Survivors Speak Out

Below you will find replies from survivors of sexual abuse to a standard set of questions. I would like to thank those survivors who have answered the interview questions and have shared their experiences. Survivors of sexual abuse have the ability, like no other, to relate to others who have been sexually assaulted. They have a very important and informative voice and a message that should not go unheard.

1. Can you discuss some of the abuse that you survived?

The abuse I survived was both physical and mental. I was sexually abused from an early age. Much of my childhood is still fragmented and most likely always will be. I was also mentally tormented in "cat and mouse" fashion by the victimizer. He enjoyed "hunting" me. I was also locked in a dark cellar with no light at all when I tried to hide there. I sometimes would hide in the closet and he would let me stay there long enough to have to endure the moths crawling on me. He was a very mean alcoholic and at one point he tried to shoot my mother and myself with a shotgun.

Who were the offender(s)?

My father.

How long did it endure?

Too long.

2. When did you first disclosure the abuse you experienced?

I think I was 9 or 10.

Who did you disclose to?

My mother.

How did he or she react?

She said that if it ever happened again he would go away and never come back. It did continue, but I never told her again.

3. What coping skills and survivor skills did you develop over the years to help you through this painful period?

I developed the ability to "leave" the situation and my body. I also sometimes lived my childhood in a fantasy world with parents and family being people from popular tv shows. My pets were also my family and showed me that unconditional love and trust did exist in some realm. Music was also a good escape for me as was writing when I got older. I took my first drink when I was about 8, I found a swig or two at night made the nighttime easier to deal with. I also know that I tend to intellectualize sometimes.

4. If you reached out to a mental health professional to help you deal with the abuse, how did he or she respond when you first disclosed?

I almost could not the words out. Then I stood up and said, I am sure none of this is real. She said "sit down, yes it is" For the first time in my life I felt "real" and totally in my body.

How did you feel about disclosing?

Ashamed and frightened. I still feel "hunted" sometimes.

Where there any issues with regard to the gender of the therapist that made you more or less comfortable?

No, but I think perhaps I have overcompensated by now being more comfortable with men than I am women.

How did the mental health professional help you?

Helping me exist in the now and acknowledge the past. Did not try to tell me that "everything would be ok"... but to deal with the realities that it will never completely go away, but that I can handle it.

5. Are, or were, you involved in support groups?If so, how do you feel the support groups helped you?

Yes I was and now I speak to them and lead one. By knowing I was not alone, that there are many, many of us. And by validating we are strong and survivors.

6. How do you feel the abuse negatively affected your life? What do you feel were the long and short term consequences?

The abuse changed my life forever, I have accepted that. But I do have a life, one that is my own. I know that there are things that I have to accept, but I am in charge of my life now. I will never be able to sleep in total darkness. I still have a hard time with trust issues, but I recognize it and work with it. I cannot go back in the house the abusive years took place in, and I have a phobia of moths. Nightmares come sometimes and memories will "flash" at times. I have conquered alcoholism so far.

7. Looking back now, what would you really wish to happen to the offenders (prison, treatment, understanding, etc.).

I am a mental health professional (specialty liscened nurse) now...so I know intellectually it is an illness. Emotionally and logically I want them away from society.

8. Please tell me about the peace you have found in your life? Where do you feel most comfortable? What do you do to find this peace?

I have found peace in many forms. Reaching out to others gives me great peace and contentment. Spirituality has been an asset for me. I saw angels as a child...whether it was real or a coping halluncination, it helped me tremendously. Writing, reading, outdoors in nature, or with candles lit. I write poetry, I go camping, I spend time with my daughter and my animals. I have lots of candles in my home, my favorite music, and I like meditation and some guided meditation tapes.

9. What would you say to othe r survivors of sexual abuse, but who have never disclosed to anyone? What words of wisdom can you offer them?

"You are not alone, take my hand". You are strong, you are a survivor and others truly do care. "Beware the wounded tiger".... we are tigers, wounded yes, but strong and willing to fight for our lives. Acknowledge your past, don't keep the "dirty little secrets" anymore, let it out.... you are safe now.

Second Interview

1. Can you discuss some of the abuse that you survived?

There have been many instances of sexual abuse in my life. It got to a point that I felt I had "SEX HERE" tattooed on my forehead! From the time I was about 7 yrs old till I was 14, my father, male cousins (and their male cousin), babysitters, and a few others, had successfully turned me into a sex toy. I felt that all I was good for was to satisfy mens needs. I began to play on that and used my knowledge of sex and sex appeal to get whatever I wanted. Never satisfying myself.

2. When did you first disclosure the abuse you experienced?

I never really "told" anyone. My father was caught by Social Services because of a tip from one of his girlfriends. I eventually told about everyone else when I was an adult. I didn't tell because of fear, but also because I felt like I was making these people feel better somehow and didn't want to do something that would make them hurt more. I also kind of liked getting treated like an adult. I got to stay up, eat junkfood, wear makeup etc.

3. What coping skills and survivor skills did you develop over the years to help you through this painful period?

As far as coping with all of this baggage day after day it's been tough. I can't tell you it goes away because it doesn't. I pushed it down inside of me real far, for years. Ignoring it made it easier to deal with it.

4. If you reached out to a mental health professional to help you deal with the abuse, how did he or she respond when you first disclosed?

