The human brain has a remarkable capacity for self-preservation. It flexes and protects, softening the edges of memory to make hideous things bearable. Lilada Gee spent years hiding in the emotional closet of denial until her faith gave voice to her abuse. Today, her culturally specific message of healing for other young, Black female survivors of long-term systematic sexual abuse is powerful, empowering, and so very badly needed.
Lilada Gee’s Culturally Appropriate Support for Sexual Abuse Survivors
Madison Magazine cover story, February 2014
Her earliest years are spotty, like inkblots splattered on what looks like an exquisite picture. But, without warning, shards of memory can slice the canvas at any given moment. The way the hot afternoon sun looked as it cut through the blinds when Lilada Gee woke from her nap that day, a tiny six-year-old girl, lying on top of her abuser’s erect penis. The paralyzing, toxic fear creeping through her veins as the venom of responsibility first pierced her. As right then and there, from that moment on, his outrageous crime became her burden to bear.
“Immediately, shame filled me. Fright filled me,” recalls Lilada. “So when he swore me to secrecy, I was good with it. Because I wanted to pretend like it never happened.”
How it happened for Lilada was deeply personal, but what she couldn’t know then–and what her abuser counted on–was that it was happening to other little girls like her all over the place. Sexual abuse is not unique to any one particular race, socioeconomic group or cultural background. It’s everywhere–on in four American girls and one in six boys are victims. It’s pervasive and it’s choking and it blooms in silence, multiplying and creeping like a toxic mold in the dark, feeding off the rotting fruit of secrecy. Sexual abuse makes you believe that there is no one else like you out there. No one that feels the way you do, has been where you’ve been. It tells you you are dirty, that there’s something about you that asked for this, that it’s your fault. That no one will believe you anyway, if you tell. So you don’t. You help keep the awful secret, becoming both hostage and coconspirator, aiding and abetting your own devastating crime.
Or, maybe, you do tell. In a best-case scenario, your abuser is prosecuted and convicted. Your family embraces you and you get some good therapy and you start to believe the truth, that it wasn’t you. That there is nothing inherently wrong with you. That you are good and whole and beautiful and strong and that your perpetrator was the sick one. That you’re not alone and you never were.
Or, more likely, there are years and years of bruised gray area. Maybe you freeze. Maybe you stuff it down and deny and hide it for so long that it’s far too late to collect physical evidence, once you do thaw. Maybe your world explodes into fractious fragments of he-said/she-said, so-what/shut-up wreckage. Maybe you face cross-examination from friends, from law enforcement, from social service agents, from the court system.
Maybe you get up the guts to speak out to a magazine writer. Maybe she believes you, but maybe at the eleventh hour your deeply personal story is stripped down by the publication for fear of litigation. Maybe you feel, once again, the weight of the burden of proof that has always fallen on you, not your abuser. Maybe it’s devastating. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’re used to being dismissed by now, as a Black woman in America, which is a whole other story. Or maybe it’s this same story, too.
The full version of this cover story appeared in the February 2014 issue of Madison Magazine. You can continue reading here.
—Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin