PW's First Book-Length Work Collects the Personal Stories of Sexual-Abuse Survivors and Their Loved Ones

"The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse" sheds light on the painful—yet hopeful—recovery process.

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 17 | Posted Nov. 14, 2012

Share this Story:

My husband Joel outed himself seven months ago as a survivor of child sexual abuse. Very quickly, we discovered that the simple act of telling his story was a life-changing experience—and, both of us being journalists by training, we realized we were in a unique position to help other survivors speak out for themselves. So over the summer, I penned an editorial in PW inviting submissions of first-person stories from sexual-abuse survivors, their loved ones and advocates.

As word about the project spread to local and national organizations, we were eventually flooded with inquiries from male and female survivors of child sexual abuse, partner rape, incest and other forms of sexual violence. They were all ready to tell us—and the world—that they would no longer suffer in silence. They were all ready to share their stories of abuse—but more so, of healing, and what that process looked like.

What resulted was an anthology of more than 50 personal essays, written largely by non-professional writers and edited by journalists, all connected by pain and tragedy. We have turned this collection of stories into an ebook, the Philadelphia Weekly’s first, titled The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse. What you are about to read in this week’s PW is a selection of eight of those stories that all capture, in their own way, the long and turbulent recovery people affected by sexual abuse must endure.

And it is long. I know because I have been down that path; the shadow of sexual abuse nearly destroyed my marriage. Joel struggled for years before he could face the reality of what had happened to him. I am thankful every single day that he had the courage to heal. So for us, The Survivors Project is more than just a public-service journalism project produced by an alternative-media company. We are connected in a very real way to the people who had the courage to tell you their stories.

Reading these essays won’t be easy; writing them certainly wasn’t. I know that putting my story* on paper required the retelling of events, feelings and specific moments in time that have altered me forever. I wrote most of my essay through tears, as I suddenly found myself back in that dark place—the place I had been when I thought Joel and I would never make it. Even after completing the essay, I fretted over whether he would be hurt by my words. I found myself feeling guilty all over again for expecting Joel to meet my needs as a spouse while also going through the most intense emotional upheaval of his life. But that is what healing looks like. It is hell. And it needs to happen if you want to be happy.

No doubt every single contributor to The Survivors Project has felt a range of emotions during this process. Dredging up memories from the past can be an emotionally taxing and painful experience. But for many of us, writing is all we have when we feel our voice isn’t strong enough—which is exactly why this project needed to happen. The more we talk about the effects of sexual abuse, the more we can prevent it. This is both a public-health issue and a human-rights issue as serious and significant as any PW has rallied to address in the past.

Survivors need more opportunities to fight back against the culture of shame and secrecy that stole their voices. We can’t let it stop here. We have to seize this moment and make sure that no one has to suffer in silence anymore. —Nina Hoffmann

Editor’s note: Please take great care in reading these stories, as many of them contain graphic descriptions and other passages that may trigger strong emotional responses.

*Joel’s essay is published below. Nina’s appears in The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse.

Gender: Female
Age: Late 30s
Age abuse occurred: 17

It has taken half my life to be able to say that I was sexually abused as a teenager and not feel that there was shame in that. There is still a remnant there that feels like it will always be there. But mostly I have come to believe that while this was a part of my story, it is only a small part.

I do not know where the story started. I am sure now that I was slowly groomed—probably as a young child.

I only remember being down in my bedroom around my 17th year, my stepdad starting with a massage under the guise of talking to me about my day. It would start innocently enough, but he would slowly edge toward my panties, eventually taking them off. (Perhaps this is why I never wear panties now.) Beyond that, I don’t remember much. I usually either pretended to be asleep or actually fell asleep. I took to reading my Bible all the time, as if that would somehow protect me when he came into my room.

I remember the night when my mother knocked on the locked door and my stepdad told her to go away. And she did.

There was a brief glimpse of hope while she paused at the door, waiting for him to unlock it. Perhaps this will stop. But she walked away upon command and he went right back to what he was doing.

And I remember that later, when my sister told my mom, and she confronted me, she became unhinged in a way I thought she would never recover from. And I knew then that she blamed me and wanted me to make it better for her.

And so I told her, “Fine. It never happened.”

And then she became hysterical again. “How could you say that about my husband?“

And I said nothing.

