Most times when people try to imagine having limitations to speaking or the inability to talk at all, generally, they think of it as a very basic necessity of communication gone. There are many stipulations encountered when speech is hindered in any way but what happens when your condition attracts a person who can benefit from your silence?

So many children and adults with disabilities and mental challenges fall victim to abuse and sexual molestation. Unfortunately, this was also the case for me.

No one can be sure how predators select their victims, but I am almost certain my silent demeanour made me perfect prey. I can imagine that one would see a little girl who has never (or rarely) spoken anything out loud as the perfect victim who is sure to remain silent if attacked.

Perhaps my theory is giving too much credit to the process and maybe I still somehow blame myself in a way for what happened. Only a victim would understand the desperate need to seek answers to the unanswered questions that lay behind abuse.

By the time I found my voice at age 15/16, I would've already fallen victim about four times. Of those incidents, one haunted me the most. Why? Because I fell victim to someone I should’ve been able to trust.

Being highly sensitive also means being more aware, which can lead to being less trusting. I was a little girl who was easily made uncomfortable around certain personalities, and males who made me feel uneasy. In fact, I can honestly say that many of the men who made me uncomfortable growing up, and who everyone else seemed to embrace, later on turned out to be “closet paedophiles”.

One of those men was a close family member. I could never figure out why I didn't gravitate towards him. He was always around, and seemed to love the family and all the children. He was actually a favourite among some of them.

I, on the other hand, never really took to him. I thought it was because I was weird. After all, I was used to feeling like the misfit out of the group. My lack of social skills often ushered me to the outskirts of the fun, games and social circles. Even though I did not feel comfortable around this person, I never really felt like it was due to distrust. Then there came the day that my reasons would be clarified.

Age 11, I left for school as per normal one morning, only to realise I forgot my sweater. I hated being cold and dreaded going the entire day uncomfortable. I returned home to get my sweater while my sisters went on to school without me. This was not uncommon as I often arrived late to school struggling to justify the need to be there (another story, another day).

I get to the house and go to the bathroom. While in the bathroom I'm trying to talk myself out of skipping school altogether (I really really hated school). I suddenly heard the sliding door open from the yard entrance and could hear the familiar voice of a family member.

I don't know how or why, but the immediate feeling was fear. This is someone who I was around often, and who had access to the house at all times. I remember feeling silly about it and going through my next steps in my head.

"Just wait here till he leaves," I told myself.

Then I heard my name called. How on earth did he know I was here? Then I remembered my backpack was left in the open. Dammit! I don't think I answered because I often froze when needing to respond in uncomfortable situations (something I hadn't yet learned how to control). He went on to talk in a clearly exaggerated volume saying how another family member sent him for a tea bag.

He then started asking out loud where they were. My super observant self, recalled this person getting tea on several other occasions and knew they were lying. I got scared again and then silenced it by thinking, “Perhaps they thought I was sneaking home to skip school and were trying to stall. Yea, that must be it.”

I understood why an adult would do that. He knew my mom wouldn't want me home. Still I remained in the bathroom with the idea that as soon as he left, I would grab by bag and go to school. No more plans for skipping.

I must've been in that bathroom for about 20 mins and this man was still pretending to get tea. I was beginning to feel ridiculous, so I emerged from the bathroom pretending I wasn't afraid and was immediately met by this man. I spoke to try and appear casual.

I think I said  simple, “Hi, ______.”

I couldn't manage to get anything else out. I recall his eyes looking unfamiliar and feeling my heart race knowing this wasn’t the same person I grew up with. These were the eyes of someone dangerous. The person I thought I knew was not in this room. The attack began.

I was held hostage by my silence, frozen in fear and confusion, and was molested that day. I never made it to school and reality hit me when a loose tear betrayed me and was spotted by the attacker. I remember him standing to his feet, walking somewhere and then returning with the phone.

He said these exact words. “I suppose you're gonna call your mother now.”

These would be the words that left me confused for years to come. And then he left.

I was left frozen and frightened that he would return. After a minute or so I snatched the phone and called my mom on her job. The only words I could say was, “I came home and ______ was there”.

My mother knew exactly what I meant and broke down. She called out to a police officer that happened to be on the job. I was asked by the officer (I believe) if I wanted to leave right away or stay. I think my mom wanted me to leave and get out as soon as possible. I knew he wasn't far because the other family members' house where he went was very close. And still, for some reason I couldn't imagine leaving the house. I was frozen and remained in place until I was rescued.

This incident left me with such a wide range of confused emotions that I still try my best to work through today. One thing it did, was make me even more determined to escape the shell I was cornered in. The shell was not safe and I was tired of peoples' assumptions of me.

If not having a voice meant I was weak or vulnerable, I was misleading people. I knew I was not weak. In fact, I was the exact opposite. I was strong-willed, very opinionated, wise beyond my years and comfortable who I was as a person. I was a person.  

I began the process of “being heard”. This was only the beginning and it had some negative effects along the way, and I reverted a few times, and I became angry a few times. I still attracted people into my life who sought to take advantage, and who assumed I was easily controlled.

These experiences made me stronger and more determined but also left me quite damaged. I have been through a lot from childhood right on to adulthood. Although these experiences did help to define and mould me, they are not the definition of who I am.

We are placed in situations so that we can grow and develop. The process of learning through our experiences begins when we decide to never give up. I have so much to be thankful for, and I give all credit to God to how far I’ve come. He was the only secure thing I could hold on to at the very worst of situations. While my world was shaping and shifting, He provided security. With His help, every day I am learning how to break free. 

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