A Joe’s Child Sexual Abuse Story

Children cannot protect themselves from sexual abuse, and civil liability won’t heal them. How do I know?
I was a boy, and I was sexually abused in my family from the age of 11 or 12 to nearly 20. As this began, in-family, in the 1960s, who was I supposed to tell even in the faint hope I'd be believed? There was no faint hope of belief in those days.

“Stranger abuse” is rare in the extreme for most of those of us who survived childhood sexual abuse, and to us it’s actually an interesting word for the occurrence. It's nearly always a known and trusted (even loved) adult rather than a total stranger, so right then and there the option, to the child, of screaming, yelling, and making a scene is pretty much erased.

Dammit, we love and trust this person! Get it? And the first approach is always in an empty house/apartment so even if that thought was to occur to a child what the hell is the point of trying?

The first response is, after the shock of it all, that we've done something awfully wrong and bad to find ourselves in this situation. Not true, of course, but this is a child’s mind we're dealing with, as I was, so this adult must be punishing us for something we've done.

After that, not too surprisingly comes the overwhelming shame.

As the abuse is repeated, we become convinced that our value, little as it is, is defined by the sex act and little else. The hell we live in makes any other assumption all but impossible.

Some people believe that children are capable of protecting themselves from undesired sexual activity with adults. I'm not at all surprised when I see/hear this because that's the excuse used to excuse this abuse and almost always has been. The thing that saddens me is that people actually seem to believe it. I'd hoped and prayed we, as a culture, were beyond that.

People who believe that children can protect themselves from sexual abuse need to understand how broken we are from that first encounter until we are, should we be lucky and incredibly fortunate, able to come to terms with what happened, with the reality that we did nothing to bring this on and cause it, and that we are people with value for things other than the sex act.

I said understand because others will never know the life we lead after this has happened or the self-blaming, self-accusing, self-loathing world we find ourselves in.

Most of us don't survive long as adults, which may please some as both male and female victims are the vast majority of prostitutes out there. And no, I don't mean high priced call girl types, but street types. The ones you drive by and scowl at and write nasty letters about. If we're men we're often the street hooker's customers.

We're a significant portion of alcoholics and addicts out there self-medicating just to feel "normal". Of course, we have no idea what normal is but we reach for it anyway.

Some of us grow up to be fairly functional in society¸ at least from the outside. We don't behave well and we can't form stable relationships, but we function. Some of us are very successful if you measure success by money and possessions.

Should we form a bond, we then find ourselves back in a family situation again, swearing to God that we won't pass on what happened to us. Until . . . until . . . The day we do. Because we were taught the only way to express the deepest of love is in the sex act and nothing else by the parent or trusted adult that started us down this road taught us anything else.

Not that all of you will believe this, nor do I much care if you do. I'm relating first-hand experience as a victim and survivor just by the miracle of living as long as I have.

I'm 57 and research indicates that most of us die, by our own hands or the hands of others, by our late 20s or early 30s.

I'm incredibly fortunate. I started to deal with this around people that, even though they didn't understand, walked through it with me and didn't judge me. Even in the 1980s when it was felt that this sort of thing NEVER happened to boys.

I know better now, though it hasn't been easy. Recovering from alcoholism and then met face to face with this again. The 12 steps were invaluable as were members of the program. Two women were invaluable to me, the associate priest at my church and the priest in training there.

Two others have been almost as invaluable. One, the first real bond as an equal and well beyond merely the sexual aspect of a relationship taught me that breaking up isn't the end of the world or a reason to go into mourning but a reason to celebrate that relationship and the time we had together. The other is my partner who forbids me from taking myself too seriously and helps me see the value and joy found in a simple snuggle.

The therapeutic "community" has, for the most part, been more an impediment than it has been a help. There are a number of reasons for that but while they've been largely kind and supportive they've also been largely useless to me. For the most part they still are.

If I knew someone had picture of me taken during the abuse and wouldn't get rid of it, I'm not sure if I'd be angry or sad but for a small period of time I'd feel victimized all over again. If I won a lawsuit about said picture? I also know, deep in my being, that if someone had showered me in money I'd be dead by now. Probably from over drinking or a drug overdose. It really is that simple. I wasn't ready for it. I'm not sure I really am now.

It's not that I want to forget it happened, it's that last thing I want to forget. It's formed such a major part of my life, for better and for worse that it's in my cells. A part of my being.

That's why I question the nascent movement to provide civil liability for these sorts of things. It strikes me that some feel that money is sufficient recompense for a life destroyed and may inhibit a life rebuilt. Sadly, that is far too often the result of one of us suddenly having a boxcar full of cash.

I may sound emotional at times, but I know no other way of dealing with this than emotionally. Humans are emotional creatures not logical ones. Pretending to be logical and rational at all times almost killed me. Justice can and ought to have an emotional edge to it as long as it doesn't degenerate in to revenge.

Next time anyone passes a hooker on the street remember that is someone's daughter or son. They no more chose that life that I chose my alcoholism or chose what happened to me. They just weren't lucky enough to find a way to be functional in life as I've been.

My abuser?

My father. Who was abused by his favorite uncle, who was abused by his father, who was abused by his mother and so it goes deep into the family tree. As does alcoholism.

And I don't hate any of them any longer any more that I hate alcohol, though I fear it.

As far as I'm able to, I've forgiven my now deceased father. Maybe he's finally found the peace he never knew in life.

That doesn't change the damage he did to me, it doesn't excuse it, but it somewhat explains it.

Over-legalizing such things accomplishes nothing but turning us back into helpless pawns in someone else's game yet again.

There's no amount of money in the world that can give one of us our childhood back again.

All we can do is build on the shattered remains, and claim our birthright of a healthy and happy adult life where we can love and accept ourselves for who and what we are as whole persons, flaws, warts and all.

There isn't a court judgment in the world that can give that to us.

I wish that people stopped pretending there is.


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