According to RAINN (the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization), approximately 63,000 children per year are victims of sexual abuse (1). According to pcautah.org, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused. Utah’s child sexual abuse rate is three times the national average. Most children who are sexually abused don’t report it. 88% of adults who were sexually abused as children say that they never reported it. It is estimated only 1 in 10 victims will report abuse. 90% of the time a child will be abused by someone within their immediate circle of friends and family. This can include parents, relatives, care givers, child care providers, and anyone a child sees often. (2)
These are sobering statistics, especially when one realizes there is a child behind every single one of those numbers.
I’m sharing this with you today because I was one of those children. On my journey of healing I’ve learned things along the way that I hope can help others who are or have been in a similar situation. I am also sharing this with you today because I want to be a voice for change. Sometimes all it takes is one voice to help others have the courage to share their stories as well. We saw this recently in the Me Too movement. I want it to be forever known that I am an advocate for change.
My story starts at the age of 14. I was sexually abused by someone close to my family (as 90% of abused children are). I was a young girl, and was devastated. For months afterwards I was depressed. I suffered from post-traumatic stress and flashbacks for years afterwards. However, I never told anyone what happened. My main reason for not telling was that I wanted to protect my family. I knew what happened to me was bad, and I was worried what would happen to them if I told anyone. I took the heavy burden of carrying and withholding that secret in order to what I thought was protect my family, without getting counseling or help that I needed to work through it.
About two years later, I read a book called “Finding Peace, Happiness, and Joy”. The principles in this book helped me heal from the experience that I suffered. However, I still told no one about what happened.
As I was preparing to graduate high school, I still suffered from holding this secret inside. I knew that I wanted to find peace and resolution before I moved forward with my life – before I got married and had my own family, specifically. I went to a trusted leader in my life and shared what had happened to me. He helped me find a good counselor and helped me find access to the things I needed to heal and move forward.
A few months after I finally told someone what had happened to me, I received a phone call. I found out that my younger sister had come forward and said the same things had happened to her.
To my regret, I didn’t support her during this time. Even though I knew what the abuser had done to me, I professed not to believe her story. This was for a few reasons. My experience in coping with the situation was different than hers. I also still felt this strong love and loyalty that I needed to protect my family. I didn’t know what would happen to them if I came forward too. Because of this, I told my sister that I didn’t believe her, and refused to talk to authorities more about my experience.
This caused a strange rift in our relationship. It was an elephant in the room that everyone knew was there but no one would talk about. To be honest, I’m not sure if I was ready to talk about it and come clear.
I went to college, and served a mission, came home and got married. Through these experiences I grew and gained more independence. I told my soon to be fiancé about what had happened to me, and it helped talking to an unbiased, removed from the situation third party about everything. Later on through our marriage, I kept thinking about what had happened, and I second guessed the way I had handled the situation with my sister. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that I had handled that situation wrong. I knew without a doubt what had happened to me. Why would my sister make up stories, without knowing what had happened to me, about the same thing happening to her? Why would she cause that pain intentionally in the family and to herself? Who is more likely to lie – my sister, who is causing great pain and isolation to herself in coming forward, or someone who I know has lied already about what they did to me?
At this point it became completely clear. I felt anger and regret. Regret for not supporting my sister earlier. Regret for not telling someone what happened to me when it first happened. Maybe if I had, my sister wouldn’t have had to go through what she did.
At this point, I did everything I could to make things right. I wrote letters to those affected by the situation to let them know exactly where I stood. To let them know that I would no longer hide or withhold sharing my experience in order to protect the many innocents that are hurt by the abuser’s actions.
I’m grateful that I did this. I found peace in knowing that I’m not on anyone’s side, or fighting for anyone. I’m just me. I’m sharing the truth, and am on no one’s side but mine and the truth. This allowed me to love and heal in a good way, without further suppressing pain or anger. There is freedom in sharing the truth.
Going through this experience taught me valuable lessons that I feel are important for victims of abuse to understand.
The first lesson is that it was not my fault that happened to me. For years I felt that if I said anything about what happened to me, I would be hurting and destroying my family. Now I realize that that’s not true. It’s not my fault my abuser acted out the way he did. If consequences come that hurt my family, it is because of this person’s actions – not mine. This person is the one that brought pain and suffering, secrets and heavy burdens to carry to the family. Not me. When I realized this, I realized that any pain my family might suffer from me talking about what happened is not my fault. This was freeing because it was no longer my burden to carry. It’s the abuser’s.
Another lesson I learned, that may be the most valuable and the one I am focusing on now, is that it’s okay to talk about these hard things that happen. For years’ sexual abuse and assault in many forms has been swept under the rug and rationalized to being ok. It’s something that people knew happened but didn’t do anything about, maybe because they didn’t know how or what to do. I feel many individuals don’t speak up for themselves because of many reasons – fear, worry, love, loyalty, ect. These feelings in dealing with these situations are complicated, and are not easy to work through – especially on your own. It’s important to healing to be able to share what you’ve been through. A few months after I came open about my story to my family, the Me Too movement happened. I’m grateful that it did. I felt it was interesting timing. I was slowly gaining courage to share my story in order to heal and to help others who may have gone through the same thing. I hope society is changing in that way, too.
I feel it’s so important for victims to know first, that you are not alone. I want them to know that having the courage to share your story can bring great relief and healing, and can help prevent future abuse from happening. I know first-hand how difficult it is to talk about a painful experience such as this. It’s not something anyone ever wants to talk about. But having a conversation about it is crucial to change. It helps bring healing. It helps bring awareness so that the problem can be addressed and worked on, both on an individual level and in society.
I also feel a conversation about this issue is important in the case of the abuser. I know that healing and peace can be found, even in making such terrible mistakes as this. There is a terrible stigma around individuals who abuse children – for good, good reason. But I also want these individuals to know that there is help available to you to heal and make restitution and be forgiven for the mistakes that you’ve made. Many abusers suffered abuse, too.
I feel a need to share my story in the hopes of raising awareness, and hopefully helping someone along the road. I’m grateful for the healing that has come into my life from my loving Savior. I can’t write about this topic without sharing my gratitude for His love and sacrifice. I know that He helped me to heal from this experience, and from many sorrows and trials I’ve had throughout my life. He has always been there for me, and always will. He loves each and every one of us, and wants to help us and heal us.
In order to help create awareness, I’ve started a photography project that is based on the issue of sexual assault in the Provo community. The project is in the works, and will take a year to complete. I hope to submit this project to galleries to help create awareness and advocate for change. So keep your eyes out for coming photographs in the future.
In the meantime, I’ve attached a few resources that are available to learn more about this issue. Some of my favorite articles I’ve read so far are:
What do you say when someone comes to you and tells you they’ve been sexually abused or assaulted? This article by RAINN gives some tips, dos and don’ts.
Some very common myths about child sexual abuse. These myths are ones that I know aren’t true based on my personal experience.
PCAUtah.org – this website is available to educate parents and care givers about protecting children from sexual abuse, and gives resources to help victims of abuse.