I was 16 before I told my parents I had been abused. I was actually at a church gathering that night and I told my youth pastor. She encouraged me to tell my parents. When I got home that night, I sat in my car in the driveway and cried. I was so scared. I was so nervous. I was so ashamed. My mom yelled at me because I was about an hour later than I normally was (this was before cell phones, mind you). My dad was watching basketball on TV. I sat down on the couch and told them about Paul.
Paul was my babysitter when I was around six. I have two younger brothers as well, and Paul would watch us every couple of weeks so my parents could go out. My parents loved Paul. He lived right down the street. He rode his bike over and I’m sure he was always available. I’m not positive how many times it happened, but he would touch me whenever he babysat for us. Always with my brothers in the room. He never did anything to them.
I was too young to understand what was happening. He told me I was special and I believed him. I am not sure how I came to understand that what was happening was wrong. Maybe it was growing up a little bit. Maybe an adult explained bad touching to me. However it came about I started to hide from Paul whenever he was around. At a church event where the older kids watched the younger kids, Paul tried to get me to go somewhere alone with him and I started screaming. I told him not to come near me ever again. I’m sure he was terrified I was going to tell so he left me alone. He stopped babysitting for us and shortly after his family moved.
I pushed it away for a long time. I was about 12 before my mind let me go near those memories again, and as I examined them, I became ashamed. How could I let this happen to me? It must have been my fault. These are the kinds of thoughts many victims of abuse have when trying to come to terms with what has happened to us. I spent four years, on my own, mentally coming to grips with my past. Forgiving my childhood self and teaching myself, almost solely through repetition, that I was not to blame. I had done nothing wrong. I was a kid. I was taken advantage of and it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault.
Telling my parents elicited different reactions from them both. My mother instantly started crying and blaming herself. How could she not have known? Why didn’t I ever tell them before? My dad kinda spaced. He kept watching the basketball. They made my story about their reaction to it. They did not comfort me or hug me or thank me for finally having the courage to talk to them about my abuse.
A couple of weeks later my mom took me to a shrink. I was very angry about this and totally opposed to it. I didn’t have a say in the woman my mother chose and did not like this woman at all. I knew I had put in so much mental effort already. I knew I had forgiven myself and I had moved on. Telling my parents was the last step in a hundred steps I had already taken.
In retrospect I know my mom was doing what she thought was right. But instead of actually talking to me about it, I felt like she pawned me off on someone else. At the end of my therapy sessions, she would have 10 or 15 minutes with the doctor to discuss how I was. Every week I would tell the Doc that I was fine, and that she should call my mom in early because she was the one having a hard time dealing with all of this.
Here’s the thing: you know someone who had been abused. You know more than one person. I was at a sleepover in high school with 4 other girls and as the night when, one by one, we confided in each other. All 5 of us had been the victims of some kind of sexual assault, 2 of us had been raped. This is happening in every family.
If someone you love comes to you to admit an abuse, please stop whatever you are doing and listen. Listening is the most important thing you can do. Do not make the conversation about your feelings and how this is going to affect you. It is so hard to be honest and vulnerable enough to share these horrible things—please be present for the person who is choosing to admit them.
Please teach your children from as young as you can that their body belongs to them. I honestly don’t know that I really understood that until about 5 years ago. Do not force them to hug and kiss anyone. They need to learn to choose what to do with their bodies as early as you can instill this.
Please ask the men and women in your life for their stories, and know that it might be years before they can tell you. They may have never spoken aloud about their abuse and it requires a huge amount of mental energy to do so. Please ask them if they want to be hugged and held as they talk to you, and respect their answer either way.
If you know about an abuse and are afraid of the repercussions of telling someone, please be brave and ask for help.
If you have been abused, please talk to someone you trust. It is so hard to carry the weight of these things alone. You do not have to. Please remember above all, it is not your fault. You are worthy of love and acceptance and happiness and joy. You are allowed to forgive yourself. You are allowed to let go of the burden you have been carrying and to feel whole again. It is not your fault.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on abuse from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.