What a cleansing to finally reach the point in your life that you find true and complete healing as a victim of child sexual abuse. It is not common for me to share this part of my story, but given things that I have heard and seen recently, I feel it is a necessary step to take. A victim of child sexual abuse will carry permanent scars throughout their life. The good news is wounds heal, even though the scars remain.
Little girls are known for their vivid imaginations, and I was no exception, constantly dreaming of my knight in shining armor and wondering when I might expect him to show. I envisioned his arrival upon a majestic white steed, sweeping me up onto the saddle. He would spirit me away to a magical kingdom, where at long last I would have a life free from the monster that had seized my soul—child sexual abuse. You see, in spite of the happiest dreams and imaginings, a victim of child sexual abuse lives in another sort of realm. The memories of abuse play over and over again in the mind, along with such questions as, “What did I do to deserve this?” And “Why doesn’t somebody make him stop?”
Beginning at the age of seven, for nearly 8 years I endured the travesty of child sexual abuse. I tried desperately to find a way to escape the prison that had been built around me. Little did I realize the key to my freedom was on the tip of my tongue—simply breaking the silence and speaking out. Nevertheless, I was constantly reminded by the perpetrator of the aftermath that would follow if I dared to expose what was happening. At such a young age, and in a manner I could not understand no matter how much I tried, fear became a driving force in my life, setting low self-esteem and personal devaluation as his building blocks.
Even though buried in the dark silence, I was convinced if I did not disclose my agony I might die. I wasn’t sure how much faster my heart could race without exploding. Sometimes it would be so rapidly, it seemed a given that I would drop dead from an overdose of fear. After all, my soul had been dying a slow death anyway. I clung to the vestiges of what I thought remained of the original me, but I could not sustain the life I was living any longer. It seemed to have come down to an “either/or” situation. I would either speak up or death would overtake me. Those seemed to be my choices. The day finally came when, as a young 15-year-old, petrified as to what results would come of such a bold move, I decided to share the secret with my mother. It was the 1960s and things were quite different then. She lovingly took me into her arms, embraced me tenderly and said, “We can’t tell anyone, it will tear the family and the church apart. We will do all we can to keep him away from you.” That was it.
Had the misconduct been acknowledged? Was I being blamed? What had just taken place? As quickly as the words were released from my mouth, it was handled, or dismissed, or ignored. I was extremely puzzled by what had just taken place, but certain of one thing. I did not feel any better or more reassured. Now, with the benefits of hindsight in my own parenting experiences, I understand she was simply doing the best she knew to do at that time. But, in that time and space as a tender young teen, the message I interpreted was: “My value is low.” I felt like Second-Hand Rose.
With that, the foundation for my future was set. I floundered, feeling like one of those poor salmon struggling against the powerful current, swimming with all their might, making a bit of progress, then suddenly being thrown back upon the rocks, only to battle the rushing water again. My rocks and rushing water were child sexual abuse. Nevertheless, with all the faith I could muster, even at such a young age, I pressed forward. I just knew there was a place upstream where life had greater potential for safety and peace of mind. I just had to get there.
Today, remarkably I am now living proof that regardless of our best efforts and the best efforts of those trying to help, we simply do the best we can with what we know, especially when dealing with such a sickening circumstance as child sexual abuse and molestation of our children. It is usually done with extremely limited knowledge or education on the topic. Newborns do not come with a “how-to” manual containing chapters on how to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse.
Child abuse awareness month is coming up in April. I hope everyone reading this post will make it a point to research the Internet, contact agencies and organizations or do whatever it takes to gather information that will help them identify and recognize the signs of child sexual abuse. The most important role is that you never express to the child you doubt their claim. They must know that no matter what, they do have support and someone is interested in their safety. As an extra note, about two years ago a law was passed in the state of Florida making it mandatory that any adult who knows of or has reason to suspect that a child is being abused is legally required to make a report. Repercussions could result in court action or incarceration. Fortunately, that is just how seriously my home state is taking not only child abuse in general, but child sexual abuse.
It is all too common for children who are being victimized by child sexual abuse to either withdraw or as we say here in the South, “act out.” They may become promiscuous. The saddest situations are those when a child goes to their mother reporting that they have either been sexually abused by their father or their mother’s boyfriend, only to be told they are lying. Regularly, and often in news reports, we see mothers caught in the middle. They feel they must take a side. When they choose to take the side of the perpetrator, there is a victim of child sexual abuse who is left hung out to dry. They feel abandoned, of no value and trust no one with their secret. These are reasons why it is so important that we do all we can to implant an understanding within the minds of children that if they ever need help of any kind, their safe place is to either find a police officer, talk to their teacher or guidance counselor at school. They must be reassured someone is there who believes them and seeks to help them.
In the words of Billy Holiday, “God bless the child.” We should also remember the words of the Master, Jesus Christ, that were important enough to be printed in red. He warned us that one of the very worst actions we can take is to harm a child. Refusing to listen or looking the other way when a little one approaches us to say they are a victim of child sexual abuse harms a child. May God forgive us for failing the children. It’s never too late. We can make a change. We can save the children of child sexual abuse.
I might add, if you are a struggling survivor of child sexual abuse, and it seems you just can’t get past what was perpetrated upon you, seek help. Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed to make an appointment and talk to a counselor. That is from my own experience, and is a part of what actually saved my life. The stigma that is attached to adult victims of child sexual abuse is absurd and must be stopped. Lack of understanding, in my humble opinion, is the root problem. Far too often, the children are unable to speak for themselves. Therefore, it is our place to speak up for them, and to assist those adults who are struggling survivors of child sexual abuse. We can and we must stop the cycle—now. It is never too late to start.