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.

Editor's Note:Below are some of the many organizations working to prevent abuse and help survivors of abuse to heal. This list was orginally compiled by Miriam Karp for a related article on abuse:

Jsafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting An Abuse Free Environment is an organization led by Rabbi Mark Dratch, which provides a certification program for communal institutions, publications and educational initiatives.

Ohel Children's Home and Family Services of Brooklyn, NY, has therapy and treatment programs for both victims and perpetrators, sensitive to Jewish needs. (800)603-OHEL

The Awareness Center is a coalition of Jewish mental health practitioners dedicated to building awareness in the Jewish community. They also offer an extensive online collection of articles on issues affecting survivors of sexual abuse.

The SOVRI Helpline is an anonymous and confidential helpline staffed by trained volunteers who provide help, information, support, and referrals to survivors of sexual abuse. We don't have caller ID. Our volunteers are trained to understand the dynamics of sexual abuse. They also have training in listening and counseling skills, emergency department protocol, legal protocol, post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic abuse, childhood sexual abuse and incest, and recommending appropriate resources. Our volunteers are supervised by licensed social workers with extensive experience in dealing with these issues. SOVRI Helpline is under the auspices of Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan.

The helpline is open Monday-Thursday 9:30am-5:30pm and Friday 9:30am-1:30pm. The phone number is (212)844-1495.

Shalom Task Force Hotline provides information on rabbinic, legal and counseling services for victims of abuse in the Jewish community. (888)883-2323.

Faith Trust Institute is a clearinghouse for information on domestic violence and clergy abuse in the Jewish community.

Association of Jewish Family and Children Services (AJFCA). (800)634-7346. [email protected]

National Center for Victims of Crime (800)FYI-CALL.

National Child Abuse Hotline (800)4-A-CHILD.

National Hotline for Victims of Sexual Assault (800)656-HOPE.

National Organization for Victim Assistance (800)TRY-NOVA.

Find Jewish resources by state at

Sources for internet and general safety include

Much additional information is readily available online, through family service agencies, and in the library.