It happened when I was 10. It’s not like most stories that you might have read about; there was no struggling, no screaming, no taunting or violence. It was silent—mostly because I had no idea what was going on.
It didn’t happen in an alleyway, or in a sleazy motel room. Not even in my own bedroom. It was in a dusty half-lit store pantry on the ground floor of my grandfather’s house. With about 9 other relatives on the first floor. It happened when I wasn’t alone.
Was it frightening? Hardly. If anything, it was confusing. I was only 10.
I grew up in a conservative home. I didn’t know the word ‘f*ck’ until I was 15. I only understood its meaning a whole year later. And yet now we have 8-year-olds using the word in grammatically correct sentences. My parents were traditional in their ways (and very strict).
I never once asked them, “Mommy, where do babies come from?” Maybe I wasn’t quite an inquisitive child. I knew there was a hole somewhere in my nether regions but I thought it was just for peeing.
So when grandfather asked me to follow him into the pantry and put his hands down my panties, I just stood there like the good doll I was while he sat on a stool behind me. He was gentle. But determined. Quick—before anyone else came into the kitchen—but long enough for me to remember his stubby beard rubbing against my neck.
I can’t remember when I realised the disturbing intentions of his action. Maybe it was when I discovered porn by accident. Maybe it was when I studied Chapter 4 of Science in Form 3. Maybe it was during “girl talk” with my guy friends in school.
But even before I figured it out, I knew my grandfather did something bad. Bad enough for my parents to tell me to avoid going near him when we visit after I told them about how he touched me “down there”. However, in my 10-year-old mind, it couldn’t have been that bad since they never confronted him about it. There wasn’t any big hoo-ha or dramatic family intervention. They simply told me not to tell anyone about it—sorry, mom and dad, for this.
In their defence, they couldn’t have prevented it. Not before it happened anyway. They couldn’t have known that they shouldn’t leave me alone downstairs while they chatted happily just several metres away. They couldn’t have known that they should have told me from a young age to “scream for help and run if someone touches you here or here“. And for that, I’ve never blamed them.
That’s not the case for my grandfather. Although I listened to my parents and avoided him, it was out of obedience and ignorance. Not because I actually understood why I should. And when I finally did many years later, I hated him for it. Which is a difficult task to do even after all these years.
It might be because it’s hard to hate someone who’s been dead for at least 10 years (I don’t keep count of the exact number). There’s only so much hate that you can give to a dead person because you can’t really do anything about it.
I don’t have any extraordinary lesson for you, other than the predictable ones. Educate your children so that their understanding of “down there” is not lacking; be observant so that any changes in your child’s behaviour doesn’t go by unnoticed; and do something when your child confides in you so that they know they can trust you.
Because not every case of child sexual abuse and molestation is about a child kicking and screaming.
Sometimes it’s a silent one, not because they are unafraid, but because they are confused, unaware, and simply just don’t know any better.
I consider myself very lucky. It only happened once and I was still ignorant. Nevertheless I’m in no way belittling it. I’ve heard of horrific experiences from victims of abuse, and even if it happened once, twice, or many times, there is always one similarity between them—they will be affected.
I sometimes wish that my parents did make a big deal out of it. I wish my relatives knew what a creep grandfather was.
On the other hand, I’m relieved that they didn’t. I can’t imagine having to face the embarrassment and the humiliation. More importantly, I also can’t imagine handling the rejection if they all knew but still did nothing about it. Or worse still, didn’t believe me.
Am I traumatised and never able to trust men again? Not quite. I am, after all, happily married. But till this day, I can’t stand stubby beards.
Editor’s note: This article is in response to the sudden (but very necessary) interest in the ugly truth of child sexual abuse cases in Malaysia. The writer would like to remain anonymous; however she’d like to remind readers that if they have a sexually abused child, it’s your responsibility to make them feel secure and accepted. Lodge a police report, or seek professional advice from a child psychologist/counsellor. Let them know that they are significant and that their well-being matters.
Feature image adapted from http://www.doctorinsta.com/