“Creepy guys”… that’s how the men shown on a recent current affairs programme, were described by several of my co-workers (see promo article – Close Up shocked by ‘sexually explicit’ online chat with girl). Everyone around the table nodded in agreement… these guys were “creepy” and “disgusting”. Implicit within their words, was the fact that it was obvious that these men were “bad”, and that they would be able to spot them a mile off…
While looking one of them in the eye, I responded that those “creepy guys” could have been your husband, father, neighbour, school teacher, anyone… including being a woman, rather than a man.
Their denials were swift and vigorous… No, all of those men looked creepy. I don’t think they could get their heads around the possibility that an abuser could be a female, so that part of my response was ignored.
Then something happened… someone said that one of the men shown looked like he was a businessman. Another mentioned a recent case where a well-known comedian was convicted of child sexual abuse. My amazing cynical friend, who knows a little of my past, repeated my words to the others in a slightly different way… suddenly there were uncomfortable shifting in chairs as they realised the implications of what they had seen on the show, and were now realising… An abuser isn’t the “creepy guy” with a long coat hiding in the bushes, or online… No, an abuser could be your neighbour, friend, relative… anyone.
I work with educated people… about a quarter of our number have at least one masters degree, while the others hold at least one bachelor degree… yet, they have led fairly sheltered lives. When faced with anything outside of their comfort zone, they don’t cope. They have shown this time after time… so I don’t know why it surprised me today.
Actually, the only difference in the usual play of things, was that today, I spoke up. I gently questioned their beliefs, and they listened. I’m not naive enough to believe that I’ve changed their minds; but for a moment, I had them thinking.
I know it’s not much, but it’s something small that I could do to acknowledge my past. I grew up in a time when abuse was considered to be physical violence only – sexual or psychological abuse weren’t well-known, understood, or acknowledged. However, much like today, people considered that any abuse only happened to “those people over there…” as they point to a vague point in the horizon. It certainly didn’t happen in their house. Yet, my father was a well-known, and respected member of the community… as were the other men that my siblings and I, called “Uncle”. This helped the abuse that I was subjected to, fly under the radar. No one questioned why I came to my mother during a party in tears, I was just shooed back to bed with a drink of water; all the while, the party laughed about my “excitability”.
I can understand them not questioning… well, I try really hard to. We were a white middle class family, and that sort of thing didn’t happen in white middle class homes. I didn’t say why I was crying. I never said anything. I’d been told, in many ways, that telling was not an option. Societal expectations played a part in my silence… maybe, just maybe, by questioning my co-workers beliefs about “creepy guys”, it might make them consider things such as why a young girl would be crying at an adult party…
It’s not much, but it was something that I was capable of at that moment.