The Code of Silence
“The predator wants your silence. It feeds their power,
entitlement, and they want it to feed your shame.”
When I first begin getting to know someone, the very first thing I look for is their level of snitch. What do I mean by this? Snitching is when you tell on someone to get yourself out of trouble. Another word for a snitch is a tattletale. To be labeled as a snitch socially is to be ostracized. In other circles being labeled as a snitch can get you killed. And snitching is a predator’s greatest enemy because that exposes secrets.
As a small child the term snitching wasn’t used yet. I did know what the term tattletale meant. And what hurting my friend’s feelings and damaging a relationship because of telling secrets meant. It meant people would be mad at me and I would have no friends. Even teachers at daycares can get tired of all the tattling. Step inside any daycare and you’re liable to hear, “The next child that tattles doesn’t go outside and play.” These are two dichotomous examples of telling information. My question to think about is are we teaching our kids the best and safest message? There are always exceptions to the rule. By the time these children are teens there’s an unwritten “code of conduct” around telling information whether it be relevant or not that might save lives. This will also get someone labeled as a snitch.
I can expand more about teens later, however, for the sake of this blog post I’m going to refer to myself as a young child. My first lesson in keeping secrets that should’ve been told was around 5 years-old. I was molested many times by my neighbor’s youngest and middle sons. These boys were around 13-15 years old and old enough to know better. The way I was held emotionally hostage was through threats like “the police would come and I would have my parents taken away.” I was also told, “that I would make people mad and no one would want to be my friend. And it would be all my fault.”
This little girl named Dana would do everything possible to make sure both she and her family was safe. From a child’s point of view, I hung on to every scary word spoken. And afterwards they would tell me how beautiful I was. The searing pain that would burn my body would leave an imprint on my psyche even today. The pain and fear would start and I would leave somewhere in my mind where pain was not felt. Still to this day, I’m very confused in just about every way in regards to having been molested.
People that seek power over other people instill in their victims that telling about abuse is a sign of weakness. As a teenager, anytime I told or tried to tell about the abuse to the school administration this information would get back to the teacher making the abuse worse. The message I got from doing that was to “forget asking for help and save yourself.” After the abuse of my 8th grade year, I vowed that as long as I was around to witness someone needing defending or help I would step in and protect in whatever way that I could. This has bought me unnecessary trouble with coaches and friends but to me it was worth it. I could then lay my head on my pillow at night and sleep.
One night after Mel and I had been speaking to a class at the college, A mother from that class asked me where I went to middle school. I told her Petal Middle School and she asked about the teacher that was so abusive. Because her 8th grade son would come home from school every afternoon with tears in his eyes due to being called names in front of his classmates by a teacher. She told me the teacher she was speaking about and after my heart dropped into my stomach I said, “Unfortunately, ma’am that is who I was speaking about.” She asked, “What should I do?” I told her, “Tell someone and get your child in counseling like yesterday.” I don’t know whatever happened to that mother and her child’s situation. The information I shared with her helped she and her son? However, a big load of shame and guilt was dumped on me as penance for that child and any other children after me that I kept the secret about the abuse ,consequently, leaving the predator unscathed and in the driver’s seat to handpick her next teen victim with ease.
The small little southern city with air tight politics and a nose for people’s business other than their own was to my detriment that year. I was told many years later by one of the administrators that worked there my middle school years information that still burns my ears. I was told, “You were a child at that time and I couldn’t say anything especially due to the politics. But I can tell you now that she should’ve never been around children.” The disappointment must’ve been written all over my face when she saw how perplexed I was. She said, “Is there something I can try to clear up for you?” I stood there for a moment not knowing what to say but burning with questions. “Yes ma’am. I do have a question…..So you all knew she was abusive and shouldn’t have been around children and you let her teach anyway?!” “I was her verbal punching bag and her abuse has affected my education, my career, my relationship with my wife and children, my relationships with others and above all the relationship and image of how I view myself as a human being!” I was mad but I couldn’t stop then tears. She hugged me as we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
When I went to my own vehicle and unlocked the doors, I sat down and shook my head and said, “They knew the whole time and didn’t try to stop her. Didn’t they know how badly it all hurt? Did they even care? Yes, I fought every way possible to make it through that year in school that still shows its ugly scarring. No matter what adult I tried to tell that year I got no help from the abuse. And “snitching” never did me any favors. Had someone look past the labels and protected me from the backlash of telling the truth about the abuse my life could and maybe even would be much different now. That one year of school affected a few other teenagers in ways that are still damaging to them. The most visible are the scars that line the forearms of those teens with 30 years of thick scarring from the one thing that would listen to us all then…..razors. I also had the experience of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia), alcoholism, drug addiction that were all there with their arms wide open to help shield me from the unwanted torture of abuse.
The “Code of Silence” protected by perpetrators in a way that I had no defense. And as a very young bride, I would face abuse again for the next 14 years. That “Code of Silence” that was used as an intimidation factor all those years worked. It kept me silent and the perpetrators innocent. I go to bed scared every night and the first emotion I have in the morning is fear. This shame based silence that seen as normal or acceptable is very hurtful. Maybe protecting offenders because of “snitching” isn’t the problem. And maybe listening and helping to protect children and teens when they tell should be handled first instead of politics and reputations.
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.