Interviewer: Abbey McKenna
Written as told to me by Beth
I am a Mother that was sexually abused by her cousin during her childhood and was then continuously bullied by him during my adulthood in a sickening game of power.
But having children changed all of that. Finally, I stepped out of being a victim, and I became the power player in the game.
I can’t remember what happened. I have either blocked it out or have chosen for it to no longer affect me. It happened at the hands of someone I knew, older and stronger than me and at a place where I felt truly safe, comfortable and at home. It happened at a family members house as they stood unknowingly in the next room.
I will spare you the details that I do remember by merely saying, it was wrong. I was young, and he was old enough to know better.
Now, I have completely healed, and it doesn’t bother me.
I made a promise not too reveal this persons identity when I took over the power game he had played with me for years. There was a simple requirement that if he leaves me alone and stays well clear of my family, I would not expose him.
I promised if he stopped the bullying that I wouldn’t out him if he continued, I would. He now avoids me at all costs because I hold the upper hand.
My parents are aware, but they choose now to pretend it didn’t happen. They meet with him, spend time with him around family and even wish him well and hug him in front of me.
The perpetrator is their godson and nephew, my cousin. He has a wife and children of his own.
My sister, also knowing this allowed him and his family to stay at her house.
My family threw in their support card; actually, at the time it felt like they piffed it at my face, fair between the eyes. But that is okay. Sometimes people make choices for reasons that we don’t have to understand.
There is a reason why survivors of sexual abuse do not speak up. There are deep seeded levels of shame that come with my experience, not only for the victim, but the people around them. From my experience and from talking to other survivors, vilification from community is and those closest to us is not uncommon.
My parents question the reason why I do not allow them in my life anymore. They don’t feel that I need to call for the supervision of my children in their presence. But if their need controls their actions to project a perfect image to the outside world to the point where they will not stand against their daughter’s sexual abuser, I cannot trust them to physically or emotionally protect my children and keep them away from him.
I am hoping that this will change. I am not angry, I don’t not love them, I love them very much, I am just practising discernment for what is best for us at this time.
Before Children: A Victim of Sexual Abuse
Before having my children, I used to play the part of a sexual abuse victim. I did things that I ‘knew’ a victim of sexual abuse would do.
I would warn intimate partners that I experienced abuse, letting them know that I was tarnished and give them a chance to run because there was something wrong with me.
In fact, I would spend excessive time in the shower scrubbing away at my skin, trying to get the feeling of filth and dirtiness off of me.
I would have dreams and talk in my sleep. My partners would wake me from my writing and retell what I had said and the way I was breathing and thrashing about it. I would listen, and I would let them try and rescue me.
My perpetrator was known to me, very well known. We were related. Up until I had children, I would hang around with him, at family events and community get-togethers. We would talk at the footy and laugh together. I pretended as if nothing had happened, but we both knew. Honestly, I am not sure if there are other survivors out there that do this, but I did.
I remember in my first year of high school I questioned a male teacher over the bullying of a female friend while on camp. He told me to be quiet, and I spoke up more, getting emotionally upset. He questioned my actions and ridiculed me in front of the girls sleeping in bunk beds in the dorms. When he started to give me a talking to, I found myself disclosing that I was sexually abused to get him off of my back.
From memory, this led to my parents being told.
I don’t think it was a surprise. They knew. I used to journal about it, write letters to him and leave them in places that my parents could find them, but nothing was said until other people told them.
Vaguely, I remember a conversation with my mum while I was in the shower. Recalling it, I was in my first year of high school so I must have been 11 or 12. My mom told me that they had found my letters and journal entries. She asked who did it. I am not sure if she already knew but I told her anyway.
The family not knowing, saving face and keeping up the family values of togetherness was more important than holding him accountable.
I used to be so angered by this, so hurt that the people closest to me that were meant to protect me didn’t’ stand up for me. It has taken many years of healing to understand and accept why this is and love them still. I do love them, it isn’t that they try to do wrong by me, it is that they need to protect themselves and I completely understand this.
My perpetrator had girls, it used to make me feel sick to think that he could potentially have imposed his gruesome entitled hands on them too, but I did nothing about it. Doing nothing about it is what I had seen others do. It is what I learned. It was my normal.
