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Our Voices Blog

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the author in 7th grade

This month's guest blog is by Phil Goldstein, poet and author of How to Bury a Boy at Sea,  partner and Dad of fur babies. Phil has also shared his thoughts as a survivor of sibling sexual abuse on the podcast Flushing It Out with Samantha Spittle and Handing the Shame Back with Gloria Masters.


When you think back to what you were like as a tween, around the ages of 10 to 12, what do you remember about yourself? If you had a relatively stable upbringing, you might have specific memories of being in a class at school, or a sports team, with your family at home, or on a vacation. I have all of those. But if you were also sexually abused, you might have other more searing and painful memories. I have those as well. 


From the time I was 10 to about 12 and a half, my older brother sexually abused me. I never told anyone about it until I was 30. The silence of those years burrowed its way into the marrow of my body and into the core of my soul. It was something that, like many survivors of of sibling sexual abuse (SSA), I wanted to forget ever happened. My brother stole my innocence, destroyed my safety and boundaries, and violated my trust as someone who was supposed to look after and protect me. 


To be clear: I never did forget what happened; I simply made a conscious effort to bury it away. I was deeply ashamed of what had happened, and I knew my brother molesting me was wrong, but I couldn’t articulate why. I just knew I couldn’t tell anyone, certainly not my parents. The abuse also happened as I was starting puberty, a fraught and disorienting time for children under normal circumstances. 


I think that as a boy, I was particularly keen to avoid anyone knowing about what happened. I was raised in a society and on a media diet of cartoons, kids’ shows, and movies that portrayed men and masculinity in very particular ways. Men and male characters were muscle-bound, strong, brave, fearless. Think Power Rangers, Batman, Conan the Barbarian, American Gladiators. Men didn’t reveal weakness or vulnerability, they didn’t cry, and they certainly didn’t let or talk about their brother abusing them. 


I was also a scrawny, short kid, and not particularly athletic. I was into writing and reading books, history, and video games. I was definitely not and didn’t think of myself as one of the “cool kids.” Combine all of that with the onset of middle school, when kids are desperate to be liked by their peers and not cast off as “weirdos,” and you have a perfect recipe for a young boy wanting to stay silent about something like SSA. 


The sheer embarrassment and mortification of explaining to a friend or trusted adult what my brother had done was enough to convince me to stay silent. I was also worried my peers – girls and boys alike – would think I was gay, at a time when homophobia was much more rampant than it is now. Society’s expectations of what boys and men should be like definitely inhibited me, even if I couldn’t articulate it. I couldn’t even really describe what happened or how I felt. I just knew it was something that would destroy me, and out of an instinct for self-preservation I buried the trauma away.    


Staying silent for so long – and, of course, the abuse itself – had a profound impact on me. I became a people pleaser, desperately to ensure nothing was ever amiss or that my grades stayed near-perfect, for fear that disorder and dysfunction would invite questions that could uncover what had happened. This behavior carried over into my adult life, making me fearful of upsetting others, and leading me to not state and act on what I wanted, or even know how I felt. As I had when I was younger, I put my emotional needs behind that of others. Also, as I got older and became sexually active, I developed erectile dysfunction and anxiety around sex that marred many dates and relationships with women.  


It took years of intensive, trauma-informed therapy with a wonderful therapist to unpack and truly internalize all of this. I also benefited tremendously from using creative writing, and specifically poetry, to unearth, make sense of, and explore a complex array of emotions that therapy brought up. Sadness. Pain. Anger. Shame. Grief. Longing. Healing. And forgiveness. All of this writing culminated in my book, How to Bury a Boy at Sea


For a long time, I blamed myself for not saying anything about the abuse, especially because of how it had affected me. Maybe, I thought, if I had said something earlier, I wouldn’t have suffered so much. I was angry, and I felt enormous grief. It took therapy to recognize that when I was abused, I was just a child. I couldn’t and shouldn’t have been expected to say anything about the abuse or even to really understand what happened. I was just a boy, and I needed to offer that boy forgiveness and grace. I explored these emotions in the poem “A Note to My Younger Self,” which is in my book:


A Note to My Younger Self


You can’t be saved, not now. You must hang on

until the day you are strong enough to climb out.


You can’t be blamed

for staying beneath the water.

There, quiet felt like peace.


You must navigate a thread

so small it’s practically invisible,

the line between what you feel & what you can say:

pushing up a jagged wall everywhere you tread.


