Of all the parts of my story of living with birth defects, this is the most difficult to tell. Being a survivor of sexual abuse comes with a lot of baggage, not the least of which is actually seeing myself as a survivor and not a victim. Having been sexually abused, I am, of course, a victim of sexual abuse, but to heal it is important to get past seeing oneself as a victim. I now recognize that I am a child of God who is loved by God and I am capable of loving and accepting myself. I am a survivor of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse wounds a child deeply causing feelings of guilt and self-loathing that lead to low self-esteem that can last a lifetime, if healing from these wounds never occurs.
So, why would I want to even share this part of my story? First, because it is a part of who I am, and it shows that surviving and thriving, even after the combined traumas of being born with birth defects and being sexually abused, is possible. I hope that hearing my story and seeing where I am today will give hope to others who have experienced similar things. Second, and related to my first reason for telling my story, is that many people have been sexually abused, making the telling of my story all that more important. Being sexually abused causes deep-seated and unwarranted shame. There should be no shame associated with being a victim, and there should certainly be no shame in being a survivor of sexual abuse. Any shame associated with sexual abuse should be heaped on the perpetrator, not on the victim/survivor. Sexual abuse is a terrible thing, but life does go on afterward, and it can go on successfully and joyfully, in spite of the sexual abuse.
To put my story in perspective, consider the following statistics:
- In a 2012 maltreatment report, of the victims who were sexually abused, 26% were in the age group of 12–14 years and 34% were younger than 9 years.
- Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
- 90% of child sex abuse victims know their abuser.
- 60% of sexual abuse victims never tell anyone, and males are much less likely to tell anyone.
- Only 4-8% of sexual abuse reports are fabricated. This is especially important to remember. A child that reports they were sexually abused should be believed, as such reports are almost always true.
So, in many ways my story is not all that unique. A majority of those sexually abused were under the age of 14, as was I. I knew my abuser. Although I did eventually tell others about being sexually abused, I didn’t do so until I was in my 30s, well after the abuse took place. Another thing not mentioned in the statistics above is that many children who are sexually abused are emotionally vulnerable, something that pedophiles seem to have an ability to sense and use to their advantage as they “groom” their victims. My emotional vulnerability stemmed from having birth defects and being teased and bullied in school and elsewhere. I was a lonely child, ostracized by many of my peers, making me particularly vulnerable to attention from an adult with evil intentions.
When I was 8 years old my family moved from our house in the Greenwood district of Seattle, to a residential neighborhood in the town of Edmonds, just north of Seattle. The new house was larger, with three bedrooms, which meant both my sister and I would have our own rooms.
My room was on the second story, over the garage, a part of the attic that the previous owners had converted into a bedroom. I was excited to have a room of my own, but it also felt a little isolated from the rest of the house. To get to my room, I had to pass through the kitchen, into the utility room between the kitchen and garage, and climb a flight of stairs that ended in my room just over the garage. The utility room also had a door to the outside, and I still remember some nights worrying what would happen if a burglar broke in through that door and cut me off from the rest of the house.
Our new place also had a large, fenced backyard. I still remember all the fun I had in that backyard building a fort with left over wood scraps and pretending it was everything from a fur trapper’s cabin to an army outpost overlooking enemy territory. Not long after moving there I made friends with twin brothers that lived across the street from us. Their father was in the National Guard, and he often brought home expired K-rations. The twins and I would sometimes get a few of these and eat them in my fort, pretending we were out on patrol.
About a year after moving to Edmonds, my parents allowed one of my dad’s old friends to park his motorhome in the backyard and live there. He was separated from his wife and spent part of his time working in Alaska as a chef working for the oil companies installing the North Slope oil pipeline and the rest of his time in our backyard. Because Irv was my parent’s friend, and they seemed to trust him, so did I. He seemed to take an interest in me, and often bought me a treat when he, my parents and I went out to eat.
Just a warning at this point to those who may be troubled by reading the details of what happened to me when I was sexually abused. If you feel that reading about it might be too triggering or traumatizing, you might want to skip the next three paragraphs. I have clearly marked these paragraphs in red so you can easily skip over them.
