On this blog, you know me as many things.
I am a Muslimah.
I am American.
I am a teacher.
I am a mom.
I am a wife.
I am an ex-pat living in Egypt.
All those things feel really positive to me (well, most of the time). I'm going to add another one.
I am a sexual abuse survivor.
I've said it before (many times) on this blog. I say it in my real life as well. I say it because it is a facet to who I am now. It is not the sum and total of who I am; it is only a part. It's no longer a negative because I have owned it and embraced the truth of it. I have turned that pain into a reason to advocate for children. You will find very few people who have advocated so much for children as I have and will continue to do so. Why? I advocate for children because I was once a child who tried to speak the truth but I was silenced.
Now, in the news there is another sexual abuse survivor. You can read her open letter here. Her name is Dylan Farrow, or at least it used to be; in much the same way that I have changed my name from what it used to be. We both had someone in our home who was supposed to treat us like a real family member BUT they didn't. They abused our trust and our bodies.
I know exactly what it feels like to be led into a closet so no one sees. That feeling, as a child, that you are unprotected stays with you until you find a deeper connection to The Higher Power. I remember when I finally realized that God saw everything and it really helped me. I no longer had to hope that a neighbor would see us through a window and tell on him.
I had tried to tell on my step-brother. I told his mother, who at the time was my father's wife. I told her when I was a five-year-old. I remember the two of us sitting in their living room and telling her that her son took me into the closet with him.
The look on her face meant that she knew exactly what was going on. He was going on 13. I was half his age. He was going through puberty. I was learning how to color inside the line. She knew. "You're...you're just playing?"
I knew that her hair-trigger temper and her control over of my father's life meant that I had to take her cue and agree with her phrasing. I don't remember if I spoke. I do remember that I didn't speak to her again.
They moved away when my father got a plum position at a college. In hindsight, it was a blessing that I lost weekly contact with my father since it also took my abuser away. I would still see him on visits. Even after knowing that something was wrong, my stepmother left me alone in his care while they went out. At least in the beginning, my place to sleep was on the twin bed next to his.
I remember being half asleep in that twin bed and seeing him leave the room, open the back door, go outside, and look upward towards the grown-ups second floor bathroom. He wanted to see if they'd gone to bed. I don't know what he saw, but he came back and stood over my bed. I haven't an idea what exactly was in his mind---alhumdulillah I don't. I do remember asking him at breakfast why he had been standing at my bed. I was moved to the guest room after that.
He remained my step-brother for years. I remained conflicted about what had really happened. How sick was I? Who was I if I had allowed it to happen? Could I have prevented it? If he acts OK now and I act OK now, can we just pretend it was two kids playing around?
Yes, I went through counseling. I got some answers:
I'm only as sick as my secrets.
I was a child between the ages of four and seven years of age when it happened. I was not to blame.
No, I could not have prevented it.
Acting, "as if it didn't really happen," makes sane people crazy.
I came out as a survivor to those involved. My abuser wrote back to me letting me know why he didn't consider what he'd done as abuse. For a time, my father and grandmother stopped talking to me. Sixteen years ago, they didn't know that I had been pregnant or that I'd had a baby girl.
I understand Dylan Farrow's need to protect someone else. I knew that the teenage boy who'd become a man was troubled. I believed very strongly that he'd been abused by his mother's second husband. My abuser had never gotten help. I knew that any child in his midst was in danger of becoming a victim. I didn't want that for his girl or for mine. I felt like I had to speak. I felt truly that I was protecting someone like me who needed a caring grown-up.
Yet, often I would revert to a very scared state. Closets scared me. I think it's funny how I moved from a country where closets are an essential to a country where there are NO CLOSETS.
I also had a strong aversion to this type of mushroom that would grow in the long grass every summer. I'm placing a photo of it even though it still has an affect on me. I remember the smell. Smell is the strongest of our senses. I can't forget it. Of course the sight was phallic and frightening. It was as if what I disliked so much could come to haunt me no matter where I was (even at my mother's house miles away from him).
Dylan Farrow writes of toy trains. It's her trigger like mine was this mushroom. These items unleash memories. One big difference about our triggers is that I'm 45 and she's only 28. I've had longer to deal with mine and to find a way to ease out of fearing them. I truly only want to fear Allah.
Another big difference is that my abuser isn't famous. He's just an ordinary guy with a job and a family. He's old and balding with that same goofy grin he always had. I have seen him on Facebook. I know where to find his picture and I don't need to see it again so I haven't looked again.
For Dylan Farrow, she can't avoid her famous abuser. She can't hide from every new movie release or every television mention. She gets to view her abuser time and again in the public spotlight being lauded as not just a normal guy but as an extraordinary guy.
There was a theatre director in my hometown who abused boys. He did. It was proven but he was just so gosh-darn talented that he still found work. I hated him. I reported him when I realized that his newest show had an under-aged boy in the cast (which broke his parole). Nothing was done about it. He always found work.
What kind of a sick society values a make believe world of pedophile directors more than innocent children? Don't answer that. I know. I know which society.
Egypt might be all kinds of wrong. There are still sexual abusers of children here. I get that. However, it is not accepted that someone not only gets away with the abuse but they retain their artistic position. I just don't care about art that much. I left that world to work with children...
and to protect children;
to support the rights of children,
to help them to grow healthy and strong
with ownership over their own bodies.
Please take a minute to become better informed on child abuse.
Please help prevent the harming of children in any way you can.
I believe Dylan and I support her need to speak her truth and get clean from the feeling that she needs to be quiet. No, she doesn't. This isn't a family matter. This is a crime and a cover-up which has gone on for too long. Her courage gives others courage.
If you are a sexual abuse survivor, don't listen to anyone who tells you to not think about it. You will still get triggers which FORCE you to think about what took place whether you want to, or not. Get counseling and get healthy. Tell whomever supports you. Find a base of support and move on from there. Excavate the old wounds and remove whatever isn't your responsibility. Only when you remove what's infecting you with pain can you heal.
Inshahallah, Dylan Farrow (under her new name) can heal.
Please send her (and all survivors of sexual abuse) some healing energy.