Imagine a little girl that you know that is approximately five years old. Think of the innocence of that little girl. Are you able to picture her? When I was approximately the age of that little girl, then I was sexually abused by a teenage boy in our neighborhood. I went from a little girl who was innocent and had her whole life ahead of her to a very frightened, confused little girl. I felt alone. I felt abandoned. I felt ashamed. I felt scared. I did not understand what was happening to me or how to process it.
Sexual abuse is such a horrendous, life-changing trauma to inflict upon a little girl or boy. Sexual abuse has long lasting effects that are so difficult to process through. The innocence can never be reclaimed. Sexual abuse kills childhood innocence.
I clearly remember Sarah. Sarah was a teenage girl that I was spending time with in Minnesota who was in residential treatment. Sarah had gone through years of sexual abuse. Sarah was first sexually abused by her father, then her uncles, and then her brothers. Sarah’s life was filled with sexual abuse year after year after year. Sarah was treated by the men in her family as an object to be used for their sexual pleasure. She was not treasured as a little girl or raised in an environment where she could grow and thrive. Sarah had long lasting trauma due to the years of abuse that she was forced to endure which began when she was a little girl.
Sarah was cutting all over her body. My undergraduate degree is in emotional and behavioral disorders. Through the years, I have worked with many kids and teens who were cutting on their bodies. Often they would describe the process of cutting on themselves as not knowing how to deal with the pain on the inside so they would cut themselves to feel pain on the outside instead. It is a difficult concept for us to understand. Sarah’s body was covered with cuts. Sarah felt dirty. Sarah felt ashamed. Sarah hated herself. Sarah broke my heart. The workers at the residential treatment center were working with her to help to keep her safe and to try to help Sarah to work through the long lasting effects of her years of abuse and trauma.
When I think back to the sexual abuse that I went through then it comes back to my mind in flashes. Moments of the abuse appear in my mind. I do not remember how long I had been abused before I told my mom what was happening. I remember what I said to her. I remember that my mom made sure that I was safe and that I was never around that teenage boy again. However, back in those times, there was not an emphasis to parents on how important it is to talk with your child about something like this and to have someone process this through with your child. No one talked to me about my abuse. It was extremely confusing to me as a little girl. If you look at the featured picture of me as a little girl on here, then as you look at my eyes and young face, hopefully it will be understandable to you that at that age that I would not know how to process or to work through this trauma.
Tragically, for many children, they feel alone in their abuse and unaware of how to work through all of the devastating effects. When I was in college and I worked at summer camp with kids, then I became very close friends with someone that I will call Marie who had underwent sexual abuse also. Marie was abused by her teenage boy babysitter. One of the effects that it had on Marie was that anytime her boyfriend and later fiancee became physically close to her then she would have flashbacks and would tremble in fear. Marie was terrified of having any sort of physical relationship. When her boyfriend would try to be physically close to her then emotionally she was then right back with her abuser. I came to a clear understanding of how she was being affected when one day, she and her new husband showed up at my apartment.
When Marie and her husband were at my apartment then we had a very candid discussion of the extreme difficulty that Marie was having in trying to have a normal and good sexual relationship with her husband. Her husband looked so lost and concerned. He truly loved Marie and wanted to help her to heal and also wanted to be able to have a healthy sexual relationship with his wife. The effects of the abuse were so traumatic, and Marie was visibly shaking. Marie also wanted to heal but did not know how to work through it.
Sometimes victims of sexual abuse react as Marie did and are terrified of having a sexual relationship with someone else in their future as they feel that they are right back with their abuser. Sometimes, victims of sexual abuse react the exact opposite way of Marie and have no boundaries and just have sex with whoever wants to have sex with them. A lady I know who was abused when she was little was the opposite of Marie. She did not have fears of a sexual relationship. She just thought that is what people used her for. With her high school boyfriend, when he asked her to have sex then she simply responded when. She did not have boundaries. She did not even question if she should have sex with him even though she was not raised this way by her parents. She just thought it was something people did to her.
Sexual abuse can have so many lasting effects. A friend of mine that I have known for a while now was abused by his teenage babysitter. When he was little, then she had sex with him. It did not happen just once. I can still see the effects that it has on him to this day. He sees sex as a way to get things from other women. He sees it as a form of control. He uses it in his life to get what he wants. Sadly, I do not think he understands how the abuse that he went through as a young boy has affected him or how it controls the man that he is today. When we talk, then he does not describe his life in these ways, and I am unaware if he sees the connection; however, I see how it has affected his view of sex and his ability to have a healthy sexual relationship with a woman. He uses sex just as it was used on him when he was a little boy.
