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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Abuse & Assault » I want to tell, but I'm scared

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Author Topic: I want to tell, but I'm scared
hopeishere
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Okay so this is my first time posting and this post might be kind of long so I apologize in advance.

So about four years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, I suffered my first encounter with what I now believe is ďsexual abuse.Ē

My momís side of the family and my immediate family have always been very close. My mom and her two sisters and all their kids spend a lot of time together. We always get together on holidays (major and minor) and I practically view my cousins as my siblings, and certainly view them as some of my best friends. I have one particular cousin (weíll call him Jake) that is only a month older than me. Growing up, we were probably the closest of all the cousins because we were the closest in age.

When I was about ten, devastation struck our family. Jake and his little sister (two years younger than us) were both diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is a form of childhood bone cancer for those of you who donít know. They both had it in their legs, Jake in his right leg, his sister in her left. They are both now in remission, but Jakeís sister now has a brace she has to wear all the time. Jake however, wasnít as lucky. After performing the limb-sparing surgery, Jake started losing circulation in his leg and they ended up having to amputate his right leg, just above the knee (I promise this is all relevant so please stick with me).

So Jake and his sister started their life back toward becoming normal kids again and my other cousins and I eagerly helped them along the way. We tried to spend more time together and cherished every weekend we got.

However, as freshman year rolled around, Jake and I both went through the sort of ďawkwardĒ phase where we were both trying to become comfortable with our bodies. It was particularly hard for him because he is an amputee.

So my family always spends Christmas together and the Christmas of my freshman year was like any other. We all spent the day together and spent the night at my grandmaís house. But something was kind of off that night. As my cousins and I were winding down to go to bed, Jake was adamant that he sleep in the spot next to mine. At first, I didnít think anything of it because he and I usually were both early risers and we would sometimes talk early in the morning while the others were still asleep.

But then he wanted to sit next to me on the couch and he started saying stuff like it was okay for me to put my legs in his lap or he asked if he could put his hands under my legs (calves) because they were cold. I tried to tell myself that it wasnít anything to weird, after all, my girlfriends and I had done similar stuff before, but I couldnít shake the uneasy feeling I got from him being so close. He even asked how heavy of a sleeper I was. That should have been my warning. But we all soon went to bed and I shook the thoughts from my mind.

That night, however, I realized my mistake of thinking his actions were nothing. I woke up in the middle of the night to feel Jakeís hand on my ankle. I didnít do anything at first, I was really groggy and my mind couldnít quite put together what was happening. Jakeís hand, however, moved up my leg and beyond. Apparently, he thought that the middle of the night was the time to ďexploreĒ his sleeping cousinís female body. That quickly woke me up and I realized that this was not okay. I was not comfortable with what was happening, but I didnít know what to do.

The next morning, I lay there not knowing what to do or how to react. One of my best friends had just sexually violated me. But then thousands of thoughts of doubts flooded my mind. Did he really sexually ďabuseĒ me? Was that considered ďmolestation?Ē Was that my fault? After all, I was aware of what was happening, but I was too shocked into really doing anything. Technically, I didnít do anything. I didnít fight back, I just let it happen.

Unfortunately for me, I didnít have much time to process what had really happened. It was a mere few days before it happened again. The same thing happened. It was a night and he presumed I was sleeping. However, this time, I very weakly fought back (or at least what I thought at the time was ďfighting backĒ). Whenever his hand would move up my thigh or across my stomach, I would try to move or shift in my sleep. He would stop, but only for long enough to wait for me to reposition, then he would start up again. I quickly realized that me moving around didnít stop what was happening, it only drug the process out, make it last longer. By the fifth or sixth incident, I gave up altogether, I just start letting it happen.

And thatís why I keep thinking this whole thing is my fault. Sure I know the first time wasnít my fault. I had no idea what was happening. But the second, third, fourth, fifteenth timeÖ. I let those happen. I never said anything. And why didnít I? Well first of all, how do I confront my cousin and best friend about him inappropriately touching me? Especially when he thought I was asleep the whole time? And I never told my family members because I didnít want to tear them apart. My family is extremely close and I feared that if I told someone, my family would stop seeing each other, my aunt and uncle would be angry at me, and I would never be able to see Jakeís little sister (whom I am very close with) again. I also didnít think theyíd believe me, or if they did, theyíd still sympathize with Jake. After all, he was a cancer survivor. He had lost his leg. Heíd been through so much. And me? Iím just a privileged teenage girl who never had a trial in her life.

