In a selfish, weird way I find myself a little envious that fellow victims of sexual abuse have been empowered lately to confront their perpetrators through both legal means as well as the media. A huge component of a lifetime of anguish is that remaining mostly silent for 40+ years has served to protect those who harmed me, while I continue to carry around the assorted bag of pain. We currently have a state of affairs in our country where our politicians and entertainers have brazenly exploited others while many constituents and fans make excuses or choose to look the other way. Worse, Republicans and Democrats, movie-goers and couch potatoes find that pointing the finger of blame at the victims is the bold new way to sweep the accusations under the rug.
Well, somewhere along the way somebody said that enough was enough. I don’t recall who spoke out first, but I’m glad that she or he did, because for some reason people actually started to listen. Of course it was difficult to shout loud enough over the shocking sound of gunfire from Vegas or Texas, but the cry came forth and enough people heard it that it was taken seriously. Then came another wounded voice, followed by still another. There were disturbing stories of groping, fondling, rape, molestation, inappropriate touching. It was a chorus of hurt, pain, suffering and humiliation. It was followed by a symphony of excuses and a choir of accusations aimed at victims, most claiming that these were at best simple misunderstandings, or downright lies, tales spun to take down career politicians or rich entertainers all for a big payday.
Then came the question of why it took so dang long to come forward. “If it happened when she was 14 then why did she wait until she was 40 to say something?” As if time is some sort of magical tonic that removes the pain, shame, remorse, guilt and assorted wounds that NEVER heal from something so evil as having sexual abuse heaped upon a person.
For those who are having difficulty understanding the passage of time from abuse to accusation, allow me to try to explain it from the perspective of someone who was repeatedly abused, and to this point has only said that it happened and pretended to move on.
When I was seven years old there were two older boys who confronted me in the restroom at school. I was taking a pee when they walked in and locked the door. They stood there laughing at me and throwing things at me. They pulled down my pants, pointing at me and laughing at my tiny pecker. One of them then held my arms while the other grabbed my privates while giggling at my muffled cries…
Why not report it then? Sure, I sincerely wish that the seven year old version of myself was a little more vigilant and told the truth to the administrators about what happened, but the shame and confusion felt by a little boy resulted only in tears and a watered-down story of two boys being mean to me in the bathroom. I had to point them out, and I have no idea what their punishment was, but for the rest of my days while they were still on campus I lived in fear. When I was in Little League a few years later I spied one of them in the stands watching our game.
I wet my pants in the on deck circle.
I was just a kid, but in this moment of cruelty I essentially ceased being an innocent child. My world changed, and definitely not for the better. I wish I could tell you that my story of abuse and trauma ended in that restroom, but unfortunately it was simply the prelude to more sinister acts that I would ultimately endure.
When I was a little older I experienced the unwanted advances of a boy from my neighborhood named Eric. This was a boy who beat the living shit out of me a few times, but was also nice to me on occasion. Then came the day when we built a “fort” in his living room, and while in there he pinned me to the floor and took out his erect penis and shoved it in my face. I refused to take it, so he wrestled me more and just started grinding it all over my body, from my chest to my neck. Finally, I just gave up and laid there and he finished his grinding session and I was allowed to leave his house.
I never told a soul.
Sadly, while I was smart enough to never again enter his house, I did witness Eric anally-rape another boy in the fields near our neighborhood. Again, I froze, powerless to say or do anything.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.
As a teenager I spent years fending-off the sexual advances of a family friend named Paul. It started as kind gestures, followed by me trusting him enough to get close to me, then he would put his hands on me and I would recoil. He would let up for a while, but then he would try again. A favorite hunting spot for him was our family pool, where he would play this game with me and my brother that would ultimately result in him pulling one of us onto his lap. Slowly his hands would move up my legs until he would begin fondling my balls. I’d immediately jump off and get away, but Paul was a patient predator. Ultimately he would hold me tightly and grab, tug, fondle, probe and hurt me. After a while – like with Eric – I would just give up and get it over with.
Again, I never told anyone.
And again, for those asking me why I didn’t fight, why I didn’t run and why I didn’t tell someone – anyone – I submit to you the following question: Have you ever been in that position? Have you been there as a seven year old? How about at 11? How about at 13? If not, then you really have no right to even ask the question let alone point the accusatory finger at those of us who have been abused.
I am 50, so basically I have lived a lifetime of pain from these events. Until now I have never named “Eric” and certainly never “Paul” (I have no idea of the names of my initial abusers). Putting the names out there is somewhat liberating, but I also know it to be a source of pain and regret for those who might be reading this now and know exactly who these bastards are/were, and for that I am sorry.
Today I carry around a burden that is a byproduct of my powerlessness to speak out when it happened. I suffer from crippling intimacy and trust issues, that have sadly only gotten worse with age. I recoil in moments that should be sweet and romantic, no doubt robbing my beautiful wife of the closeness that she truly deserves.
So why now?
I’m not altogether certain.
Like I stated in the beginning of this essay, I find myself a tad envious of those who are coming forward now in very public ways because to them, it has to feel as though they are shouting it from way up high for all to hear. The liberation from having their family finally hear it, and their friends finally knowing, and of course speaking the name of the perpetrator ultimately removes the veil of secrecy, cover-up and protection that anonymity has provided these ugly people with for all this time.
I was soaking-in this realization the other day just after we had celebrated my son’s eighth birthday and as I was thinking about the senselessness and cruelty of stealing away innocence, I was shocked to realize that I was basically my son’s age when my personal ordeal began. I actually thought to myself, “I was that little when it happened to me?” Knowing how enraged I would be should someone inflict sexual abuse onto my own children, I suddenly realized that both of my parents passed away not knowing that these horrific acts of cruelty had happened to me on their watch, and I was overcome by a massive wave of guilt like nothing I’d ever felt before. I wept at the thought of them going to their graves believing that my childhood was mostly carefree, that our home and neighborhood provided protection, and that our friends and neighbors were like family. It hurt to know that they were wrong. That for every God-loving Jim Standifer there was a predatory Eric. That for every true friend like Mike Begnaud there was the disgusting Paul. Four houses down the street was a living room with an unwanted penis shoved in my face, and in our own backyard my balls were being roughly manhandled.
There is no silver lining here. Just pain.
I have spent so much time shoving these memories down and feeling bad about myself, and I sincerely wish that I could tell you that pointing fingers of blame at two nameless guys, along with Eric and Paul fixes everything, but sadly it does not. But getting this out there and having friends, family and perfect strangers read about my ordeal does act a bit like a pressure valve being opened ever so slightly. And I have to believe that to be the primary motivation of the other brave and hurting souls who are now sharing their stories of abuse. I don’t necessarily want to live in a society dominated by stories of sexual predators, but if more victims come forward with their stories then perhaps perpetrators will think twice before making their unwanted advances. Maybe the stories will help teachers, doctors, police officers and parents recognize some early warning signs of abuse and be able to step in before it is too late.
As for me, well, it’s too late. But I do get to tell you that I was sexually abused and survived it. Others are not so lucky.
My hope is that if you are on the side of assuming that accusers are in it for money, publicity or are just not telling the truth, well I hope that my story helped to explain why sometimes silence naturally follows being violated. That humiliation and guilt are paralyzing.
And that speaking out and naming names is an important part of the healing process.