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Strangers We Call Family

Dealing With the Horrors of Sexual Abuse

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Life can be a nightmare. Every moment is dark and excruciating, a reality that can't be escaped. The shadow of abuse controls every aspect of life, every single breath of air. Paralyzing fear takes over while walking in the streets - too many men, too much exposure.

'Home,' or more specifically - your bedroom - can be that almost-safe place, but we all know that it isn't. It failed to protect in the past, and it simply becomes that space where you can exist in your madness, although paranoid of those strangers we call family that constantly walk by your door.

There is no safe place, least of all, the mind and body that traps you

The fact is, there is no safe place, least of all, the mind and body that traps you. Tormented by the outside threat of abuse happening again doesn't stop your mind from torturing itself to the most intense extremes. It multiplies over and over until there is nothing left inside but a silent scream, muted by the darkness that shadows everything. There is a gaping hole within, sucking away the hope for anything good, leaving only the most violent and intense emotions that seem more powerful than yourself.

Your body is just a husk, it does nothing - attracts only bad. Petrified that others will see the feelings inside, you try to hide any emotion that may surface. Your body betrayed you in the worst possibly way, any sense of dignity has been stolen. You can do nothing but hate it. There is nothing that feels as hopeless as the wish for your body to disappear, knowing that as much as you try, you can’t make it happen…

Experiencing abuse is one of the most horrific, violent, confusing acts anyone can ever go through. I can only but give a glimpse into my world at the time. Thinking of it brings back the depths of so many violent and intense emotions - obsessions with death, anger, hate, sadness, blood, cutting, isolation, and complete and utter despair.

There are so many more adjectives to describe the pain I lived with, but I fear that detailing them wouldn't do justice to the power of my emotional life back then. All I know is that it is incredibly strong and can feel very real, and it took me a long time to allow myself to separate from its strangulating grip.

I am a typical eighteen year old girl having followed the average protocol for someone my age, attended the local high school, camps and programs as the rest of my friends. Except, I was molested and sexually abused as a child, not once, but several times, by several different people. And I know many, many more girls that have gone through what I have, and tragically, to worse extremes.

For some background, I was quite young when I was first molested and was completely horrified, shocked and confused after it happened. Not even having the proper words to describe what had taken place, I stayed silent for several years until I could no longer contain the pain my body and mind were holding.

I am a typical eighteen year old girl

Probably one of the most shocking aspects of sexual abuse is the identity of the abuser, because they are usually all those people we believe “could never” abuse. They are our brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, family friends, the guy renting our basement. This is something that begins within our very own circles, in our families, amongst our neighbors. It is a sobering thought to realize that they are the people we trust, the people we see often. And how frequent it is that they walk away scot-free, with their sick behavior being defended by co-workers, friends, principals, teachers - and most shockingly, parents - while the child who has been so brutally invaded is accused and is left to suffer.

There is no excuse for defending an abuser. Yes, maybe he is a nice guy, a kind father, or the all-too-familiar attempt at justification “he was abused himself” - but this is not an answer and in no way changes the situation. The facts remain that he is an abuser. He is accountable for his actions. The girl he abused cannot be held guilty.

For years I told no one. Feeling so utterly invaded, at the time it only made sense to want to shut down. Silence became the only “solution,” the only “safe-place”- even though there is nothing further from the truth. The silence turned into the worst tormentor and filled me with a hatred of the utmost intensity. I hated the silence, hated speaking, hated people, hated myself. Was there anything left to love? Wait, what was love? “Love” betrayed me, love was just a mask for the sickness man is capable of. Why would I want to allow any aspect of “love” to enter my life??

I finally told, not my parents, but someone I felt able to trust. Throughout the years of silence, I was completely petrified of telling anyone in my family what I had been through. Only now do I see that my reasons were irrational and senseless, yet at the time I could not see beyond them. For this reason, I'm sure there are many, many girls that aren't speaking out about the abuse they have/are enduring, and so it leaves the responsibility to the parents to look out for any warning signs, and be open with their daughters about abuse and give them the space to speak up if they are G‑d Forbid in such a situation.

There are many things I wish my parent's would/would not have done in dealing with what had happened. As a whole, I feel that they dealt with it relatively responsibly (they took me to a therapist almost immediately), but I know that in many ways they were just as scared as I was, and completely unaware of this new terrain. Unfortunately, this was very obviously reflected in their behavior towards me.

