A survivor says, "You absolutely can heal"
Carol Levine -- NAASCA.org
|| You absolutely can heal
by RAACE.org - Race Against Abuse of Children Everywhere
Carol Levine, a survivor of child sexual abuse, outspoken victim's advocate and speaker, author, and co-host of the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse's (NAASCA) "Stop Child Abuse Now" radio show, shared the story of her healing journey with RAACE.
I was born into a wealthy family. My father was an alcoholic and my older brother and I frequently witnessed him abusing my mother. One night, when I was 5 and my brother was 10, my father was threatening to hit her with a heavy iron frying pan, and even though I was a child I knew he was about to kill her.
I had to intervene and be my mother's protector. When I begged him to stop, he pushed me so hard against the bannister I thought my back was broken. He stormed out of the house, slamming the door so hard the glass shattered.
After years of abuse, my mother decided to divorce my father. She sent me away to live with an aunt and uncle so she could get the process of leaving my father underway. Life at my aunt's house was a nightmare. She didn't feed enough, so I was reduced to eating dog biscuits because I was so hungry. My uncle was a pedophile, and for the year and half I lived there, from age 5 to 6, he molested me every morning. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone, so I kept it all to myself. When I asked my mother how much longer I had to stay there, she was cold and I could sense that she had changed. She told me she'd bring me home when she was ready.
At a family gathering that summer on July 4 th , I told a trusted aunt that my uncle was abusing me. Even though she was also an alcoholic, I knew she cared about me. She told my mother what I couldn't bring myself to tell her, so my mother moved me to live with another relative. Eventually, I found out that my mother had remarried and she brought me to live with them in Staten Island. Occasionally, I saw my father. One evening when I was almost 9, I was waiting for him to take me to Coney Island and I walked farther down the driveway than my mother said I could. A stranger who had been raping young girls in the area had been stalking me and he grabbed me, kidnapped and raped me. I was one of 14 victims.
At that time, there was absolutely no support for victims. The police took me out of school to look at mug shots. I felt dirty, stupid and embarrassed, even though I knew what happened to me was not my fault. I was able to give them a good description of the rapist's car and the police caught him. The other victims and I had to go to court and face this monster again with no one supporting us. One little girl became so upset and scared, she wet the floor.
Because of my abuse, I developed panic disorder. I couldn't concentrate in school, started drinking at 13 and was drunk basically all the time by the time I was 16. I cut school a lot and became a really rough kid, spending nights out on the streets. My mother told me I should just run away. Some of my friends became heroin addicts and died of overdoses. I felt stupid for not finishing high school, so I got my GED. At 19, I married a man who turned out to be just like my father. He beat me and called me stupid. He was drafted and sent to Korea. I was pregnant, so I went to live with my mother while he was overseas. I paid my way by cooking and cleaning for her.
When he got out of the army, I got back together with him several times. I felt like I had nowhere else I could go. I needed money to support my kids. I had no skills. When we broke up for good in 1978, I found myself at St. James church, in Red Bank, New Jersey. I didn't want to go in, but someone pulled me in and said, “You're a mess. We're going to help you.” They took such an intense interest in helping and supporting me. I became part of a huge prayer group there. Some of the participants were psychologists and counsellors. It was here I finally got the help I needed. This is when I became a survivor.
As my healing journey progressed, I got involved in helping others. I was part of the original “Scared Straight” program for at-risk kids, I worked at a detention center and a detox center. Over the years, the organizations I worked for in social services sent me to different programs, including one at Princeton. I don't have a college degree, but I only half-jokingly say I have enough program credits for a degree.
Today I work with NAASCA as a volunteer. I also give presentations on child abuse at colleges and organizations around the region to get the word out about the pandemic of child sexual abuse. A lot of people don't like to talk about child abuse, but 850,000 kids a year are sexually abused. As a nation, we spend more than $124 billion to deal with the after effects of that abuse—addiction, criminal behavior, mental illness.
We have to be the children's voice. We all have to be mandated reporters. Don't think it can't happen to your child. We cannot turn away and do nothing. The only thing that will help is for everyone to get involved.
If you've been abused, don't give up. The healing journey takes time. We all have good days and bad days. Find a therapist or group with experience working with people who were sexually abused as a child. Reach out to friends who can support you on shaky days. Though some days it may not feel like it, you absolutely can heal.
Join RAACE by becoming a RAACE Fan on Facebook and/or subscribing to our monthly newsletter and inviting those within your child's circle of trust to join in the fight against and prevention of child sexual abuse! Visit RAACE.org today or call 1.800.755.KIDS.