Heretolisten.org is a resource for caring adults—the front-line staff in schools and community based programs—to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.
Email Newsletter icon
Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Who to Tell
Not everyone can handle hearing about sexual abuse.
N.L.H.
headshot

Names have been changed.

When I was 11, my mom began dating a man named Sam, while she was still with my stepfather. A few weeks later, my stepfather moved out. It seemed my mother didn’t want him around now that she had Sam.

I missed my stepfather, and I didn’t like our new life. My bio father was barely part of my life growing up, and I saw my stepfather as my father figure. He was there for me, and I trusted him.

Sam liked my mom to drink too much, and so she started to drink more and more. Our family had inherited a lot of money from my grandmother, so my mother could party almost every night and not have a job. She would spend hundreds of dollars a day on alcohol and taxis and regularly had more than 20 people at a time in our apartment partying with her. The apartment smelled like liquor. Loud music blared all night, and empty cigarette packs and liquor bottles covered the floors.

My mother didn’t talk to my sisters and me. We were all in the same house but we would only see her two or three times a day. I was pissed. I wondered if my mom was even thinking about us.

She made my two sisters and me sleep on a futon in the living room. We couldn’t be in our bedrooms because of construction on the apartment. Her bedroom was fixed up, but construction on parts of the home that didn’t affect her dragged on for several years.

By the time I was 14, I felt suffocated sleeping with so many people on the futon. I’d shared a bed with my sisters before, but I had grown. My little sister had also gotten bigger and took up more room.

One cold October night, I heard my mom scream at Sam. They’d been drinking. I was used to their arguing, so I managed to fall back asleep, my sisters beside me. But then I was awoken by a hand between my legs, touching my private parts. It was Sam. I froze in embarrassment. I couldn’t move; it was like my heart stopped and I had no control over my body. I felt like he was controlling me. It was the most horrible moment of my life.

“Stop Lying”

After the assault, I stayed up the entire night crying. Why would he do that to me? Was he going to come back and do it again?

The morning after, in the living room without my sisters or Sam around, I said, “Mommy, I have something very important to tell you.”

“What is it? My head is killing me, so please be quick,” my mother said distractedly.

“It is important, it’s personal.”

“What is it?”

“He touched me.” I felt scared and embarrassed; I had never talked to my mom about a personal issue before.

“Who?” Now she sounded shocked and worried.

“Mr. Sam.”

Her face went from worried to cruel.

“Stop lying. He would never do that. Why would he do that when he has me? You just want attention.”

“I am not lying. Why would I make this up?”

“Because you don’t want me to be happy. You want me to be alone just like everyone else. He accepts me for who I am. I want to be happy.”

I began to feel bad for her because I knew how it felt to be alone. At the same time I wanted her to protect me and take my side. She started to cry.

“Mommy, I —”

“Just shut up. Get out of my face.”

Telling

She didn’t break up with him; he stayed in our house. I felt awful—I poured my heart out to my mother and she stepped on it. She kept my sisters and me in danger, too. I didn’t understand why nobody was looking out for me.

A few days later I told my younger sister, because I couldn’t keep it in. My younger sister then told my brother’s girlfriend and she called Child Protective Services (CPS).

On a Tuesday evening, a lady from CPS came to my house. My sisters and I were watching television. I was afraid that Sam might sexually assault me again, or that he might molest my youngest sister. And I wanted him to go to jail. So I told the CPS lady what happened, and we were removed soon afterward.

I decided to tell, knowing we’d go into care, because I knew that the conditions we were living in would eventually warp us and our view of the world. Yet I was nervous because I’d already been in care from age 1 to 4, and my mother had told me horror stories about how my foster siblings treated me. Although I didn’t remember those incidents, I still worried about what might happen in a stranger’s home.

image by YC-Art Dept

My sisters and I were relieved that CPS allowed us to stay together in our new foster home. And our foster mother, Laura, was very welcoming. She treated us like we were her own children. She gave us keys to the house and bought us food that was healthy and that we liked. I felt secure there.

Bizarre Response

But even though I was safe, I was deeply depressed. I didn’t go to therapy for my experience. I felt bad because I didn’t have anyone I trusted to tell what happened to me. I barely had friends, and most people I met in school I only talked to in certain classes.