You are just a boy, you are just a boy, you are just a boy,

you can’t be anything but a boy.



If you are reading this and you are a survivor of SSA or know someone who is, especially if you are man, I want you to know that you are not alone. And I want you to realize that if you were a child when you were abused, you don’t have anything to apologize for, or be ashamed of. You were a child – remember that. You owe your younger self compassion and love.  


the author's boyhood home

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Hi I am the mother to Brooke, who recently shared a blog about writing her victim impact statement as a teen survivor of SSA. [Read Brooke's blog here.] We are both working together to raise awareness about sibling sexual abuse and sharing our impact statements to help other victims along with families. I want to be a voice as a parent to create change in many ways including to help lower the rates of teen suicide. 


When my daughter disclosed what had been happening to her, I felt my heart shatter. You have so many hopes and dreams for your children to grow up close as siblings. You never envision yourself on a journey of something so gut-wrenching. I knew that at the moment of disclosure, my daughter needed justice and my son wanted to make sure she received it after he admitted to everything. This was the day I started advocating for my children in very different ways, including writing a victim impact statement to speak to the crimes that were carried out against the victim but also acknowledging my son needed help for his addiction issues. My son admitted to being in a dark place from viewing years of sexually explicit material online from a young age which led him on a path of destruction.


I wrote my statement to reflect on the pain I felt knowing that my daughter’s innocence was taken. I voiced concern about how my son would have to face the lifelong impacts of his decisions. This happened during a time after my husband was hurt at work resulting in a major amputation of his hand. I had to pick up a second job for a few years to help with finances which my daughter discussed in her victim impact statement. 


I know this is a very personal decision for each family in how they decide to proceed after disclosure. For some families it may be therapy and a treatment center for the offending child. For our family, justice was the route we decided to pursue, and my daughter is in a place of healing now due to having the chance to be heard during her sibling’s sentencing. I hope that you will find this blog to be informative. Please read on to see how I supported both children in my impact statement.


Heather 



I have written this impact statement to bring forth a different view as the parent of a victim and offender of sibling sexual abuse. As a mother, to see the victim, my daughter, most days battling through feelings of worthlessness, depression, and thoughts of self harm has been unbearable. The past crimes that were committed against her have destroyed her trust in anybody which is very disheartening. She went through many years of questioning her own sexuality and how she identified, due to these heinous acts that occurred over a 5 year period. She now realizes that the abuse caused her confusion. Her school grades suffered, she attempted to run away to escape her abuser, my son, one night. There were many nights she dealt with insomnia due to her worries of the abuse that could possibly happen after her parents fell asleep. She has been hospitalized twice within a 3.5 year period due to depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and other diagnoses from the impacts of the offender’s sexual and mental abuse.


I lost my loving daughter through it all, a girl with the biggest heart ever. She was a completely innocent 11 year old “child” when my son decided to start grooming and using coercion to commit these crimes against her. When you raise your children you have hopes that your son will always offer a normal sibling relationship and protection for that younger child. My son destroyed our family bond, broke our family apart, and caused what has felt like a death of both of my children in some ways because my daughter will never be the same person she was no matter how hard she emotionally pushes to get back to that place. My son will have to deal with the consequences of his poor decisions for the rest of his life too and continue to battle depression himself.


I think what hurts me most was the fact he knew she had been diagnosed with adhd and high functioning autism and he saw this as an opportunity to abuse her in the first place with hopes she wouldn’t tell anyone what had happened to her because he knew she always adored him. My daughter had always sought out her brother’s attention from a young age but eventually came to the realization that he was only hurting her. I never as a parent thought I would have to encounter something so heart wrenching as this disclosure. What happened to the victim was premeditated and my daughter will unfortunately have to deal with the life-long psychological impacts from this abuse. 


With all this being said I do feel that the offender, my son, does deserve some advocacy from his mother in hopes that a portion of his sentence could include some time at a facility that specifically includes treatment for sex offenders and addiction issues such as pornography. I would like to see the offender receive an extensive and aggressive treatment program for sexual offenders with hopes that he would never reoffend again. My son has acknowledged that he had developed a severe addiction to viewing pornography for many years and eventually carried out those acts against the victim. I do feel the offender does need to serve time for the lifetime damage that my daughter, the victim in this case, will have to endure. I will continue to help her find herself again and to come away from this stronger. I am also hopeful my son will be able to recover from his addiction and move forward in life; to come away from this stronger one day without any urges to ever hurt another.


