I was Sexually Assaulted by a Minor
And I wasn’t one myself.
I was 18. He was 13. Yes, you read that right.
I never told anyone through fear that I wouldn’t be believed, and that it would make me look like the abuser. But several years have passed and I still can’t shake it off.
I need to tell someone — but it still gives me chills to think about.
Well, here goes nothing
Thankfully, sexual assault is finally becoming something that survivors feel empowered to open up about. There’s still a long way to go — from victim-blaming to not believing testimonies for ignorant reasons — but real progress has been made since the #MeToo movement destigmatized speaking out about sexual abuse they were subjected to.
But what if the abuser was legally a child?
Perhaps even more shocking — what if you weren’t?
My unconventional story of abuse and power
I was au-pairing for the summer in a rural family home. At 18 years old I was young for my age — both in looks and by my naive demeanor. I decided to head off abroad for the summer after my first year at university to get out of my comfort zone.
The first couple of weeks with my host family, all seemed well. Although I was shy — which made living with an unknown family uncomfortable at times — the parents were welcoming the rural setting was idyllically tranquil, and I started to feel increasingly at ease.
The family had three boys — aged 4, 8 and 13. The youngest dragged me by the hand from day one to proudly show me all of his toys, all of his favorite areas of the garden. The middle child had a timid, sensitive nature that I could relate to myself, and he seemed to warm to me as a result.
The oldest child was …quiet
The oldest child, at that awkward age, I guessed, made him too cool for family life, and yet too young to really do much outside of the home. He was cold and distant, and I figured he probably found it uncomfortable to have a strange girl come to live with his family and play the role of guardian while his parents were out.
This was all fine by me — I spent my days with the youngest two, being thrashed at football and building forts, while the oldest stayed in his room only emerging for food, and we barely crossed paths. The parents seemed happy how I got along with their younger kids and laughed off how their oldest was going through “that moody phase” reassuring me that I shouldn’t take it personally.
Then the little uncomfortable moments began. Nothing too outrageous at first. He would test my authority by saying “rude words” when no one else was in earshot. This progressed to sexual comments.
Red-faced and unsure how to react, I would tell him he can’t say those things, and try to change the subject; ask if he wanted to go play in the garden or watch a movie.
The red flags
Then one day, when I was in the living room with all three kids — the youngest two luckily in their own world, playing — the oldest started playing a porn film on the computer. I was stunned. But he just turned to look at me with a smirk, and a sort of “what are you gonna do about it?” attitude.
I realized at this point that I was in trouble, but not yet how much.
“Turn that off right now!” I warned, horrified, but trying not to alarm the youngest two, or cause them to look up from their game and see anything they shouldn’t.
Naive as I was, even I hadn’t ever seen anything like that before. How on earth was this child so blasé about it? How did he even have access to it?
When he refused to switch it off, I marched over and closed the tab myself. I told him he couldn't use the computer anymore or I would tell his parents what he did.
“No you won’t” he smirked back — “And if you did, I’d just tell them that you put it on. Who are they going to believe?”
The horror I felt... Maybe he was right — what parent would willingly believe their pre-teen was taunting an adult woman with pornographic content when the alternative story that she is the twisted one is actually offered to them on a plate?
Next came the touching
As soon as we were alone, even for one moment while one of his parents left the room, he would pinch me, or grab at my clothes.
Of course, I would push him away in horror and shout at him not to do that again, but he would just smirk and say nothing. He kept repeating that no one would believe me if I told anyone. That he was the child and I was the adult in charge. That it would be easier to believe that I was the guilty one if he said that it was so.
This went on for weeks.
Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t tell someone, or at least get the heck out of there sooner. But I honestly believed that I was on a knife’s edge, and that it would all turn on me if I pushed my luck.
He was a very manipulative boy who knew more about both sex and power dynamics than I could fathom. And he constantly taunted me that he knew how to make all this work in his favor.
He knew that what he was doing was wrong. And he also knew that I was relatively powerless to stop him.
The touching got worse and worse. When I resisted, and carefully pushed him away while taking great caution not to cause him any harm, he would slap me. Dig his fingernails into my arm until he drew blood. Smug in the knowledge that if I did the same to him, or even pushed him off with the strength actually required to stop him, that it would all come crashing down on me.
I ended up battered and bruised and yet hiding the evidence so as not to start awkward conversations.
One day, it progressed to pinning me down and choking me with one hand while he shoved his hand down my top or my pants with the other. Every few seconds he got when no one else seemed to be watching us, he would take his opportunity and run over to me like it was a reflex. And take what he could get in the seconds before I could react.
