.
Child Abuse Information and Reporting
Domestic Violence Information and Reporting
Sexual Assault Information and Reporting