Did you watch Oprah’s compelling interview with three sisters who survived eight years of rape and incest.
The sisters were articulate and handled the questioning with a tremendous amount of grace. They were clear about the depth of pain and damage they’d endured. They were genuine, they are survivors. I’ve worked with hundreds of men and women who have survived rape and incest, and I admire their willingness to be so vulnerable. I admire their inner strength, it takes a mountain of courage to tell the truth about being abused.
But telling their compelling and heartbreaking story wasn’t enough for the Oprah show. We, and the young women, had to hear disturbing details about what their perpetrators said during the investigation – and immediately, the camera cuts to the young women crying. I’m starting to get angry, and hoping this will be redeemed before the show ends. Next, their mother makes a statement; not taking blame, not really apologizing and the young women don’t seem surprised. They already knew their mother betrayed them by not protecting them.
I guess I should have seen it coming. The perpetrators get to talk. They talk by phone, from prison, about how sorry they are – or aren’t. Why do rapists get time on national television? Is it because it’s “Season 25″ for Oprah, and if you’ve been watching that show, you know “over the top” is the name of the game.
I’m angry that Oprah gave them airtime. I didn’t want to hear what the abusers had to say. Moreover, the sisters didn’t want to hear what they had to say. It’s one of those moments, when powerful television, trades in its power for exploitation. But wait, there’s more.
Oprah asked, “How does it feel to hear (her abuser) say he’s sorry and wants your forgiveness, you feel what?”
The young woman replies, “Confused.”
So Oprah gives her “favorite” definition of forgiveness,
“‘Forgiveness’ is giving up the hope that the past could’ve been any different.” Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could’ve been any different. So you don’t hold on to wishing that you’d had a different kind of brother, a different kind of mother, a different kind of family. You let that go and you move forward with the grace that God has given you. From this day on, forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could’ve been any different.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
I think I understand what Oprah was trying to do. I think she was trying to help them move forward. The thing is, forgiveness means so many things, and these young women don’t need Oprah to tell them to move forward, or what to believe or how to feel. Isn’t Oprah always talking about finding and speaking “your own truth.” If they choose to forgive, they’ll do it in their own time and in their own way. They might not want to forgive at all – it’s really their journey.
If Oprah had wanted to help them “move forward” then she and her staff could have spared them from seeing their perpetrators photos, or hearing their voices. Oprah could have asked how a person puts their life back together after so much abuse and pain. What happens when you tell the truth and lose your family? What challenges them now, day-to-day? What gives them hope, if anything?
You let us down Oprah. You said that you’ve done dozens of shows on rape and incest over the years. How then, did you miss the concept that every survivor has a right to feel whatever he or she feels. Telling these brave women to “move forward” doesn’t really help and doesn’t really move them forward. It’s akin to telling them to “get over it.” These courageous women will move on in their own way and in their own time.
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network http://www.rainn.org is the nations largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN offers information and help 24/7 for those who are victims of sexual assault or incest. You can call 1-800-656-4673. Your call is confidential. You can get help today.