the 1 in 3
last week i read an article from the scary mommy blog on 5 body safety rules all kids need to know. the statistics were sobering. i've heard the "1 in 3 girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18" statistic before. it used to make me look around a circle of friends and think: dang. then it occurred to me. i am that one. i was sexually abused by a male babysitter when i was four or five years old (on instagram i previously posted the age of five or six, but after discussing with my mom we narrowed the range to four or five).
before i begin sharing my experience, i want to explain exactly why i am sharing this information and also what is NOT a motivating factor for me. let me start with the NOT part. i am NOT sharing this to (1) blame (2) shame (3) change the past. i do not hold it against the adults in my life that this happened to me. it is not the fault of any one person in my life. it is a series of unfortunate events, a taboo subject, a lack of education on the part of adults and myself, and the product of living in a broken, sinful world full of broken, sinful people.
my purpose in sharing my experience is first and foremost to educate. let me say that again: to EDUCATE. i am also seeking to give other victims of child sexual abuse "the gift of going second," a phrase i have learned recently. i will share my experience to open the door for others to come after me. i want to remove the shame, the taboo of the subject. i want to be real. honest. genuine. true. when i disclose my memories of the situation and my attempts to share it, it is not in an effort to blame. brene brown says blame is discharging discomfort and pain. why do we blame? because blame gives us some semblance of control. but that control is an illusion. what happened, happened. it is done, in the past. i cannot change it. but what i CAN do is share my experience in the hope that today's adults may learn from it. learn to educate themselves, the children in their lives, and the other adults in their children's lives. make the taboo, normal. use the terminology. do all that is possible to prevent a situation that would result in the sexual abuse of a child. and if the unthinkable happens, be vigilant and learn to recognize the signs of abuse and know what to do if they are witnessed. respond in a healthy way. BE the adult so that the child can be the child. you can't do this if you don't know how. adults, lets commit to educating ourselves. whether we are parents or not.
another note of caution: when tragic things happen, we as humans like to think "that could never happen to me or my child. i would never allow that." be careful with thoughts like these. they give one a false sense of control. this is in line with the problem of blame. as adults, we are responsible TO our children: to model healthy wholehearted living, to give them information, to set limits and boundaries. but we do not control them or their actions. any belief that we do is an illusion, a denial of reality. and illusions and denial of reality are extremely dangerous. hindsight is always 20/20 for a reason. so as you read, if you find yourself judging the scenario (why did her parents have a male babysitter?) or the responses of the adults (i would have responded differently), be careful. this reaction defeats the purpose of me sharing my experience. let it provoke you to action to educate and protect the innocent, not to judgement and damnation of those surrounding my experience. i do not judge them, and neither should you.
a final word of preface: i have shared this post with my mom and obtained her permission to disclose the part of my experience that involves her. i am so thankful to have a mom that is willing to recognize her own brokenness and be vulnerable enough to share it and heal from it. we all need so much grace, and i need it most of all. when we can accept god's grace for ourselves, we can extend it to others as well. i am proud of my mom for being willing to disclose her thoughts surrounding the experience in the hope of promoting education to prevent child sexual abuse in the future, or, if not prevent, then to respond to it in a way that seeks healing and justice for the victim and the perpetrator.
it's funny how your mind remembers certain things and forgets others. i don't remember anything about that day the sitter watched me besides him abusing me. somehow i ended up in the leather recliner in the family room of our house in birmingham, michigan, watching cartoons. he took of my bottoms. then he slid down my underwear. and began to lick me. he stopped, popped his head up, and asked me if it felt good. i remember looking past him to the cartoon i was watching, thinking, "it doesn't really feel like anything, good or bad, you're just doing it." but i nodded my head yes because in my four or five year old mind i thought that was what he wanted to hear and it didn't really make any difference to me. and so he resumed. and i kept watching cartoons. and then the memory ends.
i remember a short time after that (days? weeks?) i tried to share what happened but couldn't recall the name of the sitter because we only had him once (by the grace of god). i was in the kitchen with my mom and brother. i turned to my mom and inserted the name of a male babysitter we had more frequently and said "so and so licked my private parts!" as if i had just declared "the sky is blue!" my mom was understandably shocked. she gasped and told me not to say that. and so i didn't. my mom does not remember this exchange, but she believes that my memory is true.