One month after we’d moved in with Laura, a classmate from middle school overheard me say I was in foster care. On the bus going home from school, she asked why I was in care. She assured me that she wasn’t going to tell anyone. I didn’t know her well, but she kept telling me that I could trust her. She seemed so genuine, I felt like I could tell her everything. She seemed interested in me.

I told her I was in care because my mom’s boyfriend molested me.

She responded with, “My parents are going to buy a new car. What car should we get?”

I wasn’t sure if she meant to make me feel bad or if she didn’t know how to handle the situation. I felt confused and vulnerable. I didn’t want it to be awkward, so I told her congratulations. I was relieved that she didn’t ask me to go into detail, because she might have replied with another bizarre response.

I began to realize I shouldn’t have trusted her with my secret. Later, when I complained that my foster mother wasn’t giving me my allowance and gave me an early curfew, she would reply with “My mother gives me $25 a day” or “I’m going to a party.” Her responses were insensitive and unfriendly. I thought she didn’t like me.

I didn’t want to be friends with her, but I feared that she would tell our other schoolmates my business if we stopped being friends. I was in a panic state. I continued to be her friend just so she would keep my secret. I started to cut school with her so I could show her that I was a true friend.

Fortunately the next semester we didn’t have any classes together, so I could stop talking to her. I haven’t seen her in school, and I’m glad, because she made me feel terrible.

Relating

After getting unsympathetic reactions from my mother and my “friend,” I felt alone. I barely attempted to make new friends or talk to new people. I still needed to tell what had happened to me, but nobody responded the way I wanted. So I acted like I wanted to be alone and like I didn’t want to make friends.

One friend I did make was Chris, who I met in my freshman algebra class a few months after the incident. I liked him because he cared more about school than wearing name brands; he was different. About a year into our friendship, he told me that he’d been molested by his cousin when he was 13. My feelings were bittersweet. I was happy because one of my closest friends had the same experience as me, but I felt sad that he’d experienced that. But I still didn’t feel comfortable enough to tell him what had happened to me.

We continued to get closer; we talked more and went out more. He gained my trust. We didn’t have classes together sophomore or junior year, but he still texted me and made plans to see me. He remembered things I told him days later. He encouraged me to keep going to Spanish class when I was frustrated and wanted to quit. He told me that I was special.

He told me good and bad things, which made me realize that he wasn’t just trying to impress me. He was open and honest. Other friends would only tell me good things about themselves, but he was transparent. He made himself vulnerable by telling me his negative experiences – and I knew how hard that was.

Chris had been saying almost the whole time we were friends that he had romantic feelings for me, but I didn’t feel that way about him. I hadn’t felt that way about anybody yet. The abuse made me more distant and confused about relationships and intimacy.
But I realized over time that we were ideal for each other. He often said “I love you,” and one night a few months ago, I said, “I love you too.”

“Really?” he said excitedly.

It Should Take Time

Even though I trusted Chris, I still worried that if I told him what Sam did to me, he might say something insensitive or irrelevant. I also worried about him asking questions that might force me to relive the situation.

One night Chris and I were talking on the phone late. He told me he’d had a bad day; he stopped talking to one of his friends. He then asked me how my day was. I’d had a good day, and that helped give me strength to tell him about my very worst day.

With a positive mind and without hesitation I said, “I was molested when I was 14.”

“What?”

“I was –”

“No, I heard you. Really? Are you OK?”

“I’m fine, I just wanted you to know that. You tell me about your past issues, and you deserve to know mine.”

“Oh my goodness. You seem so put together. I would have never expected this. This is why I like you. Your personality is amazing. I’m always going to be here for you, no matter what. Even if we break up, I’ll always be here for you.”

He called me strong because I don’t let negative situations affect my character. He didn’t see a victim; he saw a girl who overcame her issues.

I had never had a response like that before: Others had been insensitive, blaming, or cruel about my abuse. I learned that sharing personal information should take time, and you need to find the right person to tell. I feel happier and liberated that I shared one of my most challenging situations with the person I most care for and that he reacted with compassion and admiration for my courage instead of shunning me or changing the subject.

I realize it is important to tell, no matter how scary. While writing this story, I felt vulnerable sharing my toughest experience. Now I feel accomplished because I took a bad situation and turned it into a story in a magazine. I hope my readers will feel less alone and maybe figure out who they can trust.

horizontal rule
(FCYU-2019-01-20)

Visit Our Online Store