Monday, August 2, 2010

True Story: I was Sexually Abused

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have been through interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is Erin's story. Please note that this interview could be upsetting for those who have experienced abuse.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

My mom was a single mother for most of my childhood, so my sister and I spent a lot of time with our grandparents while our mom was at work. I was a smart kid, and loved books and school. We also had horses, so I got to be outside a lot at the stables, running around with the other kids and building “hideouts.” The town I grew up in is very small (less than 2,000 people) and the surrounding towns are not much bigger.

How did you come into contact with the person who was your abuser?
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?
The first abuse that I remember took place before I started Kindergarten. My uncle would let me stay up and watch movies with him after everyone else went to bed (I later learned that an adult giving special privileges to one child can be a sign of abuse). One night that I remember, he put his hands inside my shirt and pants during the movie. I asked him about it, and he said that it was part of how families love each other (a common thing for abusers to say).

This continued for a while, and I assume he stopped because he realized that I was getting old enough to remember what he was doing and question it. After that, he was more subtle. He would constantly ask me personal questions, make lewd jokes, and offer to explain puberty and sex. He always made my sister and I change in front of him when we went swimming, because he said that there could be “bad people” in the women's changing room (oh, the irony!). He also frequently showed me porn, and he once offered to pay me $100 if I would take nude pictures of myself and give them to him.

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.

When and why did it end?
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?

18 comments

  1. I can fully relate to this story. If ya ever seen the movie Precious, ya would get just a tiny glimpse of what I endured growing up. I'm sorry ya had to endure any of the abuse. I hope ya can get the counciling ya need. I myself never went through counciling and I'm fine. I tend to journal all my thoughts. As for children I was a mom who gave my children a code word. I told them to listen to that inner voice which tells ya if things are good. If my child ever used our code word we were outta there in a flash. The main thing to remember is give ya children a voice and let them speak freely and they'll be no secrets. I hope life treata ya Beautifully from this day forward.
    Hugs, Poe

    http://lillovecreations.blogspot.com
    POETICDREAMS@COX.NET

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  2. I love the True Stories on this blog but I don't always comment on them. I just wanted to tell Erin how much I admire and respect you for overcoming this, and how sad and angry if makes me to think of the people who do terrible things to innocent children. I'm glad that your case will help keep your Uncle away from other girls.

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  3. Erin, thank you for your heartbreaking honesty. I'm so sorry you had to go through this.

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  4. Hi Erin,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I am glad you've got support and closure.

    I was sexually assaulted too when I was 15 and I still have not told anyone about it. The abuser was my private tutor who was like in his 50s/60s, who was a neighbor and family friend. It only happened once but it involved some traumatizing kissing and I was so lucky he actually stopped when I said "Enough". I never went back to his house for tutoring and I went to boarding house straight after. I never told anyone about it because of the embarrassment. But yeah perhaps I should since he might target other students.

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing. You are such a strong person for making it through this and sharing it and not letting it define you.

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  6. Thanks for this beautiful interview. I've learned a lot... =)

    Thank you Erin for willingly to share all your experience here. You have shown a strong sides of you, that you are honest and willing to look into this issue. Something which I should learn from you.

    God bless *hugs from Malaysia*

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  7. I just wanted to support Erin in her decision to share her story and thank her for sharing it with us. You offer such great advice and insight, which just shows how the experience has made you stronger.

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  8. Wow, what amazing & naked honesty. Thank you for sharing your story; you are strong ♥

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  9. That is very courageous of you to share your story. Thank you.

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  10. Thank you for sharing. Yes, it's difficult to read, but it needs to be out there so people are aware that it DOES happen and it DOES need to be stopped.

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  11. Erin, you are such a strong and courageous person. How sad that counselling is impossible because of finances. I hope you can find the peace you deserve.

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  12. I really want to commend Erin on going back and filing a report years later.

    I was molested when I was a child by my father. Prior to molesting me and my two siblings, he molested his niece. When she spoke up and said something, my bio-grandmother slapped her and said she was telling lies.

    Like Erin, I really want to encourage ANYONE who has been molested to SPEAK UP and tell authorities. If someone is sexually assaulting you, chances are they are assaulting someone else or will in the future. Your voice can make a difference in the life of someone else.

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  13. Thanks for your honest story Erin!
    I work with teenagers and am interested in this part you wrote:

    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.

