Maria’s* story: sexually assaulted at the age of eight

I was sexually assaulted at the age of eight by a family member who was 19.

As an eight year old I didn’t actually have an understanding as to what had happened to me.

My father became suspicious of what had happened, but instead of addressing the situation, he became really violent and angry. Because I was only a child, I assumed from his reaction that I must have done something wrong. Consequently I never opened up to anyone, and my abuse was never dealt with.

The psychological ramifications were that I pushed people away thinking every touch or contact was sexual. I had a lot of fear and would lock the bathroom door every time I went.

My father would get angry and shake the bathroom door off its hinges, saying “We don’t lock doors in this house, what are you doing?”

I was dealing with my father’s issues around the abuse as well as my own. But we both blocked it out and never discussed it.

As a young teenager I wasn’t able to have a normal first experience with boys like the other girls, and would shy away from boys. I didn’t have a first date or a first kiss.

Then when I was 18 I was raped by a colleague who broke into my apartment.

The day after I started having flashbacks of my trauma as a child. It started replaying over and over in my head like a movie.

I chose not to go the the police about my rape because I didn’t want to be put up on the stand in court and have to relive it. I was also scared I might be blamed for dressing in a sexy way, and I didn’t want the confrontation.

I had eating disorders of every kind: from trying to make myself fat so I wouldn’t look sexy, to developing anorexia and starving myself because I needed attention.

As I grew into an adult I never understood why my father hadn’t protected me or done something about my abuse. And at the age of 24, after suffering my first broken heart, my GP suggested counselling as a way to deal with all my issues.

Through the Victorian Centre Against Sexual Assault network I accessed a local program and started to work through things.

I worked up the courage to address the issue with my father. He cried and admitted he had not known what to do with his anger at the time, and that he was sorry he didn’t protect me. He said he had suspected the abuse, but he and my mother had had their own issues going on at the time.

They were still good parents. Amazing loving people, but at that time just not emotionally available.

It goes to show that abuse can affect any normal, middle class family.

Through the counselling I found that a side effect of my abuse was that I would go into victim mode in my day-to-day life, particularly when facing manipulative people, such as in a work situation.

And in my thirties when I came to have my own children, I faced issues around giving birth, which apparently is common for victims of sexual assault.

My message of hope for other abuse victims is that you can heal yourself, even if you have to do it step by step.

I’m the kind of person that likes to heal by finding the good in bad situations, and to forgive by finding the love in all people and all things, but through CASA I learned that its ok to get angry because sexual assault and rape are crimes.

My parents are fully supportive now. And to other previous victims of abuse, I would say that it’s important to know there is support and that you are safe.

Get some help from organisations like CASA or CAPS, and work out your own strategy to address your issues.

You really are safe to talk about it.

*Name has been changed

If this story raises issues for you please contact CAPS on 1800 688 009.


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