Childhood Sex Abuse: Ending the Silence

10448699174_f61e438377TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ABUSE

What if every survivor of sexual abuse picked up the phone, called their abusers and confronted them like this woman did? (Or wrote an “open letter” in The New York Times like this woman did?)

That would be a lot of calls.

One in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys have been sexually abused during childhood. Ninety-three percent of those children knew their perpetrator. Abusers aren’t random criminal “monsters” but teachers and relatives, ministers and coaches we know by name and who are often “trusted” caretakers of children.

Because 90 percent of the 25-to-33 percent of adults sexually abused during childhood know their perpetrators. They aren’t random criminals. but teachers and relatives, ministers and coaches–people we knew by name and were sometimes our caretakers. What it we all had the recorded proof that our families, friends and the larger society could not dismiss or minimize and would instead have to confront?

We might live in a different world, one safer for children.

The problem for many survivors isn’t that they don’t know where their abusers are or how to reach them, but that they feel shame for having been abused, for being unable to protect themselves or others. They were guilty, yes, of being children—innocent and naive, gullible and exploitable.

What has kept so many of us quiet isn’t that we don’t know our abusers, it is that we do, and we might have liked or loved, trusted or admired them even as we despised being molested by them.

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When I was in my early 20s, I started therapy, talking about my abusive childhood and the frequent chaos and neglect. A few sessions in, the therapist handed me a claim for insurance; on it I was to write the diagnosis for which I was seeking treatment.

Instead, I wrote the first and last names of the three family members who molested me and handed it back.

“You can’t do that,” she said.

“But that’s why I’m here,” I said.

She nodded, but explained how the insurance system worked and that a diagnosis was needed for me to get insurance coverage.

Car insurers look at fault and determine liability—why don’t medical insurers want a context? It made no sense to me. I pointed out how my perpetrators weren’t in jail or therapy, and my getting treatment wasn’t going to change their behavior.

I argued that, from a strictly financial standpoint, if abuse isn’t prevented it’s going to keep happening, and it’s cheaper to find and treat the abusers than the people they abuse. Wasn’t it known that abusers will keep abusing?

Prevention 101, or so I thought.

As a new mother, I wouldn’t leave my child at a lunch table alone in the Children’s Museum in Boston, prompting my social worker friend to laugh at my over-protectiveness. “You think something is going to happen to her here?” she said.

Even me—as a survivor abused in my own bed, at my home and in my stepfather’s car—bought into the myth that the predator is some sneaky stranger in public and not the trusted coach, stepparent, teacher or priest.

In some ways I miss the indignation of my youth when I felt outrage just on my own behalf and didn’t know that one in three or four of us have been abused. I look back at the 22-year-old in therapy who knew that treating my anxiety was necessary, but that more was required to end child sexual abuse.

It wasn’t just that I needed insurance to cover therapy—though I did, as a college student with terrible anxiety who was on work-study and getting financial aid. It was that I was at a liberal college in Amherst, Mass., where there were classes on abortion rights and a health center that gave you a mirror during a gynecological exam so you could be educated about your own body, but where there was little talk about the violence done to girls (and to boys).

I understood why it would be hard to speak up in families where abuse took place, but why was the silence so prevalent everywhere else?

We can learn from Jamie Carillo, who insisted on justice. When told it was too late to file a criminal charge against her alleged abuser because the statute of limitations had run out, she made a phone call and demanded accountability.

She got what every survivor of sexual abuse deserves and rarely gets: the truth. She used her to voice to make sure this teacher who she alleged had abused her couldn’t stay in her job with easy access to other children. And she inspired another survivor to come forth, which led to criminal charges against the teacher.

I was not so brave. I did not out my abusers. I did not file charges. I waged a war with my own pain, hating myself for having nightmares and anxiety and trouble with sex and fears of parenting and trust issues.

I accepted a diagnosis in order to get more therapy sessions. “Generalized anxiety” would get coverage, my therapist explained, though post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was more accurate. I went with PTSD because I wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to lie or manipulate the system. What I wanted to do was write to my insurance company and say how awful it felt to feel blamed for being abused.

But I didn’t.

