In those weeks before Mom and Dale were married, he’d come home from work, barely acknowledge me, pour himself a drink or three, and watch TV before falling asleep. After they got back from their honeymoon, however, he changed in a hair-raising sort of way…
… The first time it happened, Dale grabbed my wrist and yanked me onto his lap. When I instinctively tried to wriggle free, he restrained my arms and whispered, “It’s fine. Just relax, Tana. When do I get to teach you how to kiss?” I didn’t need experience or knowledge to know that what I felt happening down there with him wasn’t right, not with a child. My “spidey sense” was going berserk.
“Never!” I struggled to get free, feeling like a fly trapped in a web.
“This is normal. All dads teach their daughters how to kiss. You wouldn’t know that since you haven’t had a dad. But I want to do that for you now.” The smell of alcohol on his breath was making me nauseous. I didn’t know much, but I was certain this wasn’t what a dad did to show his daughter affection.
When he leaned in for the kiss, I yelled, “Get away from me!” and twisted my body out of his grip, breaking free and retreating to my room, where I put a chair in front of my door.
In this excerpt from my new book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, I tell the story of the first time I was molested by my stepfather, Dale. I was 11 years old, and after it happened, I was afraid and confused about what to do. Even though this scene repeated itself, a part of me wondered if my mother would believe that he was trying to harm me when she was not there to protect me. But when his predatorial behavior got worse, I spoke up and she did believe me. My mother took immediate action to get this creep out of our lives. In that moment, I learned that my voice really mattered.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are sexually assaulted. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), a sexual assault occurs every 73 seconds; every 9 minutes a child is victimized. While most perpetrators assault girls and women, 10-15% of victims are boys and men.
I know this topic can be uncomfortable, but it is very important to talk about it. Sexual trauma often causes feelings of profound shame, guilt, and self-loathing. It can lead to serious mental health problems, including anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, depression, suicidality, and eating disorders, as well as behavioral problems and academic difficulties for children.
Use Your Voice and Speak Up
If you have experienced sexual trauma at any time in your life, I urge you to seek professional help (if you haven’t already done so). Being victimized by a sexual predator can cause feelings of helplessness and powerlessness in life. Working through your trauma and speaking up about it can help you heal and find your voice again, discover your strengths, and help you learn to love and value yourself more.
Pay Attention to Your “Spidey-Sense”
You know that gut feeling you have when something doesn’t feel right? Listen to it. It’s your intuition trying to get your attention. If your antenna goes up in a situation, do whatever you can to remove yourself (and any children) as quickly and safely as possible. Better yet, use good judgment and avoid risky environments.
You Don’t Have to Be Nice to Everyone
Really. It’s ok to be a scary bitch when you need to. In our culture, many girls are taught to always be nice, agreeable, and even passive. As women, they learn to keep their mouths shut and avoid confrontation. While there may be times when this could be the safest way to survive a bad situation, there are times when you must fight to protect yourself. If you sense danger and an immediate exit isn’t available, summon up your inner scary bitch, because cowering could be much more consequential for you. If someone tries to assault you, yell, scream, kick, punch, scratch—whatever it takes—to get away from an assailant.
- Take some classes in martial arts or sign up for a community class that teaches women and girls basic self-defense moves. I know that practicing martial arts helps me feel more confident that I can protect myself if I ever need to.
- Always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk alone through empty or poorly lit parking lots, garages or streets.
- Carry pepper spray, a personal alarm or other safety products that fit in your purse or backpack and can help you defend yourself, if you ever need to.
The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child is written by New York Times bestselling author, neurosurgical ICU trauma nurse, and vice president of Amen Clinics, Tana Amen. In this compelling and candid memoir, Tana shares how she was able to find healing after experiencing a terrifying childhood of abandonment and abuse and how she became a champion for others who have experienced trauma. It offers an inspirational look at what’s possible for anyone in need of healing and hope. Order your copy here.