Mark* and I grew up together. He was 10 years older than me and was the big brother I never had. I trusted him completely and never questioned anything he asked me to do. But maybe I should have.
It started with a kiss
I spent my early childhood at my grandmother’s home. My siblings, cousins and I flocked to her house after school and hung out there until it was time for us to go back to our own homes. I enjoyed being at Grandma’s as I never lacked playmates there. I was especially close to Mark, my de facto protector, and was seldom apart from him.
As one of the older grandchildren, Mark helped our grandmother to look after the younger ones. To keep us quiet, he would bounce us on his lap as he watched television or played computer games.
One day, as I sat on his lap, Mark asked everyone else to leave the room, saying that he needed some peace and quiet. I thought nothing of it – we were a noisy bunch, so I figured he needed a reprieve. Once we were alone, Mark turned me to face him and kissed me full on the mouth.
The smooch was anything but brotherly. Being only seven years old at the time, I didn’t pull away as I thought it was normal for older and younger cousins of the opposite sex to behave that way. A part of me was curious too, so I let him continue.
From then on, Mark would find reasons to hold my hand or touch some part of my body. Again, I let him because I saw them as affectionate gestures. It didn’t seem odd to me that he didn’t do the same with his other female cousins. Instead, I felt special because Mark was giving me his full attention.
I can’t remember how long he molested me for. My guess is that it went on for about a year – before he decided to take it further.
One afternoon, as I was getting ready for a nap, he followed me into the bedroom and locked the door. Then, he stripped and climbed into bed with me. Under the blanket, he asked me to remove all my clothes as well. I obeyed, never wondering why we had to be naked to take a nap.
I never questioned his authority because I saw him as an older brother who could do no wrong.
But before things could go any further, Grandma knocked loudly on the bedroom door. She was yelling for us to unlock the door and come out of the room.
I remember Mark telling me to quickly get dressed, as he did, before opening the door. Grandma didn’t come in as I expected her to. Instead, she pulled Mark aside to talk.
After that, Mark stopped molesting me. He still cradled me on his lap when I asked him to and continued to show me brotherly affection, but he no longer touched me in all the wrong places.
I suspect my grandmother knew all along that Mark was molesting me, but didn’t intervene until that afternoon. I truly believe my cousin would have raped me if she hadn’t been alert to what he was doing.
Grandma never spoke to me about what happened or sat me down to talk about the birds and the bees. Looking back, I don’t blame her for keeping quiet – it was her way of keeping the family together.
Growing up, I never realised how close I had come to being raped. After that day, Mark acted like nothing had happened. In my ignorance, I forgot the smears of my childhood and even remained close to Mark until I was a teenager.
But when I turned 18, the memories somehow came flooding back. I don’t know what triggered them, but the flashbacks traumatised me. By then, I was old enough to understand that what my cousin did to me when I was a child was terrible and inappropriate. I was appalled that he felt no remorse.
I started keeping Mark at arm’s length, as I no longer trusted him. We soon drifted apart, although he remained close to my sisters. I kept the shameful secret to myself for a very long time – I just felt so dirty and worthless.
Running on empty
Mark’s sexual abuse marred my trust in men. Throughout my early adulthood, I suffered from low self-esteem. I felt insecure and hated the way I looked. I didn’t think I could ever be good enough for any man.
Ironically, I made sex my comfort. It was my way out of a lonely existence. I dated serially and had countless one-night stands, none of which filled the void inside me. Little did I realise that I was carrying a lot of anger inside as well.
I had a great need to be wanted, so I fell over myself trying to please my family, friends and the opposite sex. I wanted their acceptance so badly that I let people walk all over me. I repeatedly fell for the wrong guys – those who would string me along or use me for their pleasure before dumping me.
If I hadn’t met my current boyfriend, I may well have continued my reckless lifestyle to this day. We met a year ago, and he was the first man to accept me for who I was. He looked beyond my physical appearance and made me feel worthy to be loved.
I had an emotional connection with him – something I had never felt before with my casual flings. A month into our relationship, I told him about the abuse, fully expecting him to walk away. But he didn’t.
My life in reboot
Since then, I’ve come clean to my sisters and a few close friends, who were shocked to hear about what I had suffered as a child.
My sisters, who used to be close to Mark, now just maintain a cordial relationship with him. They never doubted me – the tears trickling down my cheeks as I related my ordeal convinced them I was telling the truth. I’m the rebel of the family and I rarely cry, even when things get tough. I fight back instead. So when they saw how vulnerable I was, they knew I had gone through something terrible.
I’m not ready to expose Mark’s misdeeds. It’s not because I care for him, but I don’t want to hurt his wife and kids. My family has gone through many ups and downs over the years, so I don’t want to add to the troubles. I also don’t want to live under my extended family’s scrutiny – after all, it would be my word against his.
For now, the support I’ve received from my loved ones has given me the confidence and courage to move on. Acknowledging that I was molested made it easier to go forward. I am less angry at the world now, and I prefer to channel my emotions into building a better future for myself – I’m running my own business, which I hope to mould into a successful venture within three years.
Because of what happened to me, I want to stand up against sexual abuse. When I’m finally ready to share my childhood nightmare with the world, it will be to fight for more protection for children, especially from sexual predators who lurk within the family. Children shouldn’t have to grow up ignorant like me – nobody ever told me what was right and wrong. I had to learn everything on my own, the hard way.”
*Names have been changed
This story was originally published in Simply Her January 2014.