Songstress Vanessa Williams recently opened up to Oprah Winfrey about her molestation at age 10, a story that she has been very open about in the past. She admitted that the event, perpetrated by an 18-year-old, likely led to her becoming more sexually promiscuous as an adult. Sadly, Williams’ story is not unique. When someone is molested at an early age, the person’s view of sex and what it is supposed to be is altered. This may lead to molestation victims becoming more sexually promiscuous, but on the other hand, victims may tend to avoid sexual contact altogether.
For some, the notion of sex may be extremely disquieting, where it becomes connected with the painful memory of having been violated in such an intimate way. This may lead to victims turning to self-medication in order to cope with these memories; drugs and alcohol may be ready numbing agents. These are used as ways of dealing with feelings that may not be easily understood, whether those feelings are guilt, sorrow, anger or another unnamed emotion. Victims may also turn to sex, and some may also become addicted to it as a way of coping with the feelings that the molestation has left.
In Williams’ case, she says as a 10-year-old girl being victimized in such an intimate way by an 18-year-old woman she knew that what was happening was supposed to feel good, but that what was happening was also very wrong. During her interview with Winfrey, she theorizes that the molestation led to her becoming more sexually curious as she grew into adulthood.
It would seem that Williams may have been one of the lucky ones in the long run. Of course, the viewing audience only gets one perspective of what happened; Williams speaks about the molestation with candor, and it would seem that she is very poised and every inch a survivor and not a victim. The viewing public does not know what pain lurks behind the public facade that Williams shows during her interview. This is not to say in private that Williams continues to struggle with the memory; we do not know anything beyond what Williams shares in her interview. However, compared to the thousands of children and adults alike who are coping with having been molested and who are re-evaluating their relationships with others in the wake of such a life-altering event, Williams would appear to have come to terms and acknowledged the aftermath of what happened to her.
In openly discussing her story, Williams is demonstrating to victims that it is important to come to terms with what happened, and more importantly, that awareness of what molestation does to its victims needs to be raised. Awareness of the issue seems to have helped; according to Dr. David Finklehor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, a 2008 survey reported that 50 percent of all child abuse cases were reported, compared to 25 percent in 1992. This does not mean that molestation has suddenly become easier to cope with, but it is an indication that children are more willing to speak out when they have experienced inappropriate sexual contact.
Molestation is a terrible event for a child to endure, and the aftershocks of it will likely ripple well into adulthood. It is difficult to describe exactly how the victim will cope with the tragedy; a lot depends on the support he or she receives in the immediate aftermath. It is a crime that should not be buried or ignored, much as parents may want to run from it or children may feel they should forget; that will only bring further pain in the long term to victims and their families. Coming to terms with what happened and learning to cope with the memories that will last long after the event is over will ultimately encourage a victim’s long term mental health, and lead them to the path of recovery. There is no forgetting, but what Williams shows in her interview with Winfrey is that there is a way to ultimately heal.
Opinion by Christina St-Jean