A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

#IStandWithDylan – My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Trigger warning for discussion of childhood sexual abuse and rape.

Me, age 2

Me, age 2

(February 4, 2014) This week, Dylan Farrow published an open letter in the New York Times detailing her story of abuse at the hands of recent Golden Globe honoree, Woody Allen. Immediately, the debate began, as I knew it would before I even finished reading: should we believe her?

As I often do, I took to Twitter to show support and talk about my experiences with abuse and the disbelief that often follows under the hashtag #IStandWithDylan. Lots of other people joined me and over the past few days, we’ve talked a lot about the culture that tells childhood sexual abuse victims they are probably lying or maybe they really do believe what they are saying, but it’s still not true.

I have spoken in the past about my history of abuse and alluded to multiple instances of childhood sexual abuse. I was one of the fortunate ones in that when I finally broke down (and I do mean that literally) and “confessed” my abuse to my mother, she believed me without hesitation. I wouldn’t experience the incredulity rape culture demands until I was raped at age 12 and again at 16, and then for the rest of my life at random times.

I have alluded to my childhood abuse, but I haven’t talked about it in detail. But given the conversation I’ve been having on Twitter (and to a lesser degree, on Facebook) the past three days, I feel like it’s time to tell the story of my childhood abuse, partly because I haven’t, partly because people need to understand that predators can be anyone, and partly because, as Andrea Grimes says in her (amazing) RH Reality Check article,

The more stories survivors tell, the less aberrant we will be—though I contend this is an imagined aberrance. If we can tell our stories, and if those stories can be heard, we may someday stop this relentless “he said, she said” tug-of-war where no victim is ever perfect enough, no accused ever quite guilty enough.

This is not going to be pretty. If you’re likely to be triggered, this is the place where you want to stop reading.

The Maintenance Man

It started at four or five. We lived in an Army housing development in Southern California. It was a tight-knit, seemingly safe little community of soldiers and their families. My dad was away a lot and my mom was mostly a single parent with two small kids and possibly another on the way by then. Kids ran around the neighborhood freely in those days (the late 1960s) and we often played in the park at the end of our cul-de-sac, right next-door to my house. One day a friend and I met a park maintenance guy and chatted with him for a bit. I don’t remember anything about that visit except that he stood there and whacked off in front of us. I think he asked if we wanted to see a “trick.” I remember it in almost cartoonish terms, the rapid movement of his hand (in my mind the motions are big and wide) and then the spurting of semen. It was bizarre, but at that age, we had no idea that it was anything else.

I have only vague memories of how I came to spend more time with “the maintenance man,” but vivid ones of him fondling me in his truck, teaching me to suck his tongue, and once behind the fence where the machines that powered the housing development buzzed, I remember his penis in my mouth. The taste of it remains with me to this day.

That was about the time I told my mom (just the tongue-sucking part, as I remember), and she believed me. She told me in no uncertain terms to stay away from that man. The next time I saw him he strolled past where me and my friends were sitting (away from the park, because I’d seen his truck and experienced the first of what would be a lifetime of prickly, sick sensations in my gut). He chuckled. “You told, didn’t you?” he said, in a way that made it clear he was an old hand at this. I like to think he died soon after in horrible agony.

The Uncle

About a year later, my aunt and uncle and cousins came to visit, and I made the mistake of walking in on my uncle while he was napping. That day I ended up performing my second blowjob, and sometime soon after while we were camped out in the front yard, I spent the whole night with my panties bunched around my hand, the elastic cutting into my legs and waist and fingers, while he quietly tried to get into them. I was six.

The Family Friend

A few years later, after we’d moved to Northern California, an old family friend came to visit. He made everyone laugh, and he doted on me. He brought me an accordion and taught me to play it. He took me on outings and let me bring a friend. But it wasn’t long before things started to get gross. He wanted to watch us put our bathing suits on—acted like it was no big deal, so we felt like we were being weird if we didn’t let him. Then one day when my parents weren’t at home he took me into my bedroom to “show” me something that he and his daughters used to do together. He asked me to lie down on the bed and he took my pants off and performed oral sex on me. I was nine years old.

