Among the many gifts that Maya Angelou has left us is the gift of voice. In 1969, when her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published, Maya Angelou dared to tell of her own sexual abuse at the age of 8 by her mother’s boyfriend. And although it is never easy to speak out about sexual abuse, the world was a very different and silent place regarding the sexual abuse of children in 1969. Maya’s strength in speaking the truth of her own violation as a child has granted courage for generations of survivors to speak the truth of their own unspeakable sexual abuse.
To give voice to the secret of sexual abuse is to acknowledge its existence. To remain silent is to deny the pain, the hurt, and the depth of consequences of such deep and personal violation. Unfortunately, most children who are sexually abused do not tell of the abuse (researchers tell us that approximately one-third of child victims ever speak of the abuse). These silenced children grow up to be adults who do not speak of the abuse, who do not tell their story and quietly live the pain and grief of the deep betrayal childhood abuse.
I believe that it is exactly this pain that Ms. Angelou spoke of in her words, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." In this truth, she validated the pain that so many have endured and continue to endure and, most importantly, inspired courage to speak one’s truth, albeit a painful truth. Through her legacy of honesty, integrity and grace, Maya Angelou will continue to encourage us all to face both the truth of the darkness and the possibilities of healing that exist for those who bear the scars of childhood sexual abuse.
Janice Palm, M.A., LMHC
Shepherd's Counseling Services, Executive Director