adventureswiththepooh

An honest take on life and parenthood

Breaking the Silence

on February 4, 2014

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Look to your left. Look to your right. Who do you see?

Chances are, you are looking at a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will become a victim of childhood sexual abuse. True statistics are difficult to pin down, since the crime is underreported and veiled in silence.

Childhood sexual abuse is equal opportunity and does not discriminate among its victims. Abusers can be male or female; they can be any race or ethnicity; they can be any religion; they can be rich, poor, or middle-class. They can be a doctor or a babysitter, a priest or a coach, a grandma or a neighbor.

They are usually someone the child knows and the family trusts – not a stranger.

With the recent revelations of Dylan Farrow, who stepped forward to provide stomach-churning details around Woody Allen’s abuse of her, we are forced to confront childhood sexual abuse openly, in a way we have not done since the movie Precious or the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

We have to face the idea that even an idolized film director can be a pedophile.

I admire Dylan’s courage. Woody Allen is a famous, powerful man. Dylan is not. She has nothing material and only the spiritual to gain by going public – but that is worth everything in the journey to heal and to help break the silence around this crime against children.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I know what a burden it is to carry this secret shame.

There are many others like me. I have stumbled upon fellow survivors during moments of vulnerability over one too many drinks, or conversations at two in the morning, or that quiet time when you know it is safe to reveal a private wound to a trusted friend.

There is my friend who was raped repeatedly by a neighbor when she was five.

There is my friend who was abused by a babysitter.

There is my friend who was abused by her stepfather.

There is my friend who told his Catholic parents when he was diagnosed as HIV+. But he could never bring himself to tell them he had been molested as a child before he died at 41.

There is a deep grief for innocence lost. Victims live with shame and pain, when it rightfully belongs to those who visited this horror upon us.

It makes me unbearably sad, and incredibly angry.

Angry because the vast majority of the abusers will never be held accountable for their crimes due to the statute of limitations and the fact that they prey on children, who are the most voiceless of us all.

Angry because these pedophiles damage souls and psyches and hearts for decades to come, and the victims and their loved ones are left to deal with the aftermath.

The effects of childhood sexual abuse are deep and long-lasting. Our lives are marred by depression, anxiety, grief, and anger. Trust is a mangled concept. Sex and intimacy are confusing and scary. We can’t see boundaries. Some of us get through life better than others, but we all have our coping mechanisms, and they are not pretty. Drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, cutting, overeating, workaholism, and other self-destructive behaviors become the by-products of trauma.

Deep down, we believe that we deserved what happened to us. We spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out why, and hate ourselves for it.

I was abused by a relative, which is fairly common.

At the time, my family was in turmoil. We were recent arrivals in the United States from Mexico. My parents had just separated and were in the middle of a nasty divorce, made more difficult by the fact that my father was Mexican and my mother was American. My sister and I were undocumented. My mother had a high school diploma and no skills. We had no money. Our lives were a mess.

My mother’s parents, my American grandparents, agreed to let us live with them while my mother went to nursing school. My mother’s two younger brothers were teenagers and still lived at home.

During the year that we lived with my grandparents, my mother attended school all day and worked at McDonald’s at night. My little sister and I barely saw her.

I was desperately unhappy. I missed my father and my Mexican family. I didn’t speak English right away. I didn’t connect with my American grandparents. I didn’t understand what had happened to us.

In my misery, my mother’s younger brothers quickly made me a target of ridicule and humiliation. They were cruel in the way that angry, hormonal teenage boys can be. The way they teased and tormented us was bad, but I had no idea how bad it was going to get.

At some point, I was left alone with my mom’s youngest brother. He was the appointed babysitter while everyone else was out, and he took full advantage of the situation on a number of occasions.

He would take me into my grandparents’ bedroom and lock the door with a sickening click. He would blindfold and gag me on the bed, and brutally tie me up with rope. Once I was completely defenseless, he masturbated all over me. It was an act I can only describe as barely controlled rage.

After he finished, he would free me. I still remember the whoosh of clean air into my lungs and the relief of being released from the painful ropes. He would then instruct me in a terrifying whisper never to tell anyone.

I wondered why he hated me so much.

He was 14. I was 4.

I carried this dark secret around with me for nearly twenty years.

When I entered therapy in my mid-twenties, I wrote a letter which I sent to all of my family members, detailing what had happened.

All hell broke loose. People took sides across the spectrum. But it had to be done so that I could heal and not be that bewildered little girl anymore. I didn’t want to live with the burden of silence and shame anymore. I also resolved to break a cycle of sexual abuse that had been happening in my family for generations.

I will be honest. It took many more years for the pain to finally go away, even after working with an excellent therapist.

Today, I rarely think about what happened. When I do, it is just part of my history. To my great relief, it is not an open wound anymore.

At some point, I forgave my uncle.

Not for him, but for me. Because if I didn’t, I was going to continue to believe that I deserved what he had done to me.

