This is Aleesha Barlow, she is the creator of the Tell Somebody movement.
Her grandfather sexually abused her when she was 6 years old. She told her mother and aunts but they did nothing to stop it. Twenty years later, she is telling everyone. She also believes in teaching children “Good touches and Bad touches” to empower them to know what is right and wrong. I found her Facebook somehow and followed her right away. She shares others’ stories of survival on the Facebook page. These stories are of people of all ages, men and women. Some are doing well while others still struggle very deeply. The stories are often horrific to read and will make you cringe. But they are Real stories and real people.
Sexual abuse happens. It happens all the time and to many people we know. Statistics have shown that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexual abused in their lifetime. All though, it is understood that those stats are probably off base. Many children and adults won’t Tell Somebody. They go through life keeping it a secret and sometimes it stays a secret until a new event transpires. Their child may confide in them that someone is touching them inappropriately. They may experience a rape or sexual assault as an adult which triggers memories and feelings from a childhood abuse. For some the memories may be obscure to the point that it may not even reach the surface. For others, sexual abuse is the norm for a family and everyone close to them is infected by it so much so that speaking against seems unnatural. It is also extremely difficult for those that endured a same-sex abuse that leads them to question their sexuality. Sexual abuse has a variety of methods. While some often only consider a forced and aggressive experience as sexual abuse, there are more quiet ways like grooming. An abuser uses their relationship and friendliness as a way to lower someone’s inhibitions over time so that each act doesn’t seem so insidious but rather it becomes a regular way of interacting. Sometimes the abusing adult is just a third party in a cycle of events. A child they have been abusing may begin to act out similar sexual acts or sexual play with other children not understanding what they are doing is wrong.
I have worked in the social services field for 8 years now, mostly with children and teens but now I’m working with adults as a sexual assault advocate. While working with teens I saw a prevalence of sexual abuse to assault among teens in residential facilities. It would appear that almost all the girls had an abuse experience. For teen boys they often come into the DHS or juvenile justice system as a sex offender. I always felt that there was another part of the equation that was not even on the board, the abuse that was experienced by them before they perpetrated on others. Teen girls will tell you everything about themselves, but teen boys will never tell you that they were abused or raped. There are many precautions an agency takes to house an “S.O.,” but there were always alarms going off inside of me knowing there real issues were most likely never going to be openly addressed. In our current culture, many boys and men get swept under the rug due to most services being targeted to women and girls.
Christine Caine’s newest book, Unashamed- Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny, is so much of a gem for me right now. Although I’m soaking so much up I also know somehow that there is more to be revealed to me. The following is a short description of the book:
“Shame tends to wrap itself around our hearts like a net that can be hard to untangle. Wounds from childhood such as bullying, abuse, or divorce wreak havoc on our souls. But you can break free from these traps by clinging to God’s truth, dropping the baggage and living your destiny to the fullest.”
It is the third book I’ve read in about 30 days. It was no surprise to me that three great teachers all had books being released just weeks of each other. I saw this as divine assignment to read them. The first was Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst and the second, Without Rival by Lisa Bevere. As I progressed in each one, I was sure that God was opening up doors, opening up windows, and cleaning things up. Now, with Unashamed, I’m positive that God is wanting me venture past the gate [ 2 Kings 7:3-11]. Christine explains that in our life there are many gates we are afraid to go through. The begging lepers in the story decided that to have a chance at living they would be better off to risk their physical lives in the enemy camp.
(4) If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’–the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”
There are times in our life that we know there is opportunity, but we know we must let go of the security we cling to. In a recent short clip Steve Harvey talks of jumping– watch it here.
So with much hesitation, I write this blog post. I technically don’t want to and could live the rest of my life without writing it. God’s voice has gotten louder and louder. I’ve spent many, many years waiting for the right time. I’ve written letters to someone that I never sent and threw them in the trash. Countless conversations with my mother while we were in the ball park of the topic. I even had a coffee date with a good-good friend to tell her, but I stayed at the gate– I didn’t jump.
Last night I prayed that God give me the right words.
My heart races as I type.
And I pause.
When I was 4 or 5 years old a relative just a few years older acted out sexually with me. I will not say he abused me, because all of my life I’m 99% sure he had been abused in all ways. The memories I have are just a few, him French kissing me. I remember it was gross because his spit was in my mouth. I remember him laying on top of me with our clothes on, moving up and down against me. I remember him telling me, “I’m gona sex you up.” I at the time didn’t know what that meant but as an adult I remember an early 90s song by Color Me Badd. I could assume someone that knew what that line meant said that to him, so he said it to me in a similar context. I can’t be certain if there were other acts that took place or how long of a time period there was. Perhaps there was but I just can’t remember 25 years ago.
Once in high school, I had a conversation with a friend that triggered these memories and I’ve sat with them ever since. Never telling anyone. I never felt any negative emotions towards him. Never. I always saw that it was not done to me on purpose with ill intent. I believe without a doubt, that God was there weeping yet shielding me from any hatred that could have been passed on to me. What the enemy had planned for evil, stopped with me. He must of have been very annoyed that his plan was thwarted. I didn’t take what happened personal. My experience isn’t everyone’s experience. While others may have had a physically painful experience or had awareness that what was happening wasn’t right, I wasn’t physically hurt nor did I understand what had happened until I was a teenager.
The only thing I’ve carried are the memories that have made feel kind of gross. I wish I could go back somehow and prevent it. I still wonder if more happened. I want to know but I also accept the mercy of not knowing. I haven’t seen that relative in years due to him often being in shelters or jails. I’ve wanted to communicate to him that I forgive him and wonder even if he remembers. I’ve always wanted him to know its okay for him to forgive himself and that Jesus loves him deeply.
I’ve always been on the receiving end of friend’s and clients disclosing their stories to me. As a friend and as a professional I take it in and support them. I’ve always saw these women and girls as so Brave. Especially if they told their story in a group setting. I just sat there from the outside looking in, like WoW, I could never do that. Though I may have been among good friends, I still felt that it was something that would bring me shame. Controlling how people see me and how much of me they see has always been something I do. Whether it’s always wearing makeup while in public or never taking part in spontaneous offers because I wasn’t ready to be in public/with friends. I always think I have to be ready to be ready- I hope that makes sense. I’ve never been ready to Tell Somebody, but today I am.
Tell Somebody! And if they don’t listen, Tell Somebody Else!
If you need to find help, counseling, a mentor, a friend please do so!
Don’t let the enemy have his way of thriving in secrecy. There’s freedom from shame available, it’s yours already given by the Father- just own it!