My dad molested me

The State Department is committed to assisting U.S. citizens who become victims of crime while abroad. We help in two ways:

  • Overseas: consular officers, agents, and staff work with crime victims and help them with the local police and medical systems.
  • In the United States: our office of Overseas Citizens Services will stay in touch with family members in the United States, and help provide U.S.-based resources for the victim when possible.

If you are the victim of a crime overseas:

  • Contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate:
    • Consular officers are available for emergency assistance 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.
    • Contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas can be found here or by going to our individual Country Specific Information pages.
    • To contact the Department of State in the U.S. call 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S. or Canada) or (202) 501-4444 (from overseas).
    • Contact the local police to report the incident and get immediate help. Request a copy of the police report.
  • If you are a U.S. citizen, you can report the crime to the Embassy here.

Consular Assistance to U.S. Crime Victims:

When a U.S. citizen is the victim of a crime overseas, he or she may suffer from physical, emotional or financial injuries. It can be more difficult because the victim may be in unfamiliar surroundings, and may not know the local language or customs. Consular officers, consular agents, and local employees at overseas posts know local government agencies and resources in the country where they work.

We can help:

  • Replace a stolen passport
  • Contact family, friends, or employers
  • Obtain appropriate medical care
  • Address emergency needs that arise as a result of the crime
  • Explain the local criminal justice process
  • Obtain information about your case
  • Connect you to local and U.S.-based resources to assist victims of crime
  • Obtain information about any local and U.S. victim compensation programs available
  • Provide a list of local lawyers (PDF 260KB) who speak English

We cannot:

  • Investigate crimes
  • Provide legal advice or represent you in court
  • Serve as official interpreters or translators
  • Pay legal, medical, or other fees for you

Resources and Information for Crime Victims upon Return to the United States:
Some U.S. cities and communities offer programs to help residents who are victims of overseas crime, including:

  • Rape crisis counseling programs
  • Shelter and counseling programs for battered women
  • Support groups and bereavement counseling for family members and friends of murder victims
  • Diagnostic and treatment programs for child abuse victims
  • Assistance for victims of drunk driving crashes

All U.S. states provide victim compensation programs, however only some states offer benefits to residents who are victims of violent crime overseas. Most compensation programs require the victim to file a report at the time of the incident, and to provide a copy with the application. Programs include financial assistance to pay for:

  • Medical costs, including counseling
  • Funeral or burial expenses
  • Lost income or loss of support
  • Expenses related to the repatriation of remains

Information about each state’s compensation program and how to apply for benefits is available from the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards.

Contact Information for Victim Assistance Programs:

DISCLAIMER: The U.S. Department of State assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the organizations whose names appear below. This referral does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of the U.S. Department of State.

Sexual Assault:

  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) – Toll-free 24/7 hotline for sexual assault counseling and referrals: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). RAINN also offers a hotline that provides live, secure, anonymous crisis support for victims of sexual violence, their friends, and familiies over RAINN’s website. The Online Hotline is free of charge and is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week!
  • Sexual Abuse Treatment Information
  • U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women – Information about local sexual assault victim assistance coalitions.
  • National Sexual Violence Resource Center
  • State Sexual Assault Coalitions

Domestic Violence:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline – Toll-free 24/7 hotline for crisis counseling and referrals: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
  • U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women – Information about local domestic violence victim assistance coalitions.
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence offers a safe home and shelter programs, public education, and technical assistance. They also have a list of state and international organizations that can assist domestic violence victims. 303-839-1852
  • International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies – Global list of abuse hotlines, shelters, refuges, crisis centers and women’s organizations, plus domestic violence information in over 90 languages.
    • NOTE: The agencies and organizations listed on this international directory have not been vetted by the U.S. Department of State or other federal agency.

Families and Friends of Murder Victims:

  • POMC, Inc. (National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children) – Hotline for crisis counseling and referrals available Monday-Friday, 8-5 PM EST: 1-888-818-POMC.

Victims and Families of Drunk Driving Crashes:

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – Information about local resources for victims and family members.

General Victim Assistance:

  • U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime – Contact information for non-emergency services in communities throughout U.S.
  • National Crime Victim Center – Information for crime victims on the impact of crime, safety planning, legal rights and civil legal remedies, and options for assistance and referrals to local programs.
  • National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) – Toll-free hotline available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm EST for information and referral to victim assistance programs: 1-800-TRY-NOVA

Rachel’s Story of Healing

When I was 12 I didn’t know I couldn’t get pregnant by kissing and fondling. I was scared. I was even more scared because the person who was doing the kissing and fondling was my father. I wanted to make him stop, especially after he went on to touch my two younger sisters in the bedroom we shared, but I thought if I told, it would destroy my family.

When I was 39 years old, I had an overwhelmingly frightening nightmare about my father coming into my bedroom to sexually abuse me, but this time in my own home. This was a safe space that I had created for myself as a loving adult. I thought I was done dealing with the sexual abuse, but I realized that the abuse I experienced as a child was still a family secret. I finally confronted my father with the abuse and he did acknowledge what he had done.

At the time, I thought that this confrontation would be enough. Three years later when I saw a photograph of my father holding my young niece, I realized I had to talk about this within my whole family if I wanted my niece to be safe.

I call this a story of hope because in this second confrontation my father admitted what he did — not just to me, but to the whole family — and apologized. The family is now aware that we have a problem that can’t be buried any longer, even though they wish it would just go away. It’s a story of hope because maybe more abusers will understand they can admit what they did and help their families heal. Maybe more survivors of abuse will realize they can confront the history that haunts them and regain control over their lives.

Don’t get me wrong — this story does not have a fairytale ending. Life isn’t usually like that. The first time I confronted my father was in a letter after I had a nightmare that was really a flashback to when I was 12 and my father came into my room at night to fondle my breasts and kiss me. But in my dream, my father was in my own house, the home and safety I created for myself as an adult.

After a couple of years, he stopped touching me, but it was worse watching him kiss and fondle my younger sister. When I caught him touching her, he would tell me to go away and I would simply walk away. I was the oldest. I was supposed to protect my younger sisters, and I couldn’t. I’d lie awake in bed at night and try to figure out how to stop him. I thought if I could just understand why he was doing this, I could make him stop.

I wrote that first letter nearly 20 years after I left home for college. My father acknowledged what he did, but that was it. My sister, who had just given birth to a daughter, wrote me a long letter. She was afraid, she said, that if her husband found out about the abuse, it would ruin her marriage. She asked why it was coming up now and why I wanted to hurt mom and dad. After all, she wrote, “dad never hurt us, he meant no harm.” She urged me to resolve this in my own mind so we could be a family again, and so that I would not live in regret if my parents died before we were reconciled.

I had very little communication with my family during this time. The communication I did have was minimal and there were no family visits except for major holidays. After three years of further silence around the sexual abuse, I received a photograph from my sister of my dad holding my three-year-old niece. A chill went up my spine. He molested his own daughters, so how could my sister trust him with her daughter? To keep my niece safe I had to bring it all up again and make sure the whole family understood about dad sexually abusing us.

I called and asked my parents if they would come to one of my therapy sessions. My dad didn’t argue: where and when I wanted him there was all he asked.

When I got to the therapist’s office, my parents were already there. My mother was crying, “What are you doing to me?” I had to explain that this session wasn’t about her, it was about me and the pain I had been through. She said that when I was a child, she felt trapped, too. “I told your father not to go into your bedroom, but he still did. I just didn’t know what to do to stop him.”

My father first tried to excuse his actions by saying that in the culture of the time, “my daughters were my property and I could do anything I wanted to with them.” At least he admitted the abuse. My therapist said I should tell my parents what I wanted from them.

I wanted my father to tell my brother about the abuse and to acknowledge to my two sisters that what he did to us as children was abuse and to apologize to them. I was also very passionate about making sure that everyone agreed to never let my niece be left alone with my father, hopefully protecting her from any sexually abusive behavior. I know he told my brother, who wrote me a letter of support. As far as I know he apologized to my sisters. And we’re all involved in keeping my niece safe.

I think my dad is “getting it” about his inappropriate actions, and when he doesn’t I feel confident about talking to him directly. For example, at their 50th anniversary party, he asked me to slow dance with him. I looked him directly in the face and told him that this was not something I could do with him. He respected my decision. A few days later he called me to ask how I was doing and to apologize for his poor choices in that situation. That feels like progress. Now, if only he can learn to think about it before instead of after!

We’re not living an everybody-lives-happily-ever-after fairytale. It’s not easy. But I’ve done enough work on my own issues to let me claim my own life and find my own sense of peace. My family isn’t perfect by a long shot. But there’s hope.

I was allocated a support worker from a local sexual abuse charity. In November, I began to feel really “down” and my support worker got me a counsellor from a charity for children. I felt so low at this point that I didn’t want to live any more because I thought that life would be easier for Mum and that I was worthless. I think the realisation of what had happened to me had started to sink in. My mum went to the GP and I was seen by Camhs . That was when I was prescribed medication and I’ve been gradually getting better.

The last year has been extremely turbulent – an emotional rollercoaster. I am glad I was finally able to tell someone about the abuse, but feel guilty for what I feel I have put my mum through. She changed her job so she no longer worked with families in need as she couldn’t be objective any more. This meant less pay, which, along with no child maintenance, has made things difficult financially for the family.

My relationship with my brother was terrible in those two years. I despised him so much because he didn’t know what I was going through. I wished that it wasn’t me and that my dad had abused him instead, which turns out is a normal feeling to have in that situation. Things with him are slowly improving.

I started to act sexually online. I wanted boys to love my body. I sent pictures and sexted to some boys. I am told by my counsellor that it’s pretty normal to do this after being sexually abused as you are used to someone loving your body.

I feel really shocked that Dad could do what he did. He ruined my childhood and tarnished all the good memories I had with him. All I can think of now are the bad things he did to me. I have changed my surname because I don’t want to have any links with him.