When I got to college and was living away from my family, then I really begin processing my own abuse and was trying to deal with the effects that it had on my own life. I could see the effects. I could feel my own shame and how it affected my own self image. I remember going to my mom when I was trying to work through it. I had two questions for her. I wanted to know why she never discussed it with me. Of course, there was no answer for this. My mom loved me very much and made sure that I was safe. She had not been told how to handle a situation like this, and she did what she thought was right for her little girl and that was to keep her safe. She remembered what I said to her when I told her of the abuse. The next question I had for her was very emotional for me as was the first question. She had told me never to tell my dad. I wanted to understand why she told me that. I always had a good relationship with my dad and saw him as my protector as a little girl. It was very confusing to me as to why she told me that. She knew exactly why she told me that and answered immediately. She said, “I thought that he would kill him.”
I think that many parents in a similar situation have perhaps reacted this way in fear of what the other person would do to the abuser. Anyone who knows my dad knows that there could not be a kinder more gentle man. Through my whole life, I have never known my dad to even speak about wanting to hit someone or engage in any type of physical aggression. My dad has never been aggressive… not verbally or physically. My mom was not saying that because that is who my dad was or is as he has never been. That is what she told herself as to why he should not know about the abuse and that is how she explained it to me when I asked why my dad could not know. She did not fear that because of who my dad was or is. I have never known my dad to even talk about wanting to punch someone. You could not meet a kinder more gentle man than my dad.
I still remember sitting in the car with my mom outside of her school that she taught at having this conversation. I knew that it would not fix what happened to me. The damage had been done, and it was my decision to try to deal with the effects and to work on my own healing. However, it was a very important conversation for me to have and an important step in my healing process. I needed acknowledgement from my mom. It was important to me to have that conversation. Of course, it was very difficult for her. My mom is a very loving mom and only wanted the best for each of her children. My hope is that she will truly see the incredible mom, grandma, and person that she is. I am very proud of my mom and for the woman that she is.
One of the things that I did not have to deal with my mom on that many victims of sexual abuse face is not being believed. My mom immediately believed me once I told her what was happening and made sure that I was safe. I am ever grateful to her for reacting this way. Many victims are not believed. If someone shares their story with you of sexual abuse that they went through then one of the greatest gifts that you can give to them is to believe them and to tell them that you believe them. Not being believed complicates and hinders their healing process in significant and damaging ways. Give sexual abuse victims the gift of being believed.
Sexual abuse has long lasting effects, and it is important if you have been a victim of sexual abuse that you are able to find people to talk to about it and that you are able to look honestly at the effects that it has had on your own life. Please work on your own growth and healing in this area. It is so important to fight to regain our self worth so that we may not see who we are through the abuse that has been done to us. Sexual abuse does not make us dirty or less of a person or unworthy. Tragically, it often makes us feel this way.
If you need to talk to a therapist, then please don’t feel ashamed of that. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about by talking to someone who is trained to work through these issues with you. After the death of my husband in August 2011 and the car accident that instantly killed my only 18 year old son in June 2013, then my two incredible daughters and I went through some intensive trauma based family counseling. The Christian therapist that we were working with did an exercise that was geared in trauma where he was playing some rhythms and had us lay down while we were listening. The crazy thing is that he started tapping on the bottom of my feet. At the end of the exercise, I went and vomited for a long time. (Sorry I know that is gross but I want to explain something about that.) When I was talking to him about everything later, I explained that I had been unable to throw up for years and years. He explained to me that there have been studies about sexual abuse and the exercise he did with us. I shared with him that I had been sexually abused years before but had not discussed that with him before. We were focused on the grief that my two daughters and I were experiencing from losing our two guys within a 22 month period. I still don’t fully understand the exercise or what happened but I am sharing it to remind you that there are a variety of techniques and tools that professionals have to help us. Somehow whatever he was doing in that trauma based session helped me to work through something… it is so good to allow others to help us. I discuss additional techniques and things that he did with us throughout these blog postings.
Going to the doctor when we are ill is accepted in our culture. Somehow going to a therapist, etc is not always as accepted by our culture; however, I want to encourage you that if you have gone through sexual abuse and are struggling with all of the devastating effects of it to seek help and do what you need to do to get yourself journeying down a path of wellness and healing. I continue to work on the effects of my abuse. Those effects still rear their ugly head sometimes but I am determined to not let them control my life. My hope and prayer for you will be the same.
“Even in it darkest passages the heart is unconquerable. It is important that the body survives, but it is more meaningful that the human spirit prevails.” Dave Pelzer
“My past has not defined me, destroyed me, deterred me, or defeated me; it has only strengthened me.” Steve Maraboli
“The way people treat you is a statement about who they are as a human being. It is not a statement about you.” Unknown
“And the time came when the pain to remain tight in the bud became greater than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin