Thriver: From Victim to Survivor

I  have been following this page since it was created. Reading the stories of survivors has offered me great relief and a sense of solidarity. Our communities are in need of that. Although I have never imagined sharing my story on such a scale, I feel as though I am now.

I was only a child when I experienced sexual violence at the hands of my father, uncle and family friend. My father molested me for years, beginning at the age of three until I was ten years old. The uncle and family friend’s abuse incidents happened when I was left alone with them. All of these experiences were traumatic, but the molestation I suffered as a child at the hands of my father was the most scarring and traumatizing of them all.

My father is a prominent leader in the Ethiopian and Eritrean community where I am from. Many people know him and respect him for the community work he does here locally in the States and back home. As a child, I could not understand the horror of what I was experiencing when he abused me. I would disassociate often during those moments, in an effort to 'leave my body' as a trauma-survival mechanism. I would try very hard to concentrate on something on the ceiling in order to distance my mind from what he was doing to my body. It was scary, confusing and scarring.

My mother knew the whole time what he was doing to me. Yet she chose to turn a blind eye and do nothing. She would called me “sharamuta” meaning prostitute in Tigrinya. I vividle remember not knowing what this word meant and one day my aunt came to our house and I asked her, what does “sharamuta” mean? My aunt was shocked to hear me say that word and asked me where I learned it from. I told her that my mom called me that word. I remember my aunt pulling my mom aside and being angry with her. But my aunt didn't know what was going on and wasn't able to uncover it.

My mother was physically and emotionally abusive. She did nothing to protect me, but instead protected her husband and blamed me, a little girl, for the violence I was experiencing. I had no one to turn to. I didn’t speak out because my own mother was letting him do those awful things to me, I thought no one else would want to listen and protect me.

All of this happened in America.

I grew up in a large Ethiopian and Eritrean community where children were not supervised and men had access to children often. I remember being at parties where the men would get very drunk and the children would be left alone in rooms. Though the memories are fragmented I remember those times feeling weird and scary. There were other children I grew up with who did wrong things to each other as well. I remember a girl I grew up with who was a few years younger than me who touched me sexually, and I felt very confused and uncomfortable by that incident. Later on, I realized that she, along with the other children, may very well have been experiencing sexual abuse at home as well and just acting what was being done to her.

For years I did not say anything about what my father did to me. I always had a plan to move out when I was 18 and go to college in order to get away from the abusive home in which I was raised. My father tried very hard to control me and keep me under his roof, he regarded me as if I was his property or a surrogate wife. He controlled everything in the house. But I left for college out of state at 18 and never moved back home. When I was 19 I told my aunt about what happened. I started going to therapy in college and my counselor was the first stranger I ever told what happened to me. My aunt later told an uncle who in turn told my dad what I was saying. My uncle said that the American psychologists were planting lies in my head and the family needed to pray for me so God would make me stop being a liar. My father immediately denied what happened (with the support of my uncle) and began to frantically call all of our family in the U.S to call me a liar. He told them all that I was making this up because he was not paying for my college tuition because I was making bad grades. This, of course, was a lie. He refused to pay for my education because he never wanted me to leave the house. But I was always determined to break free.

While this was happening, I called my mother to confront her. I wanted to ask her the question that had been burning in my heart for years as a little girl and continued as I grew older. How could she have pretended to not know what he was doing to me? Did she know all of the ways that my father assaulted my body? Deep down of course I knew she did, but as an adult who no longer depended on her abusive mother and was stepping into her power, I wanted to hear her say the words. I wanted her to face the truth, take responsibility and maybe apologize for letting her little girl down. But she refused. She was not hurt that her daughter experienced sexual violence at the hands of her father, her husband, she was angry that the truth had come out to the family. she said on the phone, while screaming and crying, was, “how do you think this makes me feel?!”

I knew then that I wasn't going to let my story be redefined by what my mother didn't do for me. The little girl had grown to mother herself, heal and recover. 

One day while working on my college campus, my boss tried to assault me in his office. But as an adult I knew I had a voice and could stand up for myself. I told my counselor and mentor and eventually I got him banned from the campus. Later I found out he had assaulted other girls at school but they were too afraid to say anything. I was the only one who spoke out which was not easy at the time.

My parents have only ever cared about their reputation in the Ethiopian and Eritrean community and they were adamant about making sure the truth did not get out. Over the years, I have stopped communicating with both my father and mother. In our culture, we are taught to respect our parents and our elders without question. I was told by family that this does not happen in America, that molestation by family only happens back home. This is yet another lie. I believe that silence is a disease and I have found healing by telling my truth. Because I have told the truth, I have become disconnected from basically all my family except for my aunt. This has been difficult as a young adult learning to navigate the world, I’ve had to grow up pretty fast. My family basically abandoned me after I told the truth. My parents called me a “bad American girl” who had no respect for her family. After college I did not have a place to live because I was living in the dorm by scholarship and working two jobs to support myself. After school I was living with my friends and at one point sleeping on a friend’s couch looking for a job. That was probably the hardest time of my life because my parents have a lot of money, my father is a leader in the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities here. I felt victimized yet again because I was homeless and they were living in a big, nice house. I felt that I was suffering for telling the truth. But I never doubted that I did the right thing for myself. I am proud of myself because I knew that I had two choices in this life, I could either sacrifice myself with silence or find freedom in the truth. And as difficult as the journey has been, I know that my truth is worth it.

Now I am pursuing my dream of art and married to my husband who is the love of my life. I have a beautiful and safe living space and my friends from college have become like family for me. When I read a story on this page about a woman and her sister who also experienced sexual violence by their father it made me realize that I am not alone. This is also why I wanted to share my story, in case there are other women or men who have experienced something similar are convinced they are alone. When a parent hurts you in this way it is especially devastating because they are supposed to love you, protect you and care for you more than anyone else. But whoever did this to you, I need you know you are not alone.

I want to shout it out loud. "You are not alone and you will overcome!" We can only  become stronger together when we own our story, uplift one another and defeat shame and victimhood in the process. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for creating this page, you are helping our people heal and I am very grateful for that.

Shared by Anonymous

Cover Art by IG: @lindesign_21

#MeToo #MeTooEthiopia #Ethiopia