And to this day, all I can think is, Why do you suppose that door was locked, Mom? Is there ever a reason for an adult man to be in a locked bedroom with a teenage girl?

I think that one thing that made it easy for my stepdad to groom me was that my dad was never able to give me a compliment. I know he loved me and he was a very stable father. But he kept his feelings to himself, and I suppose I have some resentment about that as well. Most of the “compliments” I received were from my stepfather.

I did not talk to my stepdad for nearly eight years after completely telling him off in a way that I am sure he never recovered from. His health has steadily gone downhill since then. He only recently met my children, and while I finally believe he is sorry, he will never be alone with them.

The hardest thing to come to terms with is that there is still a part of him that I love—and that I will always love. He was still—at least partially—my dad. I have happy memories, too—funny things that still make me smile. I have hated him, but there has always been love.

I think this is why it has been important for me to reconnect with him before he dies.

What is harder for me to grapple with is not the abuse, but my mother’s betrayal. To this day, she cannot talk about it. She cannot acknowledge it. And if I broach the subject, it’s like she has either completely forgotten about it or just really blocked it out to the point where she truly believes that it never happened.

And I know that that has not just affected me, it has affected her. Her weight has nearly doubled. Her thinking has become slurred and blurry due to years of smoking pot. There is never a moment when the TV is not on at full blast in her home, as if one second of quiet time would be unbearable. She even sleeps with the TV on.

It is a very sad thing to not be able to trust your own mother. For a long time, I didn’t think that we could ever have a normal relationship. It’s better than it was, but it will never be what I longed for as a little girl, as a young adult woman, or even now in my late 30s.

It took a long time for me to realize that my mom was not going to be able to acknowledge what happened to me. It took a long time to know that I did not need her to. It took longer for me to accept my mother, with her faults, and see who she is as a person.

You cannot heal yourself until you come to terms with your parents’ lives as well. When you have children you begin to understand, a bit more, what their lives likely entailed. You begin to ask the questions you were numb to as a child.

My mother also suffered abuse. This contributed to her inability to fully parent me as a young woman. She has never healed. She still justifies her own abuse. Listening to her made me realize I needed to do something different.

I knew almost instantly the first time I became pregnant that I had a boy coming. I almost willed it that way. I was terrified to have a daughter. There was still so much left unhealed in me, and I was horrified at the idea of having a girl.

After years of therapy, I felt ready for a girl three years later. This time, I knew I was having a girl and smiled at the fact that the promise I had made to myself at the age of 20 was finally coming to pass. It was then I picked her name, after the first woman I met in my life who was completely happy and at ease with herself.

I thought I was ready for her arrival but near the end of my pregnancy, the rage at my mother re-emerged. I wrote her a letter, telling her off. It was nearly six months before we came to some sort of terms, and I allowed her to be around my children again.

This was my half-sister’s first awareness of what had happened to me. She was seven years younger and shielded from the initial drama. She was shocked, and had a really hard time with it. Our relationship has never fully recovered. I felt as though everyone was much more comfortable keeping it hidden so it would not hurt them so much. I felt like screaming, How do you think this has been for me?

My sister has a completely different relationship with her dad. He is fully her father. She adores him. Half of her is made from him, and that makes it hard. If he is the monster I claim him to be, what does that make her?

I have also had guilt about the possibility of him molesting someone else. There is a large family available to him.

Somehow, I have felt that they would never believe me since I have always been an outsider. I would just be the wicked stepdaughter getting even. And then I wonder if I am only justifying myself.

Recently, an older mentor asked me how this has affected me sexually, and the floodgates opened. For a long time, I think it made me prude and embarrassed of my sexuality. I come from a family that is full of sexual energy on one side, and completely repressed on the other.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 |Next
Add to favoritesAdd to Favorites PrintPrint Send to friendSend to Friend


Comments 1 - 17 of 17
Report Violation

1. Janice said... on Nov 14, 2012 at 10:33PM

“CookyJar! Have you all heard about CookyJar? He's a very important player in the abuse and debasement of women in Philadelphia. He can be found weekly posting nude photographs of young women on an internet site for men seeking sex ( The women are impaired by drug addiction. CookyJar pays a large sum of money for taking photos of these young girls in degrading poses.

When and if these girls kick the habit, their futures will be ruined by the online presence of dirty photos which addiction forced them to pose for.

