This post is written anonymously by a dear friend of mine who approached me recently with an important story to tell, and needed a space in which to tell it. Although this post does not have anything to do with photography or diabetes, it hits close to home for me and so many others as well. Please note, this post may be difficult to read for those who have suffered through sexual assault.
The first time my father sexually assaulted me, I was almost precisely twelve and a half years old. It was a cold, cold night in late February, and I had awakened from a terrifying nightmare and run into my parents’ room. Later, I would look back on this and viciously curse myself for having been such a baby. Who goes into their parents’ room after a nightmare, when they’re twelve? Idiot. You should’ve known better. But in that moment, Mom and Dad’s bedroom was still synonymous with safety. Comfort. Peace. The first few minutes after I climbed into their bed, on my dad’s side of the bed, cuddling with him to shake off the remnants of the nightmare that were still embedded in my mind, were the last time I would ever associate such words with my parents’ room.
My mother was barely awake when I ran into their room, which is why I got into Dad’s side of the bed, and she was fast asleep and snoring lightly within a couple minutes of the time I got into their bed. I thought my dad was asleep, too. It took me years—years—to admit to myself, and later to others, like my therapist and my husband, that he wasn’t.
He wasn’t asleep the other half dozen times he sexually assaulted me over the subsequent six months or so, most of those violations occurring in my bedroom. My mother never knew. In fact, there’s quite a bit that my mother doesn’t know—or, perhaps, refuses to admit, or simply does not care to know—about what happened to me during those six months. The first thing that she apparently does not know is that what happened is sexual assault. Not “inappropriate touching” or “a horrible mistake your father made”, as she tends to classify it on the rare occasions we discuss it. “Honey, sexual assault means rape. You weren’t raped. So you can’t go around telling people you were sexually assaulted. They’ll assume you were raped, and that’s not what happened. It could’ve been worse, Honey. Don’t you see? You could’ve been raped, and you weren’t. What happened to you was…was…” She always struggles for words at this point in the description. She always hesitates. “Well, it was certainly wrong, and inappropriate, and I guess you could call it sexual molestation.”
“Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.” (United States Department of Justice, Apr 1, 2016)
The first time, that night in their bed, he slipped both hands under my shirt and started fondling my breasts. I wasn’t wearing a bra. I never wore a bra to bed back then. I was wearing an oversize t-shirt as a pajama top, a t-shirt with a picture of Amelia Earhart on the front. She was one of my childhood heroes, and my grandfather had bought it for me. I never wore it again after that night. I don’t remember what underwear I was wearing, but it was probably something with flowers or hearts or pink and purple stripes. Because I was, after all, still a child.
More to the point, I was his child.
I can guarantee you that I never once gave “explicit consent” to any of the things he did to me. Not that I was ever asked, but even if I had been, I would never have consented to that. It escalated quickly over the following weeks and months. A lot of it hurt. I bled. I was never technically raped, which I’m supposed to be grateful for, but in every other way, my sexual education came from my father, when I was 12.
“Inappropriate.” “A huge mistake.” Years later, when I finally confessed the abuse to our family therapist and everything came out in a tidal wave of ugliness, my father would tell me that he “just fell into sin. I listened to the voice of Satan rather than the voice of Jesus, when I touched you.” At 16, when he made that confession, I believed that wholeheartedly. That explanation was sufficient for me. It wasn’t until nearly 10 years later, when I began to have suffocating flashbacks that resurrected the memories in horrific detail, that I started to consider the possibility that maybe that explanation wasn’t enough. I started to think that maybe I had been truly, horribly violated, and “the devil made me do it” wasn’t a sufficient enough explanation for the evil that had been forced on me. It took another couple of years for me to be able to admit, to myself and to others, that my father had committed these actions on purpose, with full knowledge of what he was doing and the impact it would have on me later. That realization, paltry as it may sound, shook my foundations and threw my entire world into chaos.
In the years after my father confessed to sexually assaulting me (except he referred to it as inappropriate touching, never using such “harsh, awful” descriptions such as incest, sexual assault, or child abuse), I had toed the family’s party line about the “incidents”, which was: “Your father made some awful mistakes, and he’s so, so sorry for them. He’s repented, and Jesus has forgiven him, and we’ve all forgiven him as a family, so that’s that.” The general expectation was that there would be a shelf life on “dealing with all this”, which meant that by the time I was out of high school, only two years after he confessed, I was met with eye rolls and sighs of disapproval any time I mentioned “all that stuff from the past”.