I am one of the lucky ones. What happened to me could have been much worse. Today, I am happily married with a delightful daughter, I have many wonderful friends, and I get to try out a new career doing work I love. I now know that my problems with depression, anxiety, and anger are not exclusively the result of this experience, but I am working my way through that as well.

Breaking the silence around this crime is key to preventing it.

As long as we refuse to talk about it and pretend that it doesn’t happen, survivors will continue to limp and bleed through life. And countless children will join the ranks of new victims because parents never taught them how to protect themselves.

I have said it before and I will continue to say it until the day I leave the planet:

Educate yourself and educate your children. Talk to both your boys and girls, no matter how young or how old they are. If you are from a traditional culture or conservative household, this can be difficult territory to cover, but it is imperative that you do so. Child sexual abuse is an uncomfortable topic and incredibly awkward to discuss with kids, but you CAN do it. If you love your children, you will find a way.

If you can teach them to avoid strangers and what to do in case of a fire, surely you can tell them what to do in case someone corners them with perverse, frightening intentions.  With some very simple techniques, you can teach them to deflect the advances of a manipulative person who wants to harm them when you are not around.

You can do this by teaching them about good versus bad touching, and good versus bad secrets. Teach them that they don’t have to kiss or hug someone if they don’t want to, even a relative or friend. Teach them the correct names of their body parts. Teach them to trust their intuition to avoid people who make them feel strange or uncomfortable. Keep lines of trust and communication open with your child. If you have trouble finding the words to discuss these things, find books that you can read with your child that deal with the topic in an age-appropriate manner.

On your side, research ways to keep yourself aware as a parent, and to keep your child out of harm’s way. Trust your intuition. Do not leave your child with someone who makes you uneasy.

Below, I have included resources I have found that I hope you will find useful. Please look them up and read them. You won’t regret it. Your children will thank you later.

In closing, I would like to thank you for reading this post with an open mind and compassionate heart. I would also like to dedicate this particular piece to Bobby Aazami and Dylan Farrow, who inspired me to come forward with my own story.

I wish you peace and light.

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Quick resource guide

RAINN – Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: http://www.rainn.org/: If you are a survivor or a friend to a survivor, this is an excellent resource for information and help.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network ( http://www.nctsnet.org/trauma-types/sexual-abuse ): This organization deals with all kinds of child trauma. Their section on childhood sexual abuse is an excellent resource for parents, and includes a great PDF that you can download with easy, non-scary tips to teach children.

A Mighty Girl. This wonderful site provides information on raising strong, smart girls. These two particular posts cover ways to talk to your daughters about their bodies and how to protect themselves, but even if you have a son, I recommend that you read them. There are also recommended books to read with both boys and girls.

Talking with Younger Girls about their Bodies: http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=2006

Talking with Tweens and Teens about Their Bodies: http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=2229

The Good Men Project. This site covers topics of particular interest to men. When the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal broke, they published the helpful piece below. If you are a dad or have boys, you will find it especially helpful.

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21: http://goodmenproject.com/families/the-healthy-sex-talk-teaching-kids-consent-ages-1-21/

Everyday Feminism. This online magazine provides resources and insights on ending discrimination and abuse. The piece below provides great, easy tips on talking to your kids and emphasizes the importance of keeping these conversations casual and ongoing. There is also a list of online resources at the end.

10 Ways to Talk to Your Kids About Sexual Abuse: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/02/10-ways-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-sexual-abuse/

Psychology Today: 12 Tips for Raising a Child Who Won’t Sexually Assault by Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/friendship-20/201406/12-tips-raising-child-who-wont-sexually-assault

Dr. Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and professor. This easy guide provides useful tips for teaching boys and girls about boundaries and consent. It deals with the raging hormones of adolescence, and also addresses how to talk to boys, which is an issue commonly overlooked in these types of resources. The article links to another useful, longer resource called The Healthy Sex Talk.

Books: Please see my blog post from January 16, 2014, which contains reviews and summaries of three great books which you can read with your little ones.

https://adventureswiththepooh.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/mommy-where-do-babies-come-from/

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4 responses to “Breaking the Silence

  1. jgroeber says:

    So many people are talking about this in a variety of ways today. Your words stand out as especially powerful. You are totally right, it’s something we need to hold in our minds every day. Thank you for sharing with such clear, moving, forgiving insight. I won’t forget this easily, and that’s a good thing.

    Like

  2. Thank you for writing this. So brave of you to share your story, and I agree it is unfortunately all too common. I was abused as well by my father and silenced throughout my childhood. My dad suffocated me with a pillow to shut me up and keep me from screaming. I feared for my life. I’m still terrified to tell my story and do so only anonymously on my blog. That shame we survivors carry is brutal. I’m so glad you wrote this. And great to offer resources. Take care of yourself, my dear

    Like

  3. Youre paving the way for so many people to share their story, find peace and confront their past. Extremely powerful.

    Like

  4. Jackie says:

    You are so brave, so courageous and such an inspiration to people. Thank you for sharing your incredible story. I look forward to participating in the Day One 5 K in April to help support this cause. You are a role model for so many.

    Like

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