I was in college when I realized that the sexual abuse that happened in my family was not normal. I knew that always, in my gut, but until college I didn’t realize it was an actual crime. Like most survivors of trauma my family life was complicated. My real father left before I was 1. He had been physically abusive to my sister (a toddler), me (an infant) and my mother (herself just a teenager). He was an alcoholic.

My step-father married my mother when she was 19. I was almost two and my sister almost 3. He was 45. He and two of his four children, who were much older than us, were sexually abusive to me over a ten-year period. The levels of violence and force varied.

My mother divorced when I was 11 but I still saw my step-family but no longer lived with them. At age 17, I told my mother what had happened to me. She didn’t believe me and said I should go to a shrink because I thought something happened and it didn’t. I didn’t speak of it again or get any therapy.

The only other person I told was a boyfriend, the one who told me I should tell my mother, that it’s something a mother would want to know.

As the years progressed, I had less contact with the step-dad I called “Dad.” However, at his funeral, I saw the siblings I had not seen for years and one of them was inappropriate at the funeral. That led to my developing panic attacks.

So, as a college student I got therapy and I got angry. I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was hard to study and concentrate. I realized what happened was wrong. I contacted a lawyer. I wanted to see if I could do anything, if I had any rights or recourse.

He asked me lots of questions, but because I had never been hospitalized, never taken drugs, did well in school and wasn’t “damaged enough” he wasn’t sure if I had a case. I told him I was unable to have sexual intercourse and he said that “maybe” I had a case with that but it wasn’t likely. He never told me to go to the police or that I could file anything criminal. I was worried about the statute of limitations. I was worried that if my step-siblings had kids they would do it again. At that time, in my early 20’s I was mad and ready to take action but I was discouraged.

It didn’t seem like it would matter. My mother wasn’t supportive and so it would cause a huge conflict in my family. I dropped it.

Many times over the years I’ve felt guilty because I didn’t take action. But, now that I am a mother and have a child of my own to worry about I am too afraid to file. One of my abusers was violent. He had drug and mental health problems and I don’t trust that he wouldn’t hurt me or my daughter. I wish I had done more when I was younger. I don’t know what my rights are now, what the statute of limitations is in this state and even though I’m not planning to report, now, about this, knowing that what happened to me was a crime, that I was entitled to legal justice not just within the family, is empowering.

Plus, my sister and I were sexually assaulted by a military person when we were 11 and 13. A man called our house said he had put dynamite in the basement and that if we didn’t do what he said (undress and touch each other) he would blow our house and us up. He said he had a way of seeing us and that if we ran out of the house he would blow it up too. At first we listened to him and disrobed on the floor. We were terrified. We also couldn’t hang up. At some point I realized though that my dog would have barked if he had come to the house and so maybe he was lying. I got my brother and told him to run across the street and call the police. When he ran and the house didn’t blow we hung up.

The police came and we were mortified and embarrassed. The cop was a guy and it was all over. My mother came home from work and the police left. We never spoke about it again. I later heard the man had been caught and was a military officer at the base in the town next to ours. The guy had done the same thing to lots of other people. This was in the late 1970’s but I called the police department to get the records and to see if he was ever punished and if our names were ever recorded and how.

That is something I’m ready to speak up and out about because even though it’s decades later I’d like him to know how much he terrified us in our own home and that it was wrong. I’d like that wrongness recorded and even though I’m a middle aged mother and this happened when I was my daughter’s age, these are not the types of things girls and women just have to absorb and take and deal with growing up.

They are abuses and crimes and I’d love to have known or believed or had support for sticking up for myself personally and legally and criminally and knowing that others have done or at least consider doing the same. And I’d like to know what my legal rights are, what others have experienced and if anything can be done now.

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