Why you should care
Because the children are the future.
Everything changed for me on a sunny Friday afternoon. I was 8 years old.
School finished around noon. We lived in Belgium in a big apartment complex with a shared garden. My family lived on the fourth floor. I rang the bell downstairs and was buzzed in. A man, whose face I don’t remember, walked in with me. As I was waiting for the lift, he asked me if I knew where the cellar was.
After nodding yes, he asked me to show him where it was. I guess all the talks about not going anywhere with strangers were forgotten right then as I followed this man to the cellar. We had to take the lift one flight down. When we exited, I immediately wanted to go back up. He started saying, “Little girl, I’m a doctor and I want to examine you.” “But I’m not sick,” I vividly recall saying as I stood there confused.
The memories become fuzzy after that. I guess I blocked out the details, as it was too much to process. I do vaguely remember lying on top of this man but not much else. The next thing I recall clearly is coming up the stairs with him and him threatening to kill me if I told anyone. He wanted to make sure I would be too scared to say anything.
In a daze and emotionally frozen, I climbed the stairs to our apartment.
“What took you so long?” my mother asked.
“I went to the garden to see if there was anyone to play with,” I replied, hoping she would leave it at that. She didn’t press me any further. I was relieved. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve said if she did.
I sat for a long time, staring into the distance, wondering what was wrong with me. … I felt nauseous.
I was a very sheltered little girl, so I had no idea what had happened to me. I knew in the pit of my stomach that what just occurred wasn’t normal. I just didn’t realize how not normal it was. My head was spinning. Despite my innocence, I somehow knew that my world as I had known it was no more. I was confused and scared.
When I went to the bathroom, it was stinging sharply down there. If I had any doubts I was raped, here I had proof. I was obviously penetrated. I remember not eating much that afternoon, which was rare for me. My mother still didn’t see anything amiss. I didn’t say a word to her or to my father.
I had a hard time falling asleep that night, tossing and turning and replaying what had transpired, still not understanding it at all. I was fearful of being alone. The only sound that reassured me was the clinking of the silverware, which meant my mother was home and cleaning up.
The only way I could show my mother that something was wrong was by acting out. I became defiant, not listening, basically making her life difficult. This all started seemingly out of the blue and should have alerted her that something was not quite right. But apparently she did not know enough to see the red flags. She still tells me about how, according to her, I started puberty at age 8. Not having any idea how else to explain it, she blamed hormones.
I do recall telling a neighbor about the abuse, but she was barely a year older than me, and I wonder how much of it she herself understood. I had to get the story out but not really knowing what I expected her to do.
A few years later, when I was 11 years old, life dealt me another cruel blow. I was betrayed by the person I trusted most in my life. My dad.
I was undressed and ready to take a bath when he entered the bathroom, took off his pants and told me to hug him tightly. This time I wasn’t penetrated, but I was definitely molested. I stood there feeling his “thing” rubbing into my nether regions, wondering when he would let go. After what seemed like an eternity, he let go and allowed me to go into the bath.
I cannot be sure how I felt right then. I was an orthodox Jewish girl, and at that age didn’t know anything yet. What I did know, though, was that it’s not what fathers do. I sat for a long time, staring into the distance, wondering what was wrong with me that these things kept happening to me. I felt nauseous.
But that wasn’t the only time my father betrayed my trust. There were two occasions when he cornered me in the bathroom. He ordered me to stare at his exposed “thing” and told me that it would cure my bed-wetting. I was 11, and like many children who experience sexual abuse, I still wet the bed.
Every man out there is a potential predator; no one is trustworthy. It’s a horrible way to live.
After a while, he started coming into my room at night just to hug me with his clothes on. At some point, I started locking my door at night. My mother never seemed to understand why I ran the other way when my father wanted to hug or kiss me. She was absolutely clueless. Today as a mother myself, I hold it against her.
It’s every parent’s duty to watch out for red flags such as these and to know that every drastic behavior change is cause for concern. No, I didn’t start puberty at age 8. I was traumatized and had no way of letting her know besides acting out. But she failed to help and to protect me.
Unbelievable as it may sound, history repeated itself many years later with my autistic son. The day he came and told me a worker of ours made him touch him inappropriately was the bleakest day of my life. I broke down and cried like a baby. I felt like abuse followed me wherever I went. But I’m grateful that my son felt secure enough to tell me. At least he has the option of therapy to try and heal the damage.
I wish I could have felt close enough to my mother to have told her and maybe gotten help then. But I’ve come to realize that I still have time to heal. My life has been profoundly affected by my past. I have told several people about my rape but not one living soul who knows me personally about my dad. It’s a big secret to bear.
I have never had an easy time making love because for me, it is associated with rape and molestation. I’m lucky to have a patient and understanding husband.
I have trust issues too. Every man out there is a potential predator; no one is trustworthy. It’s a horrible way to live.
After my son told me about being abused, I decided I needed to start therapy myself. It was time to help myself, learn how to love myself, how to love my body and feel like I’m good enough. It’s a struggle, but I’m positive I will get there.
* Tammy Hill is a pseudonym.