(It will not surprise you to know that oral sex is kind of an issue for me. It’s difficult to enjoy because it often triggers memories of this event.)

I only remember this happening once, but I have a feeling of this as being an ongoing thing. What was definitely ongoing was the growing anxiety inside me. I was absolutely terrified at almost every moment of the day that somehow my mom would find out. (My dad was a salesman by this time and still spent very little time at home. That was pretty much his M.O.) My anxiety intensified when my mom and my aunt went to visit a psychic. I knew for certain she was going to come home knowing everything, and I dreaded seeing her car pull up that day, but she came in smiling and I had my reprieve. And the anxiety continued to build.

Then one afternoon as my brother and I were sitting out on the lawn with some neighborhood kids, she came out angry, yelling for us, and I just knew that was it. We went inside, and I sat on the couch, and panic rose, and after a moment it burst out of me in screaming sobs that must have been utterly horrifying for my mother. But not as horrifying as what she finally got out of me, seated on the toilet lid, me on her lap gasping and sobbing and apologizing. She believed me, and she told my dad, and the next time that guy came over we were in the car on our way somewhere and my gut started doing that thing again. My mom and dad conferred, and my dad got out of the car. I thought he was going to punch they guy or something, but my dad shook his hand and the guy got in his car and left. I was relieved that it was over. My dad had sent him away. But years later I would realize how angry I still was at that handshake.

The Clay Man

You’d think that by now I’d avoid pedophiles instinctively, but instead, I seemed to gravitate toward them, or them to me. The next time I met one (about a year later) I was a willing participant in my abuse. The man around the corner—the one with the workshop and the kiln who taught me how to make a vase out of red clay—saw me coming a mile off. He fondled me and then—Jesus, I almost forgot this part—he gave me a cigar tube to use as a dildo to widen my vaginal opening so he could penetrate me. I don’t remember whether this was before or after he attempted to do so by sheathing his penis in a finger cot to make it small enough, but I suspect it was after. I was ten.

The Rest

Somewhere in there was the man who fondled my nipple during an evening game of outdoor hide-and-seek at my cousins’ house and the guy in shorts and no underwear who, when he realized me and my friend could see his dick, flexed it at us a few times. And my friend’s dad who took naked pics of us so he could masturbate to them. And the guy who pulled over on the side of the road naked and opened his truck door so he could masturbate at me. And, and, and.

This is my story, and I have heard far too many like it from women I know. I’m sharing it in hopes that it will help promote greater understanding and empathy for survivors, that it will help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse know that they are not alone, and finally, in hopes that those who doubt survivors will take a moment to think about whether they truly need to express that doubt out loud. Every time you call a survivor a liar, other survivors hear you and decide it’s not safe to tell their story. And God forbid a child should hear you—a child who needs desperately to tell his or hers.

If you need support for sexual abuse, you can find it here: 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673)

PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)

30 responses

  1. Bethany

    Not sure if this is a collection of stories, or the same woman telling different stories at different stages in her life. The odds of this happening this many times to the same woman by this many different people is too unlikely.. It doesn’t seem like any of them forced themselves on her, and simply took advantage of her naivete. but for how long can you be that naive to the desires of sexually charged men?

    October 3, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    • Are you fucking kidding me? I was a child! Please Google victim-blaming and rape culture do a LOT of reading before you engage in any more of it with survivors.

      October 3, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    • I read your comment and can say it can happen over and over again to women who are powerless. When I was young, my brother use to beat me up when we were alone which happened a lot. Then one time he took off my clothes and put his finger in me. I was too frighten to tell my mom and grandmother and I thought I was pregant. The shame is too great to tell and the fear others might say you were wrong. I broke up with a boy when I was in collegee and he told a friend to ask me out. He was older and had bike he took me to his place saying he wanted to get something. He pulled out a knife and raped me. I was helpless and 2000 mile from home. I never told anyone except the family that was letting stay with until I got my own place. I then married a drug addict lawyer who in raging anger twice raped me. I hd know where to go and feared losing my kids to him because he was powerful in the community. Now, today , my boyfriend is mad at me because I do not want to have sex with the lights on. he refuses to listen to my story and says I am punishing him for my past abuse. This to me is abuse to me again. Some men can just see your weakness and hurt you. Some women are just not strong enough to fight off a man mentally , emotionally or physically nd too ashamed to tell

