Image credit: David Garzon
It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I’ve started it several times and deleted it, not wanting to be that girl. That girl who was abused. That girl who was helpless. The girl you feel sorry for. I don’t want people to treat me differently or feel uncomfortable. However, I also understand the power of information. I see stories of murder and rape on the news every day. Kids are brought up to fear strangers, as they should. I applaud people who shine light in dark places. Among all this exposure, however, there’s one topic that nobody touches: childhood incest and molestation by acquaintances. I’m telling my story because I feel it could be life-changing. Maybe life-saving.
From age three to age twelve, I was sexually abused daily by a close family member. I was raped, I was beaten and I was discarded. I was made to believe that I was crazy and I deserved nothing better. I knew that it made me feel bad. I knew I wanted it to stop. But I also knew that he was family. As a child it’s incredibly confusing when the person that’s hurting you is the person that everyone else trusts. He said if I told anyone, it would ruin the lives of everyone I cared about. Without him, he convinced me, we’d all live on the streets. We’d die and go to hell without his support. It isn’t an entirely logical argument, but I was eight or nine and I believed him. I kept my silence until I was 16 years old, long after a divorce had already split him from the family.
“Stranger danger” is a common topic. Children are told to stay away from ominous-looking men and white vans. But danger can creep in with a smile and an attacker may be someone they see their parents admiring. People they love – people you love – can do this, too. Child molesters are excellent actors. They’re charming and they seem trustworthy. They’re your neighbor. Your soccer coach. Real estate agent. Church congregator.
Mine was all of these things.
Children need to know that danger can come in many forms. Please warn them of the risks that are everywhere. They know to cry out if a stranger touches them, but would they feel comfortable telling you if it was an uncle, your best friend or coworker? They might not know if they should say anything, or if you’d even believe them. The only way they’ll understand is if you have a blunt conversation about boundaries and about what is right and what is wrong, whether it’s between a friend, a family member, a teacher or a stranger. It’s uncomfortable. But five minutes of awkwardness can save a lifetime of regret.
If somebody had sat me down for just one conversation, they could have saved me from years of torture.