The thought of going to court made me very nervous, but I was pleased the CPS had agreed to prosecute. At the last moment he pleaded guilty and was convicted of several counts of sexual abuse and sentenced to 12 years with a minimum of six to be served in prison. When I heard the news I was over the moon – I could go outside and be free! I never want to see him again. But the atmosphere in the house is strange. While Mum and I are happy that he was convicted, we are mindful that my brother is very upset.

My mum has been very supportive with all this, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. She has put up with my problems well, and I am so proud of her.

I’m now going into year 11, and hoping to go into media studies, as I would like to become a behind-the-scenes person doing things like sound editing, camera works and directing videos. I don’t want my past affecting my future. Carrying on with my life with my head held high is like giving the finger to my dad.

To young people going through what happened to me, please tell someone if you haven’t. It doesn’t matter whether you are a girl or boy, eight or 18, tell someone. It really does help and there are people out there who will listen to you and help you through it. You can get through this! Try to find local services that can help. Talk to friends, teachers, parents, ChildLine – anyone that makes you feel safe and you can trust.

I am not a victim of sexual abuse. I am a survivor. This is my story.

The mother’s story

How did I feel when told my daughter had been abused for more than two years by her dad, my ex? I think I may have laughed as it was so shocking, and momentarily I thought I was being filmed for some kind of reality programme. Then I felt physically sick.

But I was also thinking, what if she’s lying? Why would she lie? What will happen to her?

The guilt I felt at doubting her was awful and could have destroyed the solid relationship we had and which, thankfully, we still have. I took the risk of being thought a bad mum and voiced my disbelief to my Victim Support worker. The relief of not being judged and the realisation that it wasn’t that I didn’t believe her, but that I couldn’t believe it of him was immense. When he finally pleaded guilty, just before we were due to go to trial, it was like being told all over again, but this time there was no doubt and it felt even more devastating.

I felt so alone, unable to be open with friends and family, not because I didn’t want to talk about it, but doing so would have identified my daughter, which I couldn’t do. There was also a part of me that worried that if the local community found out, they might tar me with the same brush and this would impact on my work. I went through a stage when I worried it was my fault – had I been bossy and a ballbreaker when we had been together? Was it his way of getting back at me?

‘I felt so alone’ (posed by model). Photograph: Keith Morris/Alamy

Our sex life had been “normal”, without a hint of role play. Now I can’t imagine ever being physical with someone. Any feelings of desire are quickly extinguished because of the thoughts of him abusing my daughter. Sometimes I have dreams where he is my caring partner and I wake full of shame, and in others he is the man he truly is and I wake full of rage.

Strangely, even now I don’t hate him. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I will never forgive him, I never want to see him and if I was told he was dead it wouldn’t worry me. But I am not wasting any more time on him.

I felt foolish and guilty for not recognising that something was wrong, but to be honest even on reflection only one event sticks out and at the time I put it down to the terrible threats teenagers have to deal with in today’s technological age. What really galls me is that I phoned her dad (it was their weekend to visit) to stop her from exposing herself over Skype to some “boy” she had met online. I still feel anger that I trusted him to protect our daughter from this online predator and yet he was the one abusing her.

The impact of his actions on this family are immense. My daughter has depression and anxiety, is on prescribed medication and receiving counselling. My son is confused as to how someone he loved could have harmed his sister (he is unaware it was sexual but knows his dad hurt her). I’m on medication for depression, receiving counselling and unable to watch programmes or listen to music once shared with their dad. I feel our family past has been tainted and I am finding it difficult to remember experiences in a positive light; I would rather not remember them at all.

I wanted and needed to hold and comfort her, but was scared to touch her – would it bring back bad memories, would she feel threatened? In the end, I explained my worries to her and got a big hug in response. I’m worried her experience will impact on her future relationships. I have become aware of how quickly she develops physical relationships with boyfriends.

It is worrying that, despite knowing the NSPCC’s anti-abuse underwear rule, the “Stay safe on the internet” spiel, the “Don’t post any naked photos of yourself” talk and our strong, close relationship, she was still abused and unable to tell me. And I have child-protection knowledge and run protective behaviour sessions – how did I miss the signs?

My advice to mothers who find themselves in a similar position is to talk to someone. Be honest about your feelings, including the unpleasant “I must be a wicked person” thoughts. Keeping them inside will eat you up. These feelings are OK and normal. Be strong. We may not know each other, but I know you will survive because I did.

‘I Blamed My Mother For Not Protecting Me From My Abusive Father – Until I Realised This’

Sometimes it would be the stressed out, exhausted Dad who would go straight for grabbing the bottle of rum before he had even put his keys down on the bench, and sometimes it would be the playful, jokey father who would pull me in his arms and tickle me and make me laugh.

The Dad who would tickle me one afternoon and tell me lewd jokes would be the same Dad who would decide that he’d had enough of my childish antics or apparent back-talk, and smash a dinner plate onto the dinner table with his angry fists, sending shatters of it onto the floor and stunning my mother and I into submissive silence. I can still remember distinctly how the rum smelt on his breath, and the way his eyes looked as though they might burst out of his head. I remember the sound of his footsteps as he ran threateningly towards me as I ran away from him, desperate not to feel the burning of his hands onto my skin.

Sometimes I’d get to experience the father who would take me out into the bush, exploring the rainforest and have a BBQ lunch. But then later on that evening, that same father would fall asleep with a rum and coke in his hand in front of the TV, and wake up from my mother and I apparently having a disagreement and then decide to push my shoulders up against a wall, or push me onto a heater in rage, or perhaps throw a hair brush at my head. The abuse I endured at his hands was always calculated, always intentional and always designed to make me fear him. Because me fearing him was his ultimate control trump card, and to him it meant that he was winning.

There was always alcohol involved, and there was always a period of contrition that followed which built up to trust again and then once again it would spiral down, as it always did. And on and on it would go, predictable but never-ending. Because that’s how the cycle of abuse works.

Confronting ad campaign aimed at reducing domestic violence: O’Dwyer

Confronting ad campaign aimed at reducing domestic violence: O’Dwyer

So with all of that in mind, I have something to tell you.

Abusers don’t look how you’d expect them to

They don’t even have a look. Because they’re just ordinary people, in ordinary jobs, with ordinary looking families. They are charismatic, charming and they draw people into their web. They are also manipulative, calculating and clever.

For many years I was angry at my mother for never leaving him, for always finding a reason why they should work things out. I was angry at her allowing it to happen, for looking the other way, for making excuses. It took me until almost 10 years after the abuse stopped, 10 years after I finally got out of that house, before I realised that my mother too, was being abused. And she still is.

It was in the way she made excuses for him, because she was scared of copping his angry rants. It was in the way she apologised for him, because she had to convince herself that she hadn’t married a man who would do that to his child. It was in the way she was so used to being treated like an afterthought, it was in the way she never expected him to treat her with respect unless he wanted to get something from her. It was in the way she was resigned to being treated like his emotional punching bag – because she just didn’t feel strong enough to withstand his rage, and felt that enduring it was the easier alternative. She was scared, and she was alone.

People talk about women leaving their abusive partners in such a naive manner

As though it’s easy and straightforward. Women who don’t leave their abusive partners get condemned, ridiculed and shamed. Even though it sounds like a simple thing to do: to leave the man who is hurting you and your child, in reality – it isn’t. Standing up to someone who is a master at making you pay and punishing your independent, contrary thought – isn’t a simple task.

The abuse becomes your normal, and it seems impossible to see a life without it. After many years of enduring this kind of treatment you become a shell of who you used to be, and exist in a way that isn’t even really there anymore. You turn into a robot who runs on autopilot, numb and used. You almost feel as though you need permission to think your own thoughts or to behave the way you want. In a sick, twisted way you become so heavily reliant on the rhythmic, systemic abuse that when it isn’t happening you’re unsettled and confused. It breaks you, slowly, slowly, slowly. It feeds into every part of your identity until you feel almost lost without it.

Abusers don’t look how you’d expect them. Image: iStockSource:Whimn

I no longer blame my mother for the abuse I endured at the hands of my father

It took a long, long time, and a hell of a lot of therapy. I forgive her for deciding to stay married to him, and for trying in her own way to make things better for me – even if they didn’t work, and ultimately did more damage. Because in her mind, she was doing the best she could, with what options she felt like she had at the time. Taboo around violence, alcohol and emotional, verbal and physical abuse are still to this day as rampant as ever. We don’t yet live in a society where there is an easy way out for victims, and ultimately the children are the ones that pay for it long-term.

Years on, my heart breaks for my Mum as she never managed to find out what a healthy, respectful marriage looks like. She never got to even find herself again. I feel sorry that she never managed to be free of his grasp, or know her self, her worth, her strength and her capabilities without him.

I forgive her every day for being with him, because I know she’s been under his control for a long time now – but sadly for her and her circumstances, it’s too late now. But it isn’t too late for me. And I won’t go quietly, and neither will my own children. #metoo

In an emergency please call 000

If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24-hour Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue Support Service – 1300 22 46 36 or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (3pm-12am AEST) or email response.

What Wives of Men Who Sexually Abuse Kids Need to Understand

Other than murder, there aren’t many things (if any thing) more heinous than sexual abuse of children and underage youth. Yet, more and more, we hear of cases in which children have been molested, raped and sexually violated by adults they trusted. These ‘trusted’ persons may be teachers, coaches, priests, pastors, parents or close family members.

What does it do to a child’s psyche when they are sexually violated at an early age? How long does the damage last? Is there ever closure? What does it do to their future relationships and/or potential for happy families and sound family dynamics? What damage does repeat hashing of the violations continue to cause?

We know of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in which many priests were discovered to have had sexually molested and violated children. Even after being discovered, some priests weren’t dismissed or punished; they were simply transferred to another parish.

One of the most well-known cases of child sexual abuse was the Penn State Jerry Sandusky case, legally decided by a jury of his peers.

We are now upon the one year anniversary of the Jerry Sandusky trial (June 11-22, 2012), in which he was found guilty on 45 of 48 charges. The lead-up to the trial was painful and difficult to witness from afar, so one can only imagine what those victims–then boys, some now young men–had to endure not only in preparation for the trial, but during the 10 day legal proceeding.