      January 29, 2016 at 3:50 pm

      • I’m so sorry, Diane. Yes, it is abuse again. He is wrong. I’m so sorry. <3

        January 29, 2016 at 9:16 pm

  2. jess

    I can’t even imagine how much you have gone through. I hate sexual abuse so much, it makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve never really been abused, but was put in a difficult situation once. When I was 15, I sat on my father’s lap while watching a movie. As he rubbed my arms, I felt him get an erection. I was so grossed out, I made an excuse I needed to use the bathroom. When I got back, he apologized for making me feel uncomfortable, then proceeded to explain that erections are normal. Yes, dad, I believe you. Unless I’m sitting on your lap!

    May 27, 2015 at 7:45 am

    • Oh, ugh. What an icky thing to have to deal with. I’m sorry that happened to you. Thank you for sharing that story and for reading mine.

      May 30, 2015 at 10:52 am

  3. Rosie,

    Thank you for your story. I am at the end of a 4 year emotional collapse. I’ve been gone from the world for so long that it forgot all about me. It doesn’t know me and I don’t know my place within it anymore. Since the pain has been running my life, I like you, have just started reading about it and talking about it. I hope this is the path to healing and preventing pain for others and spiritual cleansing. My father was my first abuser. I suffered from PTSD and worst of all couldn’t remember the abuse with any clarity so I couldn’t talk about it. Later, as a teenager, I would run away from home to seek out my father. I had begun to believe that if I couldn’t clearly recall it, it didn’t count. I found him and he made me his wife for the duration of the time I lived there. No one believed me and the whole abuse story didn’t fit with my mother’s plans in life so I was was more or less thrown away. I would go on to marry abusive men, lose my children, and live a life of incredible pain. God gave me a second chance and a second family, a wonderful husband who has never been unkind to me, and two wonderful children, but I struggle with my scars every day. I don’t like to be touched and struggle with sexual issues. I obsess over the people in my family who hurt me and can’t love me. I am in chains. I am a smart person who, to others, seems full of life and ideas and charisma, but I never actually get anything done because I can’t be a part of the world. Counseling has not been helpful and neither have all of the psych meds ever invented. I have a shred of hope that telling the truth about what happened and how it has changed me can save my life.

    March 10, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    • I’m so very sorry for all you’ve been through and are still going through. I so understand that feeling when things are really good but I still feel so broken and like I just don’t know who I am anymore. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Writing and talking about this stuff has helped me, but I also take medication and I still struggle at times. I’m so glad you have a loving partner now and I wish you the absolute best.

      March 13, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    • andrea

      Have you tried EMDR or exposure therapy. Either is hard work and does involve “telling your story” as you say which is so wonderful you are able to start doing.

      July 26, 2017 at 7:41 pm

  4. I’m sorry you went through so much Rosie. In the comment section, you wrote that your father betrayed you sexually at the age of 16? Can I ask what happened with him? I apologize if you rather not, I’m just curious. Great blog Rosie, you have great strength!

    February 14, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    • No apology needed! I’m not quite ready to dive into that one yet in any detail, but I will say that my dad was extremely drunk and he said words he doesn’t remember and very much regrets. My dad was not a great parent in a lot of ways, but he’s still alive and he’s still my dad so I’ll leave it at that. Thank you for your sensitivity. :)

      February 15, 2015 at 11:35 am

      • I completely understand Rosie. That is what I kind of thought. I am in a similar situation. Although I talk about what my father did, my family does not know out of respect to them. I don’t want to break up my family for a brief mistake in my dad’s life. He knows he did wrong, I know he did wrong, although we don’t talk about it together. Thanks for replying.

        February 15, 2015 at 12:08 pm

        • Ok….your in the wrong place lady…….place your doubt somewhere else and please change your attitude if you have a daughter…..I’ve had many of the similar experiences, I have Aspergers and a verbal language problem….where when I’m stressed now, or anxious. ( a “spot” ) where your innocent and people WILL Do whatever selfish thing they choose to do to you….and you are vulnerable, and frightened, and you just comply now that your certain that that is the safest thing to do……I never learned to speaku o for myself because there was never communication between my mother and me…..so yes, I believe her….and now you know…belueve what you hear….we’re not here for the fun of it……

          January 8, 2016 at 3:47 pm

  5. linddykal

    Thank you for sharing. You are helping other survivors.