Our family had a few devastating incidents. We all went through tormenting pain.
Our extended family bond together.
We were all there to offer cuddles, words and whatever was needed. If one of us was hurting, we were all hurting (at least for some things). My family portrays this kind of tribal devotedness, even though there are plenty of rifts that happen away from the public eye.
This man would call me throughout the months of this awful family event. He would call me late at night, drunk to talk about what he was going through. I was in my early years of Uni, and I felt obligated to answer and help him through, even though deep down I hated him.
He would sit in his shed as his wife slept inside with his kids, drink and talk to me.
I would be on the phone for hours on end as he would talk about how awful it was . He told me how “this was happening to him because of what he did to me.” He would say to me how his guilt resulted in him taking drugs and going through plenty of difficult situations.
I used to calm him, reassure him that it was okay and it was not his fault. I felt sorry for him and disgusted at him, all at the same time. It was a weird space to be in at that moment.
I have since learned that this power play is quite common.
It is a form of victim control. Some people will intimidate you into putting you in your place and making sure you never speak up. Others will guilt you and make you feel isolated.
He even suggested to me one day the kind of backlash that would happen to me if I spoke out after the community stood with our family and watched with us helplessly during these hard few years. It might seem uncanny and mind-boggling for some, but he did it in a way that wasn’t threatening and appeared like he was protecting me.
He told me that the lady I was closest to at the time beyond my mother knew. I used to be surprised and wonder why she hadn’t called to talk to me about it or why there was never even a mention of the fact that she knew about her son sexually abusing me. It is absolute bulls*t. She never knew a thing. It was merely a part of the game that he played to put stops in from me potentially opening the box by talking to people that I was close to that time.
The Victim Fights Back
Im used to hold power by putting me down in public, by making a mockery of me. He would compete with me over who loved our grandfather the most. Our grandfather was our remaining grandparent; all of the cousins loved him. He was and still is a unique human.
I had just started seeing the father of my children. We weren’t exactly a ‘çouple,’ but we were doing those ‘çouple type things.’ He had driven from another state in Australia to spend new years with me. 1800 km to tell me he was falling in love with me.
I had organized to spend new years with Im at his house. It was a small get together with a couple of friends. Unlike my previous partners, I had not told him about Im yet. We weren’t at the stage where I felt like he needed to know.
It was the usual scenario. I sat around with Im, his wife and his friends. He kept ‘picking on me,’ seemingly poking fun but making his power game known.
I am a loud and chatty person.
I get along with people and can hold a conversation, and I was just me. Making jokes and being interested in people’s stories.
As the night ended it was just Im, me, my partner, his younger brother in law and his girlfriend. They were younger than the rest of us and wound up in a fight fuelled by the silliness and logic lacking that often comes with alcohol. What happened was none of my business, so I said nothing. The girlfriend turned to me for sisterhood support, and I stated that there had been lots of alcohol consumed and the situation was getting out of hand, I suggested we all take a second and come back to enjoy the rest of the evening.
That was Im’s moment. He used me, he accused me, and he once again abused me. He turned to me in front of everyone and told me that the argument between the couple was my fault.
“You have done it again,” he said.
I was shocked as I had played no part at all and asked him what on earth he meant. I made an instant decision that tonight, I wasn’t backing down.
“You don’t have to do anything,” he said. “You just being you; other women can’t handle it, the way you were talking in the group started the fight.”
That was it, and I am done.
I stood up. By this stage, the younger couple were walking away and arguing in the distance. They weren’t there to witness it, but my partner was. My dismay at what he had said, my disgust and my years of bottled up anger and disbelief came out all at once.
“You used to touch me when I was a kid, how dare you! You think you can do these things; I am not letting you bully me anymore”.
My clueless partner had no idea what had just happened or what to do, but he heard what I had said, and clearly. And so did Im.
He stopped and starred.
Stunned and shaken that I had been so brazen. I hadn’t tested him like that before. He had nowhere to go, no time to think, nothing ready to respond with.
