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When is it OK to Reveal a Secret?

October 1, 2009

pc-071Throughout your life, chances are, that people will reveal a lot of secret and personal pieces of information to you. It might be something that they did or something that happened to them, but you will always find an ounce of shame in the story and usually it is for that reason that they have kept it secret for so long. 

What I have been asking myself is when it is ok to reveal the information that they have shared with you? 

One of my school friends confided in me at our grade six Halloween party that her father and her brothers sexually and physically abused her. It was a very emotional moment. We were sitting in a dark room by ourselves away from the other kids, I had gone in there after her because something happened which had upset her, and in the process of consoling her she told me this very personal thing about her life. 

I remember that I didn’t ask any questions, and that I simply listened to her. I don’t know how much of what she told me was true or not. Knowing her family, I wasn’t very shocked by the revelation, but at the same time I somewhat doubted the truth of her words. I didn’t have a reason to doubt her and she didn’t have a reason to lie, but still there was doubt. Maybe it was easier to doubt, because the doubt I had is what prevented me from doing anything about what she had told me. 

We left the dark room, which had served as her confessional, to rejoin the party and it was never mentioned again. She confided her deepest secret to me and I never said a word to anyone else. I didn’t tell my parents, I didn’t tell our teacher, I didn’t tell another kid and I continued to interact with her and go to her house on occasion. In almost every respect, I pretty much forgot about the whole thing. I had pushed it out of my mind, but it still lingered there on the periphery filling me with guilt. 

Wasn’t I just as guilty as her abusers for keeping quiet? 

Sure, I was eleven years old and I had no idea what to do. That can’t be true, can it? Yes, I was young, but deep down I knew I should have told an adult about it. I should have told someone who was more equipped at handling it than I was. I knew that was the right thing to do, otherwise I never would have felt bad for nothing saying anything. 

I was plagued by doubt. I didn’t want to betray her trust, and what if I was wrong? What if I misunderstood her? What if she was exaggerating? What if saying something made it worse? I mean, this wasn’t some stranger in the bush kind of story, it was her family and saying something could destroy her family and take away any sense of normality that she had left. I told myself, that since she never brought it up again, that I was doing the right thing, because they all seemed happy and for me to bring it up again could only change all that. 

Kids share the abuse that they suffer at the hands of adults in a very particular way. When you’re young and another kid tells you that he/she is being abused, you become the protector of that secret. The trust that someone else bestows upon you is a precious thing, and even when you are eleven you understand and can bare the weight of it. You feel like the biggest crime you could commit is to tell another adult. You band together and you protect each other. It’s a sacred trust, that you can’t violate, because that would only inflict more pain unto someone who’s trust in the world has already been violated. 

But you have to, don’t you? If no one speaks up, it’s just going to keep on happening. Personally, I don’t know whether I made the right choice by staying quiet, I doubt it, but I can’t go back and change what happened. I can’t go back and instill in her and myself the strength to stand up for what’s right, and even if I could, it’s still not as clear cut I had hoped everything would be once I became an adult. 

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