With the verdict, many in the public (some who may never have experienced sexual abuse) felt “this is over; there is closure.” But not so fast.

Over the past year, the wife of the convicted former Penn State coach trashed the victims; she said they were “ungrateful” and called them “liars.”

One week ago a new report surfaced: The family of shamed Penn State coach Joe Paterno filed suit against the NCAA. The Paterno estate, coupled with some university trustees and former players, are fighting the sanctions placed upon the university, and the expunging of the late coach’s winning football record. They take issue with the independent review empanelled by Penn State, and led by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

With this development, once again the victims have to be reminded of the pain and violation they suffered. They also may feel that those who are a party to the case still refuse to accept, own and acknowledge what happened to them, and the pain they undoubtedly continue to feel. These “I don’t want to accept the decision and will fight against the evidence” actions only continue to keep raw the wounds that might have, only recently, slowly begun to heal.

While priests don’t have official wives (they are “married to the Church”), the Church needs to grasp that children were violated in the most precious parts of their being. Same with the wives of men who sexually abuse children.

Unfortunately abuse sometimes feels like love when it comes from someone who says “I love you” to a child who may not hear that from those who should love them properly as a parent, advisor, coach, pastor, teacher or family member.

But sexual abuse is not only an institutional problem of churches and college campuses; these violations happen all too often in everyday life, in every place neighborhoods.

Recently (May 31) on the Dr. Phil show, there was a segment in which a young woman had tremendous anger, and sobbed as she re-lived telling her mother that she “was being sexually abused by her stepfather.” The mother took the word of her husband instead of her daughter. To Dr. Phil, the mother first denied that the daughter ever said anything to her, but later said, “…maybe I just didn’t listen.”

In defense of the stepfather, a non-molested sister of the violated girl expressed anger and frustration, stating (to the victim), “Isn’t it funny that you remember everything and he doesn’t remember it?” Some people just don’t get it.

What wives of abusers, as well as others, need to get is the fact that the taking of a young person’s body damages that person, I dare say for life, though coping skills can be garnered and implemented, coupled with true love and support.

Sexual abuse of a child or underage youth causes tremendous damage to that person’s yet undeveloped mind and psychological processing. It greatly affects their relationships into adolescence and adulthood. Many have dysfunctional bonding or abandonment issues. They can be confused, not knowing who they can actually trust, and by whom they can and will be protected.

Victims can also develop an inconsistent self-image, not really knowing who they are, or what they are. And many blame themselves for being a part of something that they, on some level, know is not right.

Wives of men who sexually abuse kids need to understand:

1) Look beyond yourself. This isn’t about you (primarily). It’s about young people who had their youth stolen, their bodies violated, and their psyche advanced before its time.

2) The blinders need to be removed if the facts and evidence are insurmountable. Denial must end. At some point you must accept the truth, difficult though it may be.

3) If the wife knew what was happening (and many times they do, but choose to turn a blind eye and deaf ear), yes, there is some culpability there. Get help to face the problem, but don’t add insult to injury by casting aspersions on the victim.

4) At some point, there must be (to use a term usually associated with borderline personality disorder), ‘radical acceptance’ that ‘this’–the sexual abuse–happened, and it happened at the hands of your spouse. If any healing has begun, don’t keep tearing off the scab; the wound will never heal. Your pain pales in comparison to that of the victims.

5) If the case is tried in the courts, the slam-dunk evidence is in, and the verdict is rendered “guilty” by a jury of one’s peers, it is a must that you come to grips with the facts, even though they may be hard to face. Again, get counseling if needed.

6) If handled in a private manner (i.e., perhaps the victim was able to speak to the perpetrator directly), once the matter has been (satisfactorily?) concluded between the offender and the victim(s), the wife/wives should not prolong the matter by disparaging the victims’ names, especially since the victims kept their silence for so long, protecting the family’s name. Discrediting the victim is wrong.

In medical and psychiatric practices, or as examples presented in conferences, we may be presented with examples of sexual abuse. I share two scenarios. In one, the violator has never been addressed by her victim. In the other, the “talk” came about under duress:

Case #1: A young man–the baby of ‘more than nine’ children had an ever-traveling-for-work father, and a tired mother who delegated mothering duties of her youngest kids to her oldest in-home daughters. One of those daughters, when she was nineteen, began having sex with her then nine-year-old baby brother. The sexual abuse continued for three years until shortly after their mother died (when the victim was twelve). The sexual abuse was not his fault, but for sure, he is left to deal with the consequences. That young boy, now a grown man, has had a lifetime of fragmented relationships, immense private pain and major trust and abandonment issues. In fact, he developed Borderline Personality Disorder.

Case #2: A young teenage girl, with an absentee father, was ‘taken under the wing’ of her prominent pastor who positioned her to be near him at every hand. First the kiss; the “I love you’s,” and eventually the sex which continued off and on for years.

The victim held the secret for decades; her silence bought the bounty of the offender’s family.

When faced with so many reports of child sexual abuse in the news, the girl–now grown woman–sought out her violator: She “wasn’t angry”; she just needed to talk to him. In private. But no one would let her. He was being protected. Her requests to his friends (who knew of the illicit relationship) to contact him on her behalf, were dismissed with the words, “well you know old now.” Private letters asking to speak about what happened in days of yore were sent to the offender, only to be intercepted by the wife (who, reportedly, had contemporaneous high suspicion of the affair).

After counseling, the young woman contacted the wife and demanded to speak with the pastor-lover. The tell-all letter was complete with documentation of the ‘lovers’ travels. When the victim spoke with the violator, and also the wife, the wife told the victim, “well, you were a fool!” Some would contend that the young virginal teen was simply a 16 y.o. girl trying to learn about God when her 42 year old pastor, and the wife’s husband, began seducing her. Reportedly, it was the wife’s insensitive comments that angered the victim.

Instead of acknowledging the wrong done to the girl, the wife attacked the victim, called her names and even subsequently, proceeded to attempt to discredit the victim to others. (This may still be occurring; I don’t know.)

Sticking up for a spouse is mostly understood, but in the face of overwhelming evidence–in a courtroom, or in private discussions–should wives continue to defend their husbands when it is clear they engaged in mammoth wrongs against children?

One can only hope that, in the Penn State case and others about which we don’t know, that the wives will stop discrediting the very people who were violated by their husbands. These victims protected their husband’s and family name for decades, and only recently sought to speak out. They deserve some end to the public rehashing of such painful violations to their very person and soul. Victims also need to know that if they speak out, that they will not continue to be victimized by the offender’s family and friends.

Instead of trashing the victims and continuing to refuse to accept the facts of violation, acknowledgment of the violation, and the wives’ apologies would go a long way to aid the healing process.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page: http://bit.ly/11kBQhN Twitter: @DrMelodyMcCloud.

See the latest E-Book: First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers, and, in print and e-book: Living Well…: The Woman’s Guide to Health, Sex and Happiness.

US Dept of HHS Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs: https://www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/programs/types/sexualabuse.cfm

National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children: http://www.napsac.us/

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP): http://www.snapnetwork.org/

What do we owe abusive parents?

Every year over 500 children in the US are murdered by their parents.

In fact, that number is a low estimate. Other organizations say over 1,500 children died of abuse or neglect in 2012. 80% of murdered children are under the age of 7. Half were beaten to death. Murdering their own children is one of two crimes that women commit as frequently as men.

In the US, children who are too young to go to school are murdered by their parents more often than by anyone else.

Of course, most children who are abused or neglected survive. Nearly 1 in 3 children have been physically abused, while 1 in 5 have been sexually abused, and 1 in 10 suffer criminal neglect (CDC). Nearly 1 in 10 witness family violence (Safe Horizon). Half of the men who abuse their spouse also abuse their children. In cases when only one parent is abusive, the other parent will often permit the abuse or refuse to believe it. Half of homeless youth are running from abusive situations, many because of sexual abuse.

Children who experienced multiple instances of abuse have an average life expectancy that’s 20 years shorter than children who were not abused.

Some parents continue to abuse their children into adulthood, while others only abuse them when they are young or for a certain period of time. Other parents leave their children in the care of relatives and re-emerge years later. Or raise their children in loving homes, only to disown them for coming out as gay, trans, or marrying outside of their religion.

That leaves millions of adult children to grapple with the decision of whether or not they should provide support to their abusive or estranged parents when they become ill or elderly.

One study of 1,000 caregivers found that 19% had been abused as children and 9% had been neglected. Caregivers of abusive parents were more likely to experience signs of clinical depression.

Some people make peace with their abusive parents, but that doesn’t mean there will ever be a healthy relationship between them. As Laura B. pointed out, many of “the abusers don’t feel guilt… feel the world has cheated them and they are owed and no one has cheated them more than their own children.”

Providing care to an abusive parent could be a beautiful opportunity to build a new relationship…or it could mean putting yourself back into an abusive relationship. The potential psychological cost of attempting to care for an abuser is high. Those who decide to care for an abusive parent will need to be very aware of their boundaries and needs in order to make it through unscathed. Many abusive parents suffer from untreated mental illness and substance abuse — issues that make abuse easier to come to terms with, but suggest children should stay away until there has been adequate treatment.

Survivors who decide to distance themselves from their abusers may face judgement from relatives and friends, who often minimize the abuse or insist that family ties overcome all things — even with parents who’ve raped, beaten, and starved their children. This becomes especially complicated when only one child was abused. People fault women for staying with abusive husbands and condemn them for cutting ties with abusive parents. At least states with filial responsibility laws exempt children of parents who abused or abandoned them.

After reading The Debt: When terrible, abusive parents come crawling back, what do their grown children owe them? our community had a strong response. A number of people opened up about their relationship with their parents, the abuse they faced, and how they decided what level of care (if any) to provide.

We don’t owe them anything but forgiveness. – Rene L.