They are our brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, family friends, the guy renting our basement

One thing I vividly recall after my parents found out were the looks and sighs they gave me when I entered the room, sat down at the table, asked them a question. I felt labeled and rejected and it was incredibly painful for me to see because I felt that I was the cause of their problems and was suddenly destroying their blissful realities.

As it was, I was already overwhelmed with guilt, shame and doubt and the sad sighs of my parents in no way alleviated any of what I was experiencing. I know they didn't mean to relay that message, and were in all probability unaware of what they were doing, but it's so important for parents to give only the one message that they accept their daughters despite what happened, and will unconditionally love and care for them and do whatever is necessary to help them get beyond the abuse.

For many years, I have struggled to get beyond the experiences that have scarred me, but I know I would never have been able to get to this place without support from so many different people, and above all - my therapist. I know that in my case, without therapy, I would undoubtedly be a much more severe “case” and would not have made it to where I am now.

Another note on the subject of therapy: It took several tries until I found a therapist I was willing to be open with. You can't give up on seeking help. It shouldn't even be an option. For a victim of any kind of abuse there are going to be trust issues, and that includes trusting a therapist. It takes time to be able to feel comfortable speaking to someone.

I know for parents this can be frustrating. Please, please don't give up on your child, even if he or she is outwardly and stubbornly rejecting your support. This is all part of her confusion, and if anything, a desperate call for help. Encourage him or her to try again or to see someone new. Do the research, try to find someone compatible - it's your responsibility.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these issues can sometimes take a long time to work out, so patience is crucial. Of course, the abuse should not come to define your relationship with your child, but at the same time it can't, under any circumstances, be ignored. I don’t understand how parents can sleep at night knowing that they are actively feigning ignorance after their child has been abused. I can only begin to imagine the pain it is really causing the parent, but ignoring it will not make it disappear, and will only aggravate the situation. The sooner it's dealt with, the sooner everyone can move on.

The girl he abused CANNOT be held guilty

And a child who has been abused cannot be judged for his or her own self-abusive behavior, because in all probability, he or she doesn't understand it. One just knows that it feels real and in a horrific way, comforting. This is why it is so crucial that abuse be addressed as soon as possible; before these pathological reactions can really take hold, one should be actively dealing with these experiences, so for the most part, one can avoid falling dangerously into a frightening emotional world.

But I am trying to begin a different chapter, and I must now attempt to take down the barriers I have so carefully erected throughout all this time. It is the most difficult course I have ever embarked on, and in many ways, harder than what I've been through. Suddenly, I feel responsible for myself, and accountable for what I do or don't do. I can no longer cry “abuse” for lack of involvement in my own life, or the lives of others.

I know now that I do exist in flesh and blood, mind and heart, despite all my attempts at making myself disappear. I, as a living, breathing human being, have the power to influence change, help those I can, and most of all - the power to create realities that are honest, meaningful and real. It’s easier said than done, but at least I have the knowledge that this too is part of life. It is not easy to part with the past, and I will miss the paradoxical security it offered. I don't know how, or if, I will succeed in the future, but I know that wasting away is no longer an option, and like others, will fight my way through life, searching for the meaning beyond the despair.

By Anonymous
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Anonymous Grand Junction September 29, 2013

Thank you I can't tell you how grateful I am that you wrote this article and for the openness of responses from others who have read it. I'm dealing with this myself and through the help of my Rabbi and counselor (and my amazingly supportive husband) nearly 40 years after the abuse, I am courageously confronting the abuser. I'm afraid yet peaceful, sad yet relieved. Thank you for putting a voice to what is usually a silent torment. Thank you for YOUR courage. May we all move forward toward peace for ourselves and others who have lived through the anguish of abuse. L'Shalom. Reply

TaChunda Burks AZ January 24, 2013

Healing begins within Thank you for being transparent. G-d has an intimate way of reaching those of us who still hurt. I am 43 years old and lived most of my life hurting within because of sexual child abuse. Where and when did healing begin...when I decided that I wanted to live a life of forgiveness and gratitude. Up until now, my life has been full of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse that I seemed to have attracted because I was not aware of the stench that followed my path. Some cannot understand the lens that victims see life through. This forum and your forwardness on the matter is the start for others and yourself to heal. We are not alone. G-d cares. Others care. Healing starts within when we begin to care enough about ourselves to allow healing and forgiveness to take place. If it takes us a lifetime...the process is worth it! Shalom my friends. Reply