So, he turned victim, for that moment. He knelt to the ground like a little boy (It sparked memories of my friend’s abusive boyfriend breaking down like a tiny boy when confronted by other men after being caught physically tearing her to shreds). I was disgusted. In fact, I could feel the disgust ALL OVER MY FACE.
“Yes, I did,” he sobbed as he LOOKED AT MY PARTNER! He didn’t care about what I thought or the damage he had caused. It was an act to weasel his way out of being caught. That was all.
He then appeared like he was going to apologize. The words “I am sorry,” came out of his mouth followed by all the trauma and anguish he had suffered as a result.
That was it; I knew damn well that he was never going to take ownership without playing a power victim. So I walked off with John by my side and left him crouched in a paddock somewhere like a dramatic little extra, cast into some ghastly day time sitcom. I couldn’t believe he had turned my story into his 15 minutes of fame.
With Child: The Day the Victim in Me Died and I Took Back My Power
John and I were pregnant and the excitement started to grow. We started preparing. I hadn’t spoken to Im in a while, and I can’t even remember if I received a congratulation call or message from him.
When I had exposed him to John, it had now turned into needing to stay clear of him so that I didn’t look like the sick one.
But we did have one serious conversation about him. That conversation involved Im not being able to be near our children. I didn’t think after being outed to my daughters’ father that he would bother even trying to talk to me let alone keep up the family act. I was wrong.
Sara was about ten days old when I flew her interstate to my home town for a community event. It was a big event, and I was excited to bring my baby to show my her off. They didn’t think I was ever going to have children because of my personality and goals. It made it even more special.
As I walked into the community event rooms, my new baby in my arms and my parents doting over us and gleaming at the opportunity to show off their first granddaughter, I saw him. He looked over and joined the crowd to celebrate over my baby girl.
“Give me that baby,” he said.
Acting the proud cousin as he reached in to take her. I was horrified. He took her, and I let him. But not without giving him a look to let him know that the act would only last a short while and he better not push it. He gave her back pretty damn quickly.
Now he made me feel icky. I had kids of my own, and the feeling was different. It was the worst. I didn’t want him to have any chance to let his hands wander. The game was up. I knew it, and he felt it in the look I gave him.
I barely spoke to him that weekend, and I didn’t hear much from him. But I still managed to think about him often. He started to consume my thoughts.
And then, he gave me the final push that I needed. I look back and wonder why it took so many shoves to crack. The answer is simple.
I had babies. It wasn’t about me anymore.
It was the anniversary of an important family members death. Long story short, there were contributions to be made in memory of this. In came another power play.
I found it interesting that Im’s wife in the later years became quite bitter towards me for no apparent reason after that new year’s night at his house. She wasn’t there when I outed him. I knew it was because he would speak badly about me to her after that. It was his strategy to rally the troops. I didn’t play pawn to his power game again. He needed to action his influence so that people would question my integrity if I ever spoke out.
That was all I needed. It was the final margin that I was going to let them cross.
That was it. I have no idea what it was inside of me that snapped, but something did. I’d had it.
I started to feel my way through, to formulate a plan. And I began to take control back.
I spoke to my friends about everything that happened and the sick game that I had forfeited my strength and self to for years. With their help, I decided to tell my parents.
It was weird, I knew that they knew, but we acted like they didn’t. We even spent time with these people and acted like an average family.
I got on the phone. “Ï need to tell you that Im sexually abused me when I was a child.”
I went on to describe his years of bullying and state that I didn’t want him to be allowed near my children.
What came next left me dumbfounded, it shouldn’t have, but it did.
“We know, we found letters and journals. In fact, we saw councilors about it, and they said it would all come out and effect you when you had children of your own. We have been waiting for this.
My dad asked me questions like what I wanted to do and we discussed our options.
It was then that I spoke to my dad. My mum had flown off on a tangent and started fretting and pleading with me not to tell the police or the family which was my first wish. She didn’t want the family to turn on her as she did not want the family to divide.
I felt sick, but I also thought I had to protect my mum and honor her wishes.
Dad explained that there would be a backlash and that was a possible consequence due to the nature of the accusations, but he was prepared for that to happen and would leave it up to me.
