Story by Crystal Rivera
Image via Flickr
Editor’s Note: April is National Sexual Assault Awareness month. While similar awareness campaigns date back to the 70s, it wasn’t until 2001 that the campaign for Sexual Assault Awareness was recognized in the United States. President Barack Obama then proclaimed April as ‘Sexual Assault Awareness Month’ in 2009.
Although many strides have been made to change the culture of abuse, sexual assault continues to be a issue affecting youth in our communities, particularly young women. The issue is also seen as taboo, and as a result children and young people do not report their experiences. Below, our staff member, Crystal Rivera, shares her own heartbreaking story and process of overcoming such a traumatic experience.
Crystal, we love and salute you for allowing yourself to be vulnerable and demonstrating so much courage.
As children we tend to only see the good in the world and in people. Our minds are filled with innocence; we trust that no one would ever intentionally cause us harm. But what happens when the child’s bliss is betrayed? Who do we blame? Who can we confide in?
These were questions I faced as a hurt and confused 5-year-old victim of sexual abuse.
I remember there being a slight rain and a cold wind that burned my cheeks that day as my mother pulled me out of the van and handed me over to Nana, my godmother. Nana took care of me and five other children, some of them teenagers, while my mother worked the graveyard shift.
After I waved bye to my mom Nana left me in the den where most of the kids spent their time. Because it was late I was the only kid there. That was when one of the older kids – a 16-year-old boy – came in. He asked me if I wanted to play a game and told me to lie down on the couch. Then he pinned me down. I became numb.
I felt dazed and confused after it was all over. He told me to stop sobbing because only babies sob and I was a big girl. Finally, he congratulated me for going through the first level. I couldn’t comprehend what this game was all about. Who was the winner? Who lost? All I knew was that I was in pain and I shouldn’t have played with him. I blamed myself for agreeing to play and allowing him to hurt me the way he did. That was the last day I ever went back to my godmother’s house.
Unfortunately, my story isn’t unique. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one in five girls and one in 20 boys under the age of 12 in California experience sexual abuse. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show one out of seven reported cases of sexual abuse involve children under the age ofsix.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one in five girls and one in 20 boys under the age of 12 in California experience sexual abuse. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show one out of seven reported cases of sexual abuse involve children under the age of six.
It’s important to remember that many young victims of sexual abuse do not report their abuse until many years later, or never at all. What connects survivors who report and those who don’t is the sense of shame and the blame they carry on their shoulders. They need to know that they are not alone, and it is not their fault.
Knowing the signs of a child who has been sexually abused is crucial to closing the margin of cases that go unreported. Some early indicators of a child below the age of 12 who has been sexually abused include: sexual interactions with an individual, toy, or animal; sleep disturbance, trouble swallowing, regressive behavior, and MOST IMPORTANTLY the child’s statement that something inappropriate occurred.
For children over 12, the signs include things like running away, substance abuse, depression or social withdrawal.
The effects of sexual abuse on a child can manifest almost immediately and can last a lifetime. Feelings of shame, loss, detachment, and betrayal can become an obstacle to seeking help.
After what happened to me, I lost the ability to trust others and myself for a long time. I finally decided to get professional help in order to free myself from the chains of being a victim for the rest of my life. I needed to recover, and speaking up is what saved me.
Victims of sexual abuse will often struggle to regain their trust and sense of self worth. They may remain silent, but just because the child cannot verbally explain what took place does NOT mean it never happened.
Victims shouldn’t be afraid or feel ashamed to speak up. We need to free ourselves. The Valley Crisis Center is there to help whenever we are ready to take the first steps toward recovery and freedom. They can be contacted at (209) 725-7900. They are located at 1960 P Street, Merced, California 95340.
A Southern California Native, Crystal, 23, moved to the Central Valley to attend college, but now considers the area her second home. She attends CSU, Stanislaus and is looking forward to completing her education and one day becoming a school counselor. Originally joining We’Ced as a Mentor, she now serves as the Program Assistant.