"You Better Watch Out. . .I Am Going to Bite You!"
By Germayne B. Tizzano, Ph.D.
I sat in my dentist's office today. In the reception area, a six-foot tall elderly man, towering over a four-year old girl, told her, "You better watch out. . . I am going to bite you!" She stood close to her Dad. The older man continued, "You aren't afraid, are you?"
I am not sure if most would see the comment from this man as violating. The receptionist giggled awkwardly, the father motioned, "Have a good day," as he and his daughter exited the reception area. I sat, sick to my stomach.
In that moment, the collective silence violated the dignity of her as a child. What harm would it have been for me, as the bystander, to say to this man, "Please don't say that to the child. She knows no difference. You are big and tall and she is so little. Be kind. Be aware of how your words may be interpreted."
Who endows children their rights to personhood? Who models on their behalf that it is not okay to be spoken to in a way that suggests harm or creates fear? Who are their protectors?
Independent of political views, this has been a year of media saturation on the violation of people of color, individuals with disabilities, women being sexualized, etc. The wave of assaults seems to grow exponentially.
Maria, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, does not wear a label. This dimension of her self is concealed from others. Yet, she lives in guilt, remorse, shame, and often feels disgust for what has happened to her. Self-hatred consumes her existence.
In our world, what does Maria need and what is she likely to get? Can Maria talk safely and without judgment about her assault experiences, her fears, or threats she may be facing? Can she watch the news and feel relief, validation, and solidarity? Or must she hide from her reality and potentially pass onto future generations a world that tolerates violence and promotes it in destructive ways?
I lived with sexual violence for over twenty-five years. I survived multiple rapes and attempted murder. I go to bed every night with the bogeyman, terrified at times to go to sleep. I wake up in the shadows of uncertainty and fear.
I have learned through these recent months that feelings of safety and peace do not come from watching television or movies. The media, in my mind, promotes violence. Cancelling cable is a boundary. Surrounding myself with like-minded, peaceful loving people is self-care. Nature is solace. Spiritual strength equals trusting my journey.
We all have responsibilities to ourselves and others. A kind smile, words of support, a caring look or an offer of service can make a difference in the lives of individuals like Maria. Please provide whatever safety and self-care you can offer yourself and others you care for.
Recommended Resource: Self-Care Strategies for the Survivor During These Changing Times