Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 3: When Whistles Indicate Worth

When I think about how sexual abuse effected my view of self, there is one incident that most accurately depicts my identity struggles. For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you will likely recognize this story.

I was around the age of 9 or 10 when I was on a weekend trip at a hotel with an indoor pool in Raleigh, NC. An indoor pool meant hours of entertainment for my siblings and me. When we entered the pool area, my siblings and I were ecstatic because we had the entire pool area to ourselves. As we played in the shallow water, I noticed a man in the sauna adjacent to the pool area. When our eyes locked, he slowly loosened the towel from around his waist exposing his nudity. Immediately, I equated this man in the sauna with my abuser back home. He acted the same as my abuser and within seconds a war was raging in my mind. “Am I supposed to go in there?” “I can’t leave my sister and brother alone in the pool.” “What if they followed me in to the sauna?” “I know what he needs me to do.” Thankfully another family joined my siblings and I in the pool area and the man in the sauna quickly left.

In my previous post, I talked about how after the abuse began I did not see myself as a child any longer. This incident with a stranger in a hotel sauna epitomizes the destruction of my identity resulting from the abuse. I was no longer a child. I was only worthy for sexually pleasing men. The view that my worth was found in men’s actions towards me lingered for years.  

 When I was a teenager I can remember being out at Myrtle Beach or even the Walmart the next town over. Nearly every time I was out, at least one person would holler some sort of catcall or whistle. It made me frustrated for a brief second to be yelled at like that; however, it rapidly triggered in my brain the neural pathway that screamed “yes, you are still worthy, you are still wanted, you are still needed, this is right!”  I would question what was wrong with me if I was out and did not have a catcall directed my way. This was my normal. The frequency of whistles and catcalls indicated how I viewed my worth.

I started writing this post last week before the #MeToo movement began. I find it so timely that it took off just as I was finding the words to speak. It has been overwhelming, but not shocking, to see friend after friend post #MeToo on social media. I know behind each of those statuses there are probably several others who can’t post yet because it is not safe or simply because they don’t want to- and that is ABSOLUTELY okay too- I believe you.

I hope we don’t get caught up in the hashtag. I hope that we keep this conversation going. I hope that we take action so the #MeToo will be in reference to something positive we can all experience.

The change that I desire to see is an end to the degrading catcalls and inappropriate language used to speak to and/or describe women. Every time I heard a catcall or whistle, the beliefs my abuser instilled in me were reinforced. Every whistle perpetuated the belief: “this is it. This is what you are here for. This is what you were made to do. Now, go meet his needs.”

So, before you whistle or catcall that person- consider asking her name and how her day is going.

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Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 2: Where is the Child?

I remember it like it was yesterday.  “How can I look younger? What if people think I’m the mom here? What if people think I’m the wife here? How can I make sure people know I’m the daughter? I’ll have to make sure they hear me say ‘dad.” These thoughts flooded my 10-year-old brain as I strolled down the boardwalk of Myrtle Beach with my dad and two younger siblings.

Initially, when I began this series I was going to address the effects of sexual abuse on my view of God, my view of others, and my view of self. However, I quickly realized the intricate connection between those three views. I have decided to approach this series more from a developmental perspective detailing how those views changed through the years.

At ten years old, I no longer viewed myself as a child. Soon after the abuse began, my imaginative play diminished. I completely lost my ability to connect with Barbie dolls or stuffed animals. I could still play sports and board games, but anything that required the use of my imagination failed to culminate.

When my abuser stole my innocence, he ended my childhood. The transition into adolescence is often tumultuous followed by the excitement of entering independence and the freedom of adulthood; however, the ongoing sexual abuse disrupted those transitions and thrusted me too soon into an adult world. When I looked in the mirror, I saw my ten-year-old physique reflected; but on the inside, the child had disappeared.

When I think about those thoughts that raced through my mind as I walked down the boardwalk at Myrtle Beach, I grieve for that little girl who feared people would think these two kids, seven and nine years old, were her children. I grieve for the little girl who believed it was normal for a child to be in a sexual relationship with a grown man. I grieve for the little girl who believed no one could rescue her from her abuser.

Today, I see how God is continuing to work in and through each detail of my life. I see how He uses each of my experiences to educate others. Adults, if you recognize that a child suddenly stops engaging in imaginative play, have a conversation about sexual abuse. Create the environment and dialogue where a child will experience the safety and security necessary to take the bold step of disclosure. It could certainly be normal childhood development where imaginative play is no longer “cool,” but is that a risk you are willing to take? There is no harm that can come from having an age appropriate discussion about body safety and sexual abuse. Take that step.

A few months ago, I took my first step in the realm of poetry and I think it is worth sharing here as it exposes what it is like when innocence is stolen.

 

Come to my room, my dear

You have nothing to fear

It’s our time together

Please, let me float like a feather

Through the air, with the wind

I can’t get away, I’m pinned

What is happening? I don’t understand

Don’t worry my dear, this is all planned

What happened in your bed

Where my mother laid her head

Took what was mine

When I was just nine

Secrets unspoken.

Imagination broken.

Innocence stolen.

No more teddy bears

Or rocking chairs

My life was changed forever

When you decided to sever

My safety and trust

Now I’m filled with fear and disgust

No words, just silence

I must prevent his violence

Hear what my eyes are saying

On the inside, I’m decaying

Perfect on the outside

Please, someone find where I hide.

 

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I love these siblings of mine, more than words can express.