Breaking the Silence

“He was curious.” “It was your fault because you did not speak up.” “You deserve the pain.” –What my mother has said to me after disclosing I was a survivor of sexual assault.

Coming from a Hispanic family it was very hard for me to open up about my sexual abuse. The fact that my assaulter was a close relative made it even harder for my parents to accept that the sexual abuse had occurred. To this day my mother refuses to call it sexual abuse even after the tears, the anger, the long therapy sessions, and the details I have disclosed to them. Sexual abuse in Hispanic and Latino cultures has always occurred but speaking about it has been taboo for centuries.

“According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2004), one in six females ages 13 and older are victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.”-Help Exists Fact Sheet

Taking it back to the roots of Mexico, child abuse is so prominent that 7 out of 10 children are sexually abused yearly and over 50% of the women. This is important to understand because a lot of the Hispanic and Latino community are immigrants to the United States and most of these individuals carry with them cultural norms that have held the taboo of sexual abuse together. These norms include machismo, marianismo, and familismo. Machismo is defined as a strong sense of masculine pride. Marianismo is the ideal role of a woman. Familismo is the idea of a family centered family, with close relationships within the large extended family. These three cultural practices are crucial to the taboo practices.

For centuries Hispanic women have tolerated machismo. Many women put up with their husbands raping them because they believed that it was their duty to listen to their husbands without needing to consent. When speaking of marianismo, women were expected to be housewives, listen to their husband, and be honest to their husbands regardless of their husband’s behavior. Familismo has become an area of concern between the Hispanic and Latino communities. According to 4/5 of assaults are committed by someone you know. Families who practice familismo prefer to keep issues and secrets within the family. In my case my family refused to believe that my perpetrator was the person I said it was because they are a close blood relative. After I came out about my assault, they shut me out and refused to talk about it again. These are issues that need to be addressed and talked about in order to break the silence.

Silencing victims and breaking Hispanic culture norms is crucial for change and for the health of survivors. Survivors need a good support system in order to get through the trauma and affects of sexual assault and many times that support system is the family.

So what can you do to break the silence?

SPEAK OUT! Speaking out can include being a good bystander, educating others about this issue, educating yourself further, becoming an advocate against sexual assault, and being an activist against sexual assault.