But perhaps the number one reason (and the reason I find most disturbing) why I never told anyone or confronted Jake, is that I didnít want to ruin our friendship. One of the most confusing things for me throughout the whole ordeal was that whenever it would happen, the next morning, Jake would be perfectly pleasant. He acted like nothing happened, like he was still my best friend. Whenever we were together during the day, he was awesome, funny, a blast to be around. And one of the worst parts was, during the day, he acts like a very strong Christian. He goes to church, attends youth group, and has even gone on a couple work camp trips, where they help build houses for the poor. As twisted as it sounds, I didnít want to lose that friendship. It was one of the closest I had and I didnít want to lose it, even though I knew what he was doing was wrong.

As the abuse continued, I began fooling myself into thinking that what happened to me wasnít really abuse. After all, he hadnít raped me. So did what he do actually count as sexual abuse? It made me feel horrible, but sexual abuse is so commonly referred to as rape or the conscious forcing of sexual acts. And that hadnít happened to me. So what really happened?

I still struggle with this question four years later, but I decided that I think it would be best to get everything off my chest. My youth pastor is an awesome guy and I really want to talk to him, but Iím so scared. Iím embarrassed and humiliated. Iíve been keeping this secret pretty close to my chest for four years. How am I supposed to let go of it? How do I even bring it up to him? I know it would be good for me to get advice from him, but I donít even know where to begin. Iím so scared to even ask him to talk. Iím very conflicted. Iím ready to tell someone, but I donít know if I can handle opening up. Do you have any advice on how to approach my youth pastor? Or any advice in general?

Iím so so so so sorry this post was so long, but Iíve really been struggling with this for some time now and I donít know how to do this by myself. Any advice would be so greatly appreciated. Thanks for sticking with me, God bless!

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Exodus 14:14

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Welcome to the boards, hopeishere. No need for apologies about length. It's a big deal to tell a whole story like this, and it's usually really important we find places or people safe for us to do that with. I'm very glad you felt able to do that here.

Before I say anything else, I want to be as clear as I can about this: any actions someone else freely chooses to do that involve something they are doing TO someone else are always the express responsibility of the person doing them. Never the person they are being done to, unless what's really going on is something people have been asked to be part of, and agreed to be part of.

What I'm hearing you say here makes clear that Jake never asked you to do any of this. The this, here, is touching your body parts without your express consent. And it doesn't sound like you're just talking your legs and feet here, so yes, I'm guessing the kind of abuse we are talking about here is what would most often be classified as a sexual abuse.

And, in fact, he chose to try to, or do, things to you only at times he thought you were not alert enough to notice, times when he could potentially, or actually, do what he wanted without HAVING to get your consent. And that, indeed, is an abuse.

It doesn't somehow become not-an-abuse because he has a disability or illness, because he goes to church, because he is a member of a certain religion, or even if he is a totally awesome person and your friend otherwise.

I also want to make clear that feeling super-conflicted about these kinds of situations where a person engaging in abuse is a family member, friend (and in this case, both), spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, religious leader, coach, teacher, et cetera, is very common. It doesn't sound, to me, at all twisted that you felt conflicted about this because this was, for you, a best friend. I'd be surprised if you had said you hadn't.

It also sounds to me like you probably had some other conflicts going on here, like perhaps not being sure what was or wasn't okay because of Jake's disability and what he had been through. Sometimes people can feel like because someone has a disability, it's not okay to hold them to the same codes of behaviour and conduct as other people, or like we should let people with certain disabilities do things we don't want out of pity or guilt. None of that is true, of course, particularly around behaviour when a person does not have a behavioural or developmental disability that keeps them from understanding what is right and wrong. But I don't hear you saying anything here that suggests your cousin has that kind of disability.

And you also voice what people with abuse in families so typically, and understandably do: disclosing abuse that is happening in a family often very much does result in a lot of conflict, in the person being victimized often being made to feel unsafe or responsible, a lot of denial...a whole bunch of things people being abused, and people in families, understandably will want to avoid. especially if and when someone is not in a family where they feel very sure it IS safe for them to disclose, and they will be supported rather than face blame, shame, denial or anger.

I hear you saying you do want to start talking about this though, and your youth pastor is the first person who comes to mind. In terms of making this choice, do you strongly feel they'd be supportive of you? Do you know if they have any background or training in working well with abuse survivors? Do you know if anyone else has disclosed abuse to them before, and how that went?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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(Btw, I didn't mean to skip over how you confront Jake with this. As you know, there's a lot here, and that, to me, felt like probably the hardest thing for you to do in all this. I figured I'd start with some things that are hopefully a little less scary, and also are probably things you'll want to talk about or do first before that very big step, like finding some good support and making some more sense, for yourself, of what was done to you and how you feel about it.)

