by Jennifer Stuck
Still to this day, anytime I hear the phrases “playing doctor” or “show-and-tell,” I feel a shiver run down my spine. Only recently have I realized that this is because my mother used those phrases to make light of my abuse from an older neighbor boy. She would even speak to other people casually about it right in front of me, like it was no big deal, saying things like, “I caught Jenny playing doctor with the neighbor boy again.”
I think using playful terms like those helped ease her own guilty conscience for not protecting me. If I was just “playing doctor” she could tell herself it was normal childhood exploring instead of seeing the reality that I was being sexually abused by an older child. When she said those things, it only added to the shame already felt about my abuse; it made me feel like I wanted to climb down inside myself to hide from the world so nobody could see how bad I was.
There are some instances where normal, healthy children may touch themselves innocently or may be curious about the anatomy of another child. However, what the neighbor boy did to me was so much more than normal childhood exploring. He taught me to perform sexual acts, forced me to do things with other children for him to watch, and degraded me in horrible ways. He even urinated on me as part of my abuse, like a dog marking its territory.
When a child acts out sexually on another child the way my abuser hurt me, that means he or she experienced some type of abuse themselves. That of course doesn’t make it okay for them to hurt and abuse another child, and it didn’t make it okay for my abuser to hurt me. The truth is, all abuse is damaging, and abuse from one child to another is just as damaging as abuse from an adult to a child.
When my mother failed to see the seriousness of the situation and called my abuse things like “playing doctor” or “show-and-tell”, then scolded me for allowing those things to be done to me, she put all the blame on me and none on the abuser. It made me feel like I had done something wrong. Instead of protecting me and keeping this older, more aggressive child out of our home, she told me not to LET it happen again. That was a responsibility I shouldn’t have had to carry at that young age, and it was something that kept me from reaching out for help for many years.
Those terms were also highly confusing to me. At the age my abuse began, I had no idea what sex was or that what was being done to me was wrong. All I knew was, parts of it made me feel really icky, parts of it felt good, and my abuser told me I would get in trouble if I told anyone. Then when my mother found me being abused and I DID get in trouble, and nothing happened to my abuser, that sent the message to me that my abuser’s lies were all true.
Had my family only understood how damaging child-on-child abuse is, maybe they would have stepped in. Maybe they would have kept my abuser away. Or maybe they just didn’t care enough to protect me. I’ll probably never know for sure. But one thing I do know is, now as an adult with children of my own, it’s extremely important for me to spread the word about how damaging child-on-child sexual abuse really is. It’s no game, and it’s nothing to be made light of.
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Jennifer Stuck is whole-heartedly pursuing physical and emotional health and is determined to heal the wounds of her childhood sexual abuse. She loves to write, especially poetry. She is currently studying for a career in Physical Therapy. When she isn’t in school Jennifer is at home spending time with her two beautiful daughters.