Staring into space, all I hear is the sound ofwater splashing softly in the background. Plip plop, plip plop, each drop resonates with the sound of fury; and with each trickle the pain becomes more unbearable. I feel alone, like a stranger in a foreign land who is neither wanted nor appreciated. Slowly I close my eyes, and force myself to concentrate on the raindrops splattering against the windowpane.
Not surprisingly the sound is fading, and that’s when I hear it, my uncle’s rapid breathing as his body shakes violently and ejects semen into my 12-year-old vagina. But I don’t feel it, because I’m invisible. Invisible to my mom who slapped me when I told her“Uncle Emmitt does nasty things to me.”Afterwards, she told me I was “going to hell” for lying on her brother, whom she described as a“good Christian man.”Invisible to my classmates who refer to me as “Dumb Donna,” because of my inability to concentrate inclass.Lastly, I’m invisible to myself. Lying in a fetal position, gasping for air, I cry out for help to anyone who will listen, but unfortunately they all turn away.
In interviewing Donna, a 47-year-old administrative assistant, she noted that the incest between sheand her uncle began when she was 8, and ended five years later when he was mysteriously murdered.
As IlistenedtoDonna’s story, two observationsconcerningincest and Black children become paramount. The first is the identity of the abuser, as noted by G. E. Wyatt, a researcher on Black femalesurvivors of child molestation.
In her book The Long-Terms Effects of Incestuous Abuse: A Comparison of African American and White American Victims,Wyattmaintains that “African-American girls are more often abused by relatives other than their fathers; often the offender is an uncle.”Moreover, Wyatt argues that the behavior of mothers who turn a deaf ear to their children’s pleas, is characteristic of women in denial.A trait she finds bizarre, since Black women are traditionally matriarchal and will do anything to protect herchildren.
When I mentioned this to Donna she glanced out the window, a blank look on her face. Pausing briefly I wait for her response.“Traditionally Black women have been portrayed as the one woman who is so protective of her children she will lie, steal, cheat, even kill to protect them,” she says nonchalantly. “But don’t be naive.”When I asked her what she meant, she grimly remarked there are millions of women who willingly protect their lover, husband, friend or relative, at the expense ofachild who is being molested.
Moving quickly to another topic, Donna told me how the incest with her unclebegan.She said that in the beginning, horseplay between the twoofthem was normal. But when she began developing breasts at the tender age of 8, it became sexual. Today, early physical development in children is identified as Precociouspuberty, and is the result of several factors includingbody weight (fat mass),hormonal imbalance and environmental estrogens.
But, back in 1970, Donna says doctors were unfamiliar with earlyphysical maturation, sopeople just lettheirimaginationsrunamuckat the sight ofayounggirl with large breasts.“I was the only 8-year-old in school with breasts, andnaturallyI was self-conscious,” says Donnaleaning forward in her seat.She further revealed thather classmates were cruel and teased her relentlessly.With her voice barely audible, Donna said that in the Black community when ayounggirlhas breasts, it’s assumed that she is sexually active, “even when she’s 8 like I was.”Thus, the widely heldbelief that Black children experience sex earlier thantheirCaucasian counterpartscomesinto play.(More discussion on this in the myth and reality section).
Looking back on her childhood, the immaculately dressed woman maintainsthat men old enough to be her grandfather made sexual comments that disturbed her.“I was confused because people were treating me differently because Ihadbreasts.” As for the men, Donna says she couldn’t confront them, because as she explained, “in those days it was unacceptable to talk back to your elders, regardless of what they said or did.”To do so would result in a spanking, if the person in question decided to tell your parents.
Inrecalling that traumatic period, Donnaexplained that it was her uncle who came to her rescue. “When I came home from school after being tormented by the girls in my class, he would dry my tears, encourage me to give him a hug andtell me how pretty I was.”Admittedly,Donna foundcomfort inthoseembraces. “I felt likehe was the only person who really cared about me, so I did what he wanted.”Notsurprisingly, in recallingtheactual abuse, Donna refused to talk aboutit.Instead, she insists that she made the fatal mistake of kissing her uncleon the lips. With her voice cracking, she says, “IfI hadn’t done that, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten out of hand.”