Unfortunately we are living in a time when sibling sexual abuse is increasing, with the statistics showing that 1 in 25 children are being affected now. Our world needs change for teen accessibility to the dark web and internet in general. I hope to help bring forth change to keep other families from being impacted in this way. I have decided to move forward in advocacy work to help others and one day hope that all the members of my immediate family can stand behind this movement for change. 

311 views0 comments

Updated: Jul 1


Hi I am a 16-year-old female survivor of sibling sexual abuse who considers myself on the path to healing now and it feels good to finally be in that place. This is an introduction to a blog about the process of writing my Victim Impact Statement as a teen.


Finding the strength to even disclose to my parents were the first steps of healing and then came the question of charges and  how I wanted to proceed from my attorney. I was initially so worried that the case against my abuser would force me to testify in court but thankfully that was avoided because he decided to take a guilty plea to skip trial. Next my attorney asked me if I would be willing to provide a victim impact statement which at first I said, “No you already have my statement from the forensics interview.” As I thought things over in the days following that conversation with my attorney I started to think about the things he said such as this would be my chance to be heard, for the judge to see how this had impacted my life and so ... the journey began to find the words needed to help me receive that justice.


I hope you will find this blog helpful and know that if another child/teen was able to advocate for their own justice, you can do it too. I want change in many ways including victims to feel confident in their decision to disclose and pursue criminal charges against the one who harmed them, if they decide to take that route. Please read on to see how I found my voice. 

                                                        

                                                                                                                Brooke 



Brooke's Victim Impact Statement:


I am not sure if I am ready to see the person who harmed me, my biological sibling because that’s what I consider him now, no longer a brother. He needs to be held responsible for my ongoing emotional suffering. I am here to provide my statement to share my side of the story and how this has impacted my life.


My sexual abuse began between the ages of 10-11 and went on until I was 15. I went through many years of self doubt, severe depression, and insecurities because of everything that happened. In that time I had lost all hope and trust in everyone, I felt like I had no reason to live, no one I could turn to about this abuse I suffered by my brother.


I want to stress the importance that this was not just sexual abuse, but a lot of mental abuse. He would say horrible things to me that I was psycho, a retard because I was diagnosed with Autism. He also said I would be the one to go to jail for his actions and the sexual abuse he carried out on me if I ever told anyone. That it would be my fault for the family breaking up. There were times when he bribed me with money and gifts to keep my silence. My brother exposed me to very disturbing porngraphic images over the course of the abuse. My innocence was ripped from me due to his poor self control and decisions and it wasn’t fair. I had plans to wait until marriage, with the person of my choosing. That should have been my decision.


The abuse occurred every few months. He would wait until both my parents were asleep and then call me to the basement area where his room was located to abuse me. He started sexually abusing me after my mom picked up a second job to help with bills because my dad got injured at work and lost most of his right hand. My mom was working 55-60 hours weekly for a few years and my father was sleeping a lot, healing from his amputation and depression.


I finally broke my silence, telling my parents after my brother started another argument saying mean things to me. He ended up admitting to it all and turning himself into the police. At least he finally admitted to his wrongs, but can I say I have forgiven him yet? No, but I am working on getting to that point because I don’t want to remain angry and stressed.


He has caused me so much grief, anger, self harm, and severe PTSD. I was hospitalized for a week after everything came out in the open due to my depression. I have been in counseling for 3-4 years. I was unsure of my own sexuality and how I identified because my trust was broken when it comes to men. He didn’t just molest me, he fully raped me 1-2 times.This shouldn’t have happened to me.


I do want to see my brother get help for his issues and have told my attorney and victim witness advocate all this. I do ask that he serves time and I know he carries 3 felonies and a potential max sentence of 30 years. I want him to be placed somewhere he can receive proper sex offender help and therapy services for his pornography addiction. I don’t want to see anyone else hurt the way I was by him.


He needs to know I will live up to the statement of “ What doesn’t break you makes you stronger.” This has me looking into a new career field to help other victims of sexual abuse. I will become a voice and take a stand for other victims. He needs to know he didn’t win because I am a stronger person today as I write this impact statement. 


Thank you to all who have stood behind me through this battle. Without you all I wouldn't be the person I am today.


Brooke


Read Brooke's mother's Victim Impact Statement in this blog.

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