My father was a massive manipulator to keep his secret life of a pedophile away from my Mom during their 50 year marriage. I don’t believe my Mom knew but by the time all this was disclosed, she had Alzheimer’s & no longer knew me, their only child. Her last lucid comment was that she didn’t want to be in the same nursing home or buried with him. I could not have him around my children anymore. He should have been in prison but I found a facility about 90 miles away that accepted him. I went every two months, met with staff & spent 15 minutes with him. I made sure he had personal items. I would recover in a couple of weeks. I had his body donated to science, with the cremains never returned. Each situation is different. I did what I had to do for my comfort level, to honor both my Mom’s and my children’s wishes & maintain my sanity. Anyone, that has to care for their abuser, don’t allow others to guilt you into doing what is uncomfortable for you. I lost family & inheritance but the secret stopped with me & for me, that is priceless. – Lynne K-D.

Parents don’t get a free pass to treat you horribly just because they are your kin. If they refuse to respect boundaries and continually make your life miserable, I say, move on. At some point, your self preservation and your immediate family’s welfare has to matter to you. – Denise G.

It is not about being bitter and angry, but deciding to not be caught up in their drama and manipulation. My son would be the one to have to suffer the most if I had to take care of them. They take your soul and stomp to pieces any beautiful about you. Why would I expose my child to such people? That would be abusing my child by proxy. – Joanna B.

Mom’s been dead three and a half years. Haven’t missed her yet. Estranged for nine years, keeping my children away from her, I went back to care for her after her lung cancer diagnosis. Boundaries, written by Cloud and Townsend, was my life saver. She hated that I stood my ground. God knows my pain. I did the best I could with what I had to work with. – Dianne E.

I had a narcissistic father who was a big shot in the city when he worked, Only my mom and I knew how he really was. Outsiders who didn’t have to live with him thought he was the greatest guy on earth. I was an idiot, I promised I would never put him in a home. I took care of him to the bitter end. And believe me, the abuse was never ending. If I had to do it again I wouldn’t. All I have is the satisfaction of keeping my promise of taking care of both my Alzheimered parents in their own home. – Hawk B.

Both of my parents passed away with in the last 2 years I did not attend the funerals and I have not shed 1 tear… when you are not believed about being raped by your sibling for 6 yrs and they live with him there last days and left me out of the will you betcha there is no love lost here. – Brenda P.

My mom favors the others but that didn’t make me love her any less..we became close when she became ill..I love her because she is my mom. – Lotomai T.

Being related doesn’t give anyone the right to abuse you, walk on you, threaten you and then expect you to put up with more and play kissy. Forgive, yes. forget…no. – Lillian F.

I recently had to “cut off” my own abusive mother because it was just to hard and to much work for me. Why do so many people, including myself until recently, feel like it’s okay to let someone treat them bad simply because they are family. I’m 37 and have tried for the longest to have a good relationship with my other when it has finally come to a point where I cannot do it anymore, nor should I have to just because. – Tanya E.

I cut off contact my mother when I left home because I had to save myself. – Jan R.

I tried so hard to because I am a Christian. Even when my father said I was a mistake and that he hated me…I made sure his basic needs were met and that he was safe. I pray he asked forgiveness before he died. I had to set up a hedge of protection around my Mom, my children and myself from the evil person he was. – Lynne D.

When either of your parents abuse you mentally or physically from your early years they don’t deserve your care – Nancy M.

Just because your parents raised you doesn’t mean you have to give up your life to take care of them. You have you in life and if nobody else understands that God does. – Laura H.

I didn’t have the best parents but I did the right thing and also what the Bible said. I honored them for giving me life and forgave them for they did the best they could with what they knew at the time. That is what love is all about. Forgiveness is a soul cleanser. – Martha R.

You do for your parents out of love and concern for their well being. When situations arise that the become angry and verbally anusive then it I’d time, not matter what age to make the decision. It is your sanity that is at stake. You cannot allow them to belittle you. You must stand. We honor them. But when they do not honor you. Your life is just as important. You must honor yourself. You must allow them to have what they want. You do not have to agree. It is to much work doing you. Life is precious. Live it for you. – Julia W.

Some posts have been lightly edited for clarity. You can read the original posts here.

Want to share your experience? You can add your comment below.

For more information on child abuse:

Adult survivors continuing relationships with abusive family

Why people discount the (adult) child and defend the abuser

Why do parents murder their children?

When parents are too toxic to tolerate

Child Help: Child abuse statistics

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Child abuse & neglect statistics

When parents kill

Experts say some children are singled out for abuse

Struggling with an abusive aging parent

Why do people sexually use or abuse children?

Why do adults fail to protect children from sexual abuse or exploitation?

A risk in caring for abusive parents

The undeserving parent

Poisonous parents: Should you cut them off?

Licks

AT TWENTY-TWO, I figured myself to be a whole and complete person because I’d never had a penis in me. I’d had many in my mouth, but had decided that my mouth didn’t count as the inside of me. Mouths are for chewing food. Mouths are full of bacteria and smelly breath. Mouths are for kissing boys you don’t care about. Mouths are what you shape to say words you don’t mean.

A penis, though, theoretically, would break into me, would split me in two, so that it wasn’t just me alone with my fantasies anymore. I wouldn’t be able to think I am all me or feel that my body was all mine, from head to toe. A penis inside of me would force me to live in a new world that I wasn’t sure I was ready for.

I met Charles on AOL, back when complete strangers could pop up on your screen and start talking to you. Charles asked me out 20, 30 times before I said yes. We talked all night. After five weeks of being with Charles, I was sleeping in his bed three or four nights a week. When he told me he loved me, I said “OK,” and he didn’t pressure for penetrative sex. He loved, though, to yank off my underwear and push his head between my legs. I’d sit on his face. He ate me out constantly, even if I hadn’t showered, even if I had my period. Nights with him were full of orgasms. He made me come by rubbing me through my jeans.

One morning I woke up in his arms. The window was open and his bedroom was full of the cold October morning air. In New York City, fall starts in late August when something changes, some shift of molecules, and even though it is the hottest part of the year, it gets easier to breathe. Soon you will be wearing sweatshirts, the days will be shorter and the brisk sharpness of the air makes it easy to remember past Octobers when everything is more still, more quiet, more beautiful than usual. Strange colors are in the trees and smear the ground and you have to look as much as possible and take long walks by yourself with your eyes open to all this that will be gone soon. Something about the quick coolness of the air and summer ending and winter beginning and the trees making everything as beautiful as it will ever be makes you feel aware that you are alone in your skin in a way that is neither good nor bad. It’s easy to notice that you are lonely and it’s easy to remember all the times you’ve ever felt loneliness because of the temperature of the air, being that perfect conductor for memory.

I looked out his bedroom window at the trees beginning to change colors and I watched them rustle in the wind. He had his hands and mouth and tongue on me right away. He rolled over on top of me and his already hard cock pressed against me and he said in my ear after sucking on my neck, “I wish I could fuck you.”

I was sleepy and happy that I wasn’t alone and said, “OK.”

I stared out the window at the reddening trees as he pushed into me, and I could feel the cool air on my skin. I looked at his shoulder and thought it was too bony, with too many freckles, and that he was too small for me. Not big enough for me. The blood stained his sheets and went through to his mattress. He would have to look at it every time he changed his sheets. As long as he had that bed, it would be impossible to forget me.

On those nights he came to my apartment, it never took long to get from the door to naked in my bed.

And underneath or on top of him I liked to think: He is old, alcoholic. His penis is gray, and sticking into me. His blotchy skin is underneath my young hands. He is an old man pushing his dick into this young girl, this young wet girl pushing her hips up to him because she has to, he needs this little girl, he needs her. Underneath him I watched his back and his neck, his strained, bunched skin, and I was at the same time scared and turned on by the idea that he was an alien being, old and diseased, and that I was powerless against him.

He went after my body. He threw me down on the bed, kneeling up, taking off my sweatpants, throwing my underwear somewhere, pushing up my shirt, pushing down my bra, stuffing my tits in his mouth, sucking on the nipple, pulling it with his teeth, and me never being able to resist, and always mad at myself once he left.

I hated myself for being deadlocked on him, for believing him, for waiting on street corners with my phone in my hand, for the ways he made me drench my underwear, for accepting his excuses because I took what I could get from him, which was nights like this, the Rolling Stones’ Forty Licks on a loop, Charles finally in my arms in my new room, love so close, love this close. “I need you,” he said, while he was inside me, and I thought what an old man you are, “I fucking need you so much,” he said in my hair, and I came twice, once, then again.

We stopped after he came in me and I asked, “Why don’t you ever call me back?”

“I can’t resist you.” He looked so sad one second and unhinged the next. That crazy look meant he’d realized something too overwhelming and needed to annihilate the thought immediately. That is usually when he chugged a few shots of vodka. But this night, in this moment he just wanted more sex, and so did I.

I thought I shouldn’t be doing this and he was hard again, on top of me, pushing my legs over my head opening me up wide to him, and I shouldn’t be doing this and I’m just an easy target, what is wrong with me, and I came moments after he took me. He pulled my hair so my head was cocked to one side, both my feet in his other hand and I could see his body banging against me and I was Sara and Charles again because each thrust of his hips filled me up with us. When we were done and his cock had left my body, I was empty and all I wanted was for him to stay inside me forever and never leave.

Forty Licks played again. We lay side by side, sweaty with sex, the window fogged over, and I tried so hard to push away the thoughts to ask him to leave but I was too scared this would be the last time. So I put my head on his firm chest and my hand on his small tummy and tried to suck in the warm feeling of skin against skin. I knew this wouldn’t last much longer and I squeezed him and kissed his chest and his hands were in my hair, his tongue against the back of my ear, then the sound of his breath, “I missed you baby.” He kissed a line down my neck, breasts, stomach, thighs, his tongue on my clit and his tongue swirling inside me and my mind went black and I came once, twice, maybe three times, came in his mouth, shook and shivered in his mouth, open to him, white noise mind. His hands were rough on my thighs, keeping them apart, keeping my hands away, sucking the orgasms out of me, until he came on my bed. My heart beat all over my body. I could feel my pulse in my toes in my throat, in my fingers and in every other inch of me. He got up to get a towel to wipe off the sweat and ooze coming out of me and I lay there by myself, unaware of the bed, the room, him, anything but me. I didn’t understand myself or the hold he had over me. All I knew was that the orgasms obliterated everything.