My parents are still married. My mother never pressed charges against my father. He is not on the sex offenders’ registry and has never been prosecuted, or punished in any way. Only my immediate family knows what happened to me; none of the rest of my relatives are aware. The family’s party line is still firmly in place, all these years later. Therefore, when I reached the point of admitting that my father had intentionally, willfully forced me to perform sexual acts when I was barely into puberty, and that he had violated my innocence in every sense of the word, I couldn’t really deal with it, at first. Now, thanks to a wonderful support system of my husband, dear friends, and a great therapist, I can say this unabashedly: my father sexually assaulted me repeatedly when I was 12 years old, intentionally and without regard for the impact it would have on my life.
And with that admission, there are others, the things my mother does not know and probably will never know about the sexual assaults I endured when I was twelve. Here are some of them:
I thought he was asleep the first time, that night in their bedroom. I had to believe that; I couldn’t accept any other explanation. So I was really confused when he pulled me aside the next morning, before we left for church, and said he was so sorry for accidentally touching me the night before. “We probably shouldn’t bother Mama about this, okay, Princess?”
The next time, he came into my bedroom in the middle of the night. I slept with a couple of teddy bears, and my bedspread was patterned with multi-colored hearts. I still played with Barbies during the day, and some of them were sitting on my desk. Later, I wondered if he had hesitated at all, seeing the teddy bears and the Barbies and the bedspread, remembering that I was still very much a little girl. His little girl. Maybe he hesitated, maybe he paused to think about what he was about to do, but that didn’t stop him.
That was the last time my bedroom felt like a safe haven.
It hurt. I cried. There was some blood, after he left. I was too young to understand why I was bleeding. I assumed I had started my period.
He eventually made me give him hand jobs and a blow job. I never told anyone that until a year ago, because I was so ashamed and so afraid to admit it, even to myself.
He called me Princess, which had always been his nickname for me, but he used it in such a vile way. To this day, the hairs on my arms stand up when he calls me that.
He told me I was so pretty, just like my mama.
He told me to be a good girl and be quiet.
Near the end, a few weeks before the last time he assaulted me, he became increasingly angry and cruel. He put his hand over my mouth and ordered me, between clenched teeth, to “keep your damn mouth shut. If you tell anyone about this, I will beat you so bad you’ll want to call the law.” He threatened to do to my little brother, four years younger than me, what he was doing to me. He knew that that would keep me quiet and compliant, and it did.
I was terrified to go to sleep at night.
I was terrified all the time, actually.
Because I didn’t know anything about sex except that you had to sleep in the same bed as the other person, and my dad was coming into my room and getting into my bed with me, I assumed I was pregnant. I agonized during those six months about how I would explain that to my mom.
The time he asked me to give him a blow job, I initially refused. I cried. I didn’t know what a blow job was, but I had an inherent sense that it was wrong for him, an adult, my dad, to be asking me to give him one. I cried and I said no. At first, he took me in his arms, settled me on his lap, and cuddled me like he used to do when I was little. He held me until I stopped crying, and for a few brief moments, as that scared, shy, awkward, homeschooled, sheltered 12-year-old who didn’t understand what had been happening to her but knew deep down that it was wrong, I thought that maybe it was over. Maybe all this was going to stop and he’d go back to just being my daddy again. That’s what I thought. I remember so vividly, thinking that and sighing with relief for the first time in months.
Then he backhanded me across the face. He took his clothes off and dropped his voice down low, which let me know he meant business more than any of his words could. “When I tell you to do something, you obey. Do. You. Understand. Me?”
I understood. I gave him a blow job. I cried the entire time, because my face hurt where he had hit me, and because I couldn’t breathe with the pressure of him in my mouth, and because I knew I had done something to deserve all of this. I had been a bad, bad little girl, even though I didn’t understand how. I cried because it left an awful taste in my mouth, and because he didn’t tuck me back into bed before he left my room. He just put his clothes back on and walked out. I thought he didn’t love me anymore.
Now, as an adult, I wonder if he ever did.
It took a full year after the sexual assaults stopped for me to believe that they were really over. I lived in a nearly constant state of terror that entire year. I remember almost nothing about that year, except a vague sense of fear and foreboding.
Those are some of the things my mother doesn’t know about my sexual assaults. Those are the things she does not want to know and can’t accept about her husband, the father of her children, the man she’s built her life around for the past thirty-plus years. Those are the things that haunt me at night, that creep up on me in the form of flashbacks and nightmares, the things that make it hard to get out of bed in the mornings, sometimes. These are the things that sometimes make me wish that my mother knew how to be my mother, first, instead of my father’s wife. These are the things that stole my childhood, that damaged my soul, that inflicted more pain than I can ever explain. These are the things that were not my fault, although often I can’t make myself believe that I didn’t play some role in what was done to me. These are the things that make it difficult to have an intimate physical relationship with my husband—not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t. My mind and my body remember all the trauma and won’t let me, sometimes. These are the things that my husband and I have spent nights crying over, when we should have been enjoying intimate moments together. These are the scars I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
And that, Mom, is what sexual assault really is.