"To me he was like a grandfather I never had - this special old friend that 'respected' a child. When you're a child, it's special to have an adult (these people you look up to) be so interested in you... Someone who gave me books, who took me to the beach, who'd make me sit on his lap and kiss my arms. I didn't know it was wrong then - he kissed my arms in a way a lover kisses your arms before making love to you. He wanted to take me scuba diving. He wanted to take me "on a desert island" and I didn't realize!
All I could see was that this adult was spending time with me and being so sweet to me.
I was so deceived.
I can't remember most of the time I spent with him... I sort of recall these moments when we were at the beach or talking on the road... But apart from that particular moment in his room, I can't recall anything else that happened in his house."
That was an entry in my diary a few years ago, when I finally decided to face my sexual abuse. If I was going to be able to support others through the trauma, I had to understand my story first.
I was 11 at the time it happened. I ran back home and locked myself in the bathroom. Sat on the floor and tried to make sense of what had just happened.
I knew it was wrong.
I knew it shouldn't have happened.
But I didn't really understand it.
And he had the nerve to keep coming back to our house after that.
I'd always hide when he came.
How arrogant of him!
I never told anyone about it.
For a long time.
Then I told a teacher and she said it was because I was so pretty.
Not really what you want to be telling someone who's been abused. You might as well tell her it's her fault it happened!
By the time I started University, I pretty much felt that I was over it, and didn't think it was affecting me anymore. I mean, it's not like I was having nightmares about it or anything.
And then I started studying abuse and trauma and I started seeing just how much it was still affecting me.
I had been fairly promiscuous in my teenage years. Now, I understood that it was my way of trying to fix what wasn't right. It was my way of saying "this time I will pick who I give my body to". It made me feel more in control. It's called reenactment. Like replaying the traumatic event over and over and trying to reprocess it and give it a different ending.
It also made me very angry. Angry at him for what he had done. Angry at myself for letting it happen. For not seeing the signs. I know I was a child. And the adult in me understands that it wasn't my fault. But the child still blames herself.
Perhaps the biggest way in which this has affected my life is my ability to enjoy sex. For a long time, it would hurt me to have sex. And I mean physically hurt. I would tense up and stress out. Sometimes I'd bare it, to feel normal. To be able to say "I CAN do it". Sometimes it would be too painful. And I'd curl up feeling utterly useless! What kind of woman am I, that I can't have sex!
It would always end in tears.
And then I met my husband. He was so careful, so tender. It didn't hurt.
Where am I today?
I'm happily married. Occasionally sex will hurt. But it is 100% better. I'm still angry. And I'm not sure that will ever go away. I'm not an angry person. I'm just angry at him. He's dead now. I'm happy about that. At least I know he is not hurting anyone else. I know I should forgive him. That it would be better for ME. But I can't bring myself to.
"I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell
And I don't have time to go round and round and round.
It's too late to make it right
I probably wouldn't if I could
Cos I'm mad as hell
Can't bring myself to do what it is you think I should"
-Dixie Chicks -
The other "lasting effect" has been that I have a hard time trusting anyone with my kids. I'm very reluctant to leave them in the care of anyone. Even close friends and family. Paedophiles don't have a sign on their forehead. They ARE friends and family. I know I should relax a bit about it. And my kids do have play dates. But I can't help but worry about it.
Why am I telling you about this?
Because I think that it's important to talk about it.
According to some figures, 1 in 3 women are sexually abused in some way. And as much as 1 in 5 men.
That's a lot.
That's many of us.
And yet we live with it in secret.
Society doesn't like hearing about it. About us.
I want to say that it's OK.
Not what happened - that was wrong - absolutely wrong.
But it happened to me and I'm OK.
And it's OK to talk about it.
What can you do?
Spread the word. If sexual abuse wasn't such a secret, it wouldn't be so common. The abusers are protected by the fact that we don't talk about it.
In Edmund Burke's words "All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing".
We need to make it OK.
OK to talk about it.
OK to survive it.