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Removing the Scold’s Bridle

The offense of sexual trauma can be debilitating against anyone. Whether male or female, the crippling effects can be the same when it comes to how a victim internalizes and ultimately handles the healing processes as well the aftermath of the trauma. The offense can be an actual rape, sexual assault, harassment, child abuse and/or molestation, incest, drug facilitated assault, intimate partner sexual violence, or any other form of unwanted sexual offense that violates one’s privacy and respect of their personal space while threatening the protection of their person as it is certain to create a victim in every circumstance.

Although these offenses are committed against the victim it is the victim that takes on the daunting responsibility of not revealing the crimes against them or as society loosely translates it “keeping silent” of the heinous things that have transpired. Many may say this almost sounds ridiculous as to why would a victim “keep silent” about such things performed against them especially those individuals that “keep silent” for extended periods of times even decades later. What are they hiding? What are they afraid of? Why didn’t they tell it then? Why are they protecting their perpetrator? These are just some of the questions that society haphazardly throws at victims without even thinking of how much greater the evil versus the good while asking these type of questions, and I can promise you it’s like you’re throwing daggers into their stories while piercing their souls at the same time.

There was a practice that is noted first in Scotland then later in England in the 1500’s called “scolding” or “branking.” It was where a scold’s bridle, sometimes called a witch’s or brank’s bridle, was used as an instrument of punishment or as a form of torture and public humiliation. The device itself was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head with a bridle bit projected into the mouth and pressed down on top of the tongue. Although it may have been used on men, this form of punishment was primarily used on women whose speech was deemed “riotous” or “troublesome” so the bridle would prevent them from speaking publicly. It is noted that when the brank is placed on the “gossiper’s” head that they would be led through town to show that they had committed an offense or “talked” too much. This was in fact to humiliate them into repenting their “riotous” actions. Then not only did they have the audacity to place a spike inside the gag to prevent any talking since obviously any movement of the mouth would cause severe piercing of the tongue, but in some locations, branks would be permanently displayed by publicly attaching them, for example, to the town cross or tolbooth as displaying the branks in public was intended to remind the populace of any rash action or slander.

Unfortunately it appears that this practice of “branking” is still happening today in present day society although an actual scold’s bridle may be invisible to the human eye it still carries the same mental torment and public humiliation. Many victims walk around with a forced bit in their mouths to keep silent of the sexual offenses committed against them. A victim of sexual violence is led to believe that if they speak out against the crime against them or against their offender that some form of retaliation and or humiliation would ultimately lead to the discrediting of their reputation or an untimely demise. When we tell a victim that we do not believe them as they attempt to come forward with their account of incidents we are telling them that they are indeed “riotous” in their public speech. When we silence a victim by intimidation and dare them to speak publicly against their offenders, no matter how powerful or prestigious their offenders may be, we are giving them the impression that they are “troublesome” in their actions.

The real crime is how society stands idly by as victims are shamed in public humiliation not only afraid to share the truth but literally dared to speak the truth against their offenders. While you are wondering what victims are hiding you should be wondering what they are not revealing, because with the unwelcomed gawks and stares of the unbelieving public, along with the mental excruciating pain from the “invisible” spike inside the gag, has caused them to shut down in the midst of speaking their truths. So I ask you, if you knew that your fate was destined to be permanent public degradation for reporting a sex crime against you must we still ask, what are sexual assault victims afraid of or why don’t they report their crimes sooner? I am sure that no one wants to be muzzled because they are considered “gossipers” that “talk too much” then basically forced to repent and/or recant their truths. This was not an equitable form of justice back in the 1500’s and it most definitely not an equitable form of justice now in the 21th Century.

Victims of sexual violence did not want, ask or desire to be traumatized. As there is no glory in allowing an individual to take your virtue by force, violate your body and space without permission, rob you of your innocence while making you question your self-worth then at the same time lose your identity. The time is now that we turn public humiliation into crowd participation by helping victims everywhere remove the “branks” from their heads and the “bits” from their mouths and that is with our support as we encourage them to continue to come forward and speak up and out publicly against sexual violence and offences against them. When a victim looks into the public’s eyes it is imperative that compassion and concern is displayed as the forces of evil always seem greater in the eyes of their offender and it is here that they seem to lose all hope when they feel that they stand alone against predatory giants.

Since when is speaking the truth supposed to cause open shame? Since when did a person that wants to be released from their physical torment not released at all because they have to live with the mental torment for the rest of their lives? Since when does the public have the power to keep a victim victimized? Since when does a violent sexual predator get the opportunity to intimidate and silence his victims?

Only compassion can offer comfort in the midst of these present dehumanizing times as we are definitely dwelling in a land among predatory giants. Sexual violence has no place here yet it exists and speaking up publicly against it is unusual yet it continues. However, I am still confident that we will win the fight against sexual violence as it was merely a stone that killed Goliath. Or, in other words, as long as we continue to stand in courage and face our giants, whether standing in public humiliation with lacerated tongues, scandalized names while being questioned by many, sometimes even our loved ones, we will slay these sexual predator giants that dwell among us.

Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol

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Lavinia Masters

Victim Advocate Lavinia B. Masters is the founder of S.A.V.E. Ministry and serves as a volunteer on the Speaker Bureau with the Rape Abuse & Incest Network (RAINN) as well with the Denton County Friends of the Family Speakers Bureau and Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). Influenced by her own brutal rape at the age of 13, Lavinia devised and implemented seven steps to her true empowerment after sexual trauma through prayer and supplications. For over 12 years Lavinia has worked to raise awareness about sexual assault, promote and empower victims, and advocate for justice by implementing and enforcing laws that protect victims. However, her greatest and most fulfilling battle has been the war on finding the beginning to the end of the nationwide accumulation of backlogged rape kits through DNA that sit on shelves just as hers did for over 20 years. She has been featured in many local, national and international media, including numerous appearances on CNN Nancy Grace as a victim’s advocate, CNN LIVE, CNN w/ TJ Holmes, Primetime Justice w/ Ashleigh Banfield, CNN w/ Fredricka Whitfield, C-SPAN.ORG and Anderson Cooper 360. She has authored two books, Breathe Again: How Rape Brought a Young Girl from Misery to Ministry and Genie in A Bottle. You can read more about Lavinia’s life, experience, and works on her website https://laviniamastersspeaks.com. Lavinia can be contacted at laviniamasters@gmail.com.

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