It got so bad that I would be constantly on guard, watching my back, and bracing myself for the next attack. It would only be a few seconds each time, of course, as I would struggle free and tell him to get off. He would jump back, anyway, the moment anyone else came close, and seamlessly pick up his disinterested, distant pre-teen persona.
Trying to reason
One day, I tried to talk to him. I really tried to explain how what he was doing was so wrong. It felt like my responsibility — not only as the receiver of his violence, but as an adult in his life who had witnessed his misbehavior.
What if he treated girls in his school like this? They may not even know that it’s so wrong, or be able to struggle free? I had to try to get him to listen.
But his smug confidence didn't shake.
“It’s your fault for being so sexy. I’ve never had a hot girl in the house before. I’m in love with you.”
I felt sick, and for so many reasons.
Partly because this child has such a warped sense of right and wrong and feels that he can do whatever he wants to a female body.
Partly because this child honestly thought that he had real feelings for me, and that he deemed his behavior appropriate.
And partly because I was constantly trembling, and felt violated every day.
But I didn’t even see it as abuse at the time — because he was a child and I was not. He doesn't know any better, I thought. He can’t harm you or make you feel scared or small. But now I realize that he should have known better. And he did still manage to harm me, make me feel scared and small.
Backed into a corner
Every day, he pushed the boundaries further, and every day, I marveled at myself of how I had let this go on for so long. How have I not managed to stop this? But I couldn't see a way out.
One mention of any of this would not only be excruciating for my anxiety-ridden teenaged self — but also, false accusations that could haunt me for life.
He had already proven to me how manipulative he could be. And his acting skills were on point when it came to getting what he wanted.
Not to mention he was a child. I was a petite woman who he managed to physically shove around, but he was still visibly my junior, and barely 5ft tall. If he wanted to pin it all on me, I would be doomed.
When I was showering, he would get on all fours and watch me from under the crack in the door.
“I think our boy has a crush on you!” his parents joked one day, after noticing his increasing interest in me — but thinking it was sweet and innocent. I brushed it off.
To add to my chronic paranoia, one day a friend of the family who was visiting had a quiet word. He warned me that when I was in the bathroom, he noticed the kid get on all fours and watch me from under the crack in the door. The guy who told me was concerned in that he knew I should be aware— but saw it as a kind of amusing male puberty thing.
But when I confronted the boy about it, he simply told me he liked to see my body, added some details of what exactly he had seen for good measure that made my blood run cold, and said I couldn’t make him stop watching.
A towel stuffed under the door every time I went to the bathroom begged to differ. (A habit I found hard to break for a while after going back home.)
I do wonder now if the boy had some sort of psychological damage. He was clever, but also knew things which — I felt — someone of his age shouldn't. I still also wonder, to this day, if he had ever been abused, himself. Or maybe he was on the psychopathy spectrum and simply lived from impulse to impulse, unable to empathize with those who he hurt and manipulated.
He will now be around 20 years old, and I truly hope that this was little more than an unfortunate, hormone-fuelled phase in his emotional development. Maybe he looks back on how he treated me with shame and regret, or maybe he still smirks at how uncomfortable he made me. And revels in the power he managed to assert over me.
I still worry about the women and girls in his life today.
Maybe society is to blame. Women are incessantly objectified in the media, and porn is apparently in easy reach of today’s tech-savvy youth. I had heard that exposure to porn early on can morph how men and boys view and treat women and girls — but I had never witnessed this so tangibly before.
As a society, we must teach younger generations to treat others with dignity and respect. No one is there to be used. And girls should be empowered from a young age to speak out against injustices and feel secure that they will be taken seriously and believed. Maybe this would have helped me to deal with things better.
My experience was an unusual role reversal of the usual power dynamic. Abusers often have some sort of position of power over their victim, to make it easier for them to get away with it. A boss, an older relative, or indeed, an employed guardian.
But what about when the abuser manipulates the situation, making their apparent vulnerability their strength over their victim? What if a power struggle doesn’t follow the usual mold, and the victim feels completely unable to speak out?
I hope that you don’t judge me too hard for never telling anyone about this. I know now that I should have done more. But to be honest, I felt paralyzed during the whole ordeal. I felt that there was no way I could escape it, or tell anyone, without it reflecting terribly on myself.
I am sure this must have happened to somebody else out there, but I have trawled the internet for years and haven’t found much. Maybe, like me, others find it equally disturbing and potentially damning to recount.
If you are reading this but you aren't ready to share your own story, just know that you aren’t alone.