When my daughter was five months old, she would often nap in my bed during the day. I would lay beside her and breastfeed her until she fell asleep. Since her older brother was a high-energy toddler, this was our only alone time together and I absolutely loved each and every minute. One day, as I was breastfeeding her, I felt a tingle rush down my body. It felt oddly good and for a split second, I felt aroused.
That was the day I stopped breastfeeding her.
When I was a little girl, I was sexually molested by my family’s live-in nanny, and it has greatly impacted how I parent. Before I had children, my childhood trauma felt like an old movie I saw many years ago. I can still remember each scene, but I was far removed from the emotions. I never told anyone, I never sought help, I just buried it inside and was quite proud of myself for not letting it affect the woman I am today.
Sure, there were signs that should have prompted me to seek some type of counseling. I remained a virgin until I was well into my 20s, I felt profound shame when anyone viewed me as attractive or in a sexual way, and I always had a hard time getting intimate with serious boyfriends.
Perhaps I should have seen a therapist, but saying it out loud would have meant that the trauma was real, and I wasn’t ready for that.
Since becoming a parent, I am triggered each and every day. My children’s tiny touches, naked bodies at bath time, and lingering cuddles will often bring me back to that time when I was just a girl pretending to be asleep while a child predator had her way with me.
My childhood trauma isn’t uncommon.
In fact, according to P.A.X.A. (Parents Against Child Sex Abuse), one in three girls and one in five boys are sexually abused by the time they are 18, and in over 90 percent of circumstances, the child being sexually abused is by someone they know. What’s particularly troubling is that this data stems from cases that have been reported. A majority of cases, such as mine, go unreported. It’s a very shameful thing to admit you’ve been sexually abused because the victim will always think it was their fault.
I know I still do, even after all of these years.
Over 90 percent of sexual abuse is perpetrated by males, which include teenage boys and adults. My mom was working full-time while also attending graduate school; my father traveled almost every other week for work; we also cared for my ailing grandfather until the day he died. My parents thought they were doing everything right by hiring a highly-vetted female nanny to live with us and to help the family thrive. But even she — soft-spoken and well mannered — took advantage of my parents’ trust during our family’s busiest years.
So, how do you begin to protect your child from sexual abuse? Tania Haigh, cofounder and president of P.A.X.A., urges parents: “Pay attention to every single person that is around your child and monitor predatory behavior that we call red flags. Why? Because in 90 percent of circumstances, the child is being sexually abused by someone they know. It’s not the stranger pulling up in the white van; it’s the neighbor, the fun uncle who is the most playful with the kids, or the most beloved teacher at school who every mom wants to have as her daughter or son’s teacher.”
I’ve refused to put my children in daycare, and the only people who watch them are my parents, in-laws, and an elderly nanny whom I’ve vetted through an intense background check. As I work from home 90 percent of the time, they are rarely out of my sight. And when they are, I make no qualms about using the multitude of nanny cams inside our home. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, church-goer, or the second coming of Mother Teresa – everyone is suspect to me.
I am fully aware that this is no way to live: untrusting and suspicious of everyone. But, unfortunately, this is the world that was weaved for me and I’m trying to weave a better one for my children.
For many years, I thought I was gay; for many years, I thought I was a slut; for many years, I thought that I did or said something to allow it.
My past creeps into my thoughts almost every day and I really don’t know how to stop it. When my son recently came home to tell me about his school’s upcoming trip to Washington D.C., my first thought was, “What if he gets violated? He can’t be alone without me.”
When my daughter is on the playground and her dress blows up to expose her underwear, I think that anyone who happens to see it is thinking of ways to violate her. It’s mentally exhausting living this way, but I’d rather bear this burden than have my kids bear it.
Every night before bed, I remind my kids that they can always tell me anything, the good and the bad, and I will always listen without judgment or getting upset. I will keep reminding them of that, even when they are distant teenagers who are rolling their eyes at me. And when I get unsolicited feedback about how I hover over my children too much, I just keep my past to myself and stay content knowing that, god willing, they will never have to experience the trauma I did and will, instead, grow up to be mentally and emotionally healthy and strong children.
Sexual assault can take many different forms, but one thing remains the same: it’s never the victim’s fault. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.