When Does Silence Become Complicity?

Last night I watched an episode of Torchwood that was highly disturbing. “Sleeper,” it was called, and it was about a sleeper agent alien.

A couple’s home was invaded in the middle of the night. Masked men violently broke in, knocking the husband out and terrorizing the wife. Who knows what they would’ve done had her sleeper alien not come out and stopped it, severely maiming them. The woman/alien had no idea she was an alien, thus the sleeper part.

Suddenly, everyone is concerned about the dying abusers. Really? These two men who broke into someone’s home in the middle of the night and terrorized a couple? For all we knew, they would’ve raped her. Killed her. Who knows. But everyone is worried about the dying criminals.


The members of Torchwood proceeded to terrorize the clueless woman, accusing her of being an alien. She had no idea, of course, and they could see she was terrified; but they continued just the same. Relentless. Sadistic.

This was very upsetting because it’s common, like the stories about a homeowner being sued for injuring the criminal intruder during a break-in. Really?

Why does this society protect predators?

Twenty years ago I was sexually harassed by a professor. I don’t mean being called baby or sweetie, sexually harassed. I mean abused, molested.

I was naive, of course. Twenty years old. He was 45. He was brilliant, and he showed an interest in knowing me. I stupidly thought it was for my intellect.

The first time it happened, we were in his office. I came by to discuss literature, but we didn’t discuss literature. He closed the door and told me how each time he looked at me in class he’d get a hard-on. And, he said, all he could think about was how much he wanted to fuck me. His words. Then he came over to me sitting on his office couch, and sat on the arm beside me. He forced my hand to the last place I wanted to touch.

I was disgusted. Mortified. Humiliated. Confused. Scared.

Soon thereafter, I made some polite excuse to leave. I, of course, didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

This predator. This fucking abusive authority figure taking advantage of his position…and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Honestly. Where does one learn that?

I wish I could say that was the only encounter. I just wanted to forget about it. But I never have.

Although I told a friend or two, I never told anyone at the University. I thought it wasn’t worth ruining a man’s career over, right? Destroying his life? His reputation?

“Silence is the abuser’s greatest weapon.”

How many other girls were humiliated because I said nothing? Harassed and worse.

And still, I don’t type his name. Twenty years later, I’m still protecting him.

Of course, had I told then, it would’ve been me on display. Humiliated again. A respected professor’s word against a stupid young girl. Perhaps I would’ve been blamed, saying I was “asking for it.” Because that’s all too often the way victims of abuse are treated in our society. The abuser–the predator–is protected and excused, and the victim of abuse is humiliated. Called a “home wrecker,” “career destroyer,” “petty,” “vindictive,” etc.

Victims of abuse are shamed into silence and try to move on. Predators count on that. And in doing so victims devalue themselves and empower, not to mention protect, the abuser. So he is free to continue his abusive behavior with countless others.

I wrote a blog a few weeks back entitled Ethical Responsibility that touches on this in another scenario.

How many other women have been hurt because I stay silent?
Does my silence empower me or devalue me?
Does my silence protect me from further harm?

It certainly protects the abuser.

Speaking out is not about hurting the abuser; it’s about stopping the abuse. If we stay silent, the abuse continues. Is the silent then partially responsible?

Tell me, when does silence become complicity?

~ by omgrey on April 8, 2011.

27 Responses to “When Does Silence Become Complicity?”

  1. I’m so sorry that such a horrid thing happened to you.
    Hugs to you

    • Thank you, my dear. It was a long time ago.

      Throughout my life, I’ve been (and I’ve watched others be) silent about abuse. Perhaps that’s why it continues. They’re either silent about it or they’re in denial about it. How many children have suffered continued abuse because it was just too horrific for the adults in their lives to admit it was really happening?

      How many adults?

  2. Great post. And absolutely right. I was abused as a child by a family member and never spoke out, either. As girls we get all those messages designed to keep us compliant hammered into our brains: “Girls don’t fight (back). Good girls are quiet and obedient and put others welfare above their own. We don’t talk about certain things. Your feelings should be kept to yourself.” On and on. It’s programmed into us at such an early age, so when we end up in a situation like that, we cannot do what’s needed to protect ourselves. We take the blame for what happened, when it should lie squarely on the shoulders of our abusers.
    You are not to blame for what happened to you or for not speaking out about it till now. It takes a lot of courage to speak about it, because so few will have the courage to go against their own programming and dare to believe you.
    As a fellow survivor, I salute you.

    • Thank you, Lynn. It should lie on the shoulders of the abusers, but you’re right, we take the blame.

      And even now, I’ve read so many accounts of women taking abuse from men (and visa versa, it isn’t one way) over the past few months, and they all are struggling to survive. They’re shattered while they watch these men take up with someone knew or continue to deceive their wives/families, the monster hiding behind wit and charm. These women are counseled not to speak out, not to confront the abuser, but to move on. “What matters is you, right now. Take care of yourself.”

      But in doing so, others are hurt. We can justify it away by saying things like “she probably already knows” or “they wouldn’t believe it anyway,” but the question remains…is silence complicity?

      • I think it is, to a degree. I will always wonder if my abuser got away with abusing one of his own children because I remained silent for so long, accepting the idea drummed into me that “it wasn’t all that bad”. But the truth is that with his children grown and that part of the family estranged from me, there’s not much I can do except share my story and encourage others who’ve been abused to do so as well.
        If his grown daughter came to me herself and told me he’d molested her, I would feel obligated to beg her forgiveness. I *should* have spoken up when she was born, even if his wife refused to believe it, or the rest of the family ostracized me for bringing up something they thought should stay buried. But I wasn’t the person I am now, back then — I was too afraid of being alone and unloved, and lost in my own misery, to have that kind of courage.

