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What a gorgeous, blue sky day. As he cinched the rope around my waist, I instinctively knew this was no blue sky, innocent outing.

I begged Mom not to make me go outside to play with him, but I was met with no choice. How could she have guessed my discomfort? At the age of four, my inability to communicate the fear of being alone with him left me vulnerable. I felt helpless. It wasn’t the first time he’d tied a rope around my waist.

As he led me down the back alley, I wondered what was next. Last time it was just a walk. Would it be the same this time? Of course, my Mom had no idea he had a rope at the ready, nor that his intentions were less than pure.

As a curious 12-year-old, he found a ditch for me to lay down in, and promptly pulled down my underwear and began to explore. Part of me wished it was a more private spot as other neighbours drove by, trying to figure out what we were up to. He told me to get my panties up fast, and promptly walked me home to avoid questions. Yes, the rope was still around my waist until we’d reached my yard. He never asked me to ‘play’ again, thank God. I wonder sometimes who else was subjected to his curiosity.

Fast forward to when I was twelve. I had a friend down the street who invited me to join her on the wild side, meeting the gang at the park, smoking and drinking. I never could get the hang of smoking and refused to drink – the smell was disgusting to me and I had absolutely no desire to try, but oh how I wanted to fit in.

One night after dark, the guys started talking about us girls and our various stages of development. As the most under-developed of the bunch, they began to mock me, teasing that they should “feel me up” to see if there was anything there.

Initially I didn’t take them seriously but then they started heading my direction. I told them not to even think about it and I was scared. I started running but it didn’t take much for them to catch me and throw me down on the gravel.

As three or four of them held me down, the guy I’d had a crush on for months stuck his hand up my shirt. His buddy was next. They laughed and laughed as they announced to the rest that there was nothing to feel.

I got up off the ground and took off running again, but this time they didn’t chase me. As I got closer to home I tripped on the curb and fell, resulting in a cracked elbow.

At least it was a good cover for my tears.

Years later, as an adult, I shared those experiences with my precious Mom. She was sad and mortified, apologizing that she hadn’t picked up on the fact that the neighbour kid was unsafe, or that there was more going on with my rebel friends than what she already knew. I didn’t blame her. How could she have known?

That was a time when stranger danger wasn’t a thing (but neither perpetrator was an unknown anyway), and such topics weren’t discussed. She wishes she knew then what is common practice now.

I don’t know that I’ve talked about it much, but I felt I’d resolved some of the underlying issues as a young adult and didn’t need to discuss it.

Given the community I am now involved with here, however, leads me to believe there is power in sharing my story. If even one person feels they aren’t alone in their silence and finds their voice, it will have been worth it.

Even though I inherently knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, shame lived inside me for several years. The ‘not good enough’ self-talk was prevalent too. No wonder hey?

We’re scared to talk, we feel ashamed, we want to protect ourselves and maybe even others, thinking it’s better if they don’t know.

As children, we may not know how to put a voice to it. As parents there is often talk about age-appropriate discussions regarding safe touch, but when age-appropriate isn’t considered from a perpetrator’s point of view, when exactly do we talk to our kids? Knowing what I’ve experienced and what stats indicate, I’m beginning to wonder what age-appropriateness and stranger danger conversations should sound like.

What I do know is, staying silent is never the answer. Encourage your ‘others’ to talk, provide a safe and trusting environment, even if it’s uncomfortable for you. Their safety and security may depend on it.

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Labels.

When I look back at my life thus far, it seems every segment of it has been defined by a label someone gave me. My biggest mistake, was letting myself believe they were true.

My childhood labels were generally harmless, imposed upon me by adults, teachers mostly. “Distracted”, “talkative”, “class clown”, these words only served to define more once I felt like there was some of kind of title to uphold.

As puberty hit, so did the bullies. I’d have welcomed those harmless labels from years past any day over the new ones: “slut”, “fat”, “ugly”. I knew deep down this was just the pain and suffering of others being projected onto me, and I certainly knew deep down they weren’t true, yet I wore the shame along with those labels anyway.

At the first Victor Walk in 2013, I went public for the first time about the trauma in my past. At first, it was a show of support for the group of strong strangers surrounding me, all sharing their story in unity. But soon after, it was as if a weight had been lifted, it became fuel for the fire I was burning as an advocate for change, and proved to be a huge leap in my healing process.

“Helping is healing.” ~ Theo Fleury

Those words have proven to be exceptionally true for myself. But even as I was making huge strides in healing and happiness, labels got in the way again.

“Victim”, “survivor”, these labels tarnish the hard work that I’ve done. People feel comfortable labelling me based on my experiences. But what many don’t realize, is that these labels give power to my abusers, and take the power away from me.

I don’t need to be called anything, I’m just me, and my past does not define me. But if you must call me something, you can call me “strong”.

 

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]

Interested in sharing your story on our blog? Please send submissions to: contact@breakingfreefoundation.ca

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This is a letter to the men out there. Men in my past, men in my life now, and the men I’ll meet in the future.

My abuse does not define me. It took over a decade of silence for me to be honest with myself, and the world about being sexually abused. So please, please don’t think you’ve got me all figured out the second you find out about the trauma in my past. Even I am still trying to figure out what it means in my life, and I’m constantly learning how to heal and grow.

The worst thing you could do, is treat me differently. I am still the same girl you met, and developed a relationship with. I am not my trauma, please remember that.

I am capable of intimacy, love and trust. Of course, going through sexual trauma made relationships and trust very difficult (and nearly impossible) for many years, but every day I grow and every day I do better. I have loved, and I have been intimate and I have learned to trust. You can tread carefully if you need, but I’ll guide you through it. Just communicate with me, and we’ll be fine.

Don’t walk away because of my past. A fellow Victor told me that her husband left her when he found out she had been sexually abused, and that broke my heart. I sympathize with the fact that you may not understand the trauma I’ve been through, but you don’t have to. If I can stand up and be honest about it, and face everything that comes with that honesty, you can at least stand by me.

If you don’t know what to say, just don’t say anything. Just be with me. Letting my past mar your view of me, just gives more power to my abuser. I am strong, I am getting stronger, and I am still capable of love.

My trauma does not define me. I’m still me.

 

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]

Interested in sharing your story on our blog? Please send submissions to: contact@breakingfreefoundation.ca