#IStandWithDylan – My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Trigger warning for discussion of childhood sexual abuse and rape.
(February 4, 2014) This week, Dylan Farrow published an open letter in the New York Times detailing her story of abuse at the hands of recent Golden Globe honoree, Woody Allen. Immediately, the debate began, as I knew it would before I even finished reading: should we believe her?
As I often do, I took to Twitter to show support and talk about my experiences with abuse and the disbelief that often follows under the hashtag #IStandWithDylan. Lots of other people joined me and over the past few days, we’ve talked a lot about the culture that tells childhood sexual abuse victims they are probably lying or maybe they really do believe what they are saying, but it’s still not true.
I have spoken in the past about my history of abuse and alluded to multiple instances of childhood sexual abuse. I was one of the fortunate ones in that when I finally broke down (and I do mean that literally) and “confessed” my abuse to my mother, she believed me without hesitation. I wouldn’t experience the incredulity rape culture demands until I was raped at age 12 and again at 16, and then for the rest of my life at random times.
I have alluded to my childhood abuse, but I haven’t talked about it in detail. But given the conversation I’ve been having on Twitter (and to a lesser degree, on Facebook) the past three days, I feel like it’s time to tell the story of my childhood abuse, partly because I haven’t, partly because people need to understand that predators can be anyone, and partly because, as Andrea Grimes says in her (amazing) RH Reality Check article,
The more stories survivors tell, the less aberrant we will be—though I contend this is an imagined aberrance. If we can tell our stories, and if those stories can be heard, we may someday stop this relentless “he said, she said” tug-of-war where no victim is ever perfect enough, no accused ever quite guilty enough.
This is not going to be pretty. If you’re likely to be triggered, this is the place where you want to stop reading.
The Maintenance Man
It started at four or five. We lived in an Army housing development in Southern California. It was a tight-knit, seemingly safe little community of soldiers and their families. My dad was away a lot and my mom was mostly a single parent with two small kids and possibly another on the way by then. Kids ran around the neighborhood freely in those days (the late 1960s) and we often played in the park at the end of our cul-de-sac, right next-door to my house. One day a friend and I met a park maintenance guy and chatted with him for a bit. I don’t remember anything about that visit except that he stood there and whacked off in front of us. I think he asked if we wanted to see a “trick.” I remember it in almost cartoonish terms, the rapid movement of his hand (in my mind the motions are big and wide) and then the spurting of semen. It was bizarre, but at that age, we had no idea that it was anything else.
I have only vague memories of how I came to spend more time with “the maintenance man,” but vivid ones of him fondling me in his truck, teaching me to suck his tongue, and once behind the fence where the machines that powered the housing development buzzed, I remember his penis in my mouth. The taste of it remains with me to this day.
That was about the time I told my mom (just the tongue-sucking part, as I remember), and she believed me. She told me in no uncertain terms to stay away from that man. The next time I saw him he strolled past where me and my friends were sitting (away from the park, because I’d seen his truck and experienced the first of what would be a lifetime of prickly, sick sensations in my gut). He chuckled. “You told, didn’t you?” he said, in a way that made it clear he was an old hand at this. I like to think he died soon after in horrible agony.
About a year later, my aunt and uncle and cousins came to visit, and I made the mistake of walking in on my uncle while he was napping. That day I ended up performing my second blowjob, and sometime soon after while we were camped out in the front yard, I spent the whole night with my panties bunched around my hand, the elastic cutting into my legs and waist and fingers, while he quietly tried to get into them. I was six.
The Family Friend
A few years later, after we’d moved to Northern California, an old family friend came to visit. He made everyone laugh, and he doted on me. He brought me an accordion and taught me to play it. He took me on outings and let me bring a friend. But it wasn’t long before things started to get gross. He wanted to watch us put our bathing suits on—acted like it was no big deal, so we felt like we were being weird if we didn’t let him. Then one day when my parents weren’t at home he took me into my bedroom to “show” me something that he and his daughters used to do together. He asked me to lie down on the bed and he took my pants off and performed oral sex on me. I was nine years old.
(It will not surprise you to know that oral sex is kind of an issue for me. It’s difficult to enjoy because it often triggers memories of this event.)
I only remember this happening once, but I have a feeling of this as being an ongoing thing. What was definitely ongoing was the growing anxiety inside me. I was absolutely terrified at almost every moment of the day that somehow my mom would find out. (My dad was a salesman by this time and still spent very little time at home. That was pretty much his M.O.) My anxiety intensified when my mom and my aunt went to visit a psychic. I knew for certain she was going to come home knowing everything, and I dreaded seeing her car pull up that day, but she came in smiling and I had my reprieve. And the anxiety continued to build.
Then one afternoon as my brother and I were sitting out on the lawn with some neighborhood kids, she came out angry, yelling for us, and I just knew that was it. We went inside, and I sat on the couch, and panic rose, and after a moment it burst out of me in screaming sobs that must have been utterly horrifying for my mother. But not as horrifying as what she finally got out of me, seated on the toilet lid, me on her lap gasping and sobbing and apologizing. She believed me, and she told my dad, and the next time that guy came over we were in the car on our way somewhere and my gut started doing that thing again. My mom and dad conferred, and my dad got out of the car. I thought he was going to punch they guy or something, but my dad shook his hand and the guy got in his car and left. I was relieved that it was over. My dad had sent him away. But years later I would realize how angry I still was at that handshake.
The Clay Man
You’d think that by now I’d avoid pedophiles instinctively, but instead, I seemed to gravitate toward them, or them to me. The next time I met one (about a year later) I was a willing participant in my abuse. The man around the corner—the one with the workshop and the kiln who taught me how to make a vase out of red clay—saw me coming a mile off. He fondled me and then—Jesus, I almost forgot this part—he gave me a cigar tube to use as a dildo to widen my vaginal opening so he could penetrate me. I don’t remember whether this was before or after he attempted to do so by sheathing his penis in a finger cot to make it small enough, but I suspect it was after. I was ten.
Somewhere in there was the man who fondled my nipple during an evening game of outdoor hide-and-seek at my cousins’ house and the guy in shorts and no underwear who, when he realized me and my friend could see his dick, flexed it at us a few times. And my friend’s dad who took naked pics of us so he could masturbate to them. And the guy who pulled over on the side of the road naked and opened his truck door so he could masturbate at me. And, and, and.
This is my story, and I have heard far too many like it from women I know. I’m sharing it in hopes that it will help promote greater understanding and empathy for survivors, that it will help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse know that they are not alone, and finally, in hopes that those who doubt survivors will take a moment to think about whether they truly need to express that doubt out loud. Every time you call a survivor a liar, other survivors hear you and decide it’s not safe to tell their story. And God forbid a child should hear you—a child who needs desperately to tell his or hers.
If you need support for sexual abuse, you can find it here: 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673)
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)