i did not speak of it again until adolescence. now i am aware that one of the signs of child sexual abuse is a child claiming that they have been sexually abused. at the time i'm sure my claim sounded ludicrous. my child's mind just substituted the one who actually abused me with the name of our more regular male babysitter. why didn't i think to say "i can't remember his name" instead of making it the other sitter's name? why didn't i say "the one with the dark hair?" the only defining characteristic i remember. i don't know. i was four or five. i didn't have the emotional tools to talk about and process what happened to me. at that age, i needed the adults in my life to know what to do and know how to respond because clearly i did not know. unfortunately, my mom didn't know either. and her mom probably didn't know. her friends probably didn't know. this wasn't something that you talk about.
as an adolescent, something in me still knew what happened to me was wrong and knew an adult should know. but after being told not to say what i said, i couldn't say the words. i remember when i stood in the kitchen of my family's house in novi and tried to share what happened with my mom a second time. it's interesting that both times i tried to share my experience in the kitchen of my house, with my mom. i couldn't bring myself to say the words to my dad. two different houses, same room, same parent. this time i turned to my mom and said "a babysitter" and then licked my hand, and then pointed at my crotch. the message wasn't clear so i had to do it several times. i couldn't say the words. i kept miming.
i only recently shared the details of my abuse with my parents, in the last year or so. and i hadn't talked to my mom about her responses to the two times i was abused until this past week when i started writing this post. i didn't want her to take the blame for my abuse. it's not her fault. it's not mine either. the perpetrator is the one responsible for the crime of child sexual abuse, though he will never answer for it. at least not for the abuse against me since it has now been 25 years since it occurred. as i said before, it was a series of unfortunate circumstances and events that culminated in the abuse. lack of education, lack of information. a taboo topic. both my parents reached out to me after i made my post on instagram, saying they didn't hear about this until a year or so ago. what did i mean by i had been trying to communicate for over 10 years? but i did try to tell my mom twice over the years. when i talked with her about the two times, she was shocked and said she didn't remember them. i believe her.
the things i've been learning about trauma and triggers lately are fascinating to me. how sometimes when we cannot cope with situations, especially as children, we push them down as a means to survive. then certain things can trigger these memories and bring them back up. this happened with me to bring these memories back to the forefront of my mind recently. after my mom read my account in my blog post draft, she said that the memory of the interaction at our novi house, the second time i tried to tell her, was coming back to her slowly. she remembers being puzzled by my confession and thinking "no way, that couldn't happen in my family." she wondered what in the world i was hearing from my friends. she remembered being uncomfortable. a natural response. i don't fault her for it. i do want to make sure she and i and every other adult in bina's life have the education and information now.
i don't remember what happened after the second time i tried to tell my mom what happened. but i have these distinct memories. i remember when it happened. i remember trying to alert an adult that it happened. i remember being told not to say that. i remember trying to communicate it again around eight years later. i knew something wrong happened. and i didn't know what to do about it. the adults in my life weren't educated on this sort of thing and naturally didn't know how to educate children regarding how to protect their bodies and what to do if something happens to them. reading the scary mommy article brought it all back to me again. that article made me even more committed to educating myself, david, sabina, the adults around my child, and any other child that god may entrust to me and david.
we've had books about body parts and how to talk about them, how to say "no!" to unwanted touch, and what to do if you see bad pictures. when we were preparing for our first home study visit, i asked david if he thought we should display them with our other books. he said no. and i mean, i was the one who put them in a bin instead of on the shelf to begin with. this is taboo! we don't want it on our shelves for all to see! but then it hit me, reading that scary mommy article. if we're hiding these books, we're playing right into the taboo we're trying to avoid. these books MUST be out with our other books! we MUST make this topic natural and normal for us to talk about. the SAFETY of our CHILD depends on it. and we MUST make sure the other adults sabina spends time around are educated about these topics as well. because it truly takes a village to set your child up for success. i cannot control everything that happens to my child. but i sure as hell can give her information to know how to avoid a situation and what to do if something happens. i can be vigilant and watch for the signs, prying in love to help my child communicate what he or she does not have the words to explain. that is my JOB as an adult, to be the adult for my child. so she can be a child. she is not an adult now, but she will be one someday. and my hope is that she can live this example and pass on knowledge and information. talk about these subjects as if they are normal and not taboo. break down defenses. be real. honest. genuine. true.
