There is a large body of data that indicates and assists one in determining when a child is being abused by their parents. That data includes signs that are generally the result of abuse. Things such as noticing a change in the child’s behavior, a fear of going home, unexplained injuries, returning to earlier developmental behavior, changes in eating, sleeping, or school performance, lack of personal hygiene, risk taking behavior and inappropriate sexual behavior / sexualized behavior. Depression is an indicator, though it can have many sources. Withdrawal, rebellion, refusal to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities, always being watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen, running away…all of these things are markers. Headaches and stomachaches that have no physical source are also indicators, as is loss of confidence, low self-esteem and suicide attempts. Lack of medical / dental care can also be a sign. There are many warning flags and they vary depending on the type of abuse the child is suffering. If you note these signs in a child you know, or in your own child, you are cautioned to stay calm, let the child know you believe them (when they have shared information about the abuse with you), support them, assure them they are not to blame and contact authorities. The signs are there. But people look the other direction. No one really wants to know. No one wants to believe. No one wants to see. Many times in my life, I have wondered why no one was able to see that something was very wrong in my life. And I’ve wondered why no one would believe me when I did finally, timidly try to reach out for help. When I look over the list of indicators of abuse, many of them were present. Certainly not all of them. But enough that someone, surely, must have occasionally wondered what was going on to cause me to be such a quiet, strange little girl. Many times in my quest to understand, I have attempted to paint a picture of myself as if viewed from the outside to help me understand why no one noticed…or questioned. Why no one every intervened. It’s difficult for me to see myself as a child. I was so inwardly focused, trying to protect myself and to survive, so I have a hard time seeing myself in any way other than through my inside world. In that world, I was suffocating. I was frozen. Quiet. Careful to keep the secrets. To act like the other kids, as much as was possible, anyway. I did try to appear to be normal. But there were signs. Signs no one saw…or wanted to see.
To be fair, I realize lots of those signs were missing in my case. My school performance didn’t dip. In fact, I made only two C’s in my entire life. One was in the 6th grade, at a time when I was finally no longer able to deny and fully disassociate from the abuse. That was the age at which I became unable to withdraw completely into fantasies when my father used me sexually. The other C was my freshman year of high school, in Algebra, a class I loathed and one that was taught by a particularly inept teacher. It was also when the abuse came to a head and, as near as I can determine, finally stopped. Other than these blips, I made mostly A’s with a few B’s. Though I didn’t want to go home, I did. Dutifully. Even after my father tried to run over me with his car. So that sign wasn’t present. Until my senior year of high school, I was a quiet, obedient, compliant student who never caused trouble. I rebelled in secret, just as I carried secrets. But there were some indications I am aware of, even though I’m looking at myself from the inside out. There were signs, had anyone bothered to look.
One glaring sign was the mutilation of some of my Barbie dolls. I mutilated them to punish them. And I punished them by driving pins and nails through their breasts and into their vaginas. Repeatedly. It brought me some kind of relief, though I don’t profess to understand. But this, to me, is a clear indicator that something was very, very wrong in my world. I don’t think most little girls would even consider doing this…not unless they were being sexually abused.
Another obvious indication: I knew things about sex a child my age shouldn’t have known, desired, or understood. Having first hand experience gave me an in-depth comprehension, but at too young of an age. As a result, I attempted to be sexy, even at age 6 or 7. I also masturbated frequently from a very early age, often in odd ways. I will spare you the details, but anyone observing me for any length of time would have realized something was not right in this regard. Unfortunately, I was the invisible child. No one saw. No one noticed. Or if they did, they turned the other way.
I also had horrible night terrors, nightmares, overwhelming fear of the dark and of monsters hiding in that darkness. In fact, I was very fearful in general. Tormented. Haunted.
Additionally, I was very depressed and attempted suicide for the first time when I was 11, taking a 1/2 bottle of aspirin, all that was in the house. I had stomach aches that were so debilitating, I couldn’t stand up straight, couldn’t stand at all, couldn’t even move. All I could do is curl up in a ball on my side and moan in intense and crippling pain. I was terrified of adults and authority figures. I refused to remove my clothes for gym class, so I never once showered in the communal shower after PE. I never removed my bra and underpants when I slept at night either. I wanted their protection.
The rebellion began to show as I got older. I started using drugs, totally in secret, when I was 14. It was my way of running away from home without running away. I dated, again in secret, a 22 year old man when I was 16 years old. He wanted me to run away with him. I wanted to finish high school. That was the only reason I didn’t leave with him. When I was 17, the year I graduated from high school, I became sexually active with someone other than my father. I didn’t like sex. But with him, I learned a different side of it and I found a way to compartmentalize the emotions and reactions. I was very, very, very good at compartmentalizing. My life depended on it.
In looking back, it’s obvious. As it has been said, hindsight is always 20/20. But as I try to reach back and picture myself, that young girl trying to find a way to survive the horrors of abuse at the hands of her parents, the people who were supposed to love and protect her, I can’t help but ask, why didn’t anyone notice? Why didn’t anyone bother to ask a question or two? Why didn’t anyone see the signs. In retrospect, I can see that they were glaring. Glaring. Yet no one noticed that fearful, quiet, hyper-vigilant, tortured little girl who didn’t know where to turn or how to ask for help. No one heard her silent cries. Not even to this day. And so, she has never stopped screaming.