By Barbara Jean Wilson
I was eight years old when my mother’s boyfriend, “Uncle Bob,” as he asked me to call him, touched me, and told me not to tell anyone. He said he was doing what he needed to make me grow up to be a beautiful woman. As I mentioned, I was eight. I ran to my mother, as all children do, and promptly told her. I think that was the first time she broke my heart, my trust, and from what I later came to understand, the law.
She told me I should absolutely not tell anyone because Uncle Bob touching me was how our rent was going to get paid. She told me I was stronger than my older sisters, which is why I was the chosen one. I also understood that if I made a fuss, or told anyone, it wasn’t just me that would be beaten, it would be my mother. In my head, it was my responsibility to protect her and my sisters. After all, I had been chosen and I was stronger.
But to protect myself, I would retreat into a safe space in my head where it was peaceful and painless, where no one was touching me, or beating me, or hurting me, and that’s all I could do. In big, bustling New York City, where any number of people disappeared into the streets and so many more were homeless, my mother was the only mother I had, and this was the only home I knew.
Eventually, Uncle Bob would do a lot more than touch me, and this continued for years, from the time I was eight through when I was 13. At some point, he began bringing other men over to the house to touch me and abuse me. They would feed me drugs and alcohol to numb my little body and mind to all that they were doing to me. I remember that the one time I managed to see past the haze of drugs and alcohol and find the courage to tell one of the men “no,” he put a gun to my head. “No one tells me no,” he said, before proceeding to brutally assault me. I didn’t speak up again. Despite it all, desperately scared, I still wanted to live.
But It Impacted My Life
I began eating more and biting my fingernails down to the skin until they bled. I also started wetting the bed every night, it became so difficult that I would lose control of my bladder during the day, while in school, sitting at my desk. The first time it happened, I was so out of it, that I did not even realize I had wet my pants till another student brought it to our teacher’s attention. It should have been mortifying but I couldn’t feel much of anything anymore. In the world we now live in, perhaps someone around me would have seen the signs and asked questions. In Flushing, Queens, in the early 1960s, you were on your own. If someone suspected something, they kept their suspicions to themselves. It wasn’t done to speak up, no one wanted that kind of attention on the family or the community.
I began to lose focus, nothing seemed important anymore, not school, not my family, my fellow students, not being around people. I felt utterly, terrifyingly alone, in my head and in my life. The joy, the laughter and my self-esteem had disappeared at home and at school. I began to talk back to my teachers and to any adult who said anything to me, outside of the procession of men who used me. I lost all respect for adults and trusted no one, not family, not teachers, not law enforcement, no one. In my mind, they were all complicit in what was happening to me or knew what was happening and chose not to do anything about it or to protect me. Instead, they all let me suffer through the humiliation, loneliness and agony.
As I became older, already having been exposed to all kinds of narcotics, I began smoking cigarettes and doing drugs of all kinds. By the time I was 16, I had been kicked out of one school, dropped out of another, and found myself pregnant. That, I think, was the turning point of my life — the birth of my daughter Tawanna.
Tawanna was the first time I had someone in my life I could unconditionally love. She was and remains my joy and pride. Back then, even at 16, I knew enough to stop doing drugs and alcohol while I was pregnant, though, unfortunately, I returned to experimenting with them after she was born. Addiction is hard, especially when you’ve lived it from a very young age. Many years later, though, a series of events saw me enroll in night school. I received my GED, and in 2008, I graduated from Strayer University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. That is a story for another day.
How Did I Survive?
There was a lot of anger built up in me, a combination of resentfulness at the world, fear of what was going on, and self-loathing, even if I knew I wasn’t to blame, buried deep inside of me because of the things that were forced upon me. I survived though because of my faith; God’s grace and mercy ensured I did not lose my mind.
I remember I had been baptized just a week before the abuse began. There were two Scriptures read at the baptism and I distinctly remembered the verses and memorized them through those endless hours spent in my own head:
Psalm 27:10 (KJV): “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” Exodus 20:12 (KJV):“Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”
When I was older, after reading these Scriptures over and over, I realized that God was telling me that even though I had gone through something so ugly, heinous and painful, He was with me all the time. I also decided that no matter what, I had to be me, and my faith required that I had to forgive, love and respect my mother, even if she had sinned.
That also meant I had to forgive myself first, in order to begin to receive complete healing from the hurt, pain, guilt, and shame. So, I did.
My mother died on April 6, 1993, and I had a long talk a day before she died. She asked me if I could forgive her for what she had done. I told her I had forgiven her a long time ago and never stopped loving her. I can only be the person I am.
I believe having a platform where I am able to speak and share what I went through as a victim of child sexual abuse and human trafficking will help so many women become free from the pain, shame, and guilt of their past that they have been holding on to and carrying around for so many years. It is absolutely crucial to let other girls and women know that they have nothing to be ashamed of and it was not their fault.
If you have lived through an experience like mine and survived, my prayer is that if you have not already broken your silence, do so now. Speak up so that you too can be healed as I was and gain your freedom to move forward in your life and receive the peace you so deserve. Most importantly, stop blaming yourself. It was not your fault, and you have nothing to be ashamed of: You are beautiful inside and out, a child of God who is loved by God.
Reach out. The world cares more than you realize, if you can find the strength to tell someone. Know that you are not alone, and you can and will be healed. You deserve to be happy and free.
The writer is a Human Trafficking Survivor Leader, Motivational Speaker and the Author of two books, ‘Mute But Now I Speak’ and ‘Blessings After Going Through The Valley.’ She went on to retire from Freddie Mac, and now speaks for victims and survivors of child sex trafficking through the National Child Protection Task Force.