Surviving sexual assault: Robin’s story

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Think back to your elementary school yearbook. The girl in your class who was the nice girl next door … that was me. Pigtails tied with my Brownies troop shoelaces. I was a typical 7-year-old girl.

My favorite person in the world, when I was growing up, was my best friend Marcus. He lived across the street and about five houses down from me in our safe neighborhood — a wonderful place to grow up, an area known for good and kind people.

Marcus was an amazing listener, always genuine, always kind. We played tag in and around his house when we weren’t laughing and talking. The summer before I turned 8, Marcus came over to tell me he and his family were moving. I was crushed and acted like it was the end of the world.

Fast forward a year to fourth grade. I was excited for school today because there was going to be an all-school assembly in the gym. That meant I could sit with my best friends, and we could talk and laugh. Assembly time comes, and they are showing some sort of video. As usual, we get a little too loud and get a tap on the shoulder and a warning to please quiet down.

We all innocently look at the movie for a minute and act like we are listening, and all of a sudden my stomach starts to hurt. On the screen, they are saying and showing things that have happened to me. I feel like I am going to throw up. I now have one huge and very delicate secret. My best friend’s father had been sexually abusing me for years. And just like that, the world is not so open. All of a sudden, even at the age of 9, you know you can only tell one or two people, and that who you choose to tell is going to be a difficult, and very important, decision.

That video showed exactly what Marcus’ dad had done to me, and some of the exact things that he had said to me. How did they know the exact words? And they are saying it is not OK, that you must tell someone. My stomach is wringing itself out like a dirty dishcloth, and I know this situation is not good. I’m 9 years old and quietly trying to figure out what happened, how much trouble I am going to be in and what I should do next.

Child sexual abuse can happen to any child … children from all income levels, all races, all religions, all neighborhoods, all families, all schools, all cities, all genders. And it’s the same with the perpetrators. We feel like we would know who they are, but the perpetrators are good at what they do.

My perpetrator knew that my mom would not want this to get out. He could read us like a book. He was an intelligent man, a man working in IT for a big phone company. My perpetrator also knew he had something he could hold over me. He knew that I adored his son, my best friend Marcus. He told me that if I told anyone about our “massages” or our “playing doctor,” I would never be able to see Marcus again, and Marcus would hate me.

Fast forward to today, I am your neighbor. I am the woman who you stop to talk to in the grocery store. I have two kids, a kind husband and a Labrador retriever. I am still nice, but I may be a little more hesitant to send my kids over for a play date and very hesitant about a sleepover.

Child sexual abuse is defined as any sexual activity with a child. I know that it is terrible to think about; it is absolutely repulsive. But if we don’t think about it, we cannot stop it from happening to your sons and daughters, your sweet neighbors, your nieces and nephews, and we cannot help those who need our help to recover from this terrible trauma.

The statistics are horrible — 63% of women who were abused as children end up in abusive relationships. Many victims, as adults, experience self-destructive behaviors such as alcoholism and drug abuse, anxiety attacks, severe depression and insomnia.

Child sexual abuse is complicated. Looking back at myself, if I was a perpetrator, would I have chosen myself as a victim? No, absolutely not. I was intelligent, and I talked a lot. But it turns out I was the classic victim because of my age.

Children between the ages of 5 and 13 are most vulnerable to sexual abuse, and unfortunately, in the U.S., 25% to 30% of girls and 10% to 15% of boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. I was 5 when the abuse started. The perpetrators watch their victims, and if they feel that they are getting old enough, wise enough or might be learning about it in school, they disappear. My perpetrator knew that the videos were shown in our school district in fourth grade. That was his deadline, and the summer before fourth grade, they moved and, oddly enough, forgot to give us their new contact information.

This year, there will be about 400,000 babies born in the U.S. who will become victims of child sexual abuse unless we do something to stop it. That’s about the population of Steamboat, times 33.

It’s a deplorable crime, but it needs to be talked about, so that we can help those kids. If those children and their families could learn what to look for, we could almost banish it completely. We could bring down those numbers considerably just through early education. But in order to do that, we need to be able to talk about it.

We all know we are lucky to live in our great town. I truly believe that good things start here. Each one of you know someone who has been touched by abuse, and abuse expands in silence. Hug the person you know who has been affected by it, an do your future children, grandchildren and great grandchildren a favor, break the silence.

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