The bathroom in our house was on the first floor, and on days that I took a bath, I would leave the bathroom and go to my bedroom, with a towel wrapped around my middle, to get dressed. One day, as I reached my room, I heard someone ascending the steps just as I sat on my bed. I felt a bit shy about someone coming into my room while I was still undressed, so I told the person I wasn’t dressed yet. It turned out to be Irv, and he assured me it was no problem if I wasn’t dressed. I was still a little embarrassed to have him come into my room that way, but at 9 years old, I wasn’t sure how to object further.
What happened next is still a bit hazy in my mind. It’s not that I blocked it out, because I do vividly remember most of what happened, but how it got started I don’t remember well. Somehow Irv ended up performing oral sex on me. I was panicked. I did not understand why he had my penis in his mouth. At that age I had no concept whatsoever about sex, and all I knew is that what was happening was not right. I didn’t have a concept of it being wrong in any moral sense, just that such things were gross, and I couldn’t understand what in the world was happening. Why was he doing this gross thing?
At some point I ejaculated in his mouth, and I remember being mortified. In my 9-year-old mind I had just peed in his mouth. It was like I couldn’t stop it from happening. I was afraid he would be angry with me, but I was also just confused. I had no frame of reference for what was happening. At that point, Irv stopped and assured me that everything was just fine. he was just doing what he did to make me feel good. This confused me even more, but he seemed so casual and nonchalant about it that I gradually calmed down. He left my room soon after that and I dressed.
My confusion about all that happened that day is understandable, considering that I was just 9 years old, and I attended a Christian school which provided no sex education. At that time, in the early 70s, there was not even that much in the way of sex education in public schools, and what did exist was often not a part of the curriculum until at least 8th grade, which is too late for many children, considering a majority of children are molested before the age of 14. As typical parents, my mom and dad had not yet had any discussion about sex with me either. I knew basically nothing about sex, which added to the vulnerability that Irv used to take advantage of me.
Sadly, this was just the first of many times that Irv molested me. Not long after this first event, I did some of my own research to see what had happened. Even though these were pre-Internet days, I was a smart kid and knew how to find out what I wanted to know using resources at the library.
Each time Irv molested me, I became more and more conflicted. Physically, what he was doing to me felt good, but on an intellectual level I recognized it was morally wrong. It seemed especially wrong because he was a man and I was a boy, which made what he was doing a homosexual act. In the church I attended, homosexuality was considered especially sinful.
As the abuse continued, I felt more and more guilty, but also more and more trapped, because my body kept betraying me. I hated what he was doing to me, but my body craved it, because it felt so good. I now know this is typical of how children who are molested feel. They know what is happening is wrong, but because it feels good physically, a part of them actually welcomes further sexual abuse. Because they start “looking forward” to it, they start feeling that much more guilty and demoralized. If what is happening is wrong, but I still want it, I must be asking for it somehow and I must be a bad person. Sometimes the child even begins to believe that they even asked for it from the beginning, and it is therefore their fault.
What needs to be remembered is that a child is incapable of proper consent and is therefore not responsible for what is happening. Even if the child comes to look forward to the sexual abuse, they are not consenting to it. As a person heals from sexual abuse, often through therapy, coming to this realization is very empowering, and can help alleviate the deep-seated feelings of guilt and poor self-esteem caused by the abuse. Anyone who knows a child who has been sexually abused needs to realize this as well, so they can assure the child that it is not their fault. What happened is entirely the fault of the perpetrator.
Irv also routinely reminded me not to tell anyone. He told me this was our secret. He was doing it because he loved me and wanted me to feel good. I did not know how to tell him to stop (I eventually was able to when I was an older teenager), so it kept happening. Now I know that this kind of pattern is so typical of what happens to children who are sexually abused. The perpetrator psychologically manipulates the child to keep the abuse happening and prevents the child from telling by a combination of threats and treats. Irv never threatened me in a strong way, although he made it clear that telling would be a very bad thing to do. On the treat side, he would often give me little gifts, and even gave me spending money every so often. Unfortunately, the gifts and spending money made it even worse for me, making me feel doubly guilty and complicit.