one of the things i learned looking at the posters from the scary mommy article is the importance of educating your child that if something happens to them, they are to tell an adult and keep on telling adults until they find someone who believes them. four or five year old me? i told one. and what a burden that one has to carry. it's not fair what happened to me, and it's not fair that the one carries this burden alone. it is not a burden to carry alone. when i was told not to say what i said, i did not speak of it again for about eight years. had i been educated that i should keep on telling until someone believed me, maybe i would have kept telling until i was believed. maybe the babysitter who sexually abused me would have been charged and convicted of child sexual abuse. maybe then he wouldn't have been able to do what he did to me, to other girls. because i assume i was not the only victim. he sexually abused me on the one and only time he babysat for us. there was no warming up to me and my family. it was one and done. it has been about 25 years now. well past the statute of limitations in the state of michigan. there is nothing that can be done at this point. at the time of my abuse by him, his mom was a prominent person in the church we attended. no one would expect her son to be a child sexual abuser. and yet he was. i can't get those 25 years back and find someone to believe me. even if they had, it would have been my four or five year old word against one teenage male's in court. who knows how that would have turned out. i can't change the past, but i can learn from the experience and do all i can to make sure my daughter doesn't find herself in the same situation. and if the unthinkable happens and she does, i can make sure she has the information to know what to do about it. realizing that ultimately i am not in control of what she does or what happens to her. but i do have a responsibility TO my daughter, to educate myself and her, to the best of my ability, to protect her. the rest i leave to god.
adults, let's commit to educating ourselves, our children, and the people around our children about how they can protect their bodies, and what to do if something happens to their bodies that is not ok. it's time to make this topic natural, normal, and acceptable to talk about. say the words. vagina. penis. i must admit i cringe as i type them. it's uncomfortable. it's still taboo. but it can't be anymore. we need to talk about anatomy. this isn't something to hide. this isn't something to blush about. i love this book: god created all of me. our bodies are not taboo. there are parts of our bodies that we don't share with everyone, but that doesn't mean they are dirty or wrong or not to be spoken of. on the contrary, we honor those parts more by covering them - by protecting them.
so lets break out the books. get comfortable with the uncomfortable. because that's our JOB as adults, as parents: to be the adult for our child. so that our child can be the child. do the hard work, adults. do the uncomfortable work. even if you are not a parent of a child by choice or otherwise, adults have a responsibility to the vulnerable, the innocent. those of us who ARE parents, we signed up for this great responsibility when we decided it was time to grow our families, by whatever way that may be. we signed up to be the adult for a child. it's not about me. it's not about my level of comfort. it's not about my feelings or emotions. it's about setting up this small human in my care for success. to grow into the fullness of how god made him or her. i facilitate growth. i model healthy, wholehearted living. i am the person i want my child to grow up to be. (i mean, i'm not, but i'm working on it. practice makes progress, ya'll).
i'm really passionate about doing the hard work to be the adults for our children (if you can't tell). i fail all the time. i am the chief failure of all failures. but i am motivated to keep getting back up and try, try again. if my broken attempts to inform speak to just one person, it is worth it. and even if not, i was faithful to my responsibility to share my experience. and i will keep sharing it. i cannot make another adult educate him or herself. i cannot control whether an adult takes this account and blames and says "i would never let that happen" and does not work to educate and inform him or herself and others on how to protect and prevent. all i can do is share. share my passion. share what god has been speaking to me. share my own brokenness. be real. honest. genuine. true. and hope that god can take these broken pieces and redeem what has been lost. and i know he can and has. suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. and hope does not disappoint because god has poured out his love into our hearts by the holy spirit (romans 5.3b-5). and for that, i praise him.
the following are further resources regarding child sexual abuse:
article: how to talk to your kids about it
article: scary mommy 5 body safety rules
website: raising awareness about sexual abuse