CookyJar must be "outed" by this newspaper. Please Tara Murtha. Go to Kensington Avenue and interview the women victims, and perhaps with police assistance, find CookyJar and write his sordid story and shame him for ruining the future of so many young women. Better yet, see if the police can find grounds for arresting him. You can help rid the streets of this pervert.”

Report Violation

2. Psrpg said... on Nov 15, 2012 at 10:36AM

“Yeah, that's all we need. The governnent arresting someone for posting naked pictures of consenting adults. What is wrong with you?”

Report Violation

3. Janice said... on Nov 15, 2012 at 11:26AM

“You miss the point, Psrpg. These girls are not "consenting" in a legal or moral sense. They wouldn't have sex with you, or a bald fat man, or this pervert CookyJar in normal circumstances. They are victims of family and medical origin. If your young daughter gives in to her uncle's lecherous desires that is not consenting. Neither are the addicts who out of desperation accept CookyJar's large sums of money and accept his orders to bend over and moon his filthy camera. Perverts who take advantage of young girls don't belong on the streets.

Do you get my point? Do you realize these "consenting" girls are being taken advantage of by a dirty old man who is ruining their future? What is wrong with YOU?

Tara Murtha, please get on this story.”

Report Violation

4. Anonymous said... on Nov 15, 2012 at 03:28PM

“Perhaps a better use of this space would be to discuss the impact of this project.”

Report Violation

5. Janice said... on Nov 15, 2012 at 04:24PM

“Anonymous #4, your remarks are welcome. Believe me, the report on this project has impacted ME, and my heart goes out to the victims who have bravely relived a terrible part of their past. Perhaps one piece we as reader-citizens can take away from this is a strengthened resolve to help prevent future abuse. Thank you for tolerating my sharing of one such abusive situation that has existed for years, perhaps without the awareness of the authors or of influential writers on women's issues such as Tara Murtha.”

Report Violation

6. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:12AM

“I've heard about this CookyJar accosting women on Kensington Avenue. He is the kind of person who perpetuates the filth and harm done to people just like those described in this excellent collection of stories. Well done, PW.”

Report Violation

7. Ryan said... on Nov 17, 2012 at 08:47PM

“You should change the name of this paper to "Crowdsourced Sob Story Weekly".

It's like reading someone's shitty LiveJournal every week.”

Report Violation

8. RyanIsMacho said... on Nov 18, 2012 at 12:10PM

May God help you if you or anyone you love ever experiences something as awful as sexual assault. A very mature response to something that affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men.”

Report Violation

9. Anonymous said... on Nov 19, 2012 at 03:11PM

“Ryan is CookyJar! I guess he's taking a break from abusing destitute girls. ROFLMAO.”

Report Violation

10. Anonymous said... on Nov 21, 2012 at 12:08PM

Thank you for being so brave to share this. Please know that doing so is a real gift to others - both those who have suffered abuse and those who want to feel real compassion for those who have and understand.
Wishing you tranquility, love and hope.”

Report Violation

11. Anonymous said... on Dec 24, 2012 at 07:16AM

“As a survivor of severe childhood sexual, emotional and physical abuse, I assure you; that none of the outside world, has any idea of what they are talking about. Cause you all have not walked in our shoes. You all have not been traumatized over, and over and over again!So in a world, where people are not kind any more,have no compassion any more, can't be trusted any more; why would we the survivors tell our stories?This is a good project I think! It took me 45 years, to finally face the music and discuss with my Dr. It also helped me to write my journal, thanks for my journaling, otherwise , this Christmas would have been another suicidel statistic. I have hope now, caue I have many loving, supporting and kind people around me!So rather than bad mouthing us, learn to be kind and understanding and loving. God bless all the survivors of sexual childhood abuse who now are speaking out!”

Report Violation

12. Wilma said... on Jan 21, 2013 at 06:59PM

“I understand the male sex drive, I really do. It's a craving just like some people can't resist chocolate. I sold my body for 5-6 years on Kensington Avenue in Philadelphia and saw it firsthand. And I had photos taken of me naked by the "cookiejar" person mentioned above. He was deceitful about it and I complained after the fact. Never an apology. I was an object of his craving and no more. I understand the craving. That's physical. I resent the deception. That's learned behavior and thank you Janice for bringing it up. I wish you success.”