That was 25 years ago, and it’s still difficult to be an incest survivor. It’s not a resumé builder or an asset for a Match.com profile. That’s why Jamie Carillo’s YouTube confrontation went viral and is so jaw-droopingly brave. She delivered her own justice and broadcast it. She protected others from being victimized and reminded survivors that we are not alone.

And that’s why you’ll find me running victory laps around my living room, jumping up and down and high-fiving the computer screen watching this video. Obviously I am not happy there is another person who survived childhood sexual abuse, but I am relieved someone spoke of it so directly and reminded me that I was not to blame for what was done to me as a child. That is not a message one can receive too often.

Abusers love shame, and they love silence. Silence protects them. My privacy is not what needs protecting. Our children need protection.

For more on preventing childhood sexual abuse, see here.

Image by Flickr user TraumaAndDissociation under license from Creative Commmons 2.0

 

CisCrop

 

Christine “Cissy” White is a stay-at-home writer and in-the-world mother from New England. She blogs at www.guestinyourheart.wordpress.com

 

Comments

  1. Tracy Leedberg says:

    I think it is a wonderful and empowering idea and one that should be encouraged. I never pressed charges and I was shamed and doubted. Children look to the adults around them to help them navigate these painful experiences and protect them from further injury. I will always be careful about who is around my children. I will teach them to listen to their intuition and I will respect it as well. Open letters are a powerful tool so that survivors can speak their truth and be validated, maybe for the first time. It is sad that we must have proof at all to be heard and protected from abusers. It is sad that it makes people so uncomfortable to hear about child abuse that they want to explain it as anything from a repeated cycle to an illness to being older than her chronological age to religious beliefs. We just have to keep telling the truth and creating safe space for survivors to report and get care. As women are more empowered and take their places as leaders our children will be safer.

    • Tracy,
      I’m sorry you were shamed and doubted. That happens so often. It’s so infuriating isn’t it? I’m glad you commented and thank you for your support and validation of my words. I’m with you!
      Cissy

  2. Lori George Alexander says:

    I was sexually and physically abused by my parents. I am 69 years of age and have been in therapy and dealing with this abuse all of my life. It is getting better. I go to a senior center and 90 plus aged seniors still feel the effects of sexual abuse and they are angry and shamed. There should be a way of people being able to deal with this.

  3. and some just squirrel it away …

  4. Yeah, I’m in the final phase of going to trial with my abuser and I’m being re-victimized all over again. The defense is presenting topless photos of me in the 80′s, like that should have something to do with a man that molested me until I told at almost four years old. When I told, it was in front of him, my aunt and my mother, so my mother telling that helped me get the case to the grand jury, plus I found other victims he had tried to touch as a deacon in a church. The investigator had a field day.

    Yes, I filed the charges 40 years after I first told. Why? A trigger, which caused me to write me abuser. He ignored me, so here I am. I say do what feels right for you. In the end, you are all you really have.

  5. nancy omalley says:

    Powerful and compelling Cissy . You pose the questions that need to be confronted. Courage here is a great antidote to silence and a false sense of shame imposed by society…

  6. Sexual abuse has become a worldwide problem and the main reason behind this is, children often feel ashamed of sharing these things with their elders. These abuses influence them mentally the most.

    • Great point.

      I feel that much of the problem stems from the lack of education being provided to family members to actually interact with their children and engage them in a conversation about sexual abuse/improper touching.

      If we do not ask or talk to our children about sex abuse, we are depriving them of the opportunity to let us know if they are being abused by someone.

      If we do not have any discussion about this unsavory topic, then our children are not emboldened or empowered to speak on the subject because the shame and embarrassment or fear is too great.

  7. Amazing. That is the only word I can think of to describe your words, your experience, your grace and your story. I have read a lot of stories and blogs related to this but none really spoke to me the way yours did. I was abused for many many years by the same man and went through several counselors. Oddly enough the one that I connected to most was also my abusers counselor and in time she arranged for me to have a joint session with him. I just recently started my own blog and I can only hope to relate and connect with just one person the way you have. I will continue to follow your blog and again thank you for sharing your life.