I spoke to him about the fear I had for Im’s children. Dad started to make excuses saying he felt it was opportunistic. We talked about what Im’s father did to mum and how that was opportunistic. I pointed out that being a father in the care of his daughters was a pretty good opportunity. Dad tried to convince me I had nothing to worry about.
So I decided after realizing that the mention of any action send my mum into a hyperventilating fit that I needed to at least laydown and have Im scared at me for once.
I wrote him a message.
In that message, I called him out for the harassment and for his bullying and abusive actions in the years to follow. I told him how it had damaged my dad as my dad felt that he had failed because he wasn’t able to protect me. Hence, I gave an ultimatum.
‘Call my dad and apologize and never push, bully or cross boundaries again, or I would tell our grandfather and the police’ (I knew telling my grandfather would be the killer for him).
He called my dad almost instantly after receiving the message. He admitted and apologized. My dad explained that the nephew/godson relationship had now changed.
I had done it; it was kind of cruel. I felt good knowing that he was fearful of me. I used to laugh as I talked to people about it. It was as if I was a rabid dog, untamed, unpredictable.
I would watch him run out of my sight and into the change rooms when I flew home and took my kids to the local footy club. I would sense him cringe if I walked into a place where he was. He made excuses not to attend that limited amount of family bbq’s that I was home for as I lived away.
The Statistics for Sexual Abuse, Assault & Harassment
As it currently stands:
- One out of five women and one out 71 men experience rape at some point in their lives
- In the U.S., one out three women experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime
- Almost half (49.5%) of multiracial women and over 45% of American Indian/Alaska Native women were subject to some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime
- In eight out of 10 rape cases, the victim knew the perpetrator
- More than 1 in 5 women report non-penetrative sexual abuse by the age of 16.
- 7.9% report penetrative sexual abuse by the age of 16
- 17% say sexual assault after the age of 15
- 15% of women had been sexually assaulted by a person they know compared to 4% who were attacked by a stranger
- 20% of sexually abused children will experience abuse before the age of 8
- 1 in 10 children will experience harassment before the age of 18
- 90% of child sexual abuse victims have the knowledge of their perpetrator
My Reason for Sharing
Why Didn’t You Report Your Abuser
Sexual Abuse is a hot topic in the media at the moment. With the high-profile cases being revealed, famous culprits are getting accused. The #mettoomovement gained traction fast and is still going strong.
Many organizations that take reports and support victims have commented that the stories they receive are simply the “tip of the iceberg.”
So with all the women who have shared a similar experience, some may think it would be easy to speak up, to report. But so many abuse situations remain unheard, they stay unreported. One of the common questions thrown at the victims who don’t report until much later is, “if it is true, why did you wait until now”?
I wish I had of outed my abuser.
I promise you that I am still considering it. But unfortunately, even with the public momentum seemingly moving forward in speaking out and not being ashamed, Victim Blaming is a still at hand.
Small towns and families protecting their own can feel like a vicious barrier. We think about the consequences, and it scares us out of acting. I know this because I have been there.
My family acts out a tribal-like values system. It is the facade presented to the community. It is a hard thing to come up against and a scary thing to consider demolishing (think Berlin Bridge, I’d be the only one dancing on top, with other survivors of abuse from all around the world, but with my family waiting with rifles down below).
But once again, I honour it. You see, speaking out puts other people at risk. It smashes the snow cone that we live in and sends all of the glitter outside of the safe container.
Having children made it easier to set boundaries, but harder to speak out.
My thoughts went to them and where I would like them to head. Would my coming forward result in family relationships breaking down and their chance of a normal close family type childhood ripped due to no fault of their own (or mine for that matter). Many professionals have told me if this person was able to keep to themselves in the first place it wouldn’t be a problem, so not to feel guilty. It took me years to digest that, but it doesn’t make it easier for anyone else
As mums, we conceal our stories to protect our children and ourselves. We fear that we will be with the ‘crazy’ brush. If you are a survivor of childhood abuse, you may think about people asking, ‘why now’… but ‘why not now’? You get it now; you have your kids to protect from people like this. Not everyone will get it, but I will, and other abuse survivors will silently applaud you, some will publicly applaud you.