Anonymous Oswego, New York March 25, 2012

Thank you Your article hit extremely close to home, I was raped by a family member many times as a child. Eventually I brought that person to justice and put myself in a place where I could thrive (Thank G-d) but I will never forget the emotional whirlpool that you describe. Thank you for having the strength to share, and I wish you all the happiness in the world. Reply

Anonymous oxnard, ca January 19, 2012

honor? this is when it becomes difficult to "honor they father" --- when the father is the abuser. in my case, it wasn't just me,but also my sisters and later, my half-sisters. i was the eldest and the abuse startedwhen i was five or six. i never told anyone. not until i was an adult. but the harm he did was incalcuable. he finally died. none of us cared. Reply

Anonymous Hickory, NC October 10, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I had the same happen to me - my father was the abuser, and my mother knew it and did nothing. I am 63, and still ask "why, why me?" I don't want to be the victim for the rest of my life, but abuse from my father has left scars so deep there are no words to describe it. My life has been a mess, but I am on track now - with the help of a wonderful therapist. My father died and I didn't care - nor did I attend his service. Life does go on, and I find joy in the small things - all to keep my sanity. Thank you for sharing your story. Reply

HBB Balto., MD August 28, 2011

Yasher Koach! May this new phase of your healing bring all the good feelings and experiences that you have missed out on wrapped up in a beautiful package, sraight from Hashem, with a strong foundation and a home filled with love, compassion and an open warm communication And guess what. I wish the same for myself and all of us who have been tormented. Now. Reply

Anonymous Atlanta, GA December 13, 2010

We must unitedly protect all the children from these horrific crimes- to strip a child or even an adult female of her choice and knowledgeable consent is unforgiveable. Thank you four courage in bringing this to light that others be helped, healed and oh let's spare as many as we can. Reply

Anonymous Bn September 6, 2010

Thank You Your sharing helped me & I feel sure it will help others. Reply

Anonymous January 17, 2010

In Healing I too look at these words as words of hope, more to know that there are more like me in this most beautiful and confusing world that we live in.

If nothing else, I wish to give a yasher koach (congratulations) for coming forward on your experience.

And for those writing in that there is life afterwards and given time and proper healing, talking to those who will listen and help build boundaries between who was abused and the flower within waiting to bloom, the nights of tears will lessen, the days of depression will fade. It will become a memory of the past. I wish love to all those healing, and know that you are not alone and you are loved. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY July 26, 2009

I agree I fully agree with the last statement of the above posted comment. I posted a comment earlier on this article, but a lot has happened since then. Hashem (G-d) has His ways of strengthening a person :) I recently got married, and was having a very hard time, due to my experience as a child. I had no idea that it would effect me in such a way, because I thought "I got over it". Thank G-d, I was given a very caring husband who supports me through and through. Even when pain exists, your life can still be rosy! Reply

Anonymous sacramento, california July 20, 2009

Surviving I too was molested as a child. It happened over and over again, and like you, it was appalling and tore me apart. I already had the disadvantage of a mentally ill mother, and an emotionally absent father. When I finally told my best friend, she was forbidden to play with me because I was filthy! A seven year old girl, filthy. I had no idea what sex was, or what innocence meant. I only knew that the dark, awful hole inside me needed filling, and I developed an eating disorder that is with me to this day, and the betrayal of my body-I still hate it to a certain degree. This happened over 40 years ago. Some things are hard to overcome, but with G-d's help, anything is possible. In my brokenness, I cried out, and he heard me, and he still listens, even on days when nothing is right in my world, he is. Healing is a moment by moment affair. Someday, you will look back and see how far you have come. Let your faith and love for G-d give you strength. Reply