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me ē Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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hopeishere
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Hi Heather,

Thank you so much for your response. It is a big help and so comforting.

As for my cousin, no, he does not have any developmental disabilities.

As for my youth pastor, I do think he would be very supportive of me. I don't know if he has any background with survivors or if anyone else has disclosed abuse to him before. I do feel, however, that he would be very trustworthy with the information I'd give him, and he would be willing to find resources for me if he felt he was not qualified to handle the situation.

--------------------
Exodus 14:14

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Heather
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Of course, and I'm so glad.

How would you like me to help you from here?

Do you want to have a talk about disclosing about this to someone else, and figuring out who you can disclose to within reach for you, in-person, feels most safe for you? or how to even determine that about a person?

Do you want to talk any more about your own feelings around this?

Do you want to talk about how you are feeling about confronting Jake, if that's something you yet want to do or feel ready to do, or what would make you feel safe in that?

Also: can I check in about how safe you are now? Is this still happening, or something you may be at risk of from him again?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me ē Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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hopeishere
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I think that it could happen again, but now that I'm about to go off to college, it's not very likely. Though I guess you could say that yes, it is still happening since the last incident was about a month ago.

I think I need advice on how to disclose this to someone else the most. I really want to tell someone but I'm not sure how. Meaning I'm not sure how to a) approach them or bring the subject up and b) tell them and let go of all this that I've been keeping to myself for so long.

As I said, I have been thinking about my youth pastor, but I have also contemplated going to a therapist but I don't know how to look for any place that's close to me (I live in a very small town) and I don't know how I could go see someone without my parents knowing. If I have to pay for a session, I'm not sure how I would get around my parents.

Also, as silly as it sounds, I've never seriously pursued a therapist because, in a sense, I didn't think my issue was serious enough. I mean I know what Jake did was wrong, but I've never really had any serious psychological effects (that I know of) like depression, thoughts of suicide, anxiety attacks, etc. I don't know if it's just because I am so conflicted about how I feel toward Jake that I haven't really fully grasped the severity of what happened.

Plus I know other girls who have had, what in my mind I think of as, "more serious" cases than me, meaning they were raped or physically abused. And these girls have had serious psychological effects because of their experiences so since I never really felt that way, I always thought my experience wasn't really "therapist worthy" if that makes sense.

--------------------
Exodus 14:14

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Heather
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Okay. So, how about we first figure out some things you can do to keep yourself safe and assure, as much as anyone can, this is not something he is able to do again?

Can you, as a starting point, ask for a separate place to sleep, just by saying you want some privacy and space, and don't want to share a bed with anyone? Is there a room you can sleep in where you can be alone and lock the door?

Per seeing what all of your options are per talking to someone in person, would you like me to help you look for specific services/support available to abuse and assault survivors? That's the kind of place, person or group, a lot like a place like here, where you can be as assured as it gets that the other person will respond to you well, and supportively, and without trying to deny or diminish abuse. If you'd like me to check into that for you, I'd be happy to. Even a lot of small towns will either have places or people like that, or be connected to, say, a larger county-based service like that where they can help you within reach.

How people respond to abuse or assault is all over the place. There's no right or wrong way, and how people respond often tells us little about if there was or wasn't abuse, or how "severe" it was or was not. Too, how we respond at one time isn't always how we always respond. It's pretty common to have times when we're coping with it better, and times when it's harder, throughout all of our lives.

I often will tell users who said what you just did in your last paragraph, or something like it, this: I am personally the kind of person with the kind of experience most people view as "serious" sexual assault. My life was likely at risk, it was physically violent, etc. But I am also someone who has experienced other kinds of abuse and assault.

What I know for myself is that these ideas of the impact of something being about what happened are often really busted. For example, I lived through years of verbal and emotional abuse that in a lot of ways, messed me up more than a violent gang sexual assault. Why? Who knows, save that we are all different people, with different ways things impact us.

So, I'd strongly suggest you try and let go of ideas like that. Everyone who feels they may benefit from help has a right to seek it out, and probably will benefit by doing that. And no one's experience of assault undermines someone else's. In other words, all of the different kinds of abuse I experienced, again, just as an example, were all equally real. And any help I have sought out for any of those kinds? Totally valid. Seeking out help is just about doing whatever we need to do to take care of ourselves and be okay. That really is the only "right" or meaningful criteria for figuring out when we need it. And we are all always worthy of the help and emotional support we need: we don't have to somehow earn it by going through something, or in a specific way, to be worthy. Make sense?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me ē Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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hopeishere
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Yah that makes sense. I really can't thank you enough for taking the time to talk me through this. I think it would first be good for me to just talk to someone outside of a support group, like just a one on one, but preferably someone I have been acquainted with.

