When Victims Of Childhood Sexual Abuse Speak Up As Adults

Dec 4, 2017

Until we address a culture that lets adults think they can get away with forcing sex on children, no amount of hash tags will save us.

I was 7 when the sexual abuse started, 13 when it stopped.  My perpetrator was my stepfather, a man unfit to raise chickens, much less children.

I hated him for years. I also hated myself.

I was 29 when I began seriously considering killing myself, 31 when I finally called a hotline to save me.

Immediately, I began preparing to confront my stepfather and his wife, my mother, about the abuse.

That took everything I had. Though it is not part of my culture, I put myself in talk and group therapy. I built a library of incest books, and attended workshops where I felt silly talking about my inner child – but I talked, anyway. I trained like an Olympic athlete. 

And then, months later, with my brother next to me, I sat at my mother’s picnic table and listened to my stepfather lie. And with that, I realized there would be no redemption. On that day, I became an orphan by choice, and I have expended no small amount of energy making sure no one else falls victim to this particular pervert.

So yes: #MeToo.

But this isn't just me. I  want to talk about what happens when sex is forced upon any child and that child speaks up.

Roy Moore, Alabama’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has multiple women accusing him of forcing himself upon them when they were teenagers. Like me, they came forward after decades. Some people ask why they didn’t talk about this sooner, as if keeping their secret makes them a liar. But children aren’t supposed to know how to handle things like this. And they shouldn’t have to.

The White House has taken the stance that any woman who accuses Trump of sex crimes is a liar.  This comes from a man who has bragged about grabbing women by their genitalia. His kind of nonsense normalizes abnormal behavior. I wish we would plan a Ken Starr-type investigation into allegations about his predatory behavior. 

Meanwhile, we continue  to lose people to the corrosive residue of childhood sexual abuse. In my state of Connecticut, according to the state Department of Public Health, one in five girls and one in 14 boys have been victims of such abuse, and one in seven of those children were under the age of six.

Until we address a culture that lets adults think they can get away with forcing sex on children, no amount of hash tags will save us.

Susan Campbell is a writer who teaches journalism at the University of New Haven.