I’ll never forget the day my life could have changed. I sat rooted to my chair, a lady I’ve never met staring back at me from across the desk, waiting for me to respond. I remember the office walls seemed so white, the lights seemed so bright; all the better to see me with, but I didn’t want to be seen. All I wanted to do was escape. I was young, afraid, and under the assumption that all adults were connected; they told each other everything. That being the case, if I told this lady the truth, he would find out. If he found out I had told, I knew what would happen. I couldn’t get spanked again, the pain was unbearable.
So, I lied. I denied everything that was asked of me, hoping to be set free. After what seemed like an eternity, she let me go. I walked home after that, but after being detained at school for so long, I was late getting back to the house. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, really. I knew I was late, but I wasn’t rushing to get home. Punctuality is probably not an 8 year old’s best trait.
After all of my hard work at fooling my teachers and the school counselor, I triumphantly arrived at my home. He beat me as soon as I stepped in the door, for being late.
I’ll never forget the day my life could have changed. The reason why the school counselor had summoned me was because my teachers had notified her after talking to two of my classmates, my two best friends that I had confided in earlier at recess. As I walked with my class in single line fashion to our Special for the day, they had pulled me back and had me sit with them at a table in the courtyard. I watched my class disappear from sight and turned my attention to my teachers. Both had concerned looks on their faces, and if I had any notion of something amiss, it was instantly confirmed when the older of the two, Mrs. K, asked me point blank, “Did he touch you with his hand, or with his penis?”
A wave of emotions came and went in the span of a few seconds: shock from being directly asked about my secret, anger at my friends and hurt for the blatant violation of the trust I placed in them, and through it all, shame.
I’ll never forget the day my life could have changed. The day before, I had scratched his car and was subsequently chased into the house, through the living room, and into my room, where I was beaten severely. I woke up later, in the middle of the night, to find myself in the act of being violated. Looking back, the worst part is remembering the thought that had crossed my mind.
“Does this mean he’s not mad at me anymore?”
Does this mean I’m not in trouble anymore? Does this mean things will be okay now? This is not the kind of thoughts an 8 year old girl should have been having, but this wasn’t new. None of it was. What had started in Kindergarten at the ripe old age of five wouldn't actually end until I was sent to live abroad in 6th grade.
You might ask, why not tell your mom? Why not admit it to your teachers? Why not tell the counselor? In a word, self-preservation.
My mother had absolutely no idea what kind of horrors had been happening under her roof, she was busy working and providing for our family. She was always tired, stressed, and irritable. I don’t blame her, raising three children is hard and being the sole source of income is even harder. I was the oldest, and hardest to deal with. Her husband was the one who stayed home and took care of us, the man who was not my father but who I had grown up calling Dad. There were times when she was angry and would go to spank me, he would stop her. And vice versa. I couldn’t tell her - I loved her, but I couldn’t trust her.
My naive logic cautioned me against telling any adult, because they were all aliens existing with a single hive mind. What one adult knew, they all knew and if not, they told each other immediately. I was protecting myself, and at the same time, sabotaging the one moment in time someone noticed me and could have helped.
Were there any signs? My declining grades, my constant escapism through books? If I hadn’t have told my friends, I don’t think anyone would have been able to guess. I was good at keeping secrets.
Almost 20 years later, I sat at a Chipotle to have lunch with my mother and opened up to her about what I had experienced. I was careful to gloss over the details and the extent of the abuse, the truth would crush her. She was visibly distraught, and kept saying, “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you say something? I would have divorced him, I would have left him so much earlier. Why didn’t you tell me?”
It was around that time that he passed away, as I came to learn from my siblings. When I heard the news, I cried. The tears weren’t for him, but for the knowledge that the closure I sought could only be found my own. What he’d done didn’t define me, but it did shape my life significantly. More than anything, it’s heightened the caution I have when it comes to my own daughters.
I’ll never forget the day my life could have changed. How could I have known that had I only said the word, the nightmare would have been over? The monster wasn’t under my bed, he was on it. He was a neighbor, a father, a church goer. The monster was a man and he was hiding in plain sight, as so many are. Be vigilant.
About one in three girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused before the age of 17 (Briere & Elliott, 2003).
Children are most often sexually abused by people with whom they are acquainted. Family members were the perpetrators of 34 percent of law enforcement reports against juveniles (Snyder, 2000).
If you suspect a child is being abused, contact the police or your local child protective services agency, the ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline , at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or local sexual violence program.
Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC): http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/Publications_NSVRC_Overview_Child-sexual-abuse-prevention_0.pdf
Briere, J., & Elliott, D. M. (2003). Prevalence and psychological sequelae of self-reported childhood physical and sexual abuse in general population. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 1205-1222. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2003.09.008
Snyder, H. N. (2000). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident and offender characteristics (NCJ 182990). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pu b/pdf/saycrle.pdf