Sexual Abuse: Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it. ~Helen Keller
I have to share something important before I begin writing this week. I do not open myself up through this blog because I think everyone who chooses to read it needs to know the intimate details of my life . I write because I believe the significant events we experience throughout our lives occur for reasons we don't always understand at the time, but that we can put to good use as we continue our journey.
That being said, what I am going to share here is very personal and is a real stretch and challenge for me to reveal. By personal I mean that I have never spoken about it with my children, or with my brothers or, maybe not so oddly enough, even with my dad. Nonetheless, I think by writing about my experience with sexual abuse now I can help someone else to (1) emotionally accept their own past (2) better understand the depth of forgiveness and (3) serve as a reminder about how often sexual mistreatment happens to children and how important it is as parents to address this issue.
So, here it goes...
One Saturday night, it was the spring of 1982 and just a few weeks before my 8th grade graduation from a lovely suburban Catholic school, I was babysitting. The three kids in my care were in bed when the phone rang (no, not my cell phone...the "land line"). On the other end were several boys I knew from school who knew I was babysitting (obviously I had let them know, I may have even been naive enough to give them the number). ANYWAYS, we talked on the phone for a few minutes when they asked if they could stop by the house. I'll admit I was flattered. The couple I was babysitting for were not due home until a few hours later, so I agreed. Not long after (they were hanging out at a home nearby) came a knock at the back door. I answered the door and proceeded to talk with the boys (including the older brother of my very good friend) for quite a while before they requested I come out into the backyard (I cannot remember what the reason was at this point, we were all talking and joking around so it wasn't weird to me at the time), so I did. And, if I had any idea what was going to transpire in the back yard of that home I would never have unlocked the screen door and gone outside.
The conversation continued on the patio when the mood began to change and those boys started asking me progressively suggestive questions. I remember beginning to feel uneasy, but reassuring myself that I knew these guys and they must just be kidding. The next thing I knew, the boys were chasing me around the back yard. They caught me pretty easily and threw me down on the ground. The oldest, strongest boy held me down and covered my mouth while the rest took turns (how to say this delicately....) disrobing me and aggressively touching my private areas. This went on for several minutes and all I could think about during the assault on my body was how much I'd hoped the kids were asleep because the motion light had gone off once I hit the grassy area of the yard and illuminated the entire scene which was nothing I wanted any child to witness. The second thing that kept going through my mind was just how utterly shocked I was that it was even taking place.
They finally let me up and immediately ran away. I struggled to compose myself, get redressed, and head back to the house. I think , no I know, I was numb with confusion, disbelief, disgust, and felt like a complete fool for I understood the reason for their visit had been premeditated. Those boys, several of whom I attended school with everyday, had come over that night with intent to take full advantage of me.
A short while later the couple came home and I had pulled myself together enough to pretend it was an uneventful night. When I got home I told my mom what had happened. She told my dad. He handled it from there. Without going in to those details, I know my dad handled the situation in a way he felt was best for me. My dad and I never spoke about the incident and, until last week when I brought it up to my mom, the only male I have spoken to about this night is my husband.
The tears freely roll down my face even 31 years later, as I write these words the amount of shame I feel is hard to convey. I know in my heart I did nothing that night to encourage or "ask for" the kind of humiliating assault those boys must have decided would be a fun way to spend a Saturday night. What may have been a few minutes of power for them [and quite frankly a sick way of getting their jollies] affected me more than I would or could acknowledge until years later. It could very well have influenced many a dating relationship I've had and [in general] what I felt I was worthy of from other people.
So today I am going to forgive. I am forgiving myself for ever thinking I had any ownership in what happened to me that night. I am not angry at the boys who took turns violating me in that backyard. I know they will answer to God one day for what they did to me. A few minutes of time when I was thirteen years old seriously impaired my ability to trust my instincts and to trust other people. It had a long-term effect on the kind of relationship I felt I deserved from the opposite sex. Today I know I am not damaged or inferior because this happened to me, and it is time to let go of the emotional turmoil I have tried to ignore for so many years.
If you have experienced sexual abuse in your life, I encourage you to share it with someone you can trust. Sharing the secrets of your heart can help you begin to heal. And if you have a child that comes to you and has the courage to tell you they have been touched in an improper manner, you should not hesitate to contact the authorities. I don't know where all of those boys ended up, but I'd be willing to bet if they have daughters they would never want them violated in the same manner in which they chose to take my innocence away.
Matthew West's song "Forgiveness", which gets plays often on the radio station I listen to, is an inspiring story of one woman's incredible ablility to forgive. It has had a profound effect on my life. This video, from YouTube, shares the touching account of what forgiveness can do.