DEVALUATION: How Society Makes Horrific Experiences for Survivors Even Worse

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Tonya GJ Prince Elementary School Class Picture

People can make you feel like an outsider in your own body.

People can make you feel like an outsider in your own family.

People can make you feel like an outsider in your own community.

People can make you feel like an outsider in your own country.

Parents of bullied children. Members of the LGBT community.  Black women.  We are all frequently sounding the alarm on the critical impact of making jokes and punch lines at the expense of young children. 


As a society, as family members, as schoolmates, and siblings; we laugh AT  children almost habitually. Some people don’t even think about it sometimes.

When we hear about it on television, in the media, or with peers….we barely notice it.

The truth is, our words and actions have energy, and consequences.

Painful, enduring consequences.


Did You Hear the Joke about Blue Ivy, Brown Girls & Sexual Abuse? ME NEITHER


When it comes to child sexual abuse, it can create additional barriers to telling a safe adult. Unearned shame and guilt can cause further harm to victims.

 Some years back, I was an interviewer of sexual violence victims for a collaborative research project between state, federal, and a highly regarded university.

I recall interviewing a woman I will call *Mandy.  Mandy was considered to the far less pretty sister in her family. 

Her sister *Hannah was considered the family prize trophy.  Hannah had won a lot of beauty pageants, she was smart, she was fun to be around and people instantly liked her.

Meanwhile, throughout her whole childhood, Mandy was constantly dealing with having her body and features compared to her sister.  Mandy never came out on top.

Mandy shared stories about the sexual abuse that she suffered at the hands of her cousin.  She also talked about how hard it was to speak up about anything that was a concern to her because: “the ‘ugly one’ was expected to be grateful” that anyone gave her anything.

Anything= nice clothes, accessories, toys, care during her sick days, food, shelter, and especially attention.  From Mandy’s perspective; It sounded like her family viewed these things as a hardship to provide seeing as how she was “ugly”. Bestowing kindness, gifts, and human care was no problem when it came to Hannah though.

Mandy told me about the time that she tried to tell her mother about the abuse. Mandy was able to sense that something was off. Something was wrong.  She bravely went right to her mother during the early stages of grooming.

The only advice Mandy recalls receiving was to, “stay away from him”.

“He likes you for some reason”


Further, Mandy was instructed not to ever tell anyone.  It was Mandy’s impression that the priority was to protect the image in the large framed image over the fireplace.

When the children and adults around Mandy were bullying, teasing, and devaluing her; it was as if they were adding more padlocks to the cell she felt trapped in.  When I talked with Mandy she was 15 -20 years beyond her childhood years.

After several mental health stays, life choices that left her personally feeling dehumanized, and overcoming a substance use addiction-it was still right there. 

You could feel it.

You could hear it. 

It was in the room with us. 

Mandy still hurt like her childhood was just the other day. Of course she did……..

When faced with conflict, threats, harm, or abuse; young people who aren’t accepted can struggle.  Young people may feel:

  • They deserve bullying and/or abuse
  • If they didn’t look like an “outsider” they wouldn’t be subjected to bullying and/or abuse.
  • As if they have no right to complain about the treatment/or abuse that they are being subjected to.
  • A greater sense of shame and guilt for the abuse or harm.

This was a big part of Mandy’s struggle.

How she was made to feel about herself….

The fact that people failed to value, empower, and uplift her…

The fact that the people around her chose not to hear her…

All of these things impacted her past and present struggle to heal from her traumatic experience.



You know, I wonder sometimes…..who do we think we are?

The human body (mind, body, & soul) continues to be a mystery.

Yeah, we’ve learned quite a bit of amazing things.

But as my Granny used to say: “It’s a whole world of stuff we don’t know. 

We can choose to embrace differences. 

We can choose to see the unique and distinct beauty in every different type of human being. 

We can choose to be amazed. We can choose to bask in wonder.

We can choose to be in awe of the energy, the force, the being who meticulously crafts so many different types of individuals. 

Billions of people all over this planet alone, yet no two are exactly alike!

Even the twins and the multiples. Similar, but different.

But like the flawed human beings we are, we mock differences.

We make laws and policies against anything that further pronounces human differences.

Assimilation is demanded and enforced by racism. By sexism. By ableism.

By force. By violence. By sexual violence.

The people who have the audacity to be different, to look different, are often targeted by violence and abuse.


We have to stop pretending that bullying, teasing, and mocking is business as usual. That it is the “way things are” and “what we do.”  We are better than that. We can grow. We can change.

We have to keep in mind that when we mock, tease, or make harmful jokes about people’s differences; we can be doing for more harm than we realize.  





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