I Never Told Anyone – Book Review

These women – and more – women whose courage gives me courage, whose lives are a testament to the strength and beauty of women – our rugged tenacity; our unwillingness, in the midst of widespread, smothering violence and a history of atrocities, to give up, give in, die – these women inspired me to collect these stories. In the process of writing, of saying what has not been said, of giving voice to the unnameable, we claim our experience. We are brave. We are no longer victims. We show what we have endured. We look at this reality in order to destroy it. – from the Introduction by Ellen Bass, page 24 –

Trigger warningthis book is about the experiences of women survivors of sexual abuse; many of the writings are graphic and emotional.

I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse is a tough book to read by anyone’s standards. Its creation grew out of a writer’s workshop in Santa Cruz, California after a woman shared her story of abuse. Ellen Bass and Louise Thornton along with several other women decided that stories like this should be shared in order to give voice to the sexually abused child. It is a powerful anthology which left me feeling angry, revolted, and extremely sad that we live in a society which allows this crime to continue at an alarming rate.

It is important to understand that the phenomenon of violence against women and children and the condoning of this violence is not simply a contemporary perversion but part of an ancient and pervasive worldwide tradition. – from Introduction by Ellen Bass, page 33 –

Why would anyone sit down and read these horrible, gut-wrenching stories? Most of us would prefer to avoid reading the details of a sexual assault on a child. We would prefer to look the other way while saying it is a terrible crime and should be eradicated. Many, myself included, want to lock these monsters up who would commit such a crime and never again have them see the light of day. But read about the crimes themselves? No, most of us do not want to do that. And yet, putting stories like this in writing allows the victims of such crimes a power over their tormentors and in turn, the stories make us face the reality of these crimes in order to put an end to them.

In this volume, we say no to that desecration. We look clearly at what sexual abuse and rape have meant to these women’s lives. We do not avert our eyes to avoid the pain. Statistics, for all the horror they imply, can be so vast that we shield ourselves from the individual lives they represent. We wanted to make the statistics real, to present the pain of the individual. At times the enormity overwhelmed us. It is not easy to open oneself to the knowledge that millions of children are raped. Our defenses rush to protect us from experiencing that pain. But we cannot close ourselves off and hope for the best. We are in danger. Our daughters are in danger. Even our sons are in danger. Behind each statistic, there is a child. She may be you. She may be your daughter. She may be your sister. She may be your friend. You cannot protect her until we can protect all children. – from the Introduction by Ellen Bass, pages 37-38 –

I can tell you that I struggled to read this book. I had to intersperse my reading of it with reading a light, funny novel. The pain between these pages is immense. It is horrifying. It is nearly incomprehensible. The women who share their stories in this book describe abuse which began when they were less than a year old and continued into their teen years. In many cases, the abuse was known by other adults who looked the other way. In all cases, the damage done was vast and life long. But despite all of this, something else came through in these stories – the courage and strength of these children who were now adults themselves; their refusal to accept their role as victim; their decision to share the details of their experiences in order to remove the power from their abusers; their belief that sharing their stories could help other women.

I struggled to rate this book. It is not an enjoyable read. It is dark and sad. But it is also a book which is necessary. Until we meet the individuals behind the statistics, until we really hear their stories, how can we find the rage and energy to fight to end this pervasive crime? How can we protect our children and grandchildren, our nieces, the children in our neighborhoods? This book enraged me. I think that is the point.

I think it is also important to point out that the writings contained in this book were also part of the healing of the women who wrote them. Writing their stories, giving voice to the unthinkable, gave their experiences validation and by revealing the crimes they could empower themselves to walk away from being a victim.

Because I could never talk about what had happened to me, it dominated my life. Then, through my writing, I discovered that I have an intellect that is not stupid but unstretched, a heart which can feel more than pain, a body that once again belongs to me. – by Maggie Hoyal, page 69 –

Anyone working in social services, as well as teachers or other professionals working with children, should read this book. But I will go further. Anyone who cares about children, who is horrified by violence against women and children, who want to strengthen our laws protecting women and children against violent crime, especially rape and sexual abuse…should read this book. We need to get angry. We need to pester our law makers incessantly. We need to speak out when child abusers are released back into our neighborhoods. We need to lobby for stronger laws and harsher punishments. We need to stop accepting the violence or believing that we cannot stop it. This book will help us to do those things.

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    • sari on March 29, 2010 at 17:11

    Thank you for taking the time to not only finish this book, but write about it. I wish a book like this was available to me when I was in my teens. It would have benefited me greatly. I applaud these women and men for speaking out. Abuse is hard to live with, mostly because no one wants to hear about it or talk about it. I have no doubt having their voices heard have helped in the healing process.

    • Wendy on April 2, 2010 at 09:51

    Sari: You’re welcome – it is a really important subject…and I think most people shy away from reading about it because it is so upsetting. I force myself to read these books from time to time because I don’t want to walk around with my head in the sand…we all need to work together to end this horrible crime.

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