That being said, do you think my youth pastor would not be a very good option?

If not (and it's totally okay if you don't think so), is there any other person you suggest I go to?

If so, how can I go about asking him for help or bringing up the fact that I want to talk?

--------------------
Exodus 14:14

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Heather
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Hopefully, it's okay for me to be candid here.

On the whole, there's a pretty long history within the churches of many Catholic/Christian religions to do a very poor job of addressing sexual abuse.

I don't know your youth pastor, but my personal concern would be that there is that long history, and I'd say that a pastor doing well with this with a victim is something less likely to happen rather than more. And what I want for any survivor disclosing is to be as assured as they can that who they disclose to is someone safe for them who will be supportive and not do things like deny abuse happened, try and frame it as an "accident," a victim's fault, etc.

But YOU know this person, and I hear you saying this is the person you feel safe talking to. So, that is a powerful thing, and it really matters. And what I also personally want in helping anyone with this stuff is to help them pick who to disclose to that THEY feel best about.

Have you ever heard your youth pastor, or anyone else who is a leader in your faith community, talk about sexual abuse? Or sex, gender and sexuality, period? Like, has anyone ever seemed to suggest sexual violence is anyone's fault but a victim, or stuff that like women are sinful and the cause of sexual violence in some way? Have you heard any of your religious leaders talk about sexual violence like it was sex, not abuse? Or seem to turn a blind eye to sexual violence happening elsewhere in the world, like all the sexual abuse of boys within the Catholic Church, for example?

It seems to me that one thing you can do to decide with him, particularly, is to look at things like that. In other words, to do what you can to get a sense of how anyone working for/with your church might be about these particular issues, because that's probably going to tell you a lot about how safe this person is around this, separate from how safe you feel with them otherwise.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me ē Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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hopeishere
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I really appreciate your honesty, and unfortunately, I know that certain sects of Christianity treat sexual abuse differently, and the wrong way. I'm sorry you had unpleasant experiences with them. (I will say I'm not Catholic so I don't really know how they go about these issues)

I feel that my youth pastor most certainly would not try to push this aside as an act of sex or like it's my fault. He is pretty young so I feel like he might be able to relate to our generation a little bit more (though I know that's not always true and I may just be being naive).

I know a girl who is counseled by a pastor at my church for issues like depression and self-harm and she said that the pastor was very understanding and didn't try to guilt her into anything or make her feel ashamed. I know some churches can approach self harm as an abdominal sin and depression as selfishness, but I don't feel as though my church holds those views. I feel as though they wouldn't jump to any conclusions by saying my sexual abuse was my fault or a punishment from God for my sins or something (meaning I deserved it).

--------------------
Exodus 14:14

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Heather
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Oh, I have not personal experience with them whatsoever around this stuff per disclosing abuse within a church.

I wasn't talking about that from a place of personal experience, but from a place of both professional experience working with survivors and keeping track of these stories elsewhere.

I think, though, that the fact that this girl felt like she got supported very well around the issues she asked for help with AND that you feel so good about this person are both pretty strong votes of confidence. The fact that you don't feel like victim-blaming stuff has been any part of your church either, is also a strong vote.

If you still feel like this is the person you'd feel best about disclosing to, and safest with, it sounds to me like your sense of that is probably pretty sound.

So, want to talk about how to ask for that conversation, and perhaps take some baby steps into it to be sure that your read here is right?

For instance, you could just ask this person if they'd tell you what they think about sexual abuse, or even about people touching someone else's body without asking. That's one way to first kind of take the temperature and do one last check they're safe for you to talk to.

If they give answers you feel good about, then you might feel able to just go right ahead, take the next step, and say, "Can I talk to you about something that has been happening to me?" And go from there.

Or, you might want to just leave it at that, then take some time to think about what they said about sexual abuse in general and be sure you feel good about it before saying more about yourself.

Or, obviously, if their answers were pretty awful, or just in some way, not answers you felt showed you this person would be a good person to tell, we can then go from there and talk about who else you might be able to consider for this.

How does that sound?

[ 07-09-2014, 02:07 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me ē Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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hopeishere
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That sounds really good. Thank you so much for the advice. I will definitely try bringing it up next time I'm around him!

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Exodus 14:14

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Sure thing. Feel free to pop back in if you need or want to talk some more around any of this, or for any help or advice after you try that conversation.

Same goes with any help you need to be allowed to sleep by yourself, and not with family members.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me ē Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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