It’s not that I forgot I was sexually abused as a child. From my memories, I pin my abuse to have started around age 4 and ended in my late teens. Although I know it’s possible, in my experience there’s no way I could forget. My abusers were my family members and close friends of my family. My family was a major part of my life, I felt it my responsibility to keep us together and to try my best to not tip the boat.
For a period of years, I decided to “let it go” and move on with my life. Having grown up in a home in which my mother spent 30 years of her life helping adolescents who had been abused (mentally, physical, and sexually), to this day I find myself extremely pissed at my mother’s lack of care for her own child. As a kid, I just figured my abuse was so minimal that even my own mother didn’t have time to acknowledge it.
The first time I told someone I was abused, it was two of my best friends, we were 8 years old. They had also been abused. We would not speak the name of our abusers to each other. It’s been close to 30 years, and my friends still do not talk about their abuse. At times, I feel like it’s all I talk about. However, these friends support me and my process of healing and my frequent attempts to bring a face to childhood sexual abuse.
The second time I told someone, it was my boyfriend (now husband). Because he had suspected I had been abused, he confronted a member of my family, someone who was complicit in my abuse. She denied, pointed fingers, and shared with my boyfriend stories of my sexual promiscuity. What she didn’t share is that at 8 years older than me, she would take me to clubs, encourage me to drink, and introduce me to completely inappropriate situations during the ages of 12 to 15. After this experience, it took me more than decade to share my story. I didn’t discuss my abuse with my husband, family, friends, or strangers. It was my story, my shame, and my problem.
The third time I told someone, it was my therapist. I was the mother of a toddler and pregnant with my second child. And I was mentally overwhelmed. My husband, sensing something was seriously “off,” encouraged me to seek help. As my eldest daughter was approaching the age I first remembered being abused, I was hyper vigilant about protecting her from abuse. I was always around her, and if I wasn’t I would make surprise drop-ins if she was in someone else’s care. My mental health was seriously affected and to this day, I am thankful for the encouragement of my husband to seek professional help.
The fourth time I told someone, it was at a support group full of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. There was no judgment, no doubt, no questioning – just open ears and hearts. It was my time to move forward. Not necessarily to put my abuse in the past, but to share my story and experience to help others.
I share my story because it’s therapeutic. I also share it because there is so much shame placed on sexual abuse victims by the media, society, and at times we victims are hard on ourselves. There is someone willing to listen to your story, be it a loved one, a professional therapist, or a support group. But you must first be willing to share your story.
Kemi Akeju Chavez is a wife, mother, community volunteer, and CSA prevention educator. She is founder of Protecting Childhood, an organization committed to teaching parents about sexual abuse awareness and prevention. She is a volunteer with CCASA and is a member of the Advisory Council for Prevent Child Abuse – Colorado.