Gandhi said some good things; but unless he only meant the “my neighbor cut down my rose bush” sort of thing, he’s dead wrong on this one:
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
I file this tripe quote under “religious platitudes”, which means it’s in the “don’t say this crap to child sexual abuse survivors” category. Yes, some survivors can feel comforted by religious stuff, but many more are hurt by it. Unless you know which sort of survivor you are dealing with, and if you actually want to help them more than you want to preach at them, please make sure they don’t mind before you spew this empty and hurtful junk at them.
Not forgiving is weak? Can a compassionate person call weak a survivor who was raped from age four by his father? Molested and raped by his mother since before he can remember? Or when they began renting him at age five to their pedophile “club” of sick rapists? If that boy was raped, cleaned up by his mother to get him ready for the next paid rape, and at the end of the day he had to “service” his father; would any person with a shred of empathy tell that survivor he “must” forgive them, or “God won’t forgive him”? Or quote Gandhi and call him weak?
I assure you, the boy that survived years of that daily abuse, rapes, torture, beatings, being “trained” that he was a worthless animal bred for sexual use for money, is not “weak”. If he has managed to survive to be a man with the guts to become an advocate to help other survivors and prevent other children from being abused, does any person who thinks they want to help have the right to call him “weak”? Or tell him he “must” forgive? No, they do not.
Abusers who rape and sell children aren’t sorry they did these crimes; they are only sorry about being caught and prevented from doing it more. Statistics show the chances of reforming them are dismal, and they also show that nearly all will reoffend if set free to do so. If you want numbers, research it. It’s not hard.
I’ve referenced these resources before, but here they are again, for a flip side on the “you must forgive” debate and showing that being guilted into trying to forgive can harm and re-traumatize survivors of rape at any age (even religious ones):
Forgiveness as a Weapon by Dianna E. Anderson (Faith and Feminism blog)
Must You Forgive? by Jeanne Safer in Psychology Today
I’ll repeat myself as often as I see a need to. I got the Gandhi quote off of the timeline of an “inspiration for healing” huckster who followed me on Twitter. He was blocked the second I saw it.
If you truly wish to help survivors, please have the common sense to get to know them some first. Don’t just assume that what may comfort you will be appropriate to say to them. Also, ask them first how they can be helped or if they even want your help. There are many well-intentioned advocates on Twitter whom I do not follow because the hyper-religious content of their “help” triggers me.
Finally, the big issue: respect boundaries. If you don’t know the survivor, it is far more likely to be acceptable to keep things respectful. Do not assume a familiarity that may seem natural to you, but may feel threatening to them. It’s great if you’re a hugger – but please keep that to yourself, because many survivors do not want to be touched by people they don’t know well and don’t trust. Telling them you are a good person simply isn’t good enough because many abusers say the same stuff. It’s fine to ask if they want a hug, some do; but just doing so can be very alarming. If they have PTSD, like I do, you might even trigger a response that could really ruin your day.
Why respect boundaries? Because most survivors of child sexual abuse had no rights and it can re-traumatize them to have their fledgling sense of bodily autonomy taken away by some clueless impulse hugger with “good intentions”. You want to help survivors? Then put their needs, wants, and boundaries ahead of your impulses; verbal, typed, physical, and spiritual. You don’t know their boundaries? Ask.
For me personally, trust me – I’ve had my choices and rights taken away from me quite enough by my abusers; and I won’t ever forgive them, Gandhi. I don’t have to. The neighbors cutting down the rose bushes? Sure, forgive them; forgive child raping human evil too, if that’s your thing, knock yourself out. But don’t tell another person they “have to” forgive. You have no right to do that.
I am not weak. I am a survivor.
~ ~ ~
© W.R.R. 1/22/2014
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Seek help. Speak out. Find your path to healing.
Please read the Comment Policy before submitting a comment to the moderators. For more about me, you are welcome to read my story and visit the About page.
Thank you for reading.