Names have been changed.
Even at 8, I knew what was going on wasn’t right. But only later did I understand that I was a victim of sexual abuse by my stepfather. And now, at 17, I want him in prison.
My biological dad died on my first birthday, so I never knew him. I was happy being an only child and liked that it was just my mom and me in our studio apartment in Brooklyn. My mom dated lots of guys, but they never lasted—until Jason.
I met Jason one day when my mom was picking me up from my grandma’s house. He was a tall, powerfully built man wearing an army uniform, which made him look scary to 7-year-old me. He bent down and introduced himself. “Hi, my name’s Jason. I’m your mommy’s friend. It’s very nice to meet you.”
I ran behind my mom, hugging her. She smiled, picked me up, and gave me a kiss on my forehead. “It’s OK, baby. I know he looks scary, but he’s my friend, and look what he brought you!”
He came back up and pulled a lollipop out of his pocket, handing it to me with a big smile.
“I hope you like cherry. I picked it out just for you, and I hope you’ll let me be friends with your mom.”
After that, I didn’t feel so scared. As we walked home, I held both of their hands and they swung me back and forth. I was happy.
A month or so later, Jason moved into our studio apartment, where we all slept in one room. Soon after, my mom stopped taking me to the park like she used to. She yelled at me, and so did he, and then they both started hitting me as punishment.
The change happened so fast. I could no longer talk to my mom and once I went to bed, I wasn’t allowed to get up, even to use the bathroom. If I moved, Jason would yell loudly, terrifying me. Once I scraped my fork on my plate, and he flipped out and took away my dinner.
Trapped in a Nightmare
When I was 8, my mom got pregnant with my little sister. Four or so months after Jason moved in, while my mom was pregnant, I woke up to the feeling of hands wrapping around my ankles, yanking me from my bed and dropping me onto the floor. When I untangled myself from the sheets, I looked up and saw Jason shushing me with his finger over his mouth as he picked me up and carried me to the bathroom.
Horrified, I looked at my mom sleeping, wondering if she could hear what was going on. The next hour or so he molested me over and over. Then he raped me for a long time. I cried and yelled out, but his hand over my mouth muffled my voice. Finally, he threw me back on my bed, ordering me to go back to sleep.
But I couldn’t. I lay awake until the morning feeling more confused than I ever had before.
The next morning, I was exhausted and on edge, startled by every sound. I didn’t eat breakfast or speak a word. Walking to school, I wondered what exactly had happened. I wondered if those feelings were OK or not and if I should tell anyone.
Soon he was raping me almost every night, throughout my mom’s pregnancy and after my sister was born. When my mom wasn’t there, Jason would threaten me, telling me to keep my mouth shut about what “we” did or he’d hurt me. When we were all eating breakfast, he would touch my leg under the table. My mother didn’t seem to know anything.
I could never get a good night’s sleep, lying there waiting for him to pull the covers off of me.
Most of the time he took me into the bathroom, but sometimes it happened in the kitchen, where my mom and little sister could have seen if they woke up. I still wonder if my mother did see but chose to ignore it.
After a few months of living in pain and fear, I finally told my mother. But she got angry at me, saying I was making it up “to get attention.”
After I told, he kept raping me. I don’t think my mom ever told him that I had told her.
Months later, I tried telling my mom again, but she responded with the same disbelief and anger. I grew more and more hopeless because my own mom wouldn’t believe me about something as serious as this. I had never felt so alone.
From the Stairs to the Cops
Besides assaulting me, Jason also beat my mom. Almost every week, they had some sort of fight that led to violence. I helped her cover up her black eyes; this was my introduction to makeup.
When Jason started hitting my mother, she’d take me out to the hallway of our building and tell me to sit in the stairwell till she told me to come back in. I could hear them fighting, and one time I heard her body smash into the front door.
Those stairs were cold and lonely. Our neighbors sometimes asked me if I was OK, and all I said was that I was waiting for my mom. One time, after I told one neighbor I was fine, she came back with a sandwich and a juice box. I never saw that lady again, but she showed me that there were good people in the world and that my little family wasn’t normal.
When I was 9, Jason and my mom had a fight over her buying me clothes with money he had given her. My mom sent me out to the staircase once again.
But this time, a new feeling overcame me. My heart was racing and I was crying, and for the first time, I acted on impulse. I raced down the stairs and out the front door.
I ran to my grandmother’s house up the block and told her everything. (She’s my mother’s mother.) As soon as I told her that Jason had been raping me, her face went pale. She called the police.
The cops came and brought me to the precinct, where tons of people questioned me. By the end of the night, I had told my story to more people than I could count. I was taken to a child welfare lawyer and once again told my story.
Then an officer took me back to my mom’s house. To this day I don’t know why. I remember an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and fear as I was driven back.
Walking back into that apartment, I was trembling uncontrollably. My mom stood there, quiet. Jason wasn’t there when the cops dropped me off, but he came later for dinner.
After dinner, Jason pulled me aside and told me to say in court that he had only attempted to rape me. He told me if I told them he actually had raped me, he would hurt my mother and come after me. I was young and afraid. I nodded in agreement.
