A version of this story, written by Michael Gingerich, appears in Someone To Tell It To: Sharing Life's Journey, co-written by him and Tom Kaden, co-founders of the non-profit Someone To Tell It To. STTIT's mission is tp provide a compassionate presence and a listening ear to those who need a safe place to share their stories. Their book can be purchased on Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is happy to share their voice this week in our blog. Michael and Tom have learned so much from listening to the stories of those who have experience abuse. A secret spoken finds wings. —Robert Jordan I was sixteen going on seventeen, a high school senior. I had a part-time job a couple of nights a week and on Saturdays at my great-uncle’s men’s clothing store, a decades-old family business. The salary was minimum wage, for my minimum skills.
My uncle was usually at the store and so were his wife, my great-aunt, and another great-uncle. But there was one more regular employee, an older man. When we first started working together, I liked him; he took an interest in me, asking questions, joking with me. He was friendly and easygoing. He wasn’t an authority figure to me as my uncles and aunts were. So as I got to know him, I felt at ease working with him.
But before long I got to know him in a way that was incredibly uneasy. He began to tell me details about his and his wife’s sexual life, inappropriate details told to a minor by a man twice his age. I was embarrassed by what he shared—uncomfortable. I was not a prude, but something about the things he shared was creepy, and it felt incredibly wrong. Telling me, though, turned out not to be enough for him. He began to send me on errands in the storeroom for customers, but would follow and then jump out from around a corner or behind a door to startle me. He’d laugh. I could appreciate kidding around, but it became a creepy, regular occurrence - something I dreaded.
Quickly, his “games” became an ever-accelerating intrusion on my dignity. When he’d jump out, he’d tickle me. He’d walk by and brush against me, a quickly at first, but evolving into lingering, fuller-body contact. I tried to keep a greater physical and conversational distance between us, making larger circles around him when I had to go by, avoiding turning my back to him, and was always looking over my shoulder. He became more physically aggressive.
He’d grab my hands and tried to force me to do things I didn’t want to do and became more forceful when I’d resist. None of it was appropriate. I hated it all. He kept pushing further and further, more aggressively, forcing a little bit more intimate contact. It went on like that until the end of the school year, when I graduated and left for college. Every time when we worked alone together.
Every slow night. When it was just him and me, I knew that some sort of intrusion onto my dignity, some sort of humiliation, would occur. I knew what he would try to do and I dreaded those nights alone together. And I never told anyone about them. No one. Not ever. Not once. I never uttered a word about any of it, when I was sixteen going on seventeen. I knew what was happening was profoundly inappropriate.
I was also profoundly embarrassed that it was happening to me. I was afraid that no one would believe me; that the other guy would deny it; that I would look like a liar because I had no way to prove what happened. I feared being labeled as a troubled kid making up fantasies for some sort of sick attention. I was humiliated that I couldn’t stop it, that I felt powerless to change the situation.
I was ashamed that somehow, inexplicably, I might have been doing something to encourage his behavior. I was afraid that I might lose my job, even more horrified that I might be branded within the family, be seen as depraved myself. I didn’t know what to do, what to say. So I said nothing and buried his sexual abuse and humiliation deep inside. It was during a time and an era when little was said about sexual abuse, especially when perpetrated against a boy. Victims of sexual abuse weren’t taken seriously and were often thought to have brought the actions on themselves. It was forty years ago, and a different perception prevailed.
Today, as a grown man, a husband, a father of three, a pastor, and a counselor, I regret that silence. Today I do speak up, though it’s years too late to stop what happened to me. But I write about it today, about to let teenagers and any one else know that they do not have to endure abuse alone, and that there are others who also know its dread, humiliation, and shame, its scars and its effects. I tell my story so that others might know that they can tell theirs too, and know that they don’t have to hold it in, tolerating it and burying it deep within. I want them to know that understanding people will believe them, and will listen and not judge. I want them to know that another person’s understanding can convey that they did not cause the abuse, and are not responsible.
My prayer is that the more of us who speak up, who give voice to our humiliation and shame, the more will be unveiled, the more will be understood, and the more will be stopped. Then maybe, the more will be healed.