As I said above, I never did tell anyone what Irv had done to me. I have played over in my head many times what might have happened had I told, and it never seemed to lead to a positive outcome. Part of the problem was that even once I recognized what was happening for what it was, sexual abuse, I still felt so guilty that even thinking about telling mortified me and filled me with feelings of shame. I also felt extremely alone, like I was the only person who had ever allowed such a terrible thing to happen to them. I was aware of stories of girls that had been sexually abused but did not know of a single story about a boy having been sexually abused.
Even into adulthood, after I had finally been able to make Irv stop in my late teen years, I continued to keep the secret. I continued to feel very alone in my shame and guilt, feeling like there were no other men that had ever gone through what I did. Finally, in my 30s, I did break the silence, first in an online forum for abuse survivors on CompuServe, and later with a therapist and my family.
I remember the first time I had written out my story and posted it to the forum. Even though I was posting my story using a pseudonym, I had a backache for two days leading up to the day I was brave enough to post it. The response I received from other forum members was overwhelmingly positive, and I soon learned of many other men who had been sexually abused much like I had. Of course, part of the reason I had felt like no other boys had gone through what I did, is that fewer boys are molested, and boys are less likely to tell anyone. Fewer statistics on the incidence of sexual abuse in boys were available then, as well. Now it is estimated that 1 in 6 boys are molested (for girls it is an even scarier 1 in 4).
Soon after that, I started therapy and shared the story with my wife. Once it was no longer a secret the healing of those scars began. It took years to fully come to terms with what had happened, and to know in my heart that what had happened was not my fault. I have also realized I cannot blame my parents either. They should not have been so trusting of Irv, but it can be hard to tell that someone is a pedophile.
There are clues that can be identified sometimes, but pedophiles are not the stereotypical mean looking, shabbily dressed, park-bench-sitting creep often pictured in people’s minds. Pedophiles are just like your average person, and often, as mentioned above they are a family member or close friend of the family, that outwardly can seem like a very nice person. I know that my mom has since felt that if she had it to do over again, she would never have trusted Irv. Ultimately, the blame for what happened falls on Irv alone.
Fortunately, being a survivor of sexual abuse did not ruin my spiritual life, which it can do for some survivors. Throughout the years of abuse, even though I often felt guilty, I still saw God as someone I could depend on, and that if what was happening represented sin on my part, God would forgive me. My faith in God and His goodness helped me survive.
I would be remiss were I not to close with a few reminders to parents with younger children. It is never too early to start teaching children about sexuality, in age appropriate ways, of course. Even very young children of 4-5 years of age can be taught the concepts of “good” and “bad” touch, making clear to them that it is always okay for them to tell an adult not to touch them if it makes them feel uncomfortable. It is also important that parents tell even very young children that it is always okay to for the child to tell a parent, or other trusted adult, when someone has touched them in a “bad” or uncomfortable way.
Parents should actively learn how to protect their children from sexual abuse. Get some books and literature on the topic and learn what you need to know to keep your children safe. Don’t forget that perpetrators are most often someone you and the child know. Learn to recognize the warning signs, and don’t let your children spend any time alone with someone who displays these signs. If something does happen, and you have made it clear to your child that they can tell you when things like that happen, learn how to respond appropriately. You need to believe what your child says, take it seriously, and seek the professional help that will help resolve the problem. Do not just brush it off, do something. Here are a few web sites that can get you started:
Some of the statistics shared above come from the following sources, which also have good advice for sexual abuse prevention:
Lastly, a word about being gay. One of the fears I had when I was being molested was that I might be gay. As a young teen, in a Christian church that routinely condemned gays, this was an understandable fear. I now know that I am most certainly not gay, as I have never had any hint of attraction for other men. I also have come to recognize, however, that being gay is not a sin, and I am a strong proponent of same-sex marriage. I believe that God fully blesses same-sex marriage, and that the church should also fully accept same-sex marriage. It is time that the church be fully affirming of LGBTQ+ individuals. It is my hope that this will soon happen in most, if not all churches. God loves all His children.