The next day, the police came to pick up me and my little sister and took us to my grandmother’s house. I didn’t go back to my mom’s house again.
He Knew It Was Wrong
A few months later, my case went to family court. My mom defended Jason, called me a liar, and said she hadn’t seen or heard anything. My anger grew as people put words to what I had experienced: “child neglect,” “rape,” and every kind of “abuse.”
Learning that these things had happened to other people and that everyone knew they were wrong infuriated me. Jason knew what he was doing was bad and didn’t care. Worse, my mom didn’t care, and I had a strong sense she knew what had been happening all along.
The case dragged on for months. At first, both my sister and I stayed with my grandmother, but the court let her go back to my mother because there was no abuse against her. I think Jason was still staying with my mother, but I’m not sure. In these months, I barely spoke to my mom.
Finally, when I was 11, I testified against him. I wasn’t in the courtroom; I testified from a different room and was videotaped. Yet I could still feel his presence. I told the judge that he molested me but didn’t say he’d raped me.
Jason went to jail for less than a month. The judge said the sentence was so short because my story changed. My story changed because Jason warned me that he would hurt me and my mom.
Teaching Myself to Tell the Story
I have lived with my grandmother ever since, and the healing has been slow and painful. I struggled with what I later learned was anxiety and depression. When I got old enough to date, I chose guys who were manipulative and abusive.
In middle school, I became self-conscious about my developing body. My curves led other kids to call me “slutty” and to spread rumors that I had sex with any boy I hung around with. If only the kids who made up the rumors knew what I had actually gone through.
The rumors followed me to high school, and in 9th grade, I cried almost every night. Before Jason, my mom could handle my tears and lift me back up because she was so empathetic. My grandmother wasn’t nearly as comforting. I felt alone, with nobody to talk to.
Then I met a boy who I could open up to. After Dean and I had known each other for a year, he said, “I know I haven’t been through anything traumatic in my life. But if you have, you can tell me.” I don’t know how he knew, but I’m glad he did.
I wanted to tell Dean, but I couldn’t. I tried, and when I got to the part in my story where Jason raped me, I’d choke and couldn’t get the words out. I was afraid of Dean’s reaction. So I spent weeks practicing telling my story in the mirror at home. The first couple of times, even alone, I choked up a little.
After two months of practicing in the mirror, I was finally able to tell my story without choking, stuttering, hesitating, or tearing up. I called Dean immediately, then ran over to his place. I sat him down, looked him straight in the eyes, and told the whole awful story, from meeting Jason to going to court and then into kinship care.
Finally telling him my story brought relief, and a weight was lifted off my shoulders. He hugged me and thanked me for telling him. I cried tears of joy as I knew I could fully trust someone. After that, Dean and I dated for a while, but then became good friends who still talk to this day.
Talking to Dean helped, but I still struggled. I had a mental breakdown in 10th grade, and my grandma took me to a hospital where I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. They put me on antidepressants, and my grandmother and I started family therapy.
Since then, I’ve found ways to take control of my life. I didn’t like how big my breasts were, so I got a breast reduction. I didn’t appreciate the false rumors about being promiscuous, so I spoke up to the kids who spread them and they apologized. I didn’t want to be alone, so I saved up and got a puppy. I pushed myself to join more clubs at my school, to try out for a sports team, and to write for Represent. I recently joined an online theater group and am planning to perform a monologue for them. I am creating a self who’s not just a victim.
I’ve also become an older sister figure to other girls who’ve been sexually abused. I convinced a friend in middle school to tell the school counselor about being abused at home. She didn’t want me to leave her side, so I stood by the door for almost an hour, waiting for her to finish telling her story so I could comfort her through whatever happened next. It feels empowering to help other girls going through what I went through.
Now I Want Justice
But now I’m 18, and I want justice. I have gained some control over my feelings, and I’d like to use my voice to punish a criminal and protect other children. I want to take Jason back to court and have him sentenced for as long as possible. When I was 11, I was afraid of Jason’s threats, so I lied. Now I want to tell the court what really happened, that his threats corrupted my testimony.
I recently read about a 2019 New York law called the Child Victims Act that allows child victims to seek prosecution against their abuser years after it happened. [Editor’s note: The window for justice under this law was extended to August 2021 because of the pandemic.] This gave me the idea to bring my stepfather back to court and get him sentenced for raping a young child continuously for several years.
I used to think that after the court closed my case, that there was nothing I could do. At age 11, I didn’t know that a month in prison wasn’t nearly enough time for what he did to me. But now I know that I can and will get justice for myself. This time I want to tell the whole truth.
If you are a current or former victim of sexual abuse, call Safe Horizon at 1-800-621-HOPE to be connected to legal help as well as counseling and other support.
- L.F. experiences a lot of losses in this story–the loss of her mother as caretaker, the loss of her safety, the loss of trust. What relationships and experiences later on in the story help her to feel empowered again?
- Why do you think it’s important for L.F. to create “a self who’s not just a victim”? How does a person do that?
- What will bringing her abuser to justice do for L.F.? What does it do for others who’ve experienced abuse?