Photo by Grace Brown From Project Unbreakable
As a kid, we are taught boundaries. We hear things like, “This is an adult conversation.” And there are issues surrounding relationships, marriage, and sex that kids just don’t have the capacity to completely understand or embrace. And then it happens.
On Tuesday, a child’s greatest worry is whether they want chocolate milk or apple juice. On Wednesday, their greatest worry is how to hide the fact that they were fondled, kissed, touched, or raped by someone who was supposed to protect them. Instantly, the child is thrown into a chaotic world of adult issues, despite having the intellectual reasoning of a child.
As a society, we teach our kids about ‘stranger danger.’ We talk to them ad nauseam about what to do if a stranger offers them candy or tries to get them into a car. But what we don’t teach them about is what happens when the danger is their cousin, uncle, aunt, parent, grandparent, or sibling.
Many children never tell anyone. In their kid minds, they believe it happened because they caused it in some way or they fear the repercussions of their honesty. They don’t have the processing skills to understand that it was completely about the other person. So instead, a child ingests their fear, pain, anger, shame, and guilt. They carry it into the classroom, to Sunday school, to prom, to graduation, and into every single interaction and relationship.
Even as adults, many hold on to the belief that they were somehow responsible for it, especially if it happened more than once. And if they were involuntarily aroused at all, confusion plagues them even further. They exist between stages of guilt, repression, and shame. Their secret morphs and develops into a tremendous burden.
Some individuals work up the tremendous courage to tell and are free to begin the journey of healing. Others are trapped by the impact of what their words may do: break-up a family, send someone to prison, or destroy the holidays. Still others confide in someone who does not believe them, doubling their pain and trust issues and re-victimizing them. And then there are the parents, caretakers, and family members who already know but have chosen to turn a blind eye. They fear that their marriage or seemingly happy family will be destroyed or exposed. So they say nothing and bury their heads in the sand. They ignore the obvious, make excuses for the unknown, causing resentment to grow and build in the child.
When your flesh and blood, caretaker, coach, or a close family friend takes away your innocence and the right to see the world through the eyes of a child, the world suddenly feels like someone took a snow globe, turned it upside down, and shook it. What you thought was trust is shattered. What you thought was love is questioned. What you thought was a clear and definite line has now been blurred.
If the abuser were a stranger, the survivor may never have to see the person again. But 93% of abusers are inside a person’s inner circle, serving as a constant reminder of one’s emotional or physical pain. The abuser may be at the dinner table every night, at holiday celebrations, or at family gatherings.
So how can abuse affect intimate relationships? Relationships are built on trust, communication, love, and respect. For a person who was molested as a child, these definitions have been manipulated, misconstrued, or trampled on. As a teenager or adult, it’s hard to pick up the pieces and figure out how love, sex, and trust are supposed to coincide in a healthy manner. As a result, individuals usually handle the sexual component in two ways: 1) run to sex or 2) hide from sex. They may become sexually active at an early age, have multiple partners, become easily attached to partners, or have sex early in a relationship. If they are subconsciously or consciously hiding from sex, they may avoid dating, make themselves look visually unappealing (through piercings, tattoos, or clothes), gain or lose massive amounts of weight to mask their body’s sex appeal, or view sex as mechanical or unimportant in a relationship.
Despite what most people may believe, molestation doesn’t just affect little girls. In fact, one out of every six men has been molested. And men are not the only perpetrators. Girls and boys have been molested by their female cousins, sisters, mothers, aunts, neighbors, and grandmothers. The truth is that people from every religion, every age, every culture, every race, every class, and every gender are survivors and perpetrators. And a significant percentage of perpetrators were also once victims.
If you are a survivor of sexual violence or molestation, the most important thing for you to know is that you are not alone. There is a huge network of therapists and survivors in every city and on every college campus. They can help you work through any issues, effects, or emotions, and ultimately help you begin the process of healing. If this issue has not affected you directly, take a look at the information below to learn more about how to talk to your children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren in your life.
Resources and Websites:
This powerful and evocative project shows abuse victims holding up a card with the words of their abusers written on them.
To see more photos or to learn how to submit your own click below.
1 in 6
Helping men who've had unwanted or abusive boyhood sexual experiences live healthier, happier lives.
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network
1.800.656.HOPE(4673) 24-hour hotline
Find a Therapist
Talking to your kids about sexual abuse and prevention
National Center For Victims of Crime
Resource for Child Sexual Abuse
2000 M Street NW, Suite 480
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 467-8700
Fax: (202) 467-8701