Childhood portrait of the author courtesy of her mother, Andrea Arlington
Nineteen years after I was first molested as a child, I finally filed a police report. I now understand that what took place is classified as rape, and I want to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else. But I didn’t always interpret these events this way. It took years of depression and heroin addiction for me to understand the trauma that drew me to substances that could leave me numb.
I always knew that I had been abused and traumatized as a kid—I have divorced parents and an alcoholic father. Like many addicts, I began drinking and using at a young age to escape. After getting sober for the first time at age 18, I quickly relapsed and began having night terrors about sexual attacks that happened to me as a child. (Later, I found out our brains often block out childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse. Studies find that 20 percent of adult females and 5-10 percent of adult males recall being sexually assaulted or abused as a child.)
The first night this happened, I dreamed I was alone in my room and three years old. A boy, whose face I couldn’t see, asked me to take off my pants. I was scared, but he said what we were doing was “normal,” as if he was playing house with me, not about to sexually assault me. So I listened to him. As I pulled down my pants, he slipped off my underwear and began touching himself. I quickly turned around and looked up at his face and realized the boy was a close family member who was much older than me.
And then I woke up from the dream. Tears rolled down my face. I had seen this family member throughout the years, such as at the hospital as my grandma was dying and when my father dragged me to a family event he was hosting. I had felt weird around him, but I didn’t know why. Lying in my bed, I wondered if I felt weird because he assaulted me, and I shook as memories of sexual abuse started to piece together.
In one such memory, he closed his eyes after he began touching himself. Occasionally, his eyes peeked open, but I avoided his glare—I looked forward. (Even at a young age, I knew this wasn’t okay; I was just too afraid to tell anyone.) The boy didn’t like me avoiding his eyes, so he asked me to turn my head around and look at him. That’s when he moved closer to me. I rushed towards the bed to get away from him, but I was too small to escape him. He yelled, “Hold still!” and then ejaculated on my butt.
There were several other incidents like this one. Eventually, he forced me to perform oral sex on him. I have a strong memory of what happened that day—I remember the smell of him, the rooms we were in, how I felt in my gut. To this day, whenever I walk into a hotel room that smells like the one we were in together many years ago at a family event, I feel ill.
After my memories resurfaced, I kept the history of sexual abuse a secret for another year, until I entered rehab for my addiction. During a one-on-one session with my therapist, I mentioned the memories.
“No one knows about it besides my mother,” I said to the therapist.
“Wait. Did you report this?” she asked.
“Well, Alexis, I must warn you that I am a mandated reporter, so if you choose to go any further I am going to have to report this incident.”
I shut down. I wasn’t sure if I could go through with reporting the incidents to the authorities. For the next year, I promised myself I would finish the 12 steps with my sponsor before I reported the abuse—at the time, I thought, Oh well, he would only do that to me. He would never hurt anyone else.
After all, I had seen this family member a few times in the last ten years, and he seemed normal. When I heard he had a child, I decided I couldn’t report the sexual abuse that happened nearly two decades ago—I felt guilty. If I reported what he did to me, his child would lose his financial support and could end up on the street. I didn’t want to ruin his child’s life. But I knew in my heart that, at the end of the day, this man has a child—a child who is the same age I was when he started abusing me. I would feel responsible if anything happened.
So here I am, four years after my memories returned, reporting the abuse to the authorities and sharing it with the world. I didn’t report his actions for revenge or to make myself feel better—it was a painful experience and reporting the abuse doesn’t keep the painful memories from returning. I’m making my traumatic history public knowledge, because one in five girls and one in 20 boys are victims of childhood sexual abuse. To prevent him from abusing other children and to begin the healing process, I had to speak up.
Alexis Neiers is a drug and alcohol counselor at Acadia Malibu. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and newborn baby, Harper.
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