This is third in a series about reporting sexual abuse. To read from the beginning, click here.
I never expected that I’d be reporting my sexual abuse. When I was nineteen, I finally shared the secret I’d kept all my life—my dad had sexually abused me for most of my childhood. My parents had recently divorced so the fear that my disclosure would end their marriage no longer applied.
My mom knew of another girl my dad had molested before my mom met him so she offered to go with me to report him. I told my mom that I didn’t want to take action out of vengeance. Looking back, the truth was much more complicated.
My dad had controlled so much of my life up to that point, even more than I realized. I was groomed for so long to protect him, even at my expense. Telling my mom about the abuse was one thing, but telling the police was another.
Soon after I broke my silence, I confronted my dad. He admitted to what he’d done, but blamed his parents instead of taking responsibility for the years of abuse.
I was hoping that he’d finally become the dad I wanted him to be, but instead of treating me better, he treated me worse. After I confronted him, he tried to control my life even more. He criticized my decisions and rubbed my nose in my mistakes.
After I moved to Los Angeles, the job I’d moved there for fell through and I was in financial crisis. Alone in a new city, I called my dad. He had a plan for helping me, but his condition was that I go back to Arizona and move in with him. He wanted me to return to my administrative job at an abusive church, which had been one of the things I’d been trying to escape.
His “help” came with the condition that he would remind me of what happened when I didn’t listen to him or consult him. Obviously, I wasn’t capable of making decisions without him and obeying him kept me “safe”.
In some ways, I continued to comply and try to be the “good daughter” in an effort to finally gain my dad’s love and approval, but I still craved my freedom and tried to escape his control. I’d pretend I was following his advice while making my own decisions. Slowly, I started to see that I’d never have the life I wanted under his critical influence and I’d never have the dad I wanted even if I lived under his control.
The last time I talked with him before I reported him, it was clear to me that he’d never change and that I wasn’t gaining anything from the relationship.
Though I didn’t want to end our relationship, I needed some separation from him. I didn’t tell him that I wanted a break, but I didn’t call him and I didn’t answer my phone if he called me. I didn’t know it then, but the few months without communication with him allowed me to clear his voice out of my head.
Four months later, I scheduled my first Pap smear. I was terrified that the doctor would tell me I couldn’t have children because of possible physical damage from the abuse. Until then, I’d tried to put aside my abuse and to move on with my life. Realizing the fear I carried with me, I couldn’t deny how much the abuse was still affecting my life.
Thinking about the effects in my own life, I realized this wasn’t something that was isolated to my childhood. The effects followed me into adulthood. Not only that, but my dad hadn’t stopped abusing. I knew he was still an abuser since he was emotionally abusing me.
That realization made me wonder who else he would abuse. That was my call to action that I had to report him.
Though his influence wasn’t completely gone, reporting him was the first time I opposed him directly and it was a big step in loosening his grip on me. Reporting my sexual abuse gave me the freedom and space to heal without his opposition. After I reporting him, I realized what a significant and powerful action that was. It was my big NO! I was declaring, “You don’t have control over my life anymore!” Though I thought I was reporting my sexual abuse to stand up for other potential victims, I was really standing up for myself.
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.
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