Noting thepained expression on her face, I asked Donna if she thought she was to blame. “Hell yeah,” she snapped.“IfI didn’t kiss him, he wouldn’t have gone any further.”Puttingtherecorder on pause, I tryto reassure Donna that what happened was not her fault, however,she was relentless in blaming her self. Sadly, it was at this point that Donna decided to end the interview, pointing out that such memories made her feel ashamed and inferior.Before leaving, I encouraged her toseek counseling. Not surprisingly,she responded with a comment often heard by women of colorwho’ve been sexually abused, “Black folks don’t air their dirty laundry.”Agreeing with that assessment is Melba Wilson whomaintains that “We (Blacks) learn from an early age that we’re not suppose to ‘put our’ business out in the street”.
Tina D.Case # 78908
I remember the first time I felt totally helpless.I was five and my teenage cousin was raping me. Lying there,allIrememberwere the posters on the wall, colorful and strange images that distracted me from what was taking place. As my eyes darted around the room, I couldn’t understand what was happening or why it was happening, butI knewthat it was wrong. Thus, as my cousin hovered above me, groaning with pleasure, all I could think was, what did I do to deserve this? recalls Tina.
Looking at her from a distance, Tina gives the impression that she seemingly has it altogether. She does, but Tina also has a secret.She is an incest survivor who is determined not toletthepast defeat her.As we talked, I noted a determination rarely seen in other survivors. There was also something else. Although the incident happened years ago and is ingrained in her psyche, Tina is not bitter, and as proof, admits that she is still capable of having a conversation with the person who raped her.
During the interview, Tina revealed several things, includingthe factthatthe incest began when she was 5 and ended when she was in the 6th grade, and that it was not until she was in high school that she finally told her parents. As with most survivors, I asked Tina what affect this incident has had on her life. “As a child it made me very angry, but people didn’t know I was angry.”When asked to explain, she saysit could only be described as an anger raging out of control.“Truth is, I didn’t know I was angry.”
In addition to anger, Tina has experienced a barrage of emotions, ranging from hate to suicide.“Before I told my mom, I seriously considered taking my life. At that time I was in high school, and although the abuse had ended years earlier, at that point I was going through a bad time and wanted to end it all.”
Fortunately, Tina realized that no situation is worth taking your life, even incest. But despite her confidence and happy-go-lucky attitude, the Nevada nativeadmitsshe experienced the usualemotions attributable to incest.She says she had low self-esteem, and there were periods in her life when shecriticized herself severely, especially her physical appearance.“You go through a period when you try to look absolutely perfect. There were times when I would look in the mirror and screamyou are one uglypiece of trash,” she says frowning.“OrI would put myself down by pointing out how fat I was.”Tina concedes such feelings are based on the fact that“someone took something from me thatI cannever get back.” (her virginity).
She further noted that incest victims are defective.“Wewearmasks to hide our anger, pain and frustration. Unfortunately, when we arearound other people we put on the maskofcontent and happiness, but when we’re alone,weare forced to look at ourselves. That’s pathetic isn’t it?” she says fighting back tears.
In talking with Tina we touched on several topics, and each time I was impressed with theconfidence and intelligence that belie her 24 years.When asked if she ever asked the man who raped herwhy he did it, shegrew very quiet and said”Yes,” and his response was women my age weren’t willing to have sex.”The answer was not only surprising but stunning. Next I asked what advice she could give to young incest victims.“Fist, I would tell them that it’s not their fault.Because no 5 year-old, 8- year- old or 10 year-oldis so hot, or sexually enticing to the pointwhere a boy orman is so consumed with desire, hecan’t control himself.That isjust unacceptable . “
As for counseling, Tina says through religion and a strong belief in herself she overcame her obstacles and today is happy, but notes that ”part of being an incest victim, is that it does not go way, but you can go on with your life.”Always the optimist, Tina is convinced that everything happens for a reason, even incest. “No matter how warped, strange or tragicsomething may seem, there is always areason behind it.”