Could you tell us a bit about your background?
My abuser was actually my uncle. My aunt and uncle had two boys a little older than my sister and I, and we were very close, so I saw my aunt and uncle a lot. We slept over at their house a couple of times a month.
What did the abuse consist of?
What was your reaction the first time it happened? Did it happen repeatedly?
Even when I was very young, I knew that something was a little weird about the way he treated me, but I never really knew that it was wrong or bad until I was in high school. Because I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t really have a reaction until years later.
It ended because my mother remarried when I was 14 and we moved to another state. After we moved, I realized what had happened, and whenever we came back into town, I did my best not to see him.
Did you (or your family) pursue legal action?
When I found out a few years ago that another girl had pressed charges against my abuser, I felt incredibly guilty. I had known for years that he deserved to be in jail, but I hadn’t told my family or pressed charges because I didn’t think what happened to me was bad enough, and because I thought my family would be mad if I got him in trouble. But when the other girl pressed charges, I started thinking about all of the girls who could have been (and possibly were) abused because I was too scared to say something.
A couple of months later, absolutely terrified, I drove back to my hometown and made a police report. Since then, nothing significant has happened with my case, but whenever my uncle goes to court, my case is mentioned, and he gets the maximum punishment (or doesn’t get the privileges he’s asking for) because of it. It’s possible that my case will still be tried when he gets out of jail in 2013, but I haven’t talked to anyone about it in over a year, so I don’t know.
Has this affected your romantic relationships? Has it affected your feelings about trust or sex?
For a while, I thought that the abuse hadn’t really affected my romantic relationships. I liked sex and didn’t have any weird hangups about it, and I was able to easily form and maintain romantic relationships. I did wonder whether my bisexuality or affinity for bondage stemmed from the abuse (I’ve since decided that I don’t care), but on the whole I thought I had escaped unscathed.
What I eventually realized, though, was that I had been ignoring the abuse rather than dealing with it. When I decided to deal with it, things got ugly. My university counseling center wouldn’t help me because my problems were too severe, and I didn’t have the money to see anyone else. I came out of that six months of hell a much stronger and more confident person, with much of the pain and fear left behind. However, I also came out with a fear of sex, and now I have to be slightly intoxicated in order to get over my fear and enjoy sex. My husband has been very supportive, but I’m planning on getting into counseling as soon as I have the money.
Do you have children? Do you plan to? Do you think your experience will effect the way you raise them? Are you concerned that you’ll be over-protective because of your experience?
I plan to have children eventually, and I’m not sure if I’ll be overprotective or not. On one hand, I know that there are a lot of dangers out there. On the other hand, you can’t protect your children from everything, and none of my family members would have suspected my uncle. I think that as long as my children know that they can talk to me about anything, it’ll be ok. Sure, I’ll have rules and I’ll worry at times, but I don’t think I’ll be too overbearing.
Do you feel that you have gotten closure on this incident? If yes, how did you get that closure?
I used to define myself in terms of the abuse and think about it constantly. Now, it doesn’t come up too much. When it does come up, rather than being scared or embarrassed, I’m proud of how I handled it. I’m also proud of how my family handled it (my aunt divorced my uncle when she found out, and has become my biggest supporter). There’s still the sex thing, but on the whole, yes, I think I’ve finally gotten some closure.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to work through something similar? If we have a friend who was sexually abused, what can we do to help?
If you’ve been abused, either as a child or as an adult, the important things to remember are that this is not your fault and that you can overcome it. It’s terrifying and sometimes you don’t want to confide in other people, but with a support system and a lot of determination, you can come out the other side. Also, if you think you can handle it, pursue legal action. It will make you so much stronger, and it might save other people from going through the same thing you did.
To those of you who have a friend who has been sexually abused, the most important thing is that you believe and support your friend. Too often people don’t believe those of us who have been abused because the abuser is “such a nice person” and “could never have done that.” If someone says that they have been abused, tell them that you are sorry, that you believe them, and that it is not their fault. Try to get them professional help it that’s feasible. Many websites have posted the signs of abuse, and if you’re a parent or work with children, you should familiarize yourself with these signs. If you suspect current abuse, tell the appropriate authorities (doctors, social workers, police, etc).
I’ve included a couple of useful online resources here, because they were extremely important to me in my recovery, and I think they might help others. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network has tons of information and tools, as well as both phone and online hotlines. After Silence provides forums and a chat room for those recovering from abuse.
Do you know anyone who’s been abused? Any questions for Erin?