  8. Marisa,
    First let me say I am so sorry for your experience. I must say that first. I’m sorry you were abused. Very sorry.
    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you have and I’d love to read YOUR words. Honestly, you made my day and made me tear up in the best way. I love writing, but not because I love a byline (though I do like that) but because people, often women who have been silent, can connect. But when you know your words have connected with someone, that’s a special joy. You write hoping and doing it on faith. Thank you for letting me know my words mattered to you and remember how that happens when you blog. Words matter.
    Cissy

  9. Thank you for sharing your story, Christine.

  10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pdg99-h1v74

    I am a male survivor of sexual and physical abuse. Between the ages of 6 and 8 years of age I was molested and physically abused by my older sister on a pretty regular basis. I’d always shrugged this off as something that just happens and that it wasn’t impacting me as an adult. I was already a very sensitive kid, but in my house you learned to hide your sensitivity, especially as a male.

    As I went through life that abuse plus other dysfunctional aspect of my childhood started to surface. I was always just thought of as quirky and didn’t really see the harm I was putting myself and others I loved through.

    After my 4th divorce,umpteenth panic attack, and serious thoughts of suicide I could no longer ignore that I wasn’t just quirky and my behavior was not healthy.

    Therapists couldn’t figure my mood swings, people around me always felt that they were walking on eggs shells. My rage attacks, lack of stable relationships, constant black and white thinking, and general unhappiness with life, they all made me difficult to work with and live with.

    I was finally told that there is a name for people like me. I am not big on labels but once diagnosed for the first time I felt a sense of belonging.

    In the fall of 2013 my anxiety and depression began to worsen. I was told to take a rest by my therapist and work on myself. Right now I am on leave from work and trying to find my way back to reality. Maybe for the first time find my purpose.

    I am still struggling with feeling empty. I am however learning to manage my emotions which at times are great big monsters them selves.

    As I try to figure out the next half of my life I hope to use my music, my poetry, my writing, and any other means to reach out to others that may suffer with BPD, PTSD, or any other quirky issues. At the root I know I am blessed. In my group therapy sessions I see how things could be for me. I feel the hopelessness of others and though I feel like the true purpose of life escapes me I do feel that I buy into this place enough to use what gifts I have to try and live at peace with the world. don’t want to wallow in despair. I want to rebuild and repair the damage. I want to get out of that cycle of abuse and dysfunction I was raised in. I want to live without the monsters within. 

  11. It’s amazing the information on child hood abuse but yet there’s no handbook on what your life will turn out. I was abused by my brother from the age of 4 to about 10 probably I got big enough to fight him back. There are 5 siblings Im the youngest my abuser is 10yrs older then me. My other brother and sister just laughed at me never protected me. I felt sad all the time. My mother was ill right from the start of my life. I had a father who hid behind money and still does. Iv lived a hard life with many failed relationships, how can you when your self worth was taken away at the age of 4. This is all you know. There has been series of events that has lead me on this path of letting go of the secrets and shame. The last time I saw my father he couldn’t even look at me in the eyes. My family were saying that the abuse Isn’t the important thing what is that I get help, cause your the sick one cause Iv always been the sick one and now I know why. The past 2 months of therapy and the strength within me to finally be validated that I suffered. Those weeks of anger and disbelief that my family all choose the abuser changed me inside of the hurt there was only thing I could do was turn to my friends and the wonderful people that I have met to get me through this journey was to get away from my family and know it’s not my fault.

    I went to the police a few weeks later after emails from a brother who said he was there for me but if I talked about the abuse he would make sure I live in shelters the rest of my life. After leaving the station I felt a sense of peace and safety I have never felt in my life! That was 10 days ago and Iv never looked back! I feel like my life got robbed cause really? what can you do in life if you don’t feel proud or have hope that something good can happen other, then it always being bad cause thats what I was used too.. I love life now it’s just beginning and I plan on screaming on the roof tops about child hood abuse needs to be stopped and there should be better treatment for the survivor… Thank you – Lisa

  12. I too am one in three to have been sexual abused as a child. I have taken my scraps and turned it around for good. My goal is to help prevent other children from be abused so my abuse will at least have some meaning. Please read my novel ‘Deflowered Lyric’ by JJ Staples and leave a review of your thoughts of the book.
    http://www.amazon.com/Deflowered-Lyric-Novel-About-Sexual-ebook/dp/B00LR7MN96/ref=la_B00LTYIL6Q_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405576951&sr=1-1

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