    July 24, 2014 at 11:53 am

  6. Kelly Allen

    Reading your horrific story, not only awakened my past experiences of abuse, sexual molestation and rape, but it also reminded me that we are living in a extremely violent and unjust world today.
    My painful past almost cost me my life when I was shot in the lower back by my ex-husband in front of my youngest son. Due to this, I am 92% bedridden, forced to now live on a low disability pension, while my ex-husband actually bought his freedom, living his normal drunken life of luxury.
    Being placed in a care center, sex starved men living there took advantage of my weakness and vulnerability. I was sexually molested and raped at this so called care centre and nothing was done about it by the owner.
    Today I suffer from PTSD and non-stop lower back and hip pain. Doctors cannot remove the shrapnell of the bullet which is spread in the muscles of my hips and lower back, as they say it could cause greater damage. With this, I cannot afford proper therapy, while the bastard who shot me spends thousands on booze and luxuries.
    Thanks to the wonderful man I am now married to, saved me out of the hands of rapists by taking me out of the care center. He also lives on a disability pension and even though we survive on very little each month, it is like heaven compared to the hell I went through.
    Victims of violent crimes must understand that it is of vital importance to report the crime as soon as possible, because by keeping silent could land them up in extremely dangerous situations.
    This is only a shortened version of my horrific life story, which maybe someday I will be given the opportunity to unveil all.

    May 18, 2014 at 4:57 am

    • I’m so sorry that happened to you, and glad to hear that you got out of that situation into a supportive one. <3

      May 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm

  7. amber

    Rosie, my heart goes out to a fellow survivor. You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to be 10 years old again. Such a confusing age. I remember fighting off my older brother, my brother and law and my uncle from sexual attacks before the age of 11. I wasn’t sure to laugh or cry. Why are they so interested in my body? For the most part, I did fight them off. But then one time I spend a night camping with my all of them. I am the only girl on the trip. It goes great, and sleeping arrangements go even better. I am sharing a tent down by the river with my father, the only adult on the trip who hasn’t molested me. I am not even asleep yet and I feel my father’s hand on me, then inside my pajamas. Once he knew I was awake, he asked me to take my pajamas off. I was so confused! Now my father is doing this, I can’t fight it anymore. And besides, maybe I am wrong? Maybe I have to allow this? I give up and allow my father to give me oral sex. I submitted for 3 years until I was 14 and realized I was the victim. So happy you are writing so hopefully the word will spread.


    May 14, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    • Amber, I’m so sorry that happened to you. I also thought my father was the only man in the world I could trust not to treat me as a sexual object, and he too utterly betrayed that trust when I was 16. Thank you for taking the time to tell your story here. <3

      May 19, 2014 at 1:17 pm

  8. Dee

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    It seems once you have been victimized other predators can sense it and come after you. Either that or there are just too many predators.

    Your mom believing you had to at least make it a little easier (not that it is ever easy).

    I hope sharing your story helps bring healing.

    February 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    • Thank you.

      February 8, 2014 at 4:54 pm

  9. Paige

    I’m sorry you had to go through this, and you are incredibly brave for sharing. I hope you find peace one day.

    February 6, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    • Thank you.

      February 7, 2014 at 10:33 am

  10. Leah

    :biggest virtual hug: So glad to have you in blogging speaking out about this.

    February 5, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    • Thanks, Leah.

      February 5, 2014 at 7:33 pm

  11. A tough read, but an even tougher write. Brutally honest, beautifully brave. x

    February 5, 2014 at 9:17 am

    • Thank you.

      February 5, 2014 at 10:08 am

  12. This was incredibly brave of you to write. Thank you.

    February 4, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    • Thank you.

      February 4, 2014 at 2:06 pm

  13. Marjorie Martin

    Thank you for sharing this. <3

    February 4, 2014 at 12:16 pm

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