The Pulitzer prize winning, Dominican American author, Junot Diaz opened up about being raped at the age of eight in an essay in The New Yorker. Diaz has often written on the theme of sexual abuse in his books. He reveals that years ago he was approached by a reader who asked him about the sexual abuse themes alluded to his books and whether it stems from a personal experience. The author claimed to be caught completely off-guard by this question, and had managed to steer away from it, but he never really forgot it.
In the essay, Diaz reveals that he was raped by a grownup that he “truly trusted”. He recalls, “After he raped me, he told me I had to return the next day or I would be 'in trouble.' And because I was terrified, and confused, I went back the next day and was raped again.”
A child sexual abuse survivor suffers through a trauma which lasts a lifetime.
Not many people find the courage to come forward and recount the horrors of child sexual abuse. Even lesser find the strength to give an in-depth glance to those who care to listen, of how the trauma of the abuse lasts a lifetime. Diaz outlines how he failed to live a normal life after the incident, and it ended up defining him.
“It fucked up my childhood. It fucked up my adolescence. It fucked up my whole life. More than being Dominican, more than being an immigrant, more, even, than being of African descent, my rape defined me.”
Diaz’s words shed light on one of the darkest aspects of child sexual abuse - the after effects. He says, “Trauma is a time traveller, an Ouroboros that reaches back and devours everything that came before. Only fragments remain.” What does a growing child latch on to, to combat his sufferings, if trauma ends up consuming even the happy memories of childhood? To no fault of their own, child abuse survivors lose their happiness and eventually end up blaming themselves for the heinous acts of others.
While their abusers move on, life for the survivors never seems to move away from their traumatic experience. It follows them through adolescence and into adulthood, often leading them to depression and suicidal tendencies. Diaz recounts how his abuse has affected every aspect of his life ever since.
“The nightmares, the intrusions, the hiding, the doubts, the confusion, the self-blame, the suicidal ideation—they followed. All through college. All through graduate school. All through my professional life. All through my intimate life.”
Their silence is a reaction to our prejudice
Diaz never got any help, as he never told anyone about the rape. For the most part of his adult life, he wore a mask of normality in front of the society and his loved ones.
He failed to connect with his partners and even ended up cheating on them, because he couldn’t let go of his mask and reveal his vulnerabilities. He lost almost everything, and then some more, before he finally reached out for help.
If there is any message from Diaz’s essay for those who have survived child sexual abuse, it is that they are not alone. It’s not easy for everyone to find comfort in opening up about the abuse, like Diaz did. Many survivors choose to keep mum because they are afraid of social prejudices. In a society which reacts to abuse by pushing it under the carpet, survivors find themselves isolated and helpless. Our inability to reach out and help pushes them further down the path of depression and loneliness.
The mask that Diaz talks about, is something which we as a society have kept glued to our faces for generations.
Instead of accepting our social failure to curb child abuse, we act as if it doesn’t exist. We refuse to tear away this mask and let broken young souls grow up into broken individuals. Perhaps we can learn from Diaz’s courage and find similar strength as a society to accept and heal child abuse survivors. The least we can do is to ease this weight by sharing their pain and struggles.
Picture Credit: Harvard Gazette - Harvard University
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.