Trigger warning: Discussions of child sexual abuse, incest, and suicidal thoughts.
Sexual Abuse isn’t something we are told or taught about in St.Lucia, or the wider Caribbean. Growing up, there are no mentions of people touching you inappropriately, of people’s comments or actions being too sexual, or what you should do if someone makes you uncomfortable when touching you.
We are not warned that strangers are not the only perpetrators, but that family and friends are also capable of damage. Our voices are drowned out by what we have been taught, or what we have seen. We aren’t taught about the signs of sexual abuse. Our teachers are unaware of the symptoms that we exhibit when our world is being turned upside down. We are taught to obey our elders, listen to family friends, do what we are told. Girls, in particular, are to be seen and not heard. So many of us suffer in silence because of this.
I was silent for 8 years and then another 13 years before I found my voice. After being threatened and guilted into keeping this secret – you are made to feel culpable in the act, like a participant and not a victim.
Incest – Who would I have been?
I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, like so many around me. Sexual abuse has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first memories seem innocent, or I should say what I remember from the first time appears innocent. But then I also remember someone walking in and saying we would talk about this when your mother gets home. I don’t remember there ever being a talk.
Much like the rest of society, my family wasn’t sure how to handle it. What do we say? What can we do we do? When you are unsure it appears the rule of thumb is to do nothing. My older half-brother, my abuser from the ages of about 4 until just before my 12th birthday, continued his abuse of me; sexual, psychological and physical at times. For a long time I didn’t approach my abuser about what occurred. Over time the anger and resentment built up. I finally got to a point where I had to stop being afraid, where I had to make sure that I was taking steps to make my life better and myself stronger.
For a long time there wasn’t much about myself that I liked, there seemed to be no point to life and no chance at happiness. I can’t begin to list the ways in which I would say it has affected my life. So I’ll start at the beginning, I will share my story with you. The time has come to stop hiding, to stop protecting my abuser(my half-brother) and everyone else and to take the steps that will help me move forward.
My abuse started when I was very young. My abuser, being only eight years older then I was, never considered how his actions would have affected me. It continued in this way, getting worse and his actions getting bolder over the years. I was threatened that if I told anyone that I wouldn’t be believed, and that he would go unpunished. I was told that my parents would be angry with me, that they would hate me. When I was younger, he would offer to read me to sleep, once I fell asleep it would start. Later I would fight to stay awake through the story. He would leave when the book was done and come back after I’d fallen asleep. I guess my silence back then pushed him to go even further; he stopped waiting for the night and did it during the day whenever he could, at one point finishing right before my mother came home from work. I didn’t say anything to anyone old enough to help until just before my 12th birthday.
I told a teacher, who told me to tell my mom. To my knowledge, St. Lucia school officials weren’t required by law to divulge this information to the police. It never went beyond my principal’s office. I am constantly asked how no one knew it happened; “Your relationship with your half brother didn’t seem strained”. I ask myself why it went on like that for so long. The only answer that comes to mind is that when everyone around you buries what has happened – what are you left to do at such a young age with little feasible resources/avenues for help?
For many years I looked back on the events and blamed myself. Why didn’t I say something to someone, why didn’t I do something to stop it? I did what we are always told not to do, blame myself, wonder how I could let this happen. At some point you begin to believe what he says- that you wanted it, even liked it. It’s a very solitary feeling knowing that no one really knows what you’ve been through, feeling like you have no where to go and no one to turn to.
This served to keep me silent for a long time. I learnt to endure it, shutting my eyes and praying for it to be over. The abuse decreased as he found another victim. It never occurred to me that she would be one of his victims. She was older, more mature, and yet he found a way to victimize her. She finally broke down and confided in me. I found myself consoling her and telling her it would be okay, knowing that this was not a promise I should make or could keep. He found a way to make her feel insignificant and afraid.
I went through my secondary school years feeling alone. Never quite fitting in, not knowing where I was headed and truly not caring. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I decided that I didn’t want to end up like the nothing he was. That I wasn’t going to let him suck the joy from my life. I used every chance that I got to confront him about what happened. And each time he denied anything had happened. Until one day in New York, when his exact words were,
“So I F…… you, so what?”
I can’t adequately explain the pain and horror I felt at those words coming out, but I left the apartment wishing only that I could die. I stood on the roof of my apartment building and considered ending it all. Over the past four years, my college education opened new doors and helped me start a healing process I never knew I had the strength to. He has returned and reopened the wound. I struggle with my pain everyday. He has admitted that he abused me but it does nothing to abate the pain, anger, and shame that fills my life. For most of my life I feared him, hated myself, never quite feeling whole. I look back and sometimes it’s like it never happened to me, but to someone else that is now locked away in a dark place.
He was never punished, and in some ways I knew he’d won. It felt like he got away with murder. He had stolen so much from me and now he was off-free. I’m not sure how I expected my parents to react, or, for that matter, my siblings. But I guess when he wasn’t punished in the ways I expected,
I felt like I was left standing alone. For many of us who are survivors of abuse, the pain of having our abuser set free, or not punished is disheartening. This is one of the many reasons I chose to speak out. We have a chance to come forward and stand up sharing what we have been through. It is only recently that I have figured out this is one of the steps to healing; being able to speak about it freely. In the Caribbean crimes of this nature are not punished as often or as severely as they should be.
Maybe through this I can help to change that.
Written by Souyenne Dathorne