Your father only has one memory of the day of your birth. He tells of his disappointment. He had learned lessons from the birth of your brother and sister. Their births took hours and he was not prepared. He had no food and couldn’t leave the hospital to get something. When it was time for your birth he packed a big bag full of food. He couldn’t wait to sit in the waiting room and enjoy his meal. But that meal never happened. It seems that you were quite eager to make your way in to this world. I’m guessing that you did not want to spend one more minute inside your mother’s body than you absolutely had to. Before he even had time to spread out a napkin you were filling the room with your cries. He was called in to see you and by the time he went back to the waiting room the food was gone. He never got over it.
Your sister has another memory of your birth. Just before your due date she and your brother came down with chicken pox. They were sent to your grandparents because the doctor said it would be dangerous for the baby to be around them. That day she started to hate you. She said that at a time when she was sick and uncomfortable and only wanting her mother, she could not have her. She couldn’t have her because of you. Her mother was busy with you and could not be there for her. Before you breathed your first breath you had an enemy.
Your mother claims she has no memories of you at all. She does not remember if you were an easy baby or not. There are no cute stories about your infancy or toddler hood. She says that as a child you were too serious and moody. You talked all of time and could never keep a secret. She obviously did not know you at all.
You were so young and could not possibly know what was happening to you. Things in your life were always so confusing. Someone was always yelling at you or teasing you. Your mother and your sister did not feel safe. You thought your father was the only one you could count on. He loved you. You were sure that he loved you. From the moment he got home from work you would try to get his attention. He would look away and ignore you. You would feel confused. But then bedtime would come and so would he. He told you stories and sang songs. He paid attention to you and rubbed your chest and your stomach. You wanted to feel safe and secure, but you didn’t. You craved his touch but it made you feel strange. You felt shaky inside, your chest would tighten. He was your father, but something seemed wrong.
You would open your eyes late in the night and the room would be dark and quiet. The covers were tucked in around you, too tight, you had no wiggle room. Your body felt wrong, chafed and raw in some places, bruised and scratched in others. Your Daddy was not there. Sometimes you couldn’t remember if he had really been there or if you had just imagined it. Sometimes you considered calling out to him but you knew nobody would come. Your mother said you imagined things. She said you always exaggerated the truth. She said you were too sensitive and that nobody could ever say anything to you because you would take it the wrong the way. You didn’t even know what that meant. But you wanted to please her so you taught yourself to stop feeling, stop reacting, and stop talking. Nobody had to know if you were upset or scared. Nobody would have cared anyway.
Not much in your life made sense. Rules changed from day to day or minute to minute. You were told never to talk to other people about your family. What went on in the house was private and nobody’s business. You were told to be quiet. So you got quiet. You followed the rules. You always followed the rules. You hated when other people broke rules. People who did not follow rules were bad. You did not want anyone to think you were bad.
Your mother was never much of a mother, but that does not surprise you. You always knew that. You tried so hard to win her over, to be the child you thought she wanted you to be. It did not take you long to realize that it was impossible. She didn’t really want you to be anybody. There was nothing you could have done to make her love you. She simply did not know how.
You father was a different story. I think there is a part of you that knows what he did to you. You never wanted to believe it. You couldn’t, it was too scary. You were too vulnerable. You needed him. But it’s safe now. He is gone. It’s time for you to hear what happened and to understand what he did. He was sick and broken. He had to be to do what he did to you. He wasn’t a father, he didn’t deserve to be called daddy. He did not protect you, he made you afraid. Little girls should never be afraid of their fathers.
Your father did not come to your room at night to just say goodnight and send you peacefully off to sleep. He didn’t come to your room for any reason that had anything to do with you. He came to your room because he was selfish and sick. He had a want or a need and he used you for it. You were never a real person to him. I don’t think you even existed in his world. You were a body, a vessel, a thing to be used.
He touched you, everywhere and anywhere he wanted. He used your body to fulfill his needs. Your needs did not matter. He closed his eyes and he did not see you. In those moments you were not his child, you were not anyone’s child. He opened your pajamas and stuck his hand inside. He fondled you and massaged you and pinched you. You did not ask for it, you did not like it, you were powerless to stop it. It was not your fault. You were a child, you were his child. You trusted him to treat you well. He didn’t. That’s his fault.
He touched your breasts before you even had breasts. He made you feel dirty and ashamed. He made you hate a part of your body that you did not even have yet. As you grew you became angry at yourself. You felt your body betrayed you. You tried to bind yourself to stop the development. You wore big clothes to try to hide what was happening. You dreamed of just cutting them off. They were a source of constant shame. A reminder of what he did to you.
When he touched you, you wanted to yell and scream. You wanted to tell him no. You wanted to cry. But you could not do any of those things. You could not risk your mother ever finding out. She would yell at you and blame you. She would tell you how dirty you were and ashamed you must be. You knew your father should not be touching you like that and yet you did nothing. You wanted help but you knew she would never give it. You had no power, you had no choices. But I will tell you what you did have. You had strength. You had courage and you were so brave. You had to have all of those things. You made it over 40 years without anyone ever guessing your secret. You functioned well enough in the world that nobody even guessed there was something wrong. You woke up each day and started again. You allowed yourself to dream. Each night he pushed you down and held you there. For a little while you could not move. But each morning you put both feet on the floor and allowed yourself to hope that today would be better. You felt dirty and used and ashamed but you kept going. You created a reality that helped you function each day. You told yourself whatever you had to in order to make it through each day. You blocked out what was too painful and retold yourself the story to make it livable. You thought you were lying, but actually, you were surviving. It’s ok. You did the best you could with the skills that you had.