Report Violation

13. Anonymous said... on Jan 21, 2013 at 09:19PM

“Wilma, it sounds like you have escaped the Avenue? I hope so. I know who this cookiejar is and now have his latest photo "exhibit" lady to agree to work with us in IDing his vehicle. We hope to "expose" him soon. Hang tight, PW, we'll be contacting you (hopefully) soon!”

Report Violation

14. Janice said... on Feb 7, 2013 at 12:30PM

“Thanks to the cooperation of the local Commandante's office, we have narrowed the search down to three names. It should be fairly easy to make a match with the granddaughter from records at Penn. Hold tight, everybody, D-day is ever closer!”

Report Violation

15. Alan Horn said... on Feb 24, 2013 at 04:01PM

“Please help Stop the Silence. Take a minute right now to do a small thing. Do it now becasue it is the right thing and it will help alot.
Text GIVE 3583 to 80088 to donate $10 to Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, Inc. This is a one time donation billed to your cell phone. Message and data rates may apply. Only works for US mobile phones.

Report Violation

16. Keith Smith said... on May 7, 2013 at 11:18PM

“Read "5 Steps You Can Take to Keep Kid Safe" at www.MenInMyTown.wordpress by Keith Smith, Stranger Abduction Sexual Assault Survivor”

Report Violation

17. pat s said... on Sep 16, 2013 at 06:51PM

“I wholeheartedly pray there really is a god, not so much as for my salvation, but for other peoples punishment. If god does exist (i do believe in my Lord) then punishment will be handed down for scum like cookyjar and ALL molesters. When your judgement day comes i would not want to be in your shoes. God bless each and everyone who is or was a victim of abuse, you did NOTHING WRONG, keep your chin up. I was very fortunate, i can only try to imagine the hell you all went through. Coming out, confronting and speaking up about it i can only assume will probably be very therapeutic for you. Stay strong and you will start the healing process for nobody deserves the hell you have endured. God bless you all. Patrick”


(HTML and URLs prohibited)

Related Content

PW to Read From Its First Book, "The Survivors Project," at the Free Library
By Nina Hoffmann

"The Survivors Project" is a compendium of more than 50 personal essays about the challenges associated with healing from sexual abuse.

Related Content

Philadelphia Weekly Collects Personal Stories From Sexual-Abuse Survivors for Upcoming Book
By Nina Hoffman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Nina Hoffmann, Senior Editor, Philadelphia Weekly or 215.599.7678 Philadelphia Weekly Collects Personal Stories From Sexual-Abuse Survivors for Upcoming Book Philadelphia, PA (September 6, 2012) —Philadelphia Weekly is partnering with sexual-abuse survivors, their loved ones and counselors for an upcoming publishing project that will raise awareness about the effects of abuse and the challenges associated with healing. Sexual abuse comes in many forms, and can happen in the situations you'd least expect. And too often, survivors are paralyzed by a culture that silences, shames and blames them. Philadelphia Weekly is dedicated to combat this phenomenon through first-person storytelling, bringing to light the one thing that’s missing from the national conversation: the reality of what it’s like to heal from the devastating effects of abuse. PW has invited those whose lives have been impacted by sexual abuse to share their own stories, in their own words. And not just survivors themselves, but also their spouses, family members, friends and advocates—because healing from abuse does not occur in a vacuum. It requires the support of loved ones. Since announcing the project in June, Philadelphia Weekly has collected dozens of first-person essays from survivors, their loved ones and both local and non-local therapists. In some...

Related Content

PW Seeks First-Person Essays From Sexual-Abuse Survivors and Their Loved Ones
By Nina Hoffmann

We need to hear from you—the survivor, the loved one, the advocate. We need you to tell your story, in your own words. To do so would help bring to light the one thing that’s missing from the national conversation: the reality of what it’s like to heal from the devastating effects of sexual abuse.

RELATED: PW Announces Deadline for Upcoming Sexual-Abuse Awareness Project Surviving Child Sexual Abuse in the Wake of the Penn State Tragedy The Rape Issue: PW Attacks the Myths & Lies About Sexual Assault Statute of Limitation Reform Takes a Ride on the Legislative Merry-Go-Round

Related Content

A Survivor of Sex Abuse Tells His Story
By Christian D’Angelo

At 28, I’m learning to accept that my stepfather abused me—sexually, physically and emotionally. I may never remember everything that happened to me. But I know I did nothing to deserve it.