At age 7, I was sexually abused by the teenage son of a pastor of a non-denominational church my parents joined when I was 6. This abuse continued for many years. It was not until a sexual abuse prevention program came to present to my 4th grade class in public school that I realized what was being done to me and that it was wrong. I later confronted my abuser and he promised to stop if I didn’t tell anyone about it. I was then bullied by himself and his sister for years, they would beat me, restrain me, pull my hair, tell me I was ugly, tell me that I liked the attention – they were trying to make me weak and afraid so I would not let the big secret out. I became increasingly angry and disgusted with myself and with the abuser the more time passed. During this time I also found out that he had abused at least two other girls who were around my age. I pleaded with them to say something to someone with me, but they were too afraid of the repercussions.
When I was in 6th grade, I confided in someone about what had happened to me and about the ongoing bullying, and this person broke my trust and told someone else. The word got out amongst the convocation and I was treated as a liar, and told that I was making things up for attention, that I wanted to bring shame upon the church. My own family chose to not believe me, despite my uncontrollable sobbing, tears and vulnerability when I finally had the courage to tell them what had happened. My abuser, who was by then in his early 20s, cornered me at church one day alongside his very pregnant wife and asked me why I was spreading such lies about him and forced me to tell his wife that I was lying. I was shaking with anger, but also in fear – I did not want to be responsible for a miscarriage so I looked at her with anger in my eyes and uttered between my clenched teeth that it was a lie. It was never discussed again at the church. But everyone, including my family, regarded me as the black sheep and treated me like I was the dirt underneath someone’s shoe. When I left home at age 13 to go into the foster care system, I told my mom that the day she chose not to believe me was the day I stopped believing in her. She still called me a liar and told me I’d be going to hell for bringing shame upon the family. I still to this day consider that moment the most intense heartbreak of my life.
While in foster care, I was sexually assaulted by one of my foster parents while his wife was out of the house. It was my longest placement, I had been there for over a year, had become attached to them and it literally came out of nowhere. I was completely in shock, but managed to get away from his grip, locked myself in my room while he banged on the door for me to come out, and quickly packed a bag and called my friend who lived a few doors down to let her know I would be running for my life to her house in a few minutes. After a few days at my friends’ house, I went back to my foster home. It took me a week of questioning myself and feeling gross and dirty, and talking it over with close friends before I decided to call my social worker to tell her what had happened. I was hoping that maybe it was all a bad dream and that things would go back to normal like nothing had happened. I was told to put my belongings in a garbage bag and that she would be coming to get me. My friend’s parents who lived a few doors down agreed to let me stay with them until I graduated high school, which was just a few months away.
My social worker told me that I would have to sit down with her and my former foster parents to discuss my accusations and prove why they should no longer be a foster home. This was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life. I sat in front of the wife at the kitchen table in their home, my social worker between us, while her husband, the one who assaulted me, refused to sit down and paced back and forth in the kitchen while chain smoking. He avoided eye contact with us the entire time. I had to sit there and get yelled at by the wife that I was lying, that I was just looking for attention, that I was trying to sabotage their marriage and that maybe if I didn’t dress so provocatively sometimes when I went out dancing with my friends that we wouldn’t be in this situation. I stood my ground and told her that I had everything to lose by telling the truth – why would I want to intentionally sabotage the longest placement I had been in since being placed into foster care? And literally months before I graduated high school and was preparing to leave for college? Why would I go through the trouble, stress and embarrassment of sitting at this table in front of her and her husband and be lashed out at – how is that fun? I told my social worker that I would not press charges since I was very much aware of the lengthy and gruelling process that would entail, the questioning and accusations of lying I would have to endure, and I was not willing to go through that turmoil and stress at this point in my life. But I wanted them to not be able to take in any other kid, so that this could never happen again. They were shut down as a foster home that day.
Counselling was never offered to me while I was in care. I did not go to counselling on my own until my mid-20s. Up until that point, I was not ready to talk about it – I had internalized the experiences and felt ashamed, afraid, angry, disgusted and wanted to bury the traumatic memories as deep and far away as possible. It took me all through my 20s and early 30s to work through the shame and trauma of being a survivor of sexual abuse and build up my self-worth. Even to this day it is hard for me to talk about it, and I do not talk about it often. Writing this today and sharing it with others is not easy, and I even questioned whether I should share it. But I felt it was necessary to showcase the reality of victims of abuse in light of what has been happening in the news and on my Facebook newsfeed in the last few days in reaction to the Ghomeshi trial. It happened to me. It happened to someone you know, whether you know about it or not. Maybe it happened to you, too. For those people, I share this story to say: “I stand with you.”
No one can truly understand the trauma of being a victim of sexual abuse unless you have lived through it. It messes with your psyche, your memories, and your brain intentionally blocks out details to protect itself. Even to this day I am unable to recall certain details of my abuse, because my mind has blocked it out completely. A lot of the details I can remember are foggy, and feel like a bad dream. I’ve been told by professionals that only hypnosis sessions can help to bring these memories back to the surface, and that it is usually not recommended as it can throw you into deep psychological distress that could potentially cause permanent damage. Sexual abuse is complex, and affects the victim so much more deeply than at the physical level. It is also a long-term experience – it continues being lived and relived in your mind years and years after the abuse occurred. I firmly believe that psychologists and sexual abuse trauma experts should be called to the stand in every sexual abuse case that goes to trial in criminal courts.
I believe survivors, because no one believed me when I was telling the truth.
I believe survivors, because they tell their story despite having so little to gain and yet SO much to lose by telling it – their reputation, their friends and family, their dignity.
I believe survivors, because they are brave and dare to tell someone when the risk is high that they will be called a liar even though statistics show that a very small percentage of accusers lie.
I believe survivors, because they dare to stand up to try to prevent abuse from happening to someone else.
I believe survivors, because they chose to believe in themselves despite living in a society that sets them up for failure and encourages them to stay silent.
I believe survivors, because no one wants to be subject to public spectacle and ridicule over sexual abuse accusations – we just want justice, to take control of our own bodies and fight for our sense of worth and self-respect.