I had to cover my eyes during kissing scenes in movies until my teens. I couldn’t ride my bike more than two blocks away. All of my friends had to be approved. My mom would check all of my essays to make sure they were perfect before I even turned in a rough draft. I wasn’t allowed to date until I was eighteen. I was overprotected in every area of my life except when it came to sexual abuse. I was left completely exposed to one of the most dangerous threats a child can face.
My mom told me she knew about my abuse. She discovered blood in my diaper when I was an infant. Knowing that he had molested another girl, she confronted my dad about it and he admitted to sexually abusing me. I was told that instead of going to the police, together they went to one of the people they esteemed the most, the senior pastor at our church. After one counseling session and a quick prayer, my dad was sent on his way like nothing had ever happened. The abuse continued until my teens.
I recently found out that a few other leaders at our church were asked to counsel with my father during that time, but nothing came of it. They were told by the senior pastor not to report it and they complied. When I found that out, I was flooded with emotions. I already knew that our senior pastor, his wife, and my mom knew about the abuse, but discovering that two more people knew, overwhelmed me. How many adults did it take to protect a little girl?
In the last few weeks I’ve experienced a variety of emotions. First, I felt abandoned. I didn’t understand how all of these people who supposedly loved me could do nothing while my abuser was free to keep hurting me. I began making excuses for them: My mom was abused herself and in denial that the abuse had continued. And even if it did, she felt powerless to do anything about it. The two leaders who were asked not to report it didn’t know the steps to take and were fearful of losing their jobs. I didn’t feel that they deserved me being mad at them. They were good people who did a stupid thing. I wanted to just erase it from my memory and go on with my life. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I couldn’t suppress those feelings anymore.
[pullquote]How many adults did it take to protect a little girl?[/pullquote]I was watching Desperate Housewives this week. Eva Longoria’s character, Gabby, was visiting her hometown and the nun at her old school was still there. As a child, Gabby had disclosed her sexual abuse by her step-father, but the nun dismissed her by saying Gabby had an active imagination. She confronted the nun, “I did not deserve what happened to me. I was a child. But you were a grown up and you did nothing. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Tears streamed down my face as I watched Gabby’s empowering moment. I finally identified with the emotion of anger towards those who didn’t come to my defense. I was under-protected and had feelings about it that were completely justified.
I wanted to scream in the faces of those who didn’t protect me, telling them, “What is your problem? Don’t you know that I was just a baby? I couldn’t defend myself, but you could have and you chose to do nothing! Isn’t allowing bad to happen the same as perpetrating it? The abuse could have stopped then, but instead I suffered for most of my childhood. Every day of my life was filled with pain. Why did you let me go through that? I didn’t get a childhood because you were cowards! My father stole my innocence and you let him do it!”
Anger was this big, scary emotion to me. I had always seen examples of anger that turned violent and I didn’t want to become that person. I didn’t want to act on the passion that I had, and I didn’t have to. I was angry that they betrayed me and it was okay. I had no plans of rubbing their noses’ in their wrongs. I wasn’t trying to hurt them back. I just wanted to express my feelings about it for the first time. Now, I’m now facing the pain that this brought. I was wronged by more than just my abuser, and have a right to the emotions that correspond with that.
I began this process by reasoning away my emotions before I even acknowledged them or expressed them. That kept me stuck. I had to feel those things and then I could sort it out. To reverse the order is to invalidate my feelings and my experience.
Although I’m not completely out of this stage, being angry at them is not a forever thing. And facing the truth about how I feel gets me one step closer to where I want to be: WHOLE.
Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.
Does this resonate with you? Please join in by leaving your thoughts and feelings about this topic and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments.