My Personal Sexual Abuse Story
I grew up in a traditional household in Portugal and then moved to England. I was nine years old. We became immigrants in the Southwest of England and my parents didn’t really fit in. I don't know that they were very good at it. So, I didn’t really have many friends either, outside of school. I mention this because the lack of social life as I grew into a teenager contributed to a perfect storm. As I was entering my teen years my father’s behavior started altering towards me, it felt strange but I didn’t really have any other family to compare it to so I didn’t overthink it. I was probably around 12 or13 years old and my body was changing, I was becoming a woman. I remember feeling awkward about the way that my father looked at me and the way that he would sometimes just offer to give me a massage, how his hand always slipped. Yeah… really icky behavior like that. I was way too young to even know what was happening. I just knew that it felt like an invasion of my space and it terrorized me profoundly.
My father and I had never had a good relationship, my parents were depressed all the time and always yelling at me and my brother so to suddenly show this interest in me was very unsettling, although I was happy to have some attention from my father, I clearly did not want it to be of a sexual nature.
I should clarify right now that I was never fully “raped” which means that for about five or six years of my formative teenage life, I lived in a sort of murky grey area, where his stares and massages and touching were only suggestive, subtle forms of abuse but never full-on rape. So my story was always shoved to the side because it was never “real”. It wasn’t a real sexual abuse story and therefore wasn’t considered to be true. My whole life became about trying to fix myself, rid myself of my past, and learn to trust again because since I lost trust in my own parents it’s very difficult to then trust anyone else. It created a very thick barrier between me and the rest of the world. This was definitely an experience that changed me significantly. I think it’s important to share it, not only because of women’s rights and the rise of the #metoo movement but because it’s important to share real things that created trauma because if I could have seen a video or read an article of someone else going through what I was going through, it would have made me feel so much better. It would have relieved some of the pain in my young heart.
I would go to bed every night terrified that, that night would be the one my dad just walks in goes through with it. I basically lived in dread for about four or five years. I didn’t really know how to approach this and my mom wasn’t a very easy person to talk to. Plus, we were living in a different country and I didn’t really have any close friends. I have nobody to compare myself to and no one that I can confide in. It was certainly a heavy burden for a young teenage girl to handle alone.
But then, my grandparents came to visit. My grandmother pointed out to my mum that there was some sort of strange behavior with regards to my father and me and that she should intervene. My mom told her to not meddle in our relationship and that it was completely innocent and accused her of having a dirty mind. My grandma felt that she needed to come and tell me about it herself since my mum wasn’t willing to. She asked me if sometimes my relationship with my dad felt strange or as if it crossed a line. I burst into tears. Finally, someone saw it. Someone saw what I was going through. It was so good to not feel so alone. Because since nothing “actual rape” happened then it could have just all been all in my mind. Maybe I’m perverted in some way! This is what I was thinking of myself at that time. After that conversation with my grandmother, I realized my fear and discomfort was justified.
There was a huge fight and my mom asked my grandparents to leave. They returned to Portugal and I was left alone with them again. I decided to talk to my mom about it and explain that there was something wrong. Bear in mind that I’d never even had the birds and bees conversation with her due to her strict Catholic upbringing. So it was really weird for me to talk about sex. I was trying to tell her that I felt like sometimes the way dad touched me wasn’t right, that I didn’t feel good, and that grandma told me that she also saw it and it helped me to understand that it wasn’t all in my mind and so on…
The surprising thing is that my mother’s reaction was to tell me that my grandma was just creating conflict. She also told me and that I clearly had a filthy mind. She was very angry with me. She eventually asked if he had ever explicitly touched me in my private area. I explained that technically it was always an accident. That was all she needed to know. She proceeded to force me to go outside and apologize to my dad. He was working on his car. She’s a scary woman, I could never impose myself to her so I went to him to tell him that I was sorry for thinking that the way he was looking at me and touching me was wrong and I cried desperately. It was strange because he wasn’t expecting it so I’m just there, apologizing. He turned pale in the face and told me — it’s fine, it’s fine, just just go upstairs go to sleep.
In hindsight that was my mother’s way of making me do the dirty work for her, in speaking to my father about it directly without her needing to face any of it.
Not surprisingly his erratic behavior continued for a long time after because that was the tone that was set; which ultimately put me in a position of having to deal with it on my own. Throughout the following years, I suffered from nightmares, I was terrified of him wanting to touch me on a daily basis. I was always scared. It consumed all my days and nights. Some days I would need to tolerate him walking in on me in the shower and staring at my naked body before pretending he didn’t know I was in there. Or insisting I kiss him goodbye on the cheek before leaving for school so that he could grope me without it looking suspicious. I, of course became more and more terrified of the possibility that he might go through with it one night when everyone else is asleep.
Later that night, after the conversation with my dad, I was in bed looking up into the darkness and I remember thinking that there must be something seriously wrong with me. I am messed up in my brain because i actually thought these things about him and it’s all in my head. I’m disgusting! For most of my teenage years I lived in total hell, mostly because I believed that everything that my father did was just me overthinking it and making it seem perverted with my own dirty imagination because I was twisted and jaded and probably clinically mentally ill. I was a monster.
The biggest sin towards teen-me, asides from the obvious, was the excruciating mental abuse. My parents preferred to blame me rather than face this incestuous behavior. They didn’t have the tools to even begin to handle it so, in not knowing how to handle it, they unconsciously made the decision of leaving it to me. I was a virgin, i was still figuring out my femininity and my womanhood. I had nowhere else to go. I didn’t have any form of comparison in other families because we were so far away from home and were “new immigrants”. I lived in total dread for most of my teenage years. I was afraid of my thoughts more than anything. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of my mom hating me. But ultimately, I had been convinced that I was a pervert. I really believed that I was crazy, which now seems ridiculous to me, but in my teenage mind, that’s what was going on.
I carried that with me for 2 decades. It took me almost 20 years to figure out that deep down in my heart of hearts, there was a little voice telling me “you’re weird, you’re perverted, you’re disgusting!” — it goes to show that the things that we are made to believe when we’re young become a part of our personality so strongly. It took me a long time to clean up the mess my parents made in my psyche. Mainly because sexual abuse was such a taboo subject that I couldn’t go up to a teacher or a friend and ask them about it. When I later spoke about it in any circle, be it familial or social, I was blamed for the abuse immediately or once again convinced that I was imagining it. Until one night when I received a phone call from my father. At this point I’m 19 years old living at University Campus. He was calling from a bar, he was drunk and confessed all the sexual things he wanted to do to me. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to endure. In fact on that very night, I went up to the roof and thought about jumping. To hear your own father tell you he wants to kiss you and …well I won’t get into details … it was no easy thing. However, it released from the erroneous belief that I was the perpetrator.
I had proof that I wasn’t crazy! Finally. There’s proof. Later on, my mother confessed to me that she had caught him a few times, up in the middle of the night watching me sleep. In fact, she once slept on the floor outside my bedroom door to prevent him from going in. To this day, in my family, he’s considered to have been a brave man for controlling himself for that long. He never raped his daughter even though he was so terribly attracted to her. It must have been very hard for him to control his natural urge. —
This is why I want to share my story. Because double standards and sexism run so deep that as a teen girl, I had absolutely nothing to hang on to for dear life. People were offended if I spoke of it and I was looked at as a temptress, a provocateur. I was simply a scared young girl in a dangerous position.
Anyhow, I wanted to show myself in my entirety and not make it look like it was easy to become confident and comfortable in my own skin. It wasn’t. It was because I had so many setbacks, testing moments, and lonely depression that I trained myself to appreciate and to work towards a healthy mind and body and an overall joyful state. That’s my story. I hope you can take something from it, what was once voiceless can now be heard. For me, this is no small feat.