Forgiving myself after being sexually abused

Originally Published: March 2, 2007 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 22, 2007
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Dear Alice,

I am now 20 years old. When this situation took place, I was 16 or 17. I was living with this family that went to my church, and the lady's husband kept coming on to me. At this time, my parents were divorcing and I was depressed.I was so scared of this man because he was a giant compared to me. He kept asking me if he could touch my thighs. I kept telling him no because it was wrong, but I didn't tell anyone. I wouldn't even eat at night because I was afraid he would try to rape me.

So one day I came home from church a little earlier than the others did. He came in and waited until I got out of the bathroom. He sat me down on a chair and he kept touching me. I was so in shock that I couldn't move. That day he entered me and I didn't push him away, but I was crying and felt sick. Later on that week, he came into the basement where I stayed, and he performed oral sex on me. I felt really bad, but then again I did enjoy it. I felt so confused and cheap because after he was done he left $100.00 on my table. I felt like a slut. Then after a few weeks of him not even looking at me, I decided to talk to him and tell him that I was sorry and that we couldn't do it anymore and that we had to ask God for forgiveness.

My question is was it my fault for being in this situation or is he at fault for taking advantage of me? I have forgiven him, but I still have to work on forgiving myself. To me that is a very hard task because he is one of the elders in the church. What should I do?

Dear Reader,

Thank you for reaching out for help with this difficult issue. Even though you've worked so hard to forgive this man, you're stuck in a struggle to forgive yourself for something that he did to you, against your wishes. You don't have to struggle with self-blame any longer. Many people in situations like yours fault themselves for something that was done to them or have mixed feelings about what they did or didn't enjoy. It's only natural to feel confused about what has happened. Despite your uncertainty, it's important to know that what happened to you was not — in any way — your fault.

Because you express a desire to heal, it would be a great next step to talk with a counselor or trained mental health professional. If you're at Columbia, you can call x4-2878 to make an appointment at Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS). Students at Columbia can also call the Barnard-Columbia Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center at x4-HELP (every night from 7-11pm during the academic year) to speak with a peer counselor. Otherwise, you can call these hotlines for information and/or support:

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)
1.800.656.HOPE (-4673)

Safe Horizon
212.227.3000

You might also consider church-related resources or pastoral counseling. If you choose to do this, it'd be important to find people who you feel safe speaking with. This process may be harder for you because this man is an elder in your church. Within your church, can you think of any pastors, leaders, or counselors you can trust? What about other churches or faith-based organizations in your area?

You've taken a courageous step by writing in with this question, and it sounds like you'd like to reach a new understanding of what happened to you. The next step is in your hands. Please know that there are trained, caring professionals out there who'd like to help you through this difficult process.

Alice

June 22, 2007

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Dear Reader,

You said you can't forgive yourself, but would you feel this way if you'd been hit by a truck? Of course not. The man who raped you is at fault and should be reported to the church...

Dear Reader,

You said you can't forgive yourself, but would you feel this way if you'd been hit by a truck? Of course not. The man who raped you is at fault and should be reported to the church where he is an "elder" to prevent him doing the same thing to others.