    Maybe it would be useful to include a link to such a site at the end of the article, because I think its really important for everyone to know these signs.

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  14. Thanks so much to Sarah for this fantastic series, and for allowing me to tell my story. Also, thanks to all of you for your supportive comments!

    If you're interested in the signs of abuse, a quick Google search for "signs of child sexual abuse" brings up many pages. The important thing to keep in mind is that many of these "signs" can also be associated with another problem in a child's life, such as a death in the family. If you see these signs in a child, it's important to try and determine what the problem is, but don't jump straight to the conclusion that the child has been abused.

    If you're interested in how you as a parent, educator, or concerned adult can help prevent child sexual abuse, the organization Darkness to Light has a lot of great information on their website.

    http://www.darkness2light.org/KnowAbout/adults_responsible.asp

    Thanks again to all of you. It means more than you could know to tell my story and get such supportive responses.

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  15. i too can relate to these situations but i was not brave enough to speak up when it was happening. I am getting married next year and do not want him at the wedding but how do i do this without my aunt wanting to know why? they will be expecting an invite?

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  16. You were very brave to share your story. I know I often felt like I had "abuse me" stamped on my forehead. I never had the guts to file a report with the police, but I did confront one of my abusers. It was maddening but satisfying.

    I have two children, a boy that's 12 1/2 and a girl that's 8. I find that the hardest part is I get overly protective at the ages of when my abuse was the worst, especially for my daughter. My husband and I have always taught the kids that they can talk to us, what is okay and not okay about touch (even if it's family), and such, but it's still difficult.

    I wish you the best of luck as life continues on.

    Amanda

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  17. I was molested by a friend's uncle when I was 8 years old... much like you I didn't realize what was going on until a few years later. The Michael Jackson molestation accusations came out and it dawned on me that what had happened that day wasn't right. I told my mom, and we went to my friend's house and told her and her mom. It was so embarrassing and scary. It turned out that the uncle was in jail for another reason so we didn't pursue anything.

    I find that when you start to share these stories more survivors of abuse come out of the woodwork. It is an all too common experience, and should be talked about more often. Thanks for very much for sharing.

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  18. When I was around 5 years old, I was abused by a family member as well, he was in his late teens, and I was terrified of what my mother and father would think if I told. We didnt have very good communication in our household, especially about sexuality, etc.
    The terrible thing about this is that I had to see my abuser every single weekend. Our families got together every Sunday, and he always offered to "take me places" w/ him and take me 4 wheeler riding and this and that.
    I was too afraid to speak up and say I didnt want to go b/c I felt intimidated.
    He went so far as to have intercourse with me several times at that age and even continued for years. The last episode was when I was 14 and he co-ersed me into nude photos and fondled me some. I felt dirty. I felt horrible. Never again did I go their house. I always found a friends house to go to on Sunday.
    (This is the first time I have ever come out about this in writing, so bear with me.)
    I then had complications with my kidneys and bladder and everything "down there". The doctors asked me over and over if anyone had "touched" me inappropriately.
    I always declined out of fear.
    I went on to have a very painful surgery due to this and now have a condition that is lifelong neurologically caused by my kidney/urinary problems at that age.
    I spoke out around age 14 after the pics to my mother who didnt want to talk about it to anyone else or our other family members. She never told my dad, or my brother. She swept it under a rug and that was that. :(
    I then suffered mental issues, including bipolar disorder, and ocd. I fear EVERYTHING. I take medication daily and had problems in my sex life for a very long time. When I married my first husband, I had issues with him touching me, especially my breasts, b/c that was where he (my abuser) "fondled" me alot.
    I had an abusive relationship with this husband, and b/c of my intemidation with men, I stayed in it for a long time.
    My second relationship was almost exactly the same... but, more abusive.... resulted in me being thrown downstairs, beaten up regularly, causing me to have a miscarriage.
    I then had very bad issues w/ promiscuity. I had to feel needed by a man, different men at differnt times, I felt awful afterward.
    It took a while, but, I now am a much stronger person... I still have to take medication, and still have issues from time to time and still am AFRAID of EVERYTHING. I have two daughters who I am a little overprotective over, but, my WONDERFUL, AWESOME fiance and I explain things to them to try and help them understand and to let us know if these things ever happen. But, I try profusely to keep them out of any potential situation.

    I hope one day to finnaly be at peace with this and hope that I can forgive. I will NEVER forget.

    -M

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