The #Metoo and #TimesUp movements have brought long overdue attention to the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our culture: men and women have come forward about abuse in Hollywood and academia, restaurant kitchens and ballet studios. This is an incredibly important cultural moment, during which we are having life-changing and life-saving conversations about what constitutes abuse, the long and short-term affects of abuse on victims, and how we can better protect each other as well as stop perpetrators before they can hurt more people.
However, we must not forget about the place where the majority of sexual exploitation and abuse happens. It is not the dark alley of nightmares. It is in fact a location that many consider the safest: our homes. According to the Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network (RAINN), 55% of sexual assaults happen “in or near the victim’s home.” In fact, contrary to what many of us might believe, only 7% of abusers are strangers to the child they victimize. What is more likely is that the abuser is an acquaintance or, more chillingly, a family member: 34% of those who sexually abuse children are family members. 80% of those family members are the child’s parent.
This means that the home—not the daycare or the school—may be, for many children, the most dangerous place to be.
My novel, Iphigenia Murphy, includes abuse in the home. In the book, the protagonist, Iffy, is abused by her “step-brother” (or, more accurately, her father’s girlfriend’s son who lives in the home). When I was first developing the novel, I was unsure about my decision to make the predator someone who had a sibling relationship with Iffy. However, I’ve known too many young people who have been abused by siblings, half-siblings, and step-siblings; I wanted to make sure that their experiences are not erased in our narratives of abuse. If nothing else, I hope that readers might become more aware of the reality that the face of the abuser is sometimes quite familiar.
In addition to shedding light on abusers, the #MeToo movement has also put a spotlight on the regrettable behavior of those who claimed they were not aware of abuse, even if they should have been. As a result, we are all called on to reject complicity, to call out bad behavior when we see it and to stand with victims when they ask us to.
Let’s not be as slow to pay attention when it comes to violence and abuse in the domestic sphere. As a society, we need to do better—we need to be educated about the signs of abuse, about how to talk to young people about abuse, and how to assist those who may be in desperate need of our help.
Someone’s life might depend on it.