A Survivor of Sex Abuse Tells His Story

A man’s take on coping in a world that stigmatizes victims of sex crimes.

By Christian D’Angelo
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Jun. 22, 2011

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In my early 20s, I read hundreds of documents related to my childhood sexual abuse—psychological evaluations, interview transcripts, police reports—but I couldn’t remember anything vividly. I wondered if I had maligned an innocent man—my stepfather. I wondered if I had made everything up. Somehow, I thought I was the one to blame.

It’s hard for survivors of sex crimes to cope with their emotions in a society that stigmatizes them. It’s difficult for them to find closure in a society where mysogynists like Dan Rottenberg justify sexual violence by blaming the victim.

Perhaps you’ve read his stunningly insensitive editorial in the Broad Street Review. Two weeks ago, Rottenberg—in a commentary about the rape of CBS reporter Lara Logan—argued that women could stave off attacks by taking such “sensible precautions” as locking their doors and dressing more conservatively. He suggested that men can’t help themselves when women show skin, that rape is the natural consequence of their arousal.

To his credit, Rottenberg recognizes that rape is a brutal human reality. Unfortunately, his logic is woefully simplistic. Arousal is natural, sexual assault isn’t. I have no natural right to rape my wife or any other woman. Any man who feels differently should seek counseling.

Rape is not about pleasure or sex. The sex is a vehicle for violence. It is an excuse for the pathetic and insecure to hurt women and men and children. In the end, sexual abuse is about dominating another human being. It’s about preying on the defenseless.

My stepfather, Danny, started abusing me when I was 6 years old. I told my dad that he had touched me in ways that made me feel uncomfortable. Dad believed me, but no one believed him. Meanwhile, Danny convinced my mom and older brother that he had been falsely accused. He said that my dad and I had conjured up lies to ruin his reputation, and that we were trying to tear his new family apart.

The New Jersey Division of Family and Youth Services investigated my complaint, but my dad and I were outnumbered. No one had witnessed the crime. It was my word against Danny’s, and he had the rest of my immediate family on his side. Investigators concluded that the allegations were unfounded.

Five years later, at age 11, I told my dad that I wanted to kill myself. He knew I had slept with a steak knife under my pillow the past three nights. In the emergency room at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, he scribbled a question on a yellow legal pad and asked me to write.

“What did he do to you?”

“Fooled around acted like complete moron because he was drunk.”

“What do you mean?”

“It would seem like he was gay.”

“Did he touch your penis?”

“Sort of like tickled it.”

During my six-week stay in the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center at CHOP, authorities launched a new investigation. Danny continued to portray himself as the victim of an unjust inquisition. He refused to cooperate.

But in their June 17, 1994, report, Delaware County investigators said that I had provided a “clear, consistent and credible” account of being sexually abused by my stepfather. “The victim stated that the perpetrator fondled his penis,” according to the report. “Perpetrator would force child to bend over and would insert his fingers in the child’s anus. Perpetrator would groan when he did this.” He also urinated on me in the shower.

It was too late to prove any of this beyond a reasonable doubt. But police reports and hospital records showed that Danny had wrenched my arm and bruised my sternum. And it was no secret that he was a drunk and a recreational meth user. He finally admitted to endangering the welfare of a child—a misdemeanor offense. My father accepted the plea bargain. It was the only justice we could get.

To some degree, Rottenberg’s beliefs are shared by many people. They empathize with the perpetrator at the expense of the victim. This is one of many reasons why sexual abuse is notoriously underreported. Many survivors, fearing revenge and humiliation, are too ashamed to say anything. Some drag their secret pain to the grave. Others fight every day to reclaim their souls.

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. Neither did Lara Logan.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. Fran said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 08:19AM

“There is a special place in hell for people such as your stepfather, and no disrespect to your mother, but for "believing" him. Kids don't typically lie about abuse. I suppose I would be in jail because I would have hunted his ass down later in life and lit a match to his genitals.

When my daughter was growing up and I was dating, I never allowed my dates into my home. I met him at the door and we went out. I always figured home should be a safe haven for kids. I have a cousin who is pretty much screwed up because her mother's boyfriend touched her inappropriately and she didn't believe her. What kind of woman thinks a man is more important than her child? Sadly, they live among us.

I wish women were more vigilant about who they allow into their lives - especially when they have kids. But I guess that's wishful thinking.”

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2. lynn said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 10:46AM

“Thank you for having the courage to say and write your experiences! I'm 47 yrs old and still today I'm haunted with the memories of being abused by my stepfather and no one would listen.”

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3. Big Jim said... on Jun 23, 2011 at 06:44PM

“Here is a real creep and disgusting human being. May God have mercy on his soul. But importantly is what the Mom has done by letting this speed freak drunk do what he did to her son. That is more disgusting than what the creep did. I hope she is reminded everyday of her life. This happened to my best friends grandson and that creep went to prison and suffered dearly. This world is lost and I hope they find God.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jun 24, 2011 at 05:43PM

“Thank you for sharing your story. I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I pride myself on my intellect and objectivity, but sex crimes will likely always elicit a purely emotional/reactionary response from me. Rottenberg's editorial took my breath away in its crude portrayal of men as primarily violent, sexual creatures, and its portrayal of women as primarily sex objects who must work extremely hard to be seen as anything else. I am breathless and speechless in the presence of such opinions. Thank you for speaking out.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 28, 2011 at 12:29PM

“Thank you for sharing this story. Breaking silence around child sexual abuse is hugely important to ending it. I hope that this was helpful in your healing.