Charles opened my refrigerator. “Do you have any beer?” His voice was too loud and cut through the calm.

It was my apartment, my kitchen, my refrigerator, my bookcases, my red bedroom, and he found the beer I didn’t want him to find and he didn’t think of the alcohol as mine because all alcohol is really his. He walked back into my bedroom with a bottle of something and expected me to follow, or maybe not.

He watched me walk in behind him, his eyes on my breasts, and pushed me to the bed. His hand was on the small of my back to keep me from turning over, his other hand was slow on my ass and he moved my body so I was on all fours, like an animal. I thought, you fuck up and do all the wrong things, Sara. He ran his hand down my spine and I felt like a cat. He pulled on each nipple and with his other hand slapped my ass irregularly and my face was in the pillows. I thought of all the times I saw him flirting with girls in bars and the time he never picked me up on Thanksgiving to meet his family, and never even called to say he wasn’t coming. The angle of his cock in me made me feel like he was in my stomach, in my chest, in my throat.

When he left me before Christmas, he had said, “I don’t know, you’re so young, you still live with your parents.” And I said, “But I’m moving out in January.” As if that would make a difference. Moving out helped to not think about him. It turned out I had enough things in my childhood bedroom to fill a one bedroom apartment.

The day before Christmas Eve I went to the Union Square Christmas market with my friend Iris to do some last minute shopping. Every stand, every song, everything my eyes landed on or my ears picked up reminded me of him. I thought I was going crazy. He had said, “Wait for me,” but he was still drunk all the time. Yet when he knocked on my door I, of course, let him in.

One night outside a bar after last call, I kissed a bricklayer with the most calloused hands I’d ever felt. He sang me Dolly Parton songs and twirled me down the street. I wanted lips that weren’t Charles’s and a different tongue but I wouldn’t go home with him. When the bricklayer called the next day, and like all the other guys from that time, I couldn’t pick up the phone, and I couldn’t call back.

I’d imagine Charles with other girls. While he slid in and out of me, I’d imagine that earlier his cock had been in another girl. “Call me a slut,” I’d tell him, and he would. He’d hold me down and say, “You want my cock, slut? Whore? Horny little girl?” And I’d pretend I was a cock-hungry whore, a girl controlled by this man, who could fuck me whenever he wanted, right after or right before he fucked other girls. But I was allowed only him. “I can fuck anyone I want. But you, you slut, can only fuck me.” I’d imagine him buying them jewelry and kissing them with lots of tongue. They were always much smaller– shorter than me, thinner than me, the kind of girl he could pick up and place on his cock. Charles’ hands on the little blonde’s small ass, and his hands caressing her tiny waist, and thoughts like this make me come two, three times.

Is the love real if the person wasn’t who you thought they were? Is love a very intricate construction of absolutely nothing? Once you fall in love with him, are you finished, are you screwed, are you in it and it’s just too late to get out?

He would say, “It’s just when I’m with you I feel alive.” And always, “No one understands me like you do.”

One autumn Saturday morning, weeks after he’d taken my virginity, his parents came to visit and took us out to breakfast. His mother looked at me across the table, just looked at me, like she knew that earlier in the week her son had gotten drunk after work and forgot to meet me for dinner, that I’d gone into a craze looking for him, that I’d felt so ashamed the next day. Like she felt sorry for me, but also that I should know better. After awhile she said, “Listen, you’re young, you have no idea how huge the decision to stick by a man is. Look at me. I’m stuck married to this scumbag. I wish my life had a VCR player. I wish I could rewind my life to when I was your age. I love my son but that doesn’t mean you have to.” I couldn’t say anything. I held my fork in my hand. They all went on talking like nothing ever happened.

My boss told me, “Go to an Al-Anon meeting.” There were meetings at the church around the corner. I went. I sat quietly. I listened. They were just like me. Crazed and angry pouring love into people who couldn’t love them back.

And my mother, all my life, because she married my father, “Never get involved with an alcoholic.” And Charles, “I’m starting to see the world the way you do. I walk home and I look at the flowers in peoples’ gardens. You called me the other day to tell me to look at the color of the sky. Look, this isn’t me. It’s annoying.”

And Charles, “I love the way your eyes look at the world.”

And Charles, “I need you to help me. You’re the girl. You’re the girl for me.”

And Charles’ neck, tilted back so far I can’t see his face, swallowing vodka like it’s nothing. It’s water.

And Charles’ fingers, grabbing my shirt, his head in my chest, “Don’t leave me.”

And Charles leaving me.

My Dad finally told me what happened that day

I went to visit my Dad not too long ago. We have a good relationship, we just don’t talk all that much. His health is starting to decline. He was a little wistful. We’re just each having a beer not saying much, when he says he has something he needs to tell me.

“You’re old enough you may as well know.”

I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I ask him.

“Remember that time I got home from work real upset and I wouldn’t tell you want happened?”

I did remember. It wasn’t something I would ever forget. He wasn’t just upset. He was scared of something. I’d never seen Dad scared in my life until then. He was the kinda guy whose bar fights are town legends. I also remember he told me to never ask him about it, so I never did.

What he told me disturbed me profoundly. I’ve been bothered by it ever since. I hope writing it out will help me deal. First, a little background.

First Incident

When I was really young, like four or five, my Dad and I lived in a cheap apartment building on the ground floor. I don’t remember much about it. I know I didn’t like it there. The kids weren’t nice to play with. They’d steal my toys. And it was just a grimy area. But we were having tough times and it’s what he could afford.

Probably what I remember most about the place was how I would get woken up from sleep every once in a while by flashing lights. I don’t remember being too worried about it at first. I just assumed there was lots of lightning in that area. I was five. I didn’t know jack about meteorology.

One night, my Dad had my uncle and his wife over for a crab leg dinner. I remember it distinctly because it was the first time I’d ever eaten crab. While they were talking, I just casually mentioned the lightning last night. Dad said, “There wasn’t no lightning last night.”

I thought he was just clowning around, so I laughed and told him how the flashing lights woke me up. He and my uncle got serious. That freaked me out. Because they were always silly when they got together. They asked me more questions about the lights, nothing I recall exactly. But they decided I was probably seeing headlights from cars driving by, shining on the curtains.

I guess I believed them. But after that, I’d always get nervous when the flashing lights would wake me up. Because I knew it wasn’t lightning anymore. A few times I called for Dad when it happened, but when he’d get to my room there was nothing to see. He started telling me it was all in my head.

We moved out of that apartment after a year or so when Dad’s handyman business picked up. The flashing stopped when we left. So I came to believe it was a combination of passing cars and my imagination. It wasn’t something I ever gave much thought to again until recently.

Second Incident

One time I was helping my dad out on a job. This was a bigger job, kinda rebuilding a whole house, so he had a few other guys working with us. Some of them I knew and some I’d never seen before. I was used to it. It’s what he always did on bigger jobs.

I was sitting off on my own eating my lunch and listening to my CD walkman. Dad generally didn’t eat lunch. He’d just get too into the work. So he was still busy on site. Suddenly I notice a guy walking toward me from the general direction of the site. I didn’t remember seeing this guy before. But he was making a bee-line straight for me. He was an oldish guy. His head was shaved. And he was wearing a Ramones t-shirt.

He sat down beside me—way too close—and didn’t say a word. I took of my headphones, because I didn’t want to be rude, and said, “Hi.” He told me my Dad was looking for me and I should get heading back as soon as I’d finished my sandwich. That was the plan anyway, but I said that was fine. To make things less awkward, I said I liked the Ramones. He didn’t seem to even know who they were.

After sitting with me for a few moments longer, while I ate my sandwich uncomfortably, he got up and started walking away. I was relieved. I started to put the headphones back on when he stopped suddenly. I don’t know why, but it freaked me out. I froze. He turned around and fixed me with the most hateful stare I’d ever seen. I didn’t know what it felt like to be hated until then. It was like he wanted me dead.

I remember thinking what I should do when he attacks me. But he didn’t attack. He just shouted, “Someone’s been sleeping in your bed and I don’t like it!”

He stalked off, leaving me puzzled and terrified. It was probably eighty-five degrees out, but I was shivering. I put the rest of my sandwich away and went back to work. I asked my Dad who that guy was a little later. He said he had no idea what I was talking about. I described the guy. Dad said nobody like that even worked on the site!

At the time, I figured it was just some weird drunk. But now it has a whole new meaning. Things I didn’t catch before stand out. Like, my sandwich was still in my box when that guy talked to me. How’d he know what I brought for lunch?

Dad’s Story

When I was fifteen, Dad was called out on a job some house way on the other side of the bay. In the town I grew up in, you have two sides. One side of the bay has all the beaches and the mall, the other side has downtown and lots of woods. The old apartment was on the beachy side. The house he was called to was a quarter of the way to the next town on the woodsy side.

So he shows up in his van with all his tools. The front yard is really overgrown. No vehicles in the driveway, except a rusting husk of what used to be a ‘70s model Chevy. The house is in pretty bad shape. But he went up to the front door. Before he could knock, he saw a note telling him to come right in and they’d be back soon.

He didn’t like going into someone’s home without them there, because he didn’t want to be accused of anything. But he’d driven far, so he went ahead. He got to work on repairing some wood rot around the window frames. He’d been there for nearly an hour when he thought he heard someone. He went to check. There was still no car in the driveway, except for his van.

“Hello?” he called.

He heard what sounded like a door slam. Dad was not the kind of guy to get nervous. He was a local legend for his bar fights. But he told me he was starting to get creeped out. And that just pissed him off. So he started stomping around the house. He saw the back door was wide open leading into the overgrown back yard. He wondered if it was just the wind moving the door. He closed it and was going back in to work, when he decided to just look the place over. Just in case.

He looks around downstairs. There’s nothing much to see. The house is in bad shape, but it’s furnished. The place is kept fairly clean and tidy. The electricity still works. Someone’s definitely living there, just not able to keep the place up.

