The comments. The comments sometimes will stop you in your tracks. Cold. You wonder what the person is thinking. You wonder if there is some hidden message encoded in the words. You wonder if they realize they just said something so shocking out loud. And then you begin to doubt yourself.
I’ve lived this process several times since I started blogging. I didn’t realize that someone could read my story and decide that I was lying or I really didn’t remember correctly. I didn’t realize it was possible to take someone’s honest pain and twist it into a weapon. I’d like to address a few questions/comments I’ve received because I think the knowledge I’ve gained is worth sharing.
We’ll start with this gem of a comment: “You were not abused. You were just exploring your sexuality.”
After the moment of wanting to rip this person’s particular sexual anatomy parts from their body left me, I began to reflect on this statement. It made me ask the question, “What is abuse and what is not abuse?”
Let’s stick with the American Psychological Association’s (APA) definition. “Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.”
Given this definition, I was abused. The problem is that people want to define the definition. So the questions begin — What age can a child give consent? (Seriously? We really need to answer that question?) What is meant by unwanted sexual activity? How much force is force? What constitutes a threat? Define “taking advantage of.” Isn’t there responsibility on the victim’s part? (I will be addressing this question this week!)
I would concede as an intelligent, critical thinking adult, that it’s good to understand what is and is not abuse, especially in criminal prosecution. However, this thinking can lead to marginalization of abuse victims, leaving them with perpetually wounded. It is the type of thinking that kept me trapped.
The boy was older than me. I remember him as 5 years older; momma thinks the age difference was closer. Either way, he was older than me. According to some definitions I’ve read on-line, there was no abuse. Because we were both legally “children” AND because there was the lack of “authority” over me by the boy.
The arrest of my father brought many overwhelming emotions and memories back into my life. I struggled to deal with the loss of my father and the abuse I denied happened. Sure, I’d talked about it with my psychiatrist, but I told her that it didn’t affect me or my marriage. She was used to my deflection and refusing to see the picture. I’m sure she was used to the strange things that came out of my mouth and the way I’d avoid her questions. But I’m not quite sure she was really expecting me to answer her question the way I did.
I was trying to explain how I felt without actually telling her why I felt the way I did. It wasn’t going very well for me.
“I wasn’t really sexually abused.” I told her.
“Why do you say that?” She responded.
“Because…” I sighed. “Because I was just a sexual child.”
She looked at me with that look. The one that told me she was trying to compute what I was saying. How to tell me it was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard, without damaging the little trust there was between us.
“There is no such thing as a sexual child.”
I looked at her with a determined look, “Yes there is, I’m one.”
She pulled out her book and read the definition of sexual abuse. She explained the normal development of sexuality. 7 year olds are NOT sexual. I was not convinced.
“Let’s talk about the boy.” No. Let’s not. I began to curl into a ball.
She began to ask me a series of questions.
“When you went over to the boy’s house did you know what would happen?” No.
“When you arrived and he asked you to play house what did you say?” Yes.
“Why?” Because I thought playing house was playing house.
“When his sister explained that to play house you had to take your underwear off how did you respond?”
I began to mentally split myself in two. I could not deal with who I was then and who I was today being the same person. I simply responded with a tiny, whispered. “No.”
“When she explained that playing house meant you would do what married people do, what did you feel?” Well, considering I didn’t know what she meant I was confused.
“How did she explain it to you?” I’m now responding like a robot. Still curled up as tight as I can. I open my mouth. “You kiss him … on his penis.”
“And did you know what that meant?” “No.”
“And when he showed you what you were to do, how did you feel.” Absolutely terrified. I wanted my momma.
I’m sitting there shaking, praying she stops. I cannot continue. Because the weight of it is finally hitting me full force and I’m not sure I’m going to mentally recover from this. Being married to a man, knowing what happened was indeed sexual and then realizing that I was only 7 was crushing every bit of me. And to be honest, it still does.
Technically and legally, you can dismiss what happened as innocent child exploration. However, innocent child exploration doesn’t cause the same psychological trauma as sexual abuse. I was 7 and I had NO CLUE what was happening to me or what I was supposed to do to him. I didn’t initiate. I certainly did not like it. There was absolutely NO WAY that I could have given any type of consent to any type of sexual exploration. Without consent, it is abuse. PERIOD.
There was a reason this statement was made to me, and I understand. I’m actually quite grateful because it caused me to reflect. I have no doubts that my memories are real and factual. That what happened to me was not my fault, I did not initiate nor continue initiating it and most importantly, it does not define me.
I will continue sharing comments and my reactions this week. I hope it gives you something to think about. If you have a question that you’d like me to address feel free to privately message me. If it’s something I can answer I will.
Definitions of Abuse
- American Psychological Association (the one my psychiatrist referenced)
- Stop it Now – This is a good expanded definition
- RAINN – Types of sexual violence. Leaves no room for imagination.
If you have been abused I encourage you to seek a professional counselor or mental health care provider. The abuse’s aftermath will affect your sexuality, spirituality, physical health and mental health. You don’t have to live with your pain. There is hope and healing.