Anonymous Chicago, Il, US July 9, 2009

I realize this was posted a few years ago, but I'm currently having an incredibly hard time and just wanted to look for some stories I could relate to. Anyway, reading this felt like it was me talking. I often have a hard time putting words to my emotions and just get really angry, and throw childish tantrums, but reading this made me feel like "omg, someone gets it. im not crazy. im not alone." I just needed to let you know how insanely powerful this is and how glad I am to have been able to read it. I will be emailing it to my mom and therapist bc I think it might help them understand me a bit more. Thanks so much for writing about your experiences. I wish you much luck and happiness. Reply

Anonymous Seattle, WA July 25, 2008

This really hit home.. I'm currently dealing with the very similar situation as well. Thank you for being brave and allowing myself and others who have endured the same tragedy to see a glimpse of familiarity. After reading this article, I am sure it will inspire many more women/men to take a hold of their lives after experiencing these trauma. Thank you! Reply

Anonymous Seattle, Wa January 4, 2008

Not many get it... I don't think I have read an account that so specifically echoed my own experience. Even though the details of our traumas were definitely different, at least in part, the fact that someone gets it and yet appears, now after treatment I imagine, to feel strong and whole, gives me hope that maybe I can make it out of the abyss that holds me still. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous April 30, 2007

abuse I have just passed the half century in years and the scars of the abuse as a little girl are like hurdles i have to jump over at twists and turns along life's daily journey. It's been an arduous and adventurous life and i hope that you wont have to go through all the mistakes I made because of a twisted soul, which is what happens when that abuse is allowed to seep in to us.

For me there was the additional burden that when I told my mother she did nothing about it, fearing that dad would kil the person responsible and that would be too high a price to pay. That set me up for a lifetime of difficulty as both her daughter and then my sons' mother. All of my life has been coloured by the abuse which set up twisted survival techniques that created a colourful but tragic life.

But am i writing to depress you? Far from it .. .

Within Jewish teachings there is guidance through all the healing from our childhood horrors. Wish u much luck. Reply

Dan Waldron Rkfd., Il. January 3, 2007

Deep Scars: Read your article with the sadness we all experience at any kind of abuse. For me it was also horrible, as I had a cousin who abused me regularly. I felt so dirty and worthless, never told anyone during those years. But by the grace of G-d and trusting in the Father of Lights and reading His Word; I eventually got married and had a son and a daughter who are college grads. G-d can do the impossible for us. "Trust in the L-rd with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will direct your paths." It is in scripture. He is truly the Healer. Reply

yqueen Beit El, Israel December 5, 2006

connecting It is a great comfort to see this subject discussed openly, albeit on the Internet. The statistics on child sexual abuse are frightening (estimates vary between 1 in 6 and 1 in 4 of ALL children, and it doesn't discriminate between religions, races, nationalities or economic situations). For those of you who are disabled in some way, or who have children, you should be aware that children with disabilities are 6-10 times more likely to be victimized. Don't isolate yourselves. We need each other. Reply

Anonymous December 3, 2006

Shalom,

I am glad that your website does not polish the realities of life! People pretend these things don't happen and those of us who from experiece know better wish we could be as naive!

Mazel tov for not being self-righteous and pretend it does not happen in religious jewish circles as most of my friends do!!!

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Anonymous October 16, 2006

Abuse in our own homes I read your article and was shocked to see that I am not alone (unfortunately). I was abused by a family member when I was six. Not only once but dozens of times, my abuser would come to my room at night. It scared me to death, and I couldn't bring myself to tell any one becuase I was so confused. Finally, at the age of 13, I told my mother what happened. She didn't believe me. A year later, my abuser was arrested for having child porn in his possesion. My mother belives me now but she chooses to ignore it. I am 18 now and I haven't gone for therapy although the pain and confusion has caused me social problems as well as academic and family issues. Reading your article has made me think about my future and ability to cope without therapy. I have rebuilt my life even though I see my abuser almost every week. We need Moshiach now!!! Reply

Anonymous May 19, 2006

Thank you for sharing that most precious part of you. You describe so eloquently what we all feel.

I give you a lot of credit for coming forth and sharing with all of us of your experience.

May you see true love, as you truly deserve it, with Hashem's blessings. Reply

Sharon Levy via mychabad.org May 5, 2006

Thank You I just want to thank you for being brave enough to write this article. You write so eloquently and powerfully and I hope that this article is read by many since it is about time that someone has written about sexual abuse in such an open and honest way. May you be blessed to know no more suffering and to continue to give strength to others. Thank you. Reply