He’s pretty much satisfied his concerns, but he goes upstairs to look around anyway. Upstairs is much the same as down. Clean and tidy, just in need of repairs. Something doesn’t feel right about the place to him. Dad’s never been much of an intuitive kind of guy, so those must be some bad vibes.

The last room at the end of the upstairs hall is closed. It’s the only door that was closed. It’s jammed in the frame somehow, but he gets it open. It’s just a bedroom. All painted yellow with yellow furniture. He spots some wood rot around the window frames upstairs, too. He was told there’d only be three windows to do and this one made four. But he checks it out. When he does, the sill just lifts right off and there are papers and things stuffed between the walls. He’s seen it all. It doesn’t surprise him.

He pulls the papers out because he plans to go ahead and do this window, too, ‘cause he’s like that. He wouldn’t ask for more money. He just wanted the whole job done.

When he pulls the papers out, he sees it’s mostly photographs. Dad’s big on privacy. He just happened to see the photographs and he knew he was looking at something bad. He started flipping through them. They were all pretty much the same. The back of each picture is dated. But every one of them was a picture of a little boy sleeping. Dad recognized me and that ground floor bedroom right away. He remembered my stories about the flashing lights. It hadn’t been in my head at all. Someone had been taking pictures of me sleep for almost a year.

He told me there weren’t any pictures of other boys either. Whoever took the photos was only taking pictures of me.

He called the police, of course. The listed owner for the house was an elderly couple living in Vancouver. They used to summer in the home, but just hadn’t gotten around to it in years. They didn’t even notice they were still paying the electric bill. They had no idea about the pictures or hiring my dad. It was a dead end. I had so many questions after he told me this. For one, why would someone who was so far away from our apartment drive a 30-minute drive at night to take pictures of just me? How’d they even know me? How’d they fixate on that one apartment or kid? And why call my dad out to find the stash of pictures after a decade of leaving us alone?

Dad actually had an answer for one of those questions. In a way, I find this creepier. Turns out he went out to the wrong address. He wrote it down wrong. When police checked his answering machine tape for clues, he was actually called to a much closer home by a completely innocent guy. He stumbled on this house and stash of pictures completely by a random misunderstanding. So who left the note on the front door?

Read Part 2 Here

My father’s bed

My first lover was my father.

It’s ugly and, even now, more than 25 years later, difficult for me to say. With my father, in his bed, I first experienced the bump and grind of sexual relations. It was his genitals I first explored; he was the first to touch my body sexually, and those hands have left an indelible imprint. I have no memories that predate his abuse — his rubbing and touching, his forcing me to touch him.

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I was 4; it was 1972. At night, while my mother worked, he took me into their bed and made me believe he was doing me a favor, giving me a special privilege. It took me a long, long time to really believe there wasn’t anything special about it, that it was all just sick. For many years I held onto the notion that in some way, his attention and his obsession with me made me special.

In bed he would watch TV, snapping the edge of the sheet between his fingers and the mattress while I pretended to fall asleep. Knowing what was ahead, of course I could not sleep. After a while, the snapping of the sheet stopped and I knew it was time. He would grope me, run his giant hands under my nightgown and into my flowered panties — the kind that little girls wear, with yellow and pink daisies on them — and he’d talk to me. He was always talking to me, whispering things, telling me he loved me. He’d tell me how nice I made Daddy feel. He never penetrated me with his penis, but his fingers would routinely enter my tiny vagina. It was terrifying. At times I fought with him, begging him not to touch me, and he responded by scaring me further, pressing his hands too firmly against my neck, ordering me to be quiet, to behave. He spoke in the harshest voice I knew from him, as if I had started screaming in church. Sometimes he would leave me alone in the closet until I begged to come out, but when he let me out it was more of the same. I learned to be quiet. I learned to “behave.”

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Other times, the routine was different. He would work up to things slowly. We’d be wrestling, rough-housing playfully, maybe in the living room, and he would casually, repeatedly touch my vagina through my clothes. Later in bed he would hold me close and we’d laugh. He’d ask, “Who’s my No. 1 girl?” And he would touch me under my nightgown, and I would like it.

I could hardly wait for him to reach into my panties and give me that tingling feeling. I didn’t know then that I was having orgasms; it would be years before I learned that word, and even longer before I admitted to myself that what I experienced was orgasm. But sometimes the incest felt good — that special feeling, all that attention and love and affection from my nice daddy. And he was, in my young mind, my nice daddy; he hugged me and put Band-Aids on my skinned knees and sang Sinatra songs to me.

Eventually my parents separated, meaning I spent two nights a week at my father’s house. Those nights, I stayed in his bed with him, all night long. Somehow, the lie he’d told my mother to explain why I was often in their bed when she came home from work — that I was too scared to sleep alone — became truth. I don’t know if I was truly scared or if I simply came to believe I was, but I rarely spent a night in bed by myself until I was 13 years old.

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Even at home with my mother, I would crawl into her bed to sleep at night. Meanwhile, at Dad’s house, the abuse continued. I’d go to sleep, genuinely fall asleep, and he’d get in bed. I’d wake up and feel his warm skin, his erection against my bottom, his breathing in my ear, the slight scent of Budweiser on his breath. One afternoon, there was a spanking after a sexual encounter and the link between sex and shame became permanent in my brain. I believed that I had let the sex happen, and that it was my fault; I believed that I was the bad one.

The abuse was the center of my universe. I created an imaginary friend, Charlotte, who was the only one I confided in. I had conversations with Charlotte in my head all the time about the ways my father touched me. We would devise elaborate strategies, some plotting to get rid of my dad so he’d stop doing it and others scheming to get rid of his girlfriend so he would never stop thinking I was special.

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I acted out my distress in myriad ways. My kindergarten teacher caught me gritting my teeth as I pretended to strangle an imaginary attacker. She notified my mother, who questioned me. I told my mother that I was cold — that I was shaking because I was cold. Her solution was for me to carry a little white sweater to school with me every day. Once when a friend and I were playing at my house, I stuck my fingers in my vagina and asked her to sniff them. In my neighborhood, a small group of us kids used to expose our genitals to each other, but only I let one of the boys try to put his penis in me. Once I made my best friend, Jane, pull down her pants and lie across my lap as I pretended to spank her. I told her she was a bad girl. It was what had been done to me.

Shortly after I started spending nights at my dad’s house, two girls in my neighborhood disappeared. One was 11, one was 9. It was traumatic; their disappearance spooked me horribly. There was whispering, never substantiated in any way, that maybe their father had been “messing around” with them and they ran away from home, or that he killed them to protect himself; this theory stuck with me. The day they ran the dogs in the woods across the street, the day they dragged the pond searching for their bodies, those are two of the most vivid and horrific memories of my youth. I worried for my life, that I would disappear or that I would be killed. I started writing my will. I was 6.

One of the other theories surrounding the girls’ disappearance was that they had been sold into “white slavery.” While I didn’t know what this was, I intuitively knew it involved sex. Adults did not so much as pause before discussing the kidnapping of the girls and the possibility that they had been murdered, but their hushed tones and grim faces when “white slavery” was mentioned made me know it was about sex. And I could tell that it was something bad, shameful, and not to be talked about. Yet it was something being done to me all the time.

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My whole life, I have been haunted by an intersection between shame and pleasure. As a young child, I was hurt again and again and led to believe that it was my fault, and that if only I weren’t bad, my dad wouldn’t do those things to me. But at the same time, I thought I was special because it was happening. I’d tell myself, “Look how much my daddy loves me,” but still I knew it was bad and that I should be ashamed. And sometimes I liked the way it felt, but a lot of times I was scared. And I knew that if I told anyone, he would hurt me.

Eventually, my father remarried and the whole thing came to a halt. My “friend” Charlotte disappeared and I experienced a strange combination of relief and grief. Despite how horrible it was, I lost something when my father stopped being sexual with me. I felt like I lost his attention, his affection and his adoration. Those feelings, wrapped up so tightly in those interactions with him, had become my world, and suddenly that stopped. It traumatized me in all new ways.

The abuse stopped when I was 9, and I became a voracious masturbator. I longed to relive the sensation that had grabbed me between the legs and had felt so good. I would lie on my stomach and rub around the outside of my vagina until I came. Sometimes I used the stream of water from the bathtub spigot. My father once walked in on me taking a bath and masturbating in that way, and he didn’t say a word about it.

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When I was 12, my girlfriends and I sneaked in to see “An Officer and a Gentleman,” a movie that explicitly depicts Debra Winger and Richard Gere having sex. It was the first sexual encounter I had ever seen outside of my father’s bed, and it was tremendously erotic for me.

Soon after that, I developed an after-school routine that involved putting on my mother’s fanciest dress, shoving her diaphragm into my 12-year-old vagina and masturbating until I came, pretending that it was Richard Gere rubbing my genitals. Or I’d imagine that it was an older boy, Jack, who was a friend of my family. (Jack owns a car dealership; last year I bought a car from him, and he had no idea that it is painful for me to see him. He has no idea that he helped give me a sexual fix that I needed to hold my fragile sense of self together. He has no idea how difficult it is to be reminded of the desperate, sexualized child I was.)

I was desperate, and needy. I rarely saw my dad, and when I did he was cold and dispassionate. He didn’t treat me the same way, and I wasn’t his No. 1 girl. I no longer held his attention, and I was no longer his obsession. I felt that I’d lost his love.

Around the same time, I initiated a phone sex relationship with Mr. Bernard, the neighborhood “perv.” He lived alone; he was normal looking, maybe 60 years old. I don’t know how we kids knew he was a “perv” — it was just common knowledge, information passed along, as many things were, by the older, wiser sisters of my peers. My friend Kathy’s parents used to tell us, “Oh, leave him alone, he’s just an old alcoholic man.” But the wisdom of the sisters reigned supreme. At slumber parties, we would crank call him and scream “You’re a perv!” into the phone. “We know what you do to little girls,” we’d taunt, and then hang up.

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It was a habit I kept for a long time after those days — I’d make myself come but not in the presence of others. It was like a vestige of Daddy; for a long, long time, only Daddy would make me come. Chris gave me a lot: He replaced my father as the man who kept me front and center in his gaze, something I so desperately needed. But here’s the catch, something I didn’t think about until recently. How did the girls know? How had this rumor managed to get passed down? Who else played with Mr. Bernard?

