Shan­non* was barely in Pri­mary when her older cousin started touch­ing her in­ap­pro­pri­ately. She tells AZLINDA SAID how she was nearly raped.

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“Mark* and I grew up to­gether. He was 10 years older than me and was the big brother I never had. I trusted him com­pletely and never ques­tioned any­thing he asked me to do. But maybe I should have.

It Started with a Kiss

I spent my early childhood at my grand­mother’s home. My sib­lings, cousins and I ocked to her house af­ter school and hung out there un­til it was time for us to go back to our own homes. I en­joyed be­ing at Grandma’s as I never lacked play­mates there. I was es­pe­cially close to Mark, my de facto pro­tec­tor, and was sel­dom apart from him.

As one of the older grand­chil­dren, Mark helped our grand­mother to look af­ter the younger ones. To keep us quiet, he would bounce us on his lap as he watched tele­vi­sion or played com­puter games.

One day, as I sat on his lap, Mark asked ev­ery­one else to leave the room, say­ing that he needed some peace and quiet. I thought noth­ing of it – we were a noisy bunch, so I gured he needed a re­prieve. Once we were alone, Mark turned me to face him and kissed me full on the mouth.

The smooch was any­thing but broth­erly. Be­ing only seven years old at the time, I didn’t pull away as I thought it was nor­mal for older and younger cousins of the op­po­site sex to be­have that way. A part of me was cu­ri­ous too, so I let him con­tinue.

Get­ting Touchy-feely

From then on, Mark would nd rea­sons to hold my hand or touch some part of my body. Again, I let him be­cause I saw them as af­fec­tion­ate ges­tures. It didn’t seem odd to me that he didn’t do the same with his other fe­male cousins. In­stead, I felt spe­cial be­cause Mark was giv­ing me his full at­ten­tion.

I can’t re­mem­ber how long he mo­lested me for. My guess is that it went on for about a year – be­fore he de­cided to take it fur­ther.

One af­ter­noon, as I was get­ting ready for a nap, he fol­lowed me into the bed­room and locked the door. Then, he stripped and climbed into bed with me. Un­der the blan­ket, he asked me to re­move all my clothes as well. I obeyed, never won­der­ing why we had to be naked to take a nap.

I never ques­tioned his au­thor­ity be­cause I saw him as an older brother who could do no wrong.

But be­fore things could go any fur­ther,

Grandma knocked loudly on the bed­room door. She was yelling for us to un­lock the door and come out of the room.

I re­mem­ber Mark telling me to quickly get dressed, as he did, be­fore open­ing the door. Grandma didn’t come in as I ex­pected her to. In­stead, she pulled Mark aside to talk.

Af­ter that, Mark stopped mo­lest­ing me. He still cra­dled me on his lap when I asked him to and con­tin­ued to show me broth­erly af­fec­tion, but he no longer touched me in all the wrong places.

“As I was get­ting ready for a nap, he fol­lowed me into the bed­room and locked the door. Then, he stripped

and climbed into bed with me.”

The Mem­o­ries

I sus­pect my grand­mother knew all along that Mark was mo­lest­ing me, but didn’t in­ter­vene un­til that af­ter­noon. I truly be­lieve my cousin would have raped me if she hadn’t been alert to what he was do­ing.

Grandma never spoke to me about what hap­pened or sat me down to talk about the birds and the bees. Look­ing back, I don’t blame her for keep­ing quiet – it was her way of keep­ing the fam­ily to­gether.

Grow­ing up, I never re­alised how close I had come to be­ing raped. Af­ter that day, Mark acted like noth­ing had hap­pened. In my ig­no­rance, I for­got the smears of my childhood and even re­mained close to Mark un­til I was a teenager.

But when I turned 18, the mem­o­ries some­how came ood­ing back. I don’t know what trig­gered them, but the ash­backs trau­ma­tised me. By then, I was old enough to un­der­stand that what my cousin did to me when I was a child was ter­ri­ble and in­ap­pro­pri­ate. I was ap­palled that he felt no re­morse.

I started keep­ing Mark at arm’s length, as I no longer trusted him. We soon drifted apart, al­though he re­mained close to my sis­ters. I kept the shame­ful se­cret to my­self for a very long time – I just felt so dirty and worth­less.

Run­ning on Empty

Mark’s sex­ual abuse marred my trust in men. Through­out my early adult­hood, I suf­fered from low self­es­teem. I felt in­se­cure and hated the way I looked. I didn’t think I could ever be good enough for any man.

Iron­i­cally, I made sex my com­fort. It was my way out of a lonely ex­is­tence. I dated se­ri­ally and had count­less one-night stands, none of which lled the void in­side me. Lit­tle did I re­alise that I was car­ry­ing a lot of anger in­side as well.

I had a great need to be wanted, so I fell over my­self try­ing to please my fam­ily, friends and the op­po­site sex. I wanted their ac­cep­tance so badly that I let peo­ple walk all over me. I re­peat­edly fell for the wrong guys – those who would string me along or use me for their plea­sure be­fore dump­ing me.

If I hadn’t met my cur­rent boyfriend, I may well have con­tin­ued my reck­less life­style to this day. We met a year ago, and he was the rst man to ac­cept me for who I was. He looked be­yond my phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance and made me feel wor­thy to be loved.

I had an emo­tional con­nec­tion with him – some­thing I had never felt be­fore with my ca­sual ings. A month into our re­la­tion­ship, I told him about the abuse, fully ex­pect­ing him to walk away. But he didn’t.

My Life in Re­boot

Since then, I’ve come clean to my sis­ters and a few close friends, who were shocked to hear about what I had suf­fered as a child.

My sis­ters, who used to be close to Mark, now just main­tain a cor­dial re­la­tion­ship with him. They never doubted me – the tears trick­ling down my cheeks as I re­lated my or­deal con­vinced them I was telling the truth. I’m the rebel of the fam­ily and I rarely cry, even when things get tough. I ght back in­stead. So when they saw how vul­ner­a­ble I was, they knew I had gone through some­thing ter­ri­ble.

I’m not ready to ex­pose Mark’s mis­deeds. It’s not be­cause I care for him, but I don’t want to hurt his wife and kids. My fam­ily has gone through many ups and downs over the years, so I don’t want to add to the trou­bles. I also don’t want to live un­der my ex­tended fam­ily’s scru­tiny – af­ter all, it would be my word against his.

For now, the sup­port I’ve re­ceived from my loved ones has given me the condence and courage to move on. Ac­knowl­edg­ing that I was mo­lested made it eas­ier to go for­ward. I am less an­gry at the world now, and I pre­fer to chan­nel my emo­tions into build­ing a bet­ter fu­ture for my­self – I’m run­ning my own busi­ness, which I hope to mould into a suc­cess­ful ven­ture within three years.

Be­cause of what hap­pened to me, I want to stand up against sex­ual abuse. When I’m nally ready to share my childhood night­mare with the world, it will be to ght for more pro­tec­tion for chil­dren, es­pe­cially from sex­ual preda­tors who lurk within the fam­ily. Chil­dren shouldn’t have to grow up ig­no­rant like me – no­body ever told me what was right and wrong. I had to learn ev­ery­thing on my own, the hard way.”

*Names have been changed

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