A deafening silence keeps abusers safe 

It is our collective duty to keep using our voices to expose the horrors of sexual abuse, writes Grace Tame.

In recent weeks, the once unspoken horror of sexual abuse has become the focus of public conversation. But the events playing out in the centre of our nation – and the corrupt cultures they’re exposing – are not unique to Parliament. Abuse of power – invisible and untraceable – is a cornerstone of all sexual violence.

This issue is far too important to be politicised. It transcends all divides. It affects us all.

As is often the case when a systemic issue is suddenly pulled out of the shadows and thrust into the spotlight, there has been widespread shock and disbelief as to how something so evil as sexual abuse could not just exist, but do so ubiquitously.

The answer is painfully simple: silence. Evil thrives in silence.

The literal definition of ‘‘silence’’ is the complete absence of sound. In this context however, it is something far more complex and sinister. It is the complete absence of truth. The deliberate suppression of information. A weapon of mass psychological destruction; of disempowerment, disengagement, distraction and division that fuels our collective confusion.

Of the many challenges we face in the pursuit of ending sexual abuse, I am assured in the knowledge that the biggest one – silence – has the easiest and most pivotal solution: talking. That’s it. All we need to do is keep talking, reconnecting with each other over shared truths – survivors, bystanders and strangers alike.

This year and beyond, my main objective will be to keep the conversation alive, with a particular emphasis on exposing the horrors of child grooming and other forms of psychological manipulation that underpin sexual violence, so that we may develop our understanding and education to prevent it from happening.

Unsanitised history is our greatest learning resource. Lived experience inspires and informs change. Unless we are confronted with the uncomfortable realities, we will not be moved to act.

Many of you know my story.

I was 15. He was 58. The physical abuse went on for months. I have permanent scar tissue inside my body. So too will the psychological impacts last a lifetime.

He made me watch The Graduate. And the film’s soundtrack was almost always playing in his office. Thus it was The Sound of Silence that both literally and figuratively underscored my experience of prolonged abuse at the hands of a paedophile. ‘‘And the vision that was planted in my brain / still remains / within the sound of silence.’’

Silence is both a form and function of grooming which underpins prolonged sexual abuse. Grooming refers to the calculated implementation of six concurrent phases of psychological rewiring. These are: targeting you, gaining your trust, meeting your perceived needs, isolating you from your genuine supports, gradually introducing sex to normalise the abuse, and maintaining control over you. The last of these refers to the perfect balance abusers strike between causing pain and providing relief to condition you to a state of self-doubt, guilt and shame that keeps you silent.

Predators benefit not only from the silence of their targets, but the silence of the wider community. They rely on our collective discomfort to operate uninterrupted. They weaponise their voices to fill the void with lies, taking whatever measures necessary to perpetuate the culture of victim-blaming, to discourage us from speaking out.

Impervious to guilt, they smugly charm and manipulate our families, friends, colleagues and even strangers. Thus, they groom all of us, not just their individual targets.

So, unless we continue this discussion, and thus gain [by] lived experience insights to educate and reform our structures accordingly, cultures will remain unchanged.

How we communicate is just as important as what we communicate.

It is crucial to understand that listening to survivors is one thing, but repeatedly expecting them to recount and relive their trauma is another. To truly end the silence, we must grant both ourselves and those around us permission to be vulnerable and to speak on our own terms. We must continue empowering and encouraging each other to take a stand and normalise the conversation.

It is our collective duty to keep using our voices – our power – to make noise and ensure this newly broken silence never returns.

Grace Tame is Australian of the Year.

Sounds of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
'Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

"Fools," said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence"

Songwriters: Paul Simon
For non-commercial use only.
Data From: Musixmatch