Bringing it up in counseling sessions was tough. While the actual assault itself took place it was easy enough to go into a "trance-like state" and forget but with counseling you had to face it head on. The ugly truth so to speak. I never trusted anyone so it was very hard at first to say the things that happened weren't my fault.

5. Are, or were, you involved in support groups?If so, how do you feel the support groups helped you?

A twelve step program similar to the one used in AA is what has helped me the most. Talking with other women in similar situations has helped me gain trust in another person and forgiving lightens your load tremendously!! Giving everything over to your higher power let's you start over.

6. Looking back now, what would you really wish to happen to the offenders (prison, treatment, understanding, etc.).

I would like to see my offenders have some effective counseling and yes, some need to serve jail time along with counseling. I would like to see parents taking the time to teach their children about how to treat another human being. (dream).

7. Please tell me about the peace you have found in your life? Where do you feel most comfortable? What do you do to find this peace?

I find peace in my religion. This is most important. You must have a higher power to guide you. God or goat, it matters not. When I am having a bad day and need to find peace, I work my garden or write poetry to ease the pain. Then I remember that I am not the guilty party and that I am the survivor!!

8. What would you say to other survivors of sexual abuse, but who have never disclosed to anyone? What words of wisdom can you offer them?

If you are a victim of abuse or know of someone who is please try to tell someone who will help you. If that doesn't work keep telling. Don't be ashamed to say what is happening or has happened! This subject is not taboo anymore! Scream and other survivors will hear you and then they will aide you and begin screaming. If enough of us scream someone will listen.

BLESSED BE ~

Stephanie

Third Interview (Male Survivor)

1. Can you discuss some of the abuse that you survived?

My abuse was emotional and physical. I was raped by my brother at the age of 12 and it continued for 2 years. Like most siblings, we experimented pseudo-sexually at a young age, and it was innocent, but it reached a point I didn't want to go to and had no control over.

2. When did you first disclosure the abuse you experienced?

When I was 14 I left a note for my mother saying that I had been molested by my brother. We went to see social services the next week.

How did he or she react?

That day I talked with her but don't remember much of the conversation other than telling her it was true. I was trying to keep a lid on my emotions. When we went to social services I was taken into a room with a mirrored ball camera. I didn't want to be taped; didn't want to be "responsible" for sending my brother to jail. The social worker was cold and emotionally detached. I denied what had happened and cried- that was it. My father never said a word about it to me, and the issue died after that.

3. What coping skills and survivor skills did you develop over the years to help you through this painful period?

When the abuse was happening I dissociated, I turned myself off. My life, for the first time, lacked any meaning and I adopted a "what's the use?" attitude. I learned how to become invisible around other people, because I was afraid of any confrontation. It was a process of reducing my ego to nothing. I turned to substance abuse and stopped going to school. My life became a daily exercise of looking for the next high or adrenaline-packed experience.

4. If you reached out to a mental health professional to help you deal with the abuse, how did he or she respond when you first disclosed?

My first therapist was genuinely empathetic to my concerns and my experience.

How did you feel about disclosing?

Nervous, cautious of exposing a very tender wound to another person. But I was also bull-headed about it and knew I had to get it out in the open or I would pay dearly later on.

Where there any issues with regard to the gender of the therapist that made you more or less comfortable?

Yes, at first I wanted to see a female therapist only. I ended up with a male therapist and it took awhile to build real trust with him.

How did the mental health professional help you?

He pushed me to move ahead in life, validated my experiences, and nurtured my creativity.

5. Are, or were, you involved in support groups?If so, how do you feel the support groups helped you?

Yes, and I've found other survivors can articulate things I cannot yet language. They have helped in grounding me.

6. How do you feel the abuse negatively affected your life? What do you feel were the long and short term consequences?

I can dig for old dreams here, but all of us can (and should) do that. In the short term, I feel my substance abuse, trouble staying in school and focusing, and social anxiety can be connected to one another and attributed to the abuse. Long term, anything that has to do with sex and my body core will be a challenge. Trust and relationships are a long term issue. Unquestionably it changed my life forever. Right now I can't envision the abuse not making me sad at least once a day.

7. Looking back now, what would you really wish to happen to the offenders (prison, treatment, understanding, etc.).

Sexual violence is just a despicable as physical violence, and ideally offenders would go to prison and receive good treatment there. But we have more to learn: what multiple factors enable sexual abuse and all intimate violence to thrive in this world? And then, how can we change?

7. Please tell me about the peace you have found in your life? Where do you feel most comfortable? What do you do to find this peace?

The peace I've found is usually outdoors, around or in trees, hiking, swimming, growing and watering plants under a blazing sun. Cats are adept at relaxing me.

9. What would you say to other survivors of sexual abuse, but who have never disclosed to anyone? What words of wisdom can you offer them?

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. The world is yours in return for your responsibility. Your symptoms are temporary, will soon fade away, and just might disappear completely. To be healed you will have to swim through an equivalent of raw sewage for awhile. A loving community awaits you, somewhere, or is waiting for you to create it. Be sophisticated in choosing people to disclose to! I say this not for how other people will react, but for how their reaction (or lack thereof) will affect you. We are limited, first as humans, and second as survivors, but our capacity for love and joy knows no bounds.

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