If you were a kid in the seventies and grew up watching Sesame Street, you knew that only Big Bird could see his friend Mr. Snuffleupagus. Whenever Big Bird would tell adults about Snuffy, the adults always thought the large, brown furry creature was simply a figment of Big Bird’s imagination.
When my daughter was small and watched Sesame Street in the early 2000s, I realized that everyone could see Snuffy. When did that happen? I did a little research. In the mid-80s, the writers decided that it was important for kids to know that if they told adults about something they had seen or that had happened to them, they would be believed. The creative powers behind Sesame Street didn’t want for lovable Snuffleupagus to become the reason that kids might not tell an adult about abuse or inappropriate behavior for fear of not being believed. Thus, Snuffy became visible to everyone.
In light of the recent allegations against Woody Allen and the response of the public toward his accuser, it is vital that we remember how important it is to believe those who report abuse. Whether it is reported 20 minutes or 20 years after the abuse occurs, we need to believe those who tell their stories.
It is understandable to be reluctant to believe a story of abuse, because it is so painful to hear. Perhaps the only thing worse than learning that someone you love has been abused is learning that someone you love is the abuser. But no matter the level of pain you experience when someone you love, like and/or admire is accused of the abuse, the person who experienced the abuse is hurting far more than you are.
By creating places and spaces where abuse victims know that they can be heard and believed, we bring the stigma of abuse out of the shadows and in to the light. When the story is told, the abuser begins to lose power and the victim begins to reclaim it.
And, yes, there have been instances of people being falsely accused, but they are few and far between the number of reported and unreported instances of sexual abuse. Anyone who is brave enough to come forward and reveal the pain and the shame that comes with abuse deserves to be heard and believed.
–Rev. Anne Russ