Many of us would be shocked to imagine a child being molested by another child. But it does happen. Child-on-child sexual abuse is frequently unreported. And if it is, its effects can be belittled by those who fail to understand its implications.
This post is part of My Sweet Home Life’s Overcomers series – where we look at women whose lives haven’t turned out quite how they expected.
We feature women who have struggled with abuse, addictions, unexpected loss, and challenging circumstances.
Each of these women have come through their experiences with lessons learned – lessons that can help us all as we navigate this crazy thing called life.
Today we share the story of Esther, and her experience of overcoming child-on-child sexual abuse.
Trigger warning: Self harm. Suicidal ideation.
TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF
My name is Esther – I’m a 22 year old psychology graduate from the UK. I currently work full time in a forensic psychiatric hospital, while blogging in my spare time. At the time of writing, I have actually handed my notice in, in order to travel the world with my partner!
I have a huge interest in spiritual practices stemming from ancient Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I started Hopeful Lotus as a platform to share and promote what these practices have taught me, and how much they have helped me on my mental health journey, particularly in overcoming complex trauma.
I feel as westerners we have a tendency to seek external sources to mask negative symptoms e.g. with medication, illicit drugs, food, and retail therapy, when the truth is all the answers lie within. I believe that if everyone could just unlock this potential within themselves then true healing could occur and the world would be a much happier place!
I certainly haven’t always been this positive though…
DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE AS A CHILD
I grew up in a nice neighborhood with both my parents and two older sisters. We were well loved and we did a lot together as a family. I guess in this sense you could say I had a “perfect” upbringing. In all honesty I don’t really remember a lot about life at this time, but this is probably normal when you’re young.
WHEN DID THE SEXUAL ABUSE BEGIN?
I was around 5 years old and attending a local school when I first became the victim of sexual abuse. And while the stereotypes of gym teacher or janitor may spring to mind, my abuser was actually another child of a similar age to myself.
He was your stereotypical ‘problem child’ from a rough family in a rough area – the type of child your parents tell you to stay away from. The one who always found himself in the head teacher’s office for misbehaving in class and bullying other children.
I was scared of this boy, and for good reason too. He wasn’t a nice child, and he certainly wasn’t my friend. Yet I always found myself in his company.
He had a great deal of control over me, so much so that I even took the blame when he flooded the school toilets. In fact, I often found myself in trouble for crimes I didn’t commit. This is a classic example of the power dynamic between us: he did as he wanted, and I did as I was told.
So I did as I was told when he told me to lay on the ground and not move, though the weight of his body meant that I couldn’t have even if I had tried. And I did as I was told when he wanted to touch my body in places that I had been taught were ‘private’. And I went on doing as I was told for around two years, without breathing a word to anyone.
WHEN DID THE SEXUAL ABUSE STOP?
This pattern of events only stopped when we moved onto a higher school.
I can’t tell you why it stopped. Maybe because we were in different classes. Maybe because the school were more observant and had tighter rules in place to prevent this sort of thing. God forbid he moved onto somebody else. This is something I can’t really answer – but ultimately it doesn’t matter, because by this point the damage was done.
WHAT WAS THE AFTERMATH OF YOU BEING MOLESTED BY ANOTHER CHILD?
I was probably around 10 or 11 when my mental health difficulties began to emerge. I was low in mood, temperamental and hated the world and myself. I ‘coped’ with this by shutting myself off and engaging in self-harm behaviors i.e. cutting, scratching and starving myself.
At this point I wasn’t necessarily aware of the reason I was feeling the way I was feeling, but it would crop up every now and then in the back of my mind and cause me to feel guilt, shame and confusion.
Shame and embarrassment was a HUGE part of my poor mental health. I was an extremely secretive person and I was under the impression that there was something seriously wrong with me, both physically and mentally.
This may be TMI but I think it’s relevant to mention to any ladies out there… I remember the first time I noticed discharge in my underwear. At the time I didn’t know this was a thing, as many young girls don’t. But I was seriously convinced that I was diseased as a result of him touching me. I had this belief for years because I was never able to pluck up the courage to ask questions to prove me otherwise.
My mental health began to decline further as I emerged from adolescence. This was an age where my peers were beginning to discuss being sexually active. This terrified me. I didn’t want to ever be touched, and yet in the back of my mind I knew I already had been.
Not being able to be touched was such a significant thing for me. It sounds silly now, but at the time when all my friends were beginning to experiment sexually, I felt so abnormal. So much so that I vowed to commit suicide on my 16th birthday if I hadn’t “done anything” with a boy. Crazy, right? But this is typical of the pressure teenagers feel!
Fast forward a few years and I was in an even worse mental state. By this point I was emotionally unstable, self-harm was an almost everyday occurrence, and I had gone from being sexually inactive to sexually promiscuous. I was putting myself in dangerous situations and was drawn towards boys/men who took advantage of me. This irony is something I now know is common in individuals with histories of sexual abuse.
The age of 17 was my breaking point and I took a serious overdose attempt and spent the night in hospital. Luckily I suffered no long lasting effects and was given a chance to turn my life around. I felt so grateful for this chance and the support my family were giving me to get through this. So I made a giant leap and enrolled in a psychology degree at university the following year, with the aim of helping people who were suffering like myself.