Your body gave you clues that you tried hard to ignore. There was pain and blood and you did not know how to explain it away. So you ignored it. Your mother said it was normal. You wanted it to be normal so you believed her. It was easier that way. I know that you are so scared to tell the truth now. I know you think if you say those words you will make it real. But you didn’t make it real, he did. You didn’t touch yourself and scratch yourself and tear up your insides. He did that.
It’s safe to come out now. It’s safe to tell your story. I know it does not feel like it will ever be safe. I know you feel like the world will come crashing down if you speak your truth, but it won’t. I know you are so scared. I know you want to quit. I know you wish you could freeze time or shoot forward to a place where this just won’t matter anymore. I know you wish that the simple act of not saying it will make it not real. I know you are desperately looking for a way to explain it all away, any excuse to call it anything but what it was. But inside you know, you may not remember yet, but you know. You know that he put his fingers deep inside of you. You know that he ripped you and scratched you. You know that that is the cause of your pain and discomfort. You know that your mother was wrong. Little girls do not bleed all of the time. All you have to do now is say it. The words can’t hurt you, not in the same way his hands did. The pain that they cause will be short lived and cleansing. You will survive it. All of your life you wanted someone to hear you. You have that now. Say it, just say it. Tell the truth. Tell what you know. It’s real. It’s safe. Speak.
Protecting A Child From Incest
By Pattie Fitzgerald, founder safelyeverafter.com and Prevention Education Advisor for JCW
The matter of parental incest is particularly difficult because the dynamics this type of sexual abuse are insidious and confusing to the child. On the one hand, the parent is violating the child in the most horrific manner and changing forever who that child will become. On the other hand, the child naturally craves love and affection from their parent, and will confuse their abuse with love. They become “lost” and conflicted, knowing instinctively that it feels wrong, but rationalizing that this is the only way for them to receive a parent’s love.
It is most often impossible for a child to betray a parent, to let out their secret. A child is not developmentally capable of understanding the implications of parental sexual abuse. A child may not even realize that they do, in fact, need to be rescued or helped. AND, in most cases, they do not know how to even reach out for help… because: “isn’t that what my parent is for?”
“How can I tell anyone, who could I even tell?” – this becomes the ongoing narrative in a child’s mind. It is not until much later and after much emotional damage, that the child may fully realize the extent of their abuse, and tragically by then, it has already affected how they perceive themselves and others; how they relate emotionally and intimately to others.
Inevitably, there is fear, self loathing, doubt, and guilt. Intellectually, they may realize that the abuse was never their fault, but it is still nearly impossible to reconcile that with the anger and shame that is present in nearly every abused child.
Incest can be very difficult for an outsider to recognize. The family members may appear caring, intelligent, and involved in other ways. Or they may seem very stand-offish, keeping outsiders at a distance to protect their shameful secret.
We, as teachers and caretakers, are not powerless — it is important that the children we are entrusted with know that they can share their fears or concerns with us if they need help. But children must clearly be told this, because they simply don’t know. WE must continually demonstrate to the children that WE are good listeners, empathetic in other ways, and compassionate and caring. It has been reported that in over 50% of sexual abuse cases, intervention occurred either because the child disclosed to a teacher/caretaker, OR a teacher recognized the signs of abuse and took action.
Teachers can be proactive, by being aware of the physical, emotional and/or behavioral signs that indicate a child is at risk or is being abused. We can stay alert to the actions of family members and how they relate to their own children as well as others in the community.
Please review the following physical or behavioral signs of abuse. When we know what to look for, we may be able to save a child and quite possibly change the course of their life in a most powerful way. Signs of abuse include:
- Difficulty Walking or Sitting
- Wetting or soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
- Unexplained bruises or marks on a child’s body
- Self mutiliation, self harm (such as cutting or scarring)
- Anxiety, depression
- Change in eating habits (loss of appetitite, sudden restriction, or binge eating)
- Unusual fear of certain people or places; reluctance to be alone with a certain person
- Excessive mood swings or changes in mood including anger, aggressiveness towards parents, siblings, friends, pets
- Rebellion or withdrawal; runaway behavior
- Change in attitude towards school or academic performance; lack of interest in friends, sports, or other activities
- Avoids touch
- Unexplained absences or frequent health problems like headaches or stomachaches
- Poor self-esteem; avoidance of relationships
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Regression to previously outgrown behaviors, I.e. bedwetting or thumb sucking
- Abnormal sexual behaviors or knowledge of advanced sexual language and activities
- Drawing With Bizarre Themes
- Sexually Acting Out On Younger Children
- An excessive interest in talking about sexuality, sexual behaviors, or acting out in a sexual manner in order to gain attention (constant lap sitting, stroking, etc.)
Anyone who works in any capacity with children (teachers, aides & assistants, caregivers, etc.) is mandated by law to make a report, even if all we have is a reasonable suspicion that a child is being abused. There are laws in place regarding a mandated reporter’s confidentiality. If, for some reason, the report is deemed to be unfounded or there is insufficient evidence, a mandated reporter cannot be fired from their job, prosecuted or charged by anyone including that parent, for making that report. These laws are in place so that WE will take action, so that WE will take responsibility and protect a child, especially when their own family cannot.
If You Suspect A Child Is Being Sexually Abused, Contact Your Local Dept. of Child & Family Services Immediately or Contact CHILDHELP USA’s National Child Abuse Hotline At 1-800-4-A-CHILD FREE.