We have all read stories, and I almost guarantee that many of you yourselves or know someone who has suffered assault, harassment or abuse. The statistics speak for themselves. It is doubtful that you DO NOT KNOW someone who has experienced one or more of these things.
If it were easy, we would do it.
If there wasn’t a possibility of scrutiny, criticism, humiliation, or refute, we would all be doing it.
How many of us have told a close friend who has supported us by getting angry and wanting to tell someone and we have begged them out of it. How often has a friend disclosed their experience to you and they have asked you not to tell anyone?
Shame, fear of consequences, the need to deny and forget to protect yourself, chances of retaliation from the perpetrator and others, feeling unsupported, sexual assault is a conditioned situation of normal or acceptable amongst others.
I genuinely believe that it takes a specific type of person, with a level of fed-up-ness (is that a word? It is now!), of determination and/or non-concern for consequences and other people’s thoughts towards them above the average woman to be able to come forward.
It is sad, and it is time that things took a change.
How has This Changed How I Parent?
If I didn’t decide to take control of the bullying power game that was consuming me, this would have affected how I parented because it was affecting me.
Mommies, we all want the best for our kids. It means we have to be the best version of who we are I order to be able to care for and support our children. I wasn’t the best version of me. Moreover, I was being consumed; I was angry and was sad. My energy would have been taken up by this.
But I am aware that sexual assault, abuse, and harassment is a danger.
I have learned to go with my gut instinct. If it doesn’t sit with me, I don’t agree to it. That goes with decisions about who I trust with my children. I don’t second guess my gut.
Some reports outline the indirect effects of sexual assault on parenting. I have read them over and over. It affected me, once I kicked the victim role that all changed.
Before taking the action that I made and deciding to work on me, I showed many signs of depression. At times I have taken antidepressants and suffered pretty bad social anxiety. My abuse may have contributed to this along with other things. I allowed it and other circumstances to affect my mindset, how I reacted to EVERYTHING and how I felt about me.
Also, I had learnt tendancies and behaviours from society and what it looks like to be a survivor. Generational and social conditioning plays a huge part and you often feel alone! I had seen councilors over the years who had held me in a state of being a victim rather than pulling me out of it and showing me how to move away and take control rather than drown in the experience.
I don’t blame them or have disliked about this, and society runs off of a victim, rescuer, bully cycle. But there came a time when I chose to step outside of this trained routine.
It sounds crazy, but it doesn’t affect me at all.
I am even accepting, sometimes glad that I experienced it because it was a part of my life that made and shaped me who I am today. It was one piece of the puzzle that came together to shape my decision to be a better me; both for me and my kids.
My last part of healing hasn’t been healing from the experience, it has been healing from the shame, guilt and anger that others have when I speak about it.
As a result, it has made me a better person who can only have positive effects on my parenting. It was one of the precursors to take me from being miserable to enjoying life and being a powerhouse in my mind, work and as a mum. I have used the experience to make me a better mum.
To many that read this, they may feel that I am trivializing their abuse, assault or harassment. I am not. It has happened, it caused harm. I get that. But only you have the power to make a choice that you will no longer live as a harmed individual.
It is a choice, and with the right support, you can break free from the effects and choose not to live by them anymore. Doing this is not underplaying what happened. Rather than use it as an anchor for anguish, you can use it as a stimulus for self-growth.
Help is Out There
Help and support are available to you.
If you need it, there is help out there.
In the USA: The National Sexual Assault Hotline for Sexual Assault Survivors and their loved ones: 800.656.HOPE
IN AUSTRALIA: 1800RESPECT is the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence and Counselling support service. You can remain anonymous and all information given is confidential.
Canada does not have a National Number to call, but you can head to their website to find the Support Provider in your Region or City
If you are in danger please call your national emergency number
CANADA & USA: 911
Note: We used alternative names to protect identity
You may wonder why I chose to change the perpetrator’s name to ‘Im’?
Im is the Irish translation for ‘Butter.’ It is how I see this man now. Soft, like butter. I found that calling him Butter allowed me to disconnect any other connection that I had, and it was a name that I felt empowered by him. I chose something very separate from the experience. If I had chosen Sicko or something, it gave meaning and fuel to what I felt about the experience.