      • As a grown woman, do you think you could speak out if someone abused you now? Not in the way one does a child, necessarily; but someone who emotionally and mentally abuses you? Someone who lies and manipulates? Could you warn others when the abuse was revealed for what it was? When all the justifications and excuses fall away?

        Is that any of our business, what the abuser does after he’s done with us?
        When he’s moved on to his next victim…

        My questions are just that, btw. They are not judgmental or suggesting either is right or wrong. An ethical dilemma.

        From my other post, some people say that “yes” tell when it’s in a professional situation or when bodily harm is possible (i.e. STDs), but if it’s just matters of the heart, stay quiet.


  3. Oh, absolutely I can & will do it now — I’m much more secure in my sense of self-worth at 50 than I was at say, 20. I have become the Mouse That Roars — ask anyone who has annoyed, tried to deceive or abuse me now. It took a long time and the example of one very dear friend in particular for me to get there, though.

    And I do believe that we have an obligation to speak the truth in certain circumstances.

  4. I think a couple books you may be interested in are “the Gift of Fear” and “Protecting the Gift.” Yes, women/girls are totally taught by society to put other people’s wellbeing above their own. It’s not right.

    I read one of those books in an attempt to learn how to arm my kids to protect themselves from predators if they should need it.

  5. You should look him up on the internet, this professor. See if he ever got caught. Predators never stop, even when caught. And no predator goes un-caught forever. Hearing about his trial and scandal might be a bit cathartic for you.

    just saying!


  6. […] I remember feeling that way many times throughout my twenties. She was responding to my post “When Does Silence Become Complicity?” And I knew, after reading her story, that I could not stay silent on this matter. This […]

  7. when i saw it was about torchwood I almost stopped reading, I am really glad I didn’t. You do not have to feel guilty about not acting, you were barely an adult and in a very bad situation. Now as an adult sharing stories such as yours can and will help other young women in the same situation make the right choice. Your predator may have gone on or been stopped by the next person he victimized, but a girl reading this now may very well make the right choice about a predator in her life. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience you are making the world a better place.

    • Thank you, Antonio. Your words are very healing to me. I hope my blog posts do help other people see the signs of abuse and predatory behavior sooner, and I hope they can find the courage to end the silence (and know it’s not their fault). Abuse is never okay. Ending the silence and putting the shame where it belongs is the only way to stop it.

  8. This is a very tough issue.. Because sometimes Silence is all about survival. Doing what needs to be done until the right time to bolt. I have been there and the fear is the biggest thing to overcome. Most people don’t understand. I get asked the question all the time. How could you allow it – how could you not say something. Well at the time – my life was at stake and from a very young age I learned to survive the only way I could….in Silence. Then came the time when I gathered my courage and strength and left. I don’t look back or second guess….I just keep looking forward and I LOVE who I am today.

    Thank you for this post!

    • Agreed. Sometimes silence = survival. But after one is away, end the silence. Protect yourself, of course, first and foremost, but remember that silence is the abuser’s greatest weapon.

      I’m dealing with a very close friend who is in a highly emotionally and physically abusive situation at the moment, and she is utterly terrified. She is afraid to leave. She is afraid to stay. She’s a prisoner in her own home. She’s only told me, no one else. She can’t even tell her family. She’s deeply ashamed, and she’s been with this man for over 20 yrs. She’s trapped in his betrayal bond, but she knows that her life is now in danger. She’s trying to find the courage to get out, and as soon as she does, I will be at her door to pick her up.

      Thank you for your comment. I admire your strength.

      • Thank you! You are right it can be as well. You are doing exactly what she needs….my best friend was there the night I left with my son in tow…I will never forget what she did for me. I was married for 19 years before I took that step…she can do it. She is in my thoughts and prayers. I love your blog, you tackle topics that most shy away from and it is so refreshing! Thank you for what you bring to the world.

        Kat 🙂

      • Thank you, Kat. I’m hoping she can do it sooner rather than later. She’s been with this man for 20 yrs. I will be there in a blink as soon as she says the word, but I’ve read a lot of how I could make things worse for her if I push it. It’s a difficult situation to be in.

        I’m so sorry to hear about your situation, but I am thrilled to see you had the strength to leave. It couldn’t have been easy, and I admire you for that strength. You are an inspiration.

  9. […] When does silence become complicity? […]

  10. […] year I published a post “When Does Silence Become Complicity,” where I revealed for the first time a series of incidents that happened when I was in […]

  11. To be understated, it’s rough these things happen to anyone. At twenty years old I would say the minority of people would have the right tools to deal with this situation correctly. Unfortunately it is, and always will be difficult.

    Human nature has many sides, and deceipt is one of them. Even if only a few people choose to manipulate a system an element of doubt is introduced, meaning that, sadly, one can’t just out abusers. A certain game has to be played to ensure the accusers credibility is maintained, regardless of status or position.

    Which brings me back to having the right set of tools to employ. At such a young age very few people can maneuver with the confidence and subtlety necessary to make their accusations stick. So they don’t say anything, and they are not to be blamed, because those decisions are so hard to make.

    Take it easy

    • Extremely hard to make. A lot of courage is needed in a time when most remaining energy is focused on surviving and healing.

      As for games, never liked them. I’m much more interested in open and honest communication and relationships, but I’m well aware I’m in the extreme minority.

      Thank you for your input.

      • I’m not really referring to games (sadly, that would be better), more having to play the justice system, and society, to build and maintain credibility.
        Its really very sad that victims of any kind should have to consider these tings.

      • It truly is. It’s what keeps so many targets from coming forward.

  12. […] Silence is Complicity […]

  13. […] Silence is Complicity […]

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