5 Things I Learned From Sexual Abuse
by Shay Cole
I can remember it vividly. He took me downstairs and put down a towel on the concrete floor of the basement. I trusted him. I thought that he would never hurt me, but protect me always. I thought that was his role. I learned about sex in that moment without even knowing what it was. I didn’t know this at the time, but none of this was about me. I was simply being used to fulfill a need. A need that he possibly didn’t understand. For every minute he was inside of me I wasn’t a person, but an object. I can recall the inner part of my thighs becoming wet and sticky as I laid there waiting to see what would happen next. At the time I was still clueless to the fact that this was my introduction to intimacy and intercourse. After a few moments, he cleaned me off and I went upstairs to my mother. I was extremely calm. I reenacted the scene and explained to her what I just experienced. She didn’t react with much shock. She simply said, “Go play. I’ll take care of it.”. I followed her instructions with the thought that it would be handled. I went to my room and played as instructed. I was 5 and my abuser was a family member.
Unfortunately, I am not unique or special in this sense. This is the story for many girls across the country. In America, sexual abuse is common. The American Society for the Positive Care of Children (American SPCC) shared some of the statistics surrounding this unhealthy occurrence.
- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old
- 34% of people who sexually abuse a child are family members
- 12.3% of girls were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization and 30% of girls were between the ages of 11 and 17
There have been a lot of people speaking out about their experience as a sexual abuse victim as the #MeToo movement, and others like it, have gained notoriety in recent years. Now more than ever, I feel that it is time to share five lessons that I have learned from surviving sexual abuse with the hope of helping others who are attempting to make it through their own journeys.
1. Telling someone about your abuse does not mean that you will receive the help you need.
I know this sounds extremely harsh and disheartening. Nevertheless, this is the truth. When victims speak out, many times they are ridiculed, ignored, and shamed for what was done to them. They are looked at as second class citizens and treated as criminals when they share their story. Statistics show that nearly 80 percent of sexual abuse/assault cases go unreported each year. Just because a victim shares their story does not mean that someone will believe them or take action to help them. However, there are times when victims are embraced, comforted, and supported but it tends to follow a massive outcry. For example, the #MeToo movement initiated the rise of victims and survivors of sexual abuse to come forward. Many people who where afraid to share their stories prior came out and revealed the gory details of their abuse or assault. After those stories were released, some of them were exploited and many of them were dismissed. This perpetuates the cycle of silence; victims watching these disparaging reactions were deterred from sharing their stories because they feel they will not be heard, or even worse, ridiculed and not believed. I can relate. After the first time it happened to me, I told a trusted adult and nothing was done. As a result, I began to create an escape in my mind so that I didn’t have to deal with the pain of being abused and being left to deal with it on my own.
2. If the abuser has access to the victim, the abuse will continue.
In my case, as with over 30% of sexual abuse cases, my abuser was a family member. Family members and close friends of the family are usually the ones to commit acts of sexual abuse or assault on an individual. This means that the victim is easily accessible and the prey is always within reach of the predator. The abuser has the option to chose when to strike and when to torture or torment. I had to live within reach of my abuser. There was only one incident of sexual abuse. As the years went on, my abuser switched to physical abuse. There were times when I was strangled within inches of life. I had to fight constantly to defend and protect myself from the abuse. I felt alone, rejected, and unwanted mostly because it was allowed to continue. No matter how many times I spoke up about it, nothing changed. When a victim is reporting abuse and the issue is not addressed, there is an increased chance of them being abused again. When victims are ignored they are subjected to the consistent struggle to escape their abuser and their thoughts. This is when depression and suicidal thoughts develop. The silence and rejection affects everyone differently, but proximity plays a large role in repeated abuse, coping, and the subsequent healing process.
3. Most parents do not know how to deal with sexual abuse properly.
It is one of the most difficult things for a parent to hear and deal with — “my child has been sexually assaulted.” Although many families have histories of sexual abuse, it is something that no parent wants to go through. Despite the fact that a parent may have experienced the same type of abuse or something similar, they are typically unprepared to deal with it happening to their child. To hear that someone has touched your child in a way that is inappropriate and violates their safe zones is infuriating, to say the least. In most cases, parents initially think to react with rage and anger; however, this will not solve the issue nor will it help heal the child. This type of reaction only causes more damage to the victim. There has to be some victim advocacy to help rebuild the victim and to assist them in transitioning to a survivor. If parents do not know how to properly deal with abuse, or they are unequipped to teach or assist their children who experience this, outside resources and support should be sought. In order for healing to begin there has to be honest and transparent communication about the topic and incident. Parents have to be willing to act on what they hear instead of ignore what they are told.
4. It is easier to ignore the problem than to deal with the pain.
For most, the healing process comes with pain so intense that victims and families feel it is better to act as if the abuse never occurred. In most cases of trauma, victims learn to mentally block out events, details, and memories in order to protect their quality of their everyday lives. When someone has to share the secrets of a past hurt, they are forced to go back to that moment and feel the pain all over again. Abuse heavily bruises the spirit, interrupts healthy mental growth, and severely damages relationships. Discussing what happened triggers memories of the abuse and pain for most victims and also those who are involved; however, pain is the first step of the healing process. No one talked to me about what I went through. No one explained that it was not my fault. No one told me that I didn’t deserve for that to happen to me. I was not asked questions about the incident and over time it felt that no one cared about me overall. I felt like I was the problem. I felt ignored and that developed into lasting shame. Sadly, victims are often forced to “forget” about it and move on without appropriate help, support, or guidance.
5. You may never get an apology from your abuser.
As we grow through life, we are often taught that apologizing is for when you have wronged someone. This is not the case for people who are abusers. They are not always held responsible for their actions which in turn means they are not held accountable for an apology. The healing process tends to go smoother for the victim when the abuser is held fully accountable, responsible, and they offer full disclosure. However, the healing process may never include an abuser saying, “I’m sorry for what I did to you”. Most times, abusers were abused and an apology was most likely not issued to them either. Learning how to move past the pain, hurt, disappointment, and turmoil takes a lot intentional personal growth. All in all, it is worth going through the process to regain your power. For years, I was silent about what happened to me and it controlled me. When I started to talk about it more often, I noticed that I was helping others and myself heal much more from such horrible experiences. I noticed that it became easier to tell my story and I began to learn from what I went through.
I would not wish sexual abuse or assault on anyone. I will continue to share my story and help others who have felt as if they were alone after abuse, I will continue to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and I will not give that situation nor my abuser that much power over me again. I have overcome the pain and I am constantly healing from the aftermath of it all. Most importantly, I will tell my daughters and my son why it is important to respect themselves and others. My journey is not over and my fight is not easy, but I’m here for it all.