“Don’t tell your mother. This is our special bonding time.”
These words were spoken to me by a man who, at one time, was my stepdad. Between the ages of 8 and 13, he molested me countless times. I can feel a knot in the pit of my stomach just writing that line. This is not something I frequently talk about, either out of embarrassment, fear, or maybe a combination of the two, but this is my truth.
This is not something I frequently talk about, either out of embarrassment, fear, or maybe a combination of the two, but this is my truth.
Pedophiles are expert liars and master manipulators. They will do whatever is necessary to earn your trust and the trust of those around you. Did I know that this abuse was wrong? Undeniably, yes. Have you ever dreamt that you were being chased or hurt, but the dream version of you found it impossible to scream? Your voice paralyzed by fear. Welcome to the brain of a victim. As I grew older and angrier, I fantasized about sleeping with a knife and stabbing him the second he dared to enter my bed. One week before my high school graduation, I knew that I could no longer harbor this secret. The words spilled out of me with force, “Steve has molested me for years.”
There was no perfect time to unleash this secret. Maybe you’ll tell your boyfriend while he’s driving you to work after school. Maybe you’ll confide in your mom in the middle of a loud and crowded restaurant. I realize that these scenarios may sound ludicrous, but your brain and your heart will do whatever is necessary to protect you and those you love. I couldn’t say these words at home—it was not a safe space. Instead, I found comfort in a crowded restaurant: C.J. Maggies. I couldn’t handle an emotional breakdown from my mom or myself, and I knew that we would be forced to remain calm in the company of strangers. I remember begging her to do the unthinkable—keep my secret until I could get through graduation the following week. Then we would deal with him.
A couple of days later, I arrived home after a date. Ordinarily, my boyfriend would come inside to socialize for a bit, but on this particular night he had to get home. As I was walking toward my house, I could hear my mom yelling. Instantly, I knew she had confronted Steve. I ran after my boyfriend as he backed down the driveway and begged him to come inside with me: he happily obliged. I immediately went to my bedroom where my mom explained that she was sorry, but she couldn’t wait. She asked him about it, and he had confessed to everything.
Scared, shaking, and confused, I didn’t know what would happen next. Steve came into my bedroom where he fell onto his knees and offered the most pathetic apology I’ve ever witnessed, “I’m sorry. I’ve been trying to make it up to you for years.” Fear and confusion left my body at that very second. Replacing them were strength, vigor and survival. I called 9-1-1 as he knelt in front of me and I informed the dispatcher that I needed to report a parent for sexual abuse. Within 30 minutes, I watched as Steve was handcuffed and promptly placed in a police cruiser.
What I’ve failed to mention is the size of my former town. The phrase “everyone knows everyone” was likely invented there. Although I was a minor and my name could not be released to the public, the newspaper headlines and small-town gossip offered me no protection or privacy… “She’s making this up so her mom can get divorced.” … “I don’t believe her. Steve is such a nice guy.” … “I can’t believe I ever spent the night at your house.”
The weeks and months following his arrest were a bit of a blur. Compensating with Xanax and alcohol, I was too busy hating myself to get the help that I needed. I knew that I would be preparing for a jury trial halfway through my freshman year of college; what I did not know was how many of our “family friends” would also be attending, but many of them were on the wrong side of the courtroom.
Why was I made to look like a liar and a criminal when they had verbal and written confessions from a man who admitted that he “wasn’t just trying to get fucked; it was done out of love”?
For days, I had to listen to how great of a man Steve was. Hard worker. Family man. Reliable friend. I was grilled with questions like, “Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you confess sooner? Did you write down exact dates and times of the offense(s)?” Why was I made to look like a liar and a criminal when they had verbal and written confessions from a man who admitted that he “wasn’t just trying to get fucked; it was done out of love”?
After days of trial and deliberation, the jury found Steve guilty on all counts of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian or other person in position of trust to a child. My family sat with me and we cried tears of relief. But it wasn’t over. Sentencing would take place in 4 months.
Sentencing is your opportunity to speak your mind. I witnessed multiple people come to Steve’s defense stating that “what he did was a mistake. It was a one-time thing. It won’t happen again.” When the time came for me to approach the bench, I was filled with rage—how could people who had known me since I was seven come to the defense of a self-proclaimed pedophile? This was my chance—and I found my voice. “A mistake is an accident. It’s often a one-time deal. It is NOT making the decision to enter your child’s bedroom with sexual intentions. A mistake is knocking a lamp over or running a stop sign. Sexual relations with a child is never a mistake.” I requested that the judge award Steve the maximum sentence for the crimes he committed.
Steve was sentenced to 20-40 years in a maximum-security prison. Is it enough? Hell no. But it’s certainly more than the slap on the wrist that so many sexual predators seem to be awarded. Afterward, I received letters from those so-called family friends telling me that I should find God in my heart and request a lesser sentence for Steve: that I should feel shame for putting him in jail for such a long period of time.
That’s where they were wrong. Steve put himself in prison. He committed a crime that he felt sure would never surface. He robbed me of my innocence and forced things on me that no one should ever have to experience. I do not believe in remediation or rehabilitation for sexual offenders. Do not try to change my mind.
I could have remained dependent on Xanax and alcohol. I could have quit college. I could have stayed in my small town and wallowed.
But I didn’t.
I can almost guarantee that there are people in your life who have endured sexual abuse and have yet to come forward. Please don’t discount their silence, but be accepting and willing to fight for them when they are able to speak their truth.
I sought counseling. I finished college. I met and married a man that I still can’t believe exists. I earned a master’s degree and bought a home. I’ve traveled. I wake up every day feeling proud for using my voice so that I CAN do these things. Do I still struggle with my past? Do I still sleep with my arms tightly wrapped around my chest and my legs clenched shut? Do I still have aversions to Mike holding me in bed from behind? Absolutely. Time doesn’t erase all triggers, but each day that puts me further away from that battered 8-year-old girl is a step toward healing and a happier future. I can almost guarantee that there are people in your life who have endured sexual abuse and have yet to come forward. Please don’t discount their silence, but be accepting and willing to fight for them when they are able to speak their truth.
There will be a parole hearing for Steve in 2027 and I will be there to vehemently oppose his early release. Because what’s even scarier than facing Steve again is the thought of his freedom and his ability to abuse other innocent victims.
**I know firsthand how hard it can be to share your abuse story. If you find yourself unable to speak to anyone else, please email me anonymously at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sometimes nothing is as comforting as hearing “I know how you feel” from someone who truly does.**
Danielle Geffel is half of the Our Time of the Month girl gang. She lives with her husband and dog in Baltimore where she works as an archivist.