How to Tell Someone You Were Sexually Abused as a Child
You need to tell someone that you survived rape or sexual abuse, but how? Here’s how to say the words “I was sexually abused as a child” or “My uncle or brother or father molested me.” It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. You are a survivor; you will find healing and strength if you learn how to tell someone you were raped.
These tips were inspired by a reader’s comment on my article about sexual assault and relationships. “My problem isn’t my boyfriend, it’s my mom. I was raped by my older brother when I was 10 years old,” says Courtney on You Were Raped and Your Boyfriend Can’t Cope – What to Do. “He also molested my little brother but I didn’t know that until recently. I haven’t told anybody about the childhood sexual abuse, not even my mom and dad, because I didn’t know how to say it. Now that my little brother told me what my older brother did to him, I want to tell my mom we were molested but I don’t know how.”
Remember that you are a survivor! You experienced something terrible that no child should ever have to go through. Childhood sexual abuse is horrible, scary, and not fair. And it’s definitely not your fault, no matter what he told you. But guess what? You survived, and you will heal. You may have wanted to die at the time, you may have felt dirty and ashamed and worthless…but you are here. Alive. Take a deep breath, and feel a new life start to unfold within you.
You will Blossom into the woman God created you to be. Rape and child sexual assault may not have been part of His plan for your life, but He will use what happened in ways that will surprise you.
I am writing this article not just for Courtney (my reader who commented on the article about a boyfriend not being able to cope with a girlfriend’s rape). I’m also writing it for a 16-year-old young woman who recently told me that her brother started sexually abusing her since she was 10 years old. She hadn’t told anyone about it, partly because he told her that brothers and sisters do those things together. Her brother told her sexual abuse and rape is normal in a family.
How to Tell Someone You Were Raped or Sexually Abused
You’re here, and I’m glad.
Somewhere deep down you know that telling someone – your mom, your dad, your boyfriend, a teacher or counselor – is the best way to cope with the rape or child sexual abuse. Talking and writing about your experience will help you heal.
“I know you’re in a world of pain, but that pain will lessen. At the beginning you can’t see that,” writes Ellen Bass, a survivor of child sexual abuse. “You can only see your pain and you think it will never go away. But the nature of pain is that it changes – it changes like a sunset. At first, it’s this intense red-orange in the sky, and then it starts getting softer and soften. The texture of pain changes as you work through it. And then one day, you wake up and realize that life isn’t just about working through your incest; it’s about living, too.”
Focus on the reason you need to tell someone about the rape
My 16-year-old friend – I’ll call her Jane – feels like she needs to tell her mom about the sexual abuse she survived because her younger brother also experienced the same thing. My friend said she would not tell her mom about the rape if it had only happened to her. But now that she knows her older brother is molesting her younger brother, she wants to protect him. She asked me how to tell her mom or someone that her older brother is a rapist because she loves her little brother.
Maybe the reason you need to know how to tell someone about the childhood sexual abuse or rape you experienced has nothing to do with protecting a younger brother or other girls from child sexual abuse. This is okay! You had good reasons not to tell anyone you were raped, and now you have good reasons to start telling someone about the child sexual abuse you survived.
The most important reason to tell someone you were raped as a child is for your own healing and growth. If you keep this secret locked inside of you, it will grow bigger blacker and uglier. It will gain enough power to kill your soul and destroy your spirit. Do not let the darkness win.
Hold on to the truth, the light, the life and the power
If you keep hiding and holding on to your secret, it will torment you with pain and suffering. But you will slowly heal if you learn how to tell someone “I was raped as a child and I am a survivor of sexual abuse.” It may always sting to say those words, but you will heal.
“The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it,” writes Ellen Bass and Laura Davis in The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. “Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, our perceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday the body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.”
The Courage to Heal is an inspiring, comprehensive book that will give you hope and healing if you were sexually abused as a child. Although the effects of child sexual abuse are long-term and severe, healing is possible. Authors Ellen Bass and Laura Davis weave together personal experience with rape and childhood sexual assault with professional knowledge. They provide clear explanations and practical suggestions for healing from the trauma of molestation, and offer support throughout the healing process. In this book, you’ll also read hundreds of moving first-person stories drawn from interviews and the authors’ extensive work with rape and sexual assault survivors, both nationally and internationally.
Don’t shove away the pain of being raped or sexually assaulted
In How I Survived an Attempted Rape in My Bedroom, I describe how I got away from a rapist who attacked me in the middle of the night in my own bedroom. I also describe how I grieved and got over the pain of being sexually assaulted in my own home.
When my friend Jane told me that there are worse things that could happen then sexual abuse as a child, she was dishonoring her own feelings of grief and pain. That is, she wasn’t allowing herself to fully grieve and feel the weight of the horrible thing that happened to her.
How do you feel about the sexual abuse you experienced? You may feel like you’re in a very dark, painful place right now. My heart goes out to you, just like my heart went out to my friend Jane. She has to deal with stuff she should never have to deal with as a 16-year-old girl. She knows things she should never have to know. It is wrong and it is sad.