My relationship with Mr. Bernard tortured me and added to my feeling of shame. It enabled me to tell myself that I really was bad at my core because only bad girls would be doing what I was doing. I didn’t have to do it; I initiated every contact. It made me feel awful, but, like the sexual contact with my father, it made me feel wonderful, too.

My mom and I moved when I turned 13, into a new house where my father had never touched me and would never have the chance. I began sleeping in my own bed immediately, and I gave up my relationship with Mr. Bernard shortly thereafter.

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I didn’t need him anymore. I had developed something of a relationship with a real boy, Jeff, a kid in the new neighborhood. Jeff would beg me to let him kiss and touch me, and I would tell him no. That expression of my power made me feel great. Here someone was sexually focused on me, which made me feel alive. But at the same time, I was able to prove to myself that I wasn’t an awful person because I didn’t let him do things to me. As an added bonus, I had the opportunity to reject unwanted sexual advances, something I was never able to do with Dad.

Some of the hardest times in life never completely end, and this was just the beginning of a long process — unhealthy, complicated and, of course, unsuccessful by definition — of using men to give me what Daddy had given me when I was so young and impressionable.

Recently I read that national radio host Tom Leykis urged his male listeners to “hit on” female victims of incest and sexual abuse: “If you think that a woman’s more likely to put out, or more likely to be good in bed because she has a history of abuse, is it wrong to try to find that out and then go for the gold?” At first I cringed in anger that the comment had been made, but then I cringed in shame, knowing that in some ways the comment described me. I had been promiscuous. I had gone out of my way to make sure that my lovers thought I was a talented sexual partner.

During my adolescence and all through my 20s I accommodated men sexually as a way of getting attention, as a way to feed my emotional needs: “He loves to have sex with me, that must mean I’m special.” It was all-important to me that I be the object of someone’s, often several someones’, sexual attention. It made me feel whole, complete, energized.

But the sex itself wasn’t necessarily enjoyable for me. I wanted the sex, no doubt, but I also used it to keep feeling ashamed. I was casual and cavalier about having sex, refused to take it seriously — and as a result ended up feeling awful about some of the sexual choices I made.

I was eager to replicate both the good and the bad feelings that had come from the abuse, without even realizing it. It would take me a long time and a lot of unraveling the lessons of my childhood to see sex as something I could enjoy, choose, participate in joyfully. To want it, not need it. To learn that sex didn’t have to feel bad to be good. Even now I am careful to think through my sexual motives and actions to make sure that what I’m trying to “get” from sex isn’t shame, isn’t obsession. Though the abuse itself ended long ago, the impact is everlasting.

Some lovers you just never forget.

Why Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Don’t Disclose

Source: 123rf

As the recent HBO documentary Leaving Neverland so powerfully demonstrated, many adults have yet to tell anyone that they were sexually abused as a child—not their partners, not their friends, not their family members, not even their therapists. Many of us are familiar with the reasons why children do not come forward to report child sexual abuse, but many don’t understand why adults continue to carry this secret, sometimes to their graves. I have been counseling adult victims of child sexual abuse for the past 35 years. In this article, I’ll discuss many of the reasons why some adults continue to keep silent when it comes to being a victim of child sexual abuse.

Confusion

Many former victims of child sexual abuse are confused as to whether they were, in fact, sexually abused. This can be due to a lack of understanding as to what constitutes sexual abuse, because many people are misinformed as to what child sexual abuse actually is. For example, many people think of childhood sexual abuse as an adult having intercourse with a child—penetration of a penis inside a vagina or in the case of male on male sexual abuse, a male penetrating the child’s anus. But most childhood sexual abuse does not involve intercourse. Also, many people think of childhood sexual abuse as being an adult molesting a child. But childhood sexual abuse also includes an older child molesting a younger child. Child sexual abuse includes any contact between an adult and a child or an older child and a younger child for the purposes of sexual stimulation that results in sexual gratification for the older person. This can range from non-touching offenses, such as exhibitionism and showing child pornography, to fondling and oral sex, to penetration and child prostitution.

As the young men in Leaving Neverland explained, they did not realize that they had been sexually abused until they were in their thirties. Instead, they considered what allegedly occurred between themselves and Michael Jackson as a love affair in which they consented to all the activities that occurred. This kind of thinking is common for former victims of child sexual abuse. It wasn’t until one of the young men had a child of his own that he came to realize what had happened to him. When he thought of someone doing to his son what had been done to him, it suddenly dawned on him that he had been abused. “I’d kill anyone who did that to my son. Why didn’t I feel anything when I thought about what Michael did to me?” the young man shared. This lack of awareness and the inability to connect with and have empathy for themselves as a child is not uncommon in former victims of child sexual abuse.

Another issue that may add to the confusion is the issue of receiving pleasure. Although there is often physical pain involved with child sexual abuse, that isn’t always the case. For some victims, there is no physical pain at all. And victims have often reported experiencing some physical pleasure, even with the most violent and sadistic types of sexual abuse. This confuses victims, causing them to believe that perhaps they gave consent or may have even instigated the sexual involvement. The reasoning goes like this, “If my body responded (through a pleasurable sensation, an orgasm, an erection) it must mean that I wanted it.”

It is very important to understand that experiencing physical pleasure does not signify consent. Our bodies are created to respond to physical touch, no matter who is doing the touching. And many victims of abuse were so deprived of affection that they spontaneously accept and respond to any physical attention, no matter what its source.

Another reason why many question whether they were really abused is that they may not have a clear memory of what happened. They may have only vague memories or no memories at all, just a strong suspicion based on their feelings and perhaps their symptoms. It’s difficult to believe your feelings when you have no or very few actual memories. Some people will even doubt the memories they do have, fearing that “I’m just imagining” or “I’m making this up.”

One reason why someone may have no memories or vague memories is the common practice of victims to dissociate. Dissociation is a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, and actions, and sense of who he or she is. This is a normal phenomenon that everyone has experienced. Examples of mild, normal dissociation include daydreaming, “highway hypnosis,” or getting lost in a book or movie, all of which involve losing touch with an awareness of one’s immediate surroundings.

During traumatic experiences such as crime, victimization, abuse, accidents, and other disasters, dissociation can help a person tolerate something that might otherwise be too difficult to bear. In situations like these, the person may dissociate the memory from the place, circumstances, and feelings caused by the overwhelming event, mentally escaping from the fear, pain, and horror of the event.

When faced with an overwhelming situation from which there is no physical escape, a child may learn to “go away” in her head. Children typically use this ability as a defense against physical and emotional pain or fear of that pain. For example, when a child is being sexually abused, in order to protect herself from the repeated invasion of her deepest inner self she may turn off the connection between her mind and her body creating the sensation of “leaving one’s body.” This common defense mechanism helps the victim to survive the assault by numbing herself or otherwise separating herself from the trauma occurring to the body. In this way, although the child’s body is being violated, the child does not have to actually “feel” what is happening to her. Many victims have described this situation as “being up on the ceiling, looking down on my own body” as the abuse occurred. It is as though the abuse is not happening to them as a person but just to their body.

While dissociation helps the victim to survive the violation, it can make it difficult to later remember the details of the experience. This can create problems when it comes to a victim coming to terms with whether or not they were actually abused. If you were not in your body when the abuse occurred, it will naturally affect your memory. You won’t “remember” the physical sensations of what the abuser did to your body or what you were made to do to the abuser’s body. This can cause you to doubt your memory and add to the tendency to deny what occurred.

Sometimes the reason victims don’t have clear memories of the abuse is that they were drugged or plied with alcohol by the abuser. It’s rather common for perpetrators to sedate their victims with alcohol or drugs as a way of gaining control over them and of ensuring that they will not tell anyone about the abuse. Victims who were sedated often describe their memories as “fuzzy” or have only short “snapshots” of memories that they may have a difficult time making sense of.

Denial

Some victims of child sexual abuse deny that they were abused, others deny that it caused them any harm, while still others deny that they need help. There are many reasons for denial. One of the most significant is that victims don’t want to face the pain, fear, and shame that comes with admitting that they were sexually abused.

Like dissociation, denial is a defense mechanism designed to prevent us from facing things that are too painful to face at the time. It can even allow us to block out or “forget” intense pain caused by emotional or physical trauma such as childhood sexual abuse. But denial can also prevent us from facing the truth and can continue way past the time when it served a positive function. This is what my former client Natasha shared with me: “I knew for a long time before admitting it in here that I was abused by my grandfather. But I just couldn’t face it. It was just too painful to admit to myself that someone I loved so much and someone who had been so kind to me could also do such vile things to me. And so I pretended it never happened.”

Another reason some people deny that they were sexually abused is that it forces them to admit that they became abusive themselves as a consequence of having been abused. If a former victim went on to abuse other children he may have an investment in believing that children are never really “forced or manipulated” into sex with an adult or older child. He may convince himself that children do so willingly and that they get pleasure from the abuse. This kind of denial often keeps former victims from admitting that they themselves were abused.

Fear

There are many legitimate reasons that former victims are afraid to tell someone they were sexually abused, even as adults. These include:

  1. Their perpetrator threatened them. It is common for child molesters to threaten to kill their victims if they tell or to kill family members or pets. Even though being afraid of their perpetrator after becoming an adult may not make any logical sense, it is very common for former victims to continue to fear their abuser.
  2. They are afraid they will not be believed. This fear is especially potent when a former victim has had the experience of not being believed in the past. And often, the belief that they will not be believed often comes from the perpetrator telling them things like, “No one will believe you if you do tell.”
  3. They are afraid of the consequences once the secret is out. such as family disruption or violence. Some former victims fear that if they tell a family member about being abused, that person will become enraged and perhaps become violent toward the perpetrator.

Shame

Any time someone is victimized, he or she will feel shame because they feel helpless and this feeling of helplessness causes the victim to feel humiliated. There is also the shame that comes when a child’s body is invaded in such an intimate way by an adult. Add to this the shame associated with being involved with something that the child knows is taboo. Sometimes a child also feels shame when her body “betrays” her by responding to the touch of the perpetrator.