University was the fresh start and distraction I needed at first. However in my final year we began studying counselling theory and psychodynamic theory. The content I learned in these modules was eye opening and made it clearer to me that I might actually be suffering from a form of personality disorder (borderline personality disorder) and/or complex post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of childhood trauma.
From this point onwards more and more memories began to come up. Each time this happened I would feel overwhelmed with emotion and I was experiencing panic attacks. I felt so confused and ashamed and I was still not ready to accept what was going on in my mind. I had been pushing down these thoughts and feelings for years and now they were all coming up with full force.
I couldn’t make sense of it. Did I want it? Had I instigated it? Worse, had I imagined it?
I questioned the validity of my feelings a lot because it wasn’t an adult that abused me. Can a child be sexually abused by another child? Maybe it’s just something children do? Maybe if I told somebody they’d laugh and tell me that it was just normal child behavior? I had conducted google searches on several occasions before and found nothing about child on child sexual abuse, so I was convinced it didn’t exist.
But one day my google search results were different – I came across an anonymous blog entry from somebody who had experienced sexual abuse from another child, and it changed my life forever.
WHAT HELPED YOU COPE WITH THE SEXUAL ABUSE IN BOTH THE SHORT AND LONG TERM?
That blog post was a huge part of what helped me turn my life around. It showed me that I wasn’t alone in being a child molested by another child and that there were other people out there who were feeling what I was feeling. Most importantly, it showed me that my feelings were valid, so for the first time I actually started allowing myself to feel them. I am honestly convinced that I’d be in the same mental state as I was before if it wasn’t for finding that post.
Because of this mental shift, I was able to make choices that would help me cope and heal the damage caused by my trauma.
I discovered a strong interest in spirituality and started practicing yoga. I instantly fell in love with this practice; it helped me to ground myself and feel calm, which is something I honestly can’t say I’d experienced before then. It gave me time to myself and something to focus on that was positive.
I had never been able to maintain a hobby or habit before and yet I found myself pouring my heart and soul into yoga and practicing most days. Over a year down the line and I am still practicing and am due to start a yoga teacher training course to share this practice with others! I would love to specialize in working with people who have experienced trauma, because I truly believe this practice is a magical healing tool.
I also started meditating. Meditation taught me how to slow down and calm my thoughts and to live in the moment. This was essential for me as I was constantly stuck thinking about the past, or lacking hope for the future. What I learned from meditation was that the more I practiced, the more resilient I felt. If I was feeling particularly bad, I would try to force myself to go off and meditate and this would usually lift my mood significantly.
One of the biggest choices I made for myself was to undergo EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) therapy. This is a specific therapy designed for trauma and PTSD. I had exhausted talking therapies in the past, which had all failed due to my inability to talk. But EMDR was different – it gave me the opportunity to work through my trauma without actually talking about it.
EMDR changed the way I viewed my traumatic memories; it allowed me to think about them in a more logical way rather than being overcome with emotion and panic every time I thought of something. This helped me to cope massively because for the first time I was able to accept what happened to me, instead of running away from it.
All of these factors helped me to get to a point where I am now able to talk about it without completely shutting down. This blog post is actually the first time I’ve spoken about this part of me openly.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE STRUGGLING WITH THE AFTERMATH OF CHILD-ON-CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE?
What I have learned from my experience is that children CAN be sexual abusers. A huge part of my pain revolved around the feeling that people would laugh at me and not take me seriously because I was molested by another child and not an adult. I honestly thought that nobody would believe me.
It took me a long time to accept that I was sexually abused because I didn’t even know if this was possible. But I now know that anybody can be an abuser, including children.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why my abuser did what he did – was he born evil? Was this learnt behaviour… was he a victim himself? These are yet more unimportant questions. The person’s motives aren’t what matters – it’s how you feel that matters.
Some people will find certain events traumatic, while others may be more resilient to them. This doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to feel the way you do. Your pain is valid.
I’ve also learned that I’m definitely not the only person to be sexually abused as a child by a child. This is of course both a blessing and a curse; while I would never wish this pain on anybody, knowing that I am not alone is something that has definitely helped me to heal.
The sad thing is that there are probably many more people like myself who are scared to come forward and speak about what they have experienced. More people that are running away from it like I was.
That’s exactly the reason I’m writing about this today. I know how it feels to feel abnormal and alone and I also know how life changing it can be to realise this is not the case. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you can relate to these themes, I’m writing this for you.
I want you to know that your pain is valid, whether your abuser was a child or an adult. I want you to know that you are in no way responsible for what happened to you, whether you went along with it or not. And I want you to know that it 100% can get better and that if you stick at it, it will.
Concluding my story
I was molested by another child – there, I said it. It’s taken me 17 years and tons of hard work to speak those words, but I am so much stronger for doing so. I can now accept my past, but it in no way defines me. If anything, it empowers me. I was sexually abused but I am not a victim: I am a strong woman who has overcome things I didn’t even know were possible. I am happy, successful and hopeful for the future. I am not just coping, but I am thriving. And if I can do it, then you can too.