I. We are so grateful to the local survivor who recently shared her story with CASDA. Sadly, it is not uncommon for the effects of childhood sexual abuse to follow a victim for years to come.
I am a survivor of sexual assault and domestic abuse. I have asked my Mom if I was “normal” before “the incident;” she tells me I was. Since I was only seven years old the first time it happened, I really don’t know what normal is, but I needed reassurance that it existed for me at some point in my life.
“The incident” happened on a summer day in 1980. My brother was going fishing at Barker’s Island and I went with him even though I knew it was somewhere I was not supposed to be. On our walk there, two older men that one of the boys in our group knew (but not well enough to help the police afterward) picked us up. One of the men separated me from the group and assaulted me in the woods.
I am not sure what was worse, the incident or the trauma that followed. I grabbed my younger brother and ran home, my sister then called the police. The policeman asked me many questions. I didn’t tell him everything because I thought I was in trouble. He seemed angry and I thought it was an anger directed towards me. The policeman put me in the back of his police car and drove me back to Barker’s Island, but the men had already fled so he questioned the kids who remained. Then, he drove me to the hospital; we picked up my mom at her work on the way. At the hospital I had to recount the story to multiple people—nurses, a doctor, and even another police officer. They ultimately did what I now know is called a rape kit. My mom and I were brought to the police station where I had to recount the story yet again. They showed me pictures of men and asked a lot of questions. The guy was never identified and at seven years old I was assaulted in broad daylight by a complete stranger. At such a young age I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what had happened to me.
The following summer I was sexually assaulted again. One relative would do things to me that made me uncomfortable and then his older brother assaulted me. Not much longer after this incident, the younger of the brothers was targeting me again. I was terrified, but I managed to lock myself in my mom’s room. I knew he would get the door open so I grabbed a pair of scissors off the dresser. When he got the door open I raised the scissors up and charged toward him, screaming. I felt so powerful as he ran away. I figured out that if I was really loud and mean, no one would come near me, and I would be safe. I didn’t know this was my reaction to multiple incidences of sexual assault. Shortly thereafter, I was brought to a psychologist and he asked me if I knew what I was there for, I replied with, “yes, the incident.” However, I didn’t know what incident either of us was referring to. I never did figure that part out either because I never had to talk about what had happened to me. By age thirteen I had attempted suicide for the first time, and by age fourteen I started drinking alcohol. Eventually alcohol turned into pot and then to hard drugs. I did this because I hated myself, I was disgusted by my body.
At the age of eighteen, yet another “incident” happened. After a night of drinking, my friends left my house; however, my best friend let himself back in and raped me. I was so drunk I couldn’t move or fight him off. It was violent. It took me many years to admit to myself that he did rape me, but he was my best friend, who would believe me? Shortly after this incident I started dating an older man. I was impressed that this man actually seemed to adore me, but two months into the relationship the drinking and arguing turned violent. He was abusive. I would wake up to him having sex with me and there were times he would lock me in the bedroom. I didn’t think it could be rape because he was my boyfriend. I ended up pregnant and felt trapped. I thought this was what ALL men did. They were sexually abusive and violent because this is what my whole life had shown me.
Eventually that man went to jail and I found someone new. This relationship had a lot of fighting too. He hit me and each time I would apologize to him because I “knew” it was always my fault. I thought I just needed to not get him as mad next time. The next several years brought about broken front teeth, a cracked breast bone, a hairline jaw fracture, bruises, and being knocked-out several times. I was kicked, punched, pushed, and called names, but I always took full responsibility and never called the police. I was terrified that he would leave me and eventually he did. I spiraled into serious drug addiction and realized that I could get high and not feel like myself—I hated myself so that was my goal.
In 2005, I entered an addiction recovery program and for the first time in my life, I looked at my life with a clear head. I figured out which events were my fault and more importantly which ones were not my fault. I learned that not all men hurt women. I can’t tell you that in my 40’s I have gotten over my past because I really haven’t. There are times when my experiences send me into panic, anxiety, or depression, but more days than not I am able to keep these events from defining or devaluing me. I now know what a healthy relationship looks like and I do not allow others to mistreat me. I never chose to be a victim. Today, however, I choose to be a survivor.
(Written and submitted to CASDA in Winter 2016. Used with permission.)