The Quiet Child
by Rachel Thompson
After experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of my next door neighbor (an adult man, in the army, a father of five) when I was eleven years old – and subsequently testifying in both civil and military trials which helped convict him and court martial him – I became the quiet child.
Always an introverted, serious kid, I withdrew further into my safe world of books and music in my room, rarely venturing out other than for school, meals or chores. Because if I did, I faced the glaring, accusatory stares of his wife and children – as I were the one who committed such ghastly crimes.
This was about mid-1970, and though my parents carried tremendous guilt about what happened, therapy was something for my crazy Aunt Barbara who existed on cigarettes and Thorazine between her many botched suicide attempts.
I didn’t need therapy. I was good. I was fine.
Except, as most survivors know, I wasn’t. I drank, got high, partied – a lot – and while I surprisingly didn’t sleep around, I was that straight-A, smart with a side of nerdy cheerleader to appeal to both jocks and geeks. In other words, I was never without a boyfriend or at the very least, a prom date.
It really wasn’t until I had my first child (a daughter, now almost fifteen) in my mid-thirties that I sunk into a heavy, gray mix of depression laced with anxiety. Despite hiring a wonderfully sweet, qualified nanny, and knowing that my husband, a solid, good man, worked from home and could keep a keen eye on them both, leaving her to return to my sales job sent me into a loop of fear that made normal existence quite impossible.
Fortunately, I reached out to my fabulous doctor, my gynecologist, who asked if there was something in my past that would perhaps cause me to well, freak out. After giving a brief description of my childhood experience, she hugged me tight and then handed me a prescription for Prozac and the name of a qualified shrink.
I’ll always be grateful for her loving, gentle manner and for seeing in me what I was incapable of recognizing in myself: that I was suffering from anxiety, panic disorder, and depression. Even, and most especially, PTSD. I entered therapy and found it to be life changing (along with a different anti-depressant, indicated for both depression and anxiety that I still take daily).
Now, as a fifty year old woman of two children, who has written three books (one, the bestselling, award-winning Broken Pieces, deals with my experience – as well as date rape, love, and loss – in the form of essays and poetry), I learn more every day about the effects of that experience and that they are, indeed, quite real.
My family (sisters, parents), while supportive, cannot imagine what I experienced and we really don’t discuss it openly. Growing up, I’d hear my parents talk about it in hushed tones, telling people that my experiences weren’t as bad as some of the other girls… you see, because there was no penetration, the multiple times he did sexually molest me were considered to be ‘less damaging.’ Yea, think about that.
Multiple studies show that ANY type of sexual abuse is traumatic for a child, be it visually, with words, or through inappropriate touching of any kind. But back then, we didn’t have that type of understanding. When people tell you that ‘it happened, you’re fine, move on,’ you, as a compliant child, do just that.
Well, you try. And usually, fail. As I did.
It took until I was in my late forties for me to give myself permission to write about these difficult experiences. Like many survivors, I found myself worried that people would think I was exploiting myself for profit, that they would consider my experiences as no big deal – bad luck maybe, nothing to make a fuss about – or even that my family and kids would reject my project as vanity.
Fortunately, none of that happened. In fact, I’ve connected with so many survivors, both male and female, that I created a private, ‘secret’ group on Facebook (up to 50 members now) that serves as support – not therapy – for any survivor of CSA who wants to participate. It’s been so gratifying to learn that what I experience even now isn’t unique.
I also created #SexAbuseChat on Twitter – every Tuesday, 6pm PST/9pm EST, cohosted by survivor/author/certified therapist Bobbi Parish. We welcome anyone to join in – survivor, family, friends – to help others find a safe place to discuss their own experiences and the aftermath.
The incidence of childhood sexual abuse continues to grow. Sadly, multiple studies show that the majority of victims are still young girls (some say 1 in 6, others say 1 in 10, with over 60% (some studies say 85%) of the perpetrators a male that they know). According to the National Center For Victims of Crime:
More than anything, I’m honored to be a voice for survivors, for those people who for whatever reason are not able to discuss their experiences. I will never be normal, but that’s okay, because normal wouldn’t have created the situations that allow me to survive, to thrive, and to hopefully, help others by being the quiet child no more.
Rachel Thompson is the author of the award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly. Rachel is the creator and founder of#MondayBlogs and #SexAbuseChat. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.