You, too, know things that no child should ever have to know. If you’d like to share your story in the comments section below, I’d love to hear from you. Even if you don’t write about it here I encourage you to write about it in your own private journal or some other safe place. Writing your of being raped and surviving child sexual abuse will not only help you heal, it will also help you learn how to tell someone what you experienced.
Practice talking about child sexual abuse
The more you talk about being raped, the easier it will get. The more you say the words “I was sexually molested when I was a child”, the easier it will be to tell the truth. So, one of the best ways to learn how to tell your mom or someone else that you are raped is simply by practicing.
Who have you told about the rape? If you feel like you cannot tell anyone you know, practice saying it out loud somewhere by yourself. Go for a walk somewhere alone and tell your story. I think writing is one of the most important ways to survive and even thrive after child sexual abuse and rape, but talking about it out loud – even by yourself – is one of the best ways to learn how to tell someone what happened to you.
Write a letter instead of telling someone in words that you were abused
Jane and I talked about writing her mom a letter instead of telling her face to face. I encouraged her to write down everything she remembers and feels about the experience of being raped by her older brother. I also told her to write down her feelings about her younger brother being sexually molested by her older brother. She doesn’t have to give her mom the letters if she would rather tell her about the rape in person. But if she has the letter with her she will be more likely to tell everything that happened instead of letting her mom’s response change what she planned to say.
Here’s what one rape survivor says:
“Write your mom a letter and give it to her,” says Au on How Do I Tell My Parents I Was Raped? “You can even put it in the mailbox. I know it’s not the best way to tell someone that you were raped, but tell her in the letter that you just couldn’t say the words out loud. That you can’t look her in the eye. I know what you’re going through, I was sexually abused as a child. I told my sister when I was drunk over the phone very late at night. We don’t speak about it because she knows I don’t want to. I’m the type I handle it better when it’s just forgotten and never spoke of again.
You need to tell someone that you were raped so it’s not all in your head all the time. It’s very dangerous to bottle it up. I did that and I pushed myself to suicide. After two attempts I opened up and I’m so much better now. Physically you’re healed, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually you haven’t even begun to heal yet. Take care of yourself sweetie. Let your mom help you heal.”
Be aware of the different ways people will respond to you
After Jane and I talked about her older brother molesting her, we talked about how to tell her mom about the sexual abuse. Jane is scared and worried about how her mom will react. She doesn’t know what she wants her mom to do to her older brother. She doesn’t know how her mom will protect her younger brother from more sexual abuse in the future. She doesn’t know what she wants to happen; she just knows she needs to tell her mom about the rapes.
This may be an unexpectedly difficult part of telling someone you were raped or sexually abused as a child: his or her response. Hearing the secret of child sexual abuse is painful for anyone…especially a mother! If you are telling your mom that your brother molested you, she may freak out. Why? Because she loves you, she loves your brother, and even if she suspected it was happening, it will break her heart.
Responses you might get:
- Shock and/or denial.
- Crying, sobbing.
- Anger because you didn’t say anything about the rape or child sexual abuse sooner.
- Warmth and support.
- Anger and blame.
- Feelings of betrayal.
- Encouragement or insistence that you get counseling or attend a rape survivors support group.
It’s not fair that you have to deal with their emotional response to your experience (in addition to you having to deal with the actual sexual abuse)…but the hard truth is that whoever you tell may not be able to cope well. When Jane told me that she had been sexually molested by her older brother for the past six years, my first response was, “Shit!” Because I already knew. She had hinted that her brother was hurting her three years ago, and when I asked if her brother was raping or sexually abusing her, she just cried. She couldn’t tell me that she was being molested. She couldn’t say the words, she didn’t know how to tell someone she was raped.
Hearing that a child you love had to experience sexual abuse and rape is difficult. So, while it doesn’t seem fair, you need to give the person you’re telling time and space to process the shock, anger, and grief of what happened to you.
How do you feel right now? Please feel free to share any of your thoughts and feelings below. What do you need? Who can you talk to? Where can you go to get help? If you feel alone and unwanted, read 7 Things to Remember When You Feel Like No One Cares.
I can’t offer advice or counseling on how to survive or talk about rape or sexual assault, but I’d be honored to hear your story. And, I believe writing will help you heal and deal with the pain you’re facing.
Resources for survivors of child rape and sexual abuse
In It Wasn’t Your Fault Freeing Yourself From the Shame of Childhood Abuse, therapist and childhood abuse expert Beverly Engel presents a mindfulness and compassion-based therapeutic approach to help you overcome the debilitating shame that keeps you tied to the past.
Shame is one of the most destructive of human emotions. If you suffered childhood physical or sexual abuse, you may experience such intense feelings of shame that it almost seems to define you as a person. In order to begin healing, it’s important for you to know that it wasn’t your fault.
While I can’ offer advice on how to tell someone that you were raped or surviving sexual abuse as a child, I do read every comment. I encourage you to share your experience. Writing will help you get through the pain and shock of what happened to you, and can help you get healthy and strong again.