by Shelia Boynton

With the recent outpouring of allegations of rape and sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and others, the silence is being broken one survivor at a time. Yet, there are those who continue to suffer in silence. After all, their story will not draw cameras and journalists looking for a hot news story to destroy a career.

Do not let Hollywood hijack your voice! Regardless of where you live or your socioeconomic status, you no longer have to suffer in silence. Speak out. Tell your story to help shatter the stigma society has placed on sexual abuse. Additionally, when a survivor speaks out about sexual abuse it gives the next survivor permission to tell their story.

Tired from a long day at school, chores and homework I dreaded bedtime. It was in the dark of night that he creeped into my bedroom. Night after night I was robbed of my innocence and my voice. How do I cope with the pain? Who can I tell?

The shame and fear were unbearable. My stepfather threatened to harm my mother if I said anything, so I suffered in silence. After years of self-medicating, I found myself in bondage to the pain with seemingly nowhere to turn. After all, who would believe me? I could hear my mother’s voice of instruction – “what goes on in this house stays in this house.” But, yet there was a pink elephant in the living room that everyone knew was there, but no one wanted to talk about.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), every 98 seconds, another person becomes the victim of sexual abuse. Bystanders often ask, “why didn’t you say something?” or “why did it take so long for you to tell someone?” The answer is easy. Until most recently sexual abuse was a hidden taboo subject.

Sexual abuse by a family member or relative is a barrier to disclosures because of fear or the need to protect other family members. If a child is told, his/her mother will be hurt if they tell, chances are they will not disclose the abuse in an attempt to protect their mother. Additionally, it is confusing for a child to make sense of what is happening when the person abusing them is a person of authority who is supposed to protect and love them.

Today, with conviction and power, I speak out for those who are afraid to speak out. I speak out with boldness and honesty to give others a space to speak out. I speak out so others can rise above the shame and embarrassment. I refuse to be silent. I have taken back my voice. I am no longer silenced by fear, shame, or embarrassment. I speak out so that others will not suffer in silence and die in shame. I speak out for those whose pain goes unnoticed and often times unreported.

I know that the knowledge of my story and speaking out will cause some to feel uncomfortable, especially my family. But, no longer do I allow fear of what others might say to run my life. I have spent most of my life protecting others yet, who was there to protect me.

As a faith leader, I am more concerned about exposing and eradicating the stigma of sexual abuse than comfort and acceptance. For the past 24 years, I have traveled throughout the United States telling my story of redemption, liberation and healing from the pain and shame of sexual abuse.

Society can also help eradicate the stigma of sexual abuse by making it acceptable to speak out. Parents and guardians wake up! We need to talk to our children about sexual abuse. I applaud the Girl Scouts of America for warning parents not to force their daughters to hug family members during the holidays.

According to the Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Andrea Bastiani Archibald “the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime, and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older.” Some would argue against the warning, but as Archibald also noted “some adults prey on children, and teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help.”

Sexual abuse is not a Hollywood exclusive. And sexual abuse does not discriminate. It is occurring in affluent and poverty-stricken families. It is happening in our homes by family members and those close to the family. Gone are the days of “what goes on in this house stays in this house.” It is time to remove the stigma associated with sexual abuse. If telling my story causes one survivor to tell his/her story to be liberated from shame and pain, then my living has not been in vain.

Shelia Boynton is a faith leader who lives in Germantown.