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It happened to me between the ages of three and four. I honestly did not remember these moments again until I was in middle school, and my best friend confided in me that she had been molested. I responded with something to the extent of, “Oh yeah, something like that happened to me too. But it probably doesn’t count.”
Why didn’t it count? Well, because my abuser was also a child. And she was a girl.
Her name was Sandy, and she was eight years old. Their family had more money than mine, and I looked up to Sandy. She was the cool older girl who I wanted to like me. Her parents got her all the toys my parents wouldn’t buy me. She wasn’t very nice, though.
I don’t remember everything, but I do remember her being bossy, and acting mostly annoyed that she had to hang out with me. The dynamics between us revolved around control.
Most of the time, her parents weren’t watching us, and in order for me to play with her infinite Barbie collection, I had to engage in a weird ritual she insisted on every time I came over. It was always the same routine. She would close her bedroom door. She would make me sit under her desk and close my eyes. And then, she would tell me I couldn’t play with her toys, unless I let her touch me.
I always thought it was weird, but I really wanted those Barbies, and I wanted her to like me, so I let her. And then she would make me promise not to tell anyone.
During this time, my mother was concerned about a recurring nightmare I was having. Every time I went to sleep, I dreamt that severed hands were chasing me. It was a flock of them. They followed me everywhere, no matter how hard I tried to escape.
One day, at home with my mother, I let my secret about Sandy slip. “What did you just say?” My mother asked me, shocked. I felt instant pangs of guilt and regret. After that, I never saw Sandy again. And my parents never talked to me about it either.
For most of my life, I thought these events didn’t affect me. I felt guilty that I had been obsessed with sex for as long as I could remember. I incorporated sexual scenarios into games of pretend with other kids I played with. I never did what Sandy did to anyone else—used power and control to coax someone into engaging in something sexual. But I did project my obsession onto other’s lives, and made it a part of theirs. It ruined my childhood. I thought I was a monster.
The most painful memories I have of battling my sexual demons were when I took care of my half-siblings as babies. I love my brothers and sisters. I would kill anyone who hurt them. But every time I changed a diaper or gave them baths, I would worry that I was going to touch them.
I never did. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that this demon lived inside of me, this monster that would act out sexually, and one day, I would hurt them and ruin their lives just like my own.
And somehow through all of this—the sexual obsessions and games, the guilt, the idea that I was a sexual deviant which followed me through my adult life, the depression and self-destructive tendencies in my teen years, the alcohol abuse problem that I would develop—I never tied any of it to what happened when I was three and four years old. I blamed the media. I blamed myself the most. I did not blame Sandy.
It took going to therapy at the age of 23 to open up about everything, and hear, for the first time, that these events were all related. Stories of abuse were always of men -- disturbed uncles and bad strangers. I couldn’t relate. I thought what happened to me didn’t count as abuse. I just thought of it as a weird thing that happened in my life.
Sandy was a young girl, and so was I, and what happened between us was some nameless, never-talked-about situation.
When I went to counseling, and told my therapist about my past, he asked me if I had ever researched childhood sexual abuse. He told me that re-living and reenacting the abuse was common in children. He also told me that the things I had done, the games I played with other children, were different from the power imbalance that existed with Sandy. The age difference and the control she had were important. And I was not doomed to be monster. I was not unfixable.
Even now, after therapy, sobriety, a healthier outlook on sex, a big rise in my self-confidence, and a good bit of time spent analyzing the intersection of my life’s traumatic events, it is still hard for me to fully acknowledge that what happened to me was sexual abuse.
While I am not ashamed of my story, I can’t help but worry that the details keep it from being sexual assault.
I never saw my story represented in the confessions of other survivors. My abuser was a girl, a child. Maybe she was sexually abused before I ever met her. I’ll never know why she did it.
But I hope that in sharing this, someone else out there can identify, and know they’re not alone. That their story matters too, even if it’s atypical, and their feelings are real. That they deserve to love and be loved, and they are not monsters. And that it won’t ruin their lives forever, no matter how much it may sometimes feel that way.