On another note, people commenting seem quick to place more blame on the mother than on the sexual predator. Mothers who do not believe and protect their children from predators are to blame for that abuse. They are negligent and abusive parents. They should be held accountable for their actions (disbelieving/allowing/facilitating). But they are not more disgusting or more culpable than the primary abuse/predator. They are negligent and abusive parents. Mothers who do not believe/notice/stop sexual abuse are not more responsible for the predator's actions than the predator. To suggest this is another way to blame women for sexual violence perpetrated by (primarily) men. Side note, some mothers sexually abuse their children. And some fathers don't believe their children. Do we think fathers are more responsible when this happens?”

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6. JW said... on Jan 20, 2012 at 04:48PM

“I certainly commend you for your story. I grew up w/ my own mother justifying my brother molesting me because "All boys do it, it's a hormonal thing". K-12th had many times of a living hell. Thank you for sharing your past, I and I am sure many, feel less alone.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Jun 28, 2012 at 10:06AM

“Thank you for your bravery in sharing your story. I teach young children through songs and a puppet that they are "the boss of their bodies:, they should say NO to unwanted touches, tell someone right away and keep telling until someone helps them. Reading your story, I wonder if that information would have helped you??”

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8. aishasolo said... on Dec 23, 2012 at 01:39PM

“Hello, and congratulations on healing to the place where you are today. If you would be willing to respond to this comment, I would like to hear about the outwardly "normal" life you created as you grew into adulthood in spite of what your stepfather did to you. In the screenplay I'm writing, the protagonist was a victim of sexual abuse by a predator in the guise of his piano teacher. I've read a lot about the damage and scars, but not about the successful careers, trusting relationships, and positive expectations of life that show the inner strength of abused boys who live past the shame and confusion. I hope to hear from you, but all the best regardless.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Jun 13, 2013 at 09:29PM

“Thank you for sharing your story. I am also a survivor of childhood abuse (mental, psychological, physical and sexual). My parents had no idea when it was going on and when I tried to tell them after, they denied it happened and still deny to this day (I'm 25 now, and the abuse occured when I was 14-16). I have finally found a therapist who knows a lot about my situation and I will be starting EMDR therapy for it. I have kept quiet about it for about 8 years and finally got the courage to open up about it. It's stories like yours that show me that talking about it gives it less power in your mind. And I thank you.”

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10. PeaceLuver said... on Sep 6, 2013 at 02:41PM

“It's hard for me to accept the fact that the world is so cruel. It has took me 10 yrs to come to terms of my first love untimely death. I'm 27 now and your stories and others like yours has kept me from going insane on trying to figure out why he chose what he did. I just wish he would had known he wasn't alone. I want to THANK YOU because your stories had given a voices for those who doesn't have the words to speak.”

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11. still stuck said... on Sep 10, 2013 at 03:32PM

“I am 14 an I get sexually abused by my stepdad. An when I decide to tell someone I feel like know one will believe me cause its my fault. So I just take it an when he's done he gives me money or candy but now I know that's its not my fault but I'm still scarred of telling anybody including my boyfriend because he might not love me anymore. Can somebody tell what I should do?”

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12. Help Survivors said... on Nov 3, 2013 at 05:03PM

“Dear 14,
Please report your stepdad, Do it for you so that you have a healthy future. We will believe you. Call child abuse hotline 215-683-6100 press 1, special victim police 215-685-3251, pa state abuse #1800-932-0313, you can tell your school counselor, you can dial 911, you can go to police disctict, you can call philadelphia child alliance 215-387-9500 press 0. You can receive free counseling at YHEP(age 13-23)215-564-6388 ex313 and Philadelphia child alliance (any minor children 3-17), WOAR 215-9853315 or their hotline 215-985-3333, service children and adults any age for free.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Dec 22, 2013 at 05:11PM

“I respect anyone that has the courage to speak up about child sex abuse. Unfortunately its still very common. I myself am a survivor and only recently shared my experiences, as with many they had been bottled up for many years. The abuse happened when I was 4 or 5 and it was by local boys older than me. I can vividly remember the abuse, the worst was that my friends and other boys in the area found out about this and thats when the toxic shame and guild began.

I just wanted to escape and avoided every encounter with friends, and it has been a repeating pattern since. I just want to make clear to people how significant the trauma and shame can be on the person. The varying emotions, the depression and anxiety. The fear that you may be gay because of this, I actually have nothing against people being gay/bi whatever. For anyone reading this I appreciate you taking the time to read my story, if you yourself have been abused do share your story. You can only get stronger.”

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