This overwhelming feeling of shame often causes a former victim to feel compelled to keep the secret of the abuse because he or she feels so bad, dirty, damaged, or corrupted. The feeling of shame can be one of the most powerful deterrents to a victim disclosing having been abused. This is what one former client shared with me about her shame about being abused: “I didn’t tell anyone when my drama teacher started abusing me because I felt so humiliated that I didn’t want anyone else to know about it. I felt disgusting, the lowest of the low. I guess most of all I felt so much shame about the things he did to me and made me do to him that I didn’t feel I deserved to be helped.”

Self-Blame

Self-blame is another major reason why victims keep their secret. Victims tend to blame themselves for the abuse they suffered, especially when it is a parent who sexually abused them. Children want to feel loved and accepted by their parents and because of this, they will make up all kinds of excuses for a parent’s behavior, even if that behavior is abusive. Most often children blame themselves for “causing” their parent to abuse them. Why? Because children naturally tend to be egocentric—that is, they assume that they themselves are the cause of everything. Needing to protect their attachment to their parents magnifies this tendency.

Perpetrators take advantage of a child’s tendency to blame themselves by telling the child it was their fault. They shouldn’t have sat in his lap the way they did. They shouldn’t have looked at him the way they did. They shouldn’t have dressed the way they did.

We as humans have a need to maintain a sense of control over our lives, even when we have lost control, as in the case of child sexual abuse. As a way of maintaining a false sense of control, many victims will blame themselves for their abuse. This occurs both in children at the time of their abuse as well as with adults who are still struggling with admitting they were abused in childhood. The unconscious reasoning goes like this: “If I continue to believe it was my own fault, that I brought this on myself, I can still be in control. I don’t have to face the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness that comes with being victimized. I can maintain my sense of dignity and avoid feeling humiliated.”

Sometimes victims blame themselves for the abuse because they hold the perpetrator in such high esteem. They couldn’t imagine that this respected person would do such a thing to them unless they had somehow encouraged it in some way. This was the situation with my former client Gabriel. Coming from a devout Catholic family, Gabriel became an altar boy when he was 9 years old. Like the rest of the parishioners, Gabriel adored the priest. That is why it was particularly shocking to Gabriel when one day the priest asked him to stay after mass and then sexually molested him.

Gabriel could not comprehend what the priest had done. He knew that what had happened was a sin and that priests were not supposed to be sexual. So in order to make sense of what had happened, he simply blamed himself. Somehow, he decided, he must have seduced the priest. He even believed that since he had begun to masturbate a few months earlier, the priest must have known about this and was punishing him or teaching him a lesson.

Finally, another reason victims tend to blame themselves is our culture’s tendency to blame the victim. “Victim” has become a dirty word in our culture, where victims are often blamed and even shamed. There are even spiritual beliefs that hold that if something bad happens to you it is because of your own negative thoughts or attitudes. Cultural influences like this serve to blame victims rather than encourage a self-compassionate acknowledgment of suffering. Former victims of sexual abuse as members of this culture accept this view, often without question.

A Need to Protect the Perpetrator

As evidenced by the behavior and thinking of the two young men in the Leaving Neverland documentary, some former victims still care about the perpetrator and want to protect him or her. In addition, as part of the grooming process, perpetrators work to separate the child or adolescent from their parents and their peers, typically fostering in the child a sense that he or she is special to the offender and giving a kind of attention or love to the child that he or she needs. Sometimes, the initial relationship of trust between a child and an adult or older child transforms so gradually into one of sexual exploitation that the child barely notices it. Between the time when the attention a child is receiving seems to be something positive in the child’s life and the moment when the sexual abuse begins, something significant has occurred. But the child may not be sure what it was and often remains confused about the person who has been significant to him but has now begun to abuse him. They can be plagued with questions such as: “Does he really love me?” and “Could I have caused these things to happen?”

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For many former victims, it is only after months or even years of therapy before they develop enough trust in someone to tell their secret. Unfortunately, for various reasons, many former victims never make it to a therapist, even as adults.

If you are one of the many people who continue to carry the secret of childhood sexual abuse, it is vital that you break your silence. Even though it is difficult to reach the point where you can finally tell someone, this dark secret can make you sick, emotionally, psychologically, even physically. It can eat at you from inside, draining you of vital energy and good health.

The secret of child sexual abuse is especially shaming. It can make you feel like there is something seriously wrong with you; that you are inferior or worthless. You want to hide for fear of your secret being exposed. You don’t want to look other people in the eye for fear that they will discover who you really are and what you have done. You don’t want people to get too close for fear of them finding out your dark secret. And to make matters worse, carrying around this secret isolates you from other people. It makes you feel different from others. It makes you feel alone.

There is already a tremendous amount of darkness connected to child sexual abuse: the clandestine, sinister way it is accomplished, the manipulation and dishonesty surrounding it, the lies and deception used to keep it a secret, the darkness and pain surrounding the violation of a child’s most intimate parts of his or her body, and the violation of the child’s integrity. Keeping the abuse a secret adds darkness to an already dark and sinister act.

When you don’t share the secret of child sexual abuse, you don’t have the opportunity to receive the support, understanding, and healing that you so need and deserve. You continue to feel alone and to blame yourself. You continue to be overwhelmed with fear and shame.

I urge anyone who is still struggling because they can’t tell anyone about their victimization to seek counseling. You can also call RAINN at (800) 656-4673 to talk to a counselor.

Photo: Gluekit

I was a normal 12-year-old girl growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, walking with my friends to and from middle school and taking to the pool each summer for swim team. My biggest problems were trying to sneak episodes of Dawson’s Creek — a show my parents thought was too mature.

Until a sunny spring afternoon, I was a normal 12-year-old girl, until I looked in an old address book in our home office. Until I found the name of a doctor I didn’t recognize, with my name written beside it. Until I found out that this normal 12-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted when she was 2 years old. When I was 2 years old.

I’m nosy, I always have been. It’s why I grew up to be a journalist. So, at 12, I asked my mother who this doctor was and why I had seen him. I didn’t think it would be a big conversation; I was en route to a friend’s house down the street and wasn’t really in the mood to be waylaid.

She calmly called my dad into the living room and sat down on the faded floral couch and told me that something had happened to me that I didn’t remember. I don’t remember too much that they actually said, but I can remember the sun being really bright against the shiny wooden floor and getting distracted by it.

They started to explain they had never meant to keep it from me; it wasn’t a deep, dark family secret or anything to be embarrassed about. I had just never brought it up, and my parents didn’t know the right time to tell their thriving daughter she had been molested and had no idea it happened.

Apparently I had been afraid of my father and my three uncles; I didn’t want to be around adult men. I don’t know exactly how I told them what happened, but somehow they found out. I spent the next year going to child psychiatrists and therapists and taking part in the trial.

In the span of five minutes, my life changed. Or, more accurately, I found out that my life had been irrevocably changed a decade before.

But if a life doesn’t know it was meant to change, does it matter?

I was an extremely precocious 2-and-a half-year-old that talked like a champ. He was the teenage babysitter that our family friends trusted and my parents used for one rare night out.

The details of the incident don’t really matter. Frankly, I don’t even want to know. No one wants to hear the graphic details of child sexual abuse, myself included.

What I couldn’t wrap my head around, and very much still can’t, is that it happened to this body. The body that recently stood to accept an international award. The body that moved overseas as soon as I graduated. The body that has only slept with a few men (definitely still countable on two hands).

My parents didn’t want it to define me. To be the victim. To put me at a disadvantage. I was headstrong and confident; I would not let one night with a horrible person define who I was. I wasn’t going to be damaged.

Yet, that was how I felt immediately after they told me and still sometimes how I feel.

After it happened, the child psychiatrist told my parents I was likely able to process the event as much as possible and then block it from my memory. A toddler doesn’t have the capacity to understand implications of what happened or why. No one really does.

At the time, my parents did everything they could once they discovered why their usually vivacious toddler was withdrawn and afraid to be touched. They found the best child psychiatrists in the area.

I talked to the police, and my comments were used as part of the teenage boy’s trial. Because he was underage, he got community service and his record expunged at 18. And apparently then I expunged them from my blond little head.

I still don’t remember anything. But I think about it often, sometimes I think too often. It’s odd to spend so much time over the last fifteen years thinking about something that I know so little about.

Is there something deep inside me that knows? That has to prove that I don’t need anyone to succeed and I have to do everything for myself? I have a dogmatic view of right and wrong, sometimes to my own detriment. Something had to be made right, even if I didn’t know what.

I am very picky about men, I tend to be standoffish, and it takes awhile to warm up. Is that my subconscious trying to warn me? Telling me to be safe and guard myself? Or is it just a product of being a woman today, brought up with stranger danger and a startlingly lack of selection of quality men.

I’ll never know if what happened to me causes these quirks, but the not knowing is okay. I don’t think that many people are completely comfortable in their own skin, and that is what makes each person interesting, discovering what makes them tick and how they change and grow. These are things that I think I will need to overcome no matter what happened when I was 2.

It isn’t something that I dwell on; weeks will go by without thinking about it, and then sometimes I can’t get it out of my head.

I’m still in therapy now. This isn’t the only reason, but it comes up from time to time. Sometimes even as something I think I use as an excuse for any kind of relationship issues. Right now, I’m in the process of trying to find out more information about what actually happened. I’m not sure if having another talk with my parents is something I can handle. I don’t know if I can take watching them go through it all again.

I’m sure it will continue to come up in the future. What about when I want to tell someone I am dating about it? Or when I have to leave my hypothetical child with a babysitter for the first time?

I’m not overly concerned. I’m the person I am now regardless.

I don’t think that scumbag defined me. I think he helped shape me into what I am today. The brave girl that told her parents where the man touched her is the woman I am today, whether I like it or not.

As far as the babysitter goes, I have no idea where he is. The state stopped tracking him once he turned 18, and I don’t have access to the court files because they are sealed. But I don’t think I want to know. He doesn’t deserve the memory.