I don’t know how old I was when it started. I must have been two or three - just a child. A talkative little girl who loved to laugh and sing around the house. For him, I was just one of his many victims. He always had his eyes on me and “the incidents,” as I refer to them now, became routine. So routine, that I thought it was normal.
He touched me every opportunity he had. He didn’t care the time of day or who was home, all he needed was a five-minute window and he took advantage. I always felt dirty after. I knew what he was doing was wrong but he always looked me in my eyes and told me never to tell. I kept his secret for nearly ten years.
Then one day, a few months after my 9th birthday, I finally told. He denied it, of course. My family believed me but we never spoke about it again. We continued on with Sunday dinners and big family functions as if nothing ever happened. It was like they locked it up in the box of “things that never happened.” And I, like everyone else, threw away the key and believed that lie.
Now, in my mid-twenties, I struggle with those painful memories. I never bring it up because I know he’s loved — a father, a husband, an uncle, a grandfather. The idea of tainting his reputation is just too much for me to bear. So, I’ve been carrying that burden for a long time…until now.
I’m at a crossroads in my life. I have unanswered questions and I desperately want to understand how my childhood has affected my adulthood. What happened in that house for all those years was a violation of my innocent mind, body and spirit. How do I move on? How do I erase the painful memories that constantly come back to haunt me? Things that I thought I never knew, suppressed so far back in my memory, are easily triggered by smells, TV theme songs from the ’90s and even patterns on fabric. I sat down with Dr. Rhonda Wells-Wilbon, an D.C.-based therapist who specializes in African-American adult survivors of rape and child sexual abuse, to answer some of those questions. She says the first step in the healing process is breaking the silence.
“For a person who has been sexually abused, if the message they’ve always heard is ‘what happens in our house, stays in our house’ and we don’t talk about these things, then we are telling our kids to internalize what may have happened to them,” she says. “In our community it is such a taboo to talk about so many different things. Sex alone is taboo to talk about, let alone sexual abuse. So it’s just a real huge issue that we all know exists but still won’t talk about it and that is becoming more and more of a concern.”
Gail E. Wyatt, a clinical psychologist and professor at UCLA, notes that African-Americans aren’t the only group suffering from abuse in silence, “but we’re the only group whose experience is compounded by our history of slavery and stereotypes about Black sexuality, that makes discussion more difficult.”