Sophia’s Secret

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My name is Sophia.  I have been living with a secret since I was eight.  It’s a shameful thing and every-time I think about it, I feel sick and I wish I could curl up and just die.  No one at school knows but I keep wondering if they could tell just by looking at me.  Do I look different?  They don’t treat me like I am but I feel different.  I feel that there is something wrong with me because of what’s happening to me.  Maybe if I were ugly or fat, he wouldn’t trouble me.  Every-time we are together, he tells me how pretty I am.  I don’t want to be pretty.  I don’t want him to notice me.  I wish I were invisible.

I wish I could tell somebody but who would believe me?  He keeps telling me that this is our little secret and not to tell anyone.  He warned me that no one would believe me anyway.  So, I keep quiet.  I lie there, staring up at the ceiling and let him do things to me.  I hate it but what can I do?  He’s my uncle.  He was my favorite uncle until he started violating me.  It happens whenever we are alone in my grandparents’ house.

During the day, I try to keep busy so as not to think about it and at night, I cry myself to sleep.  Whenever I visit my friends’ homes, I envy them.  They seem so happy.  They are not orphans like my little brother, Tony and me.  Our parents died in a car crash ten years ago.  We are living with our paternal grandparents.  I love my grandfather because he reminds me of my Dad whom I loved very, very much.  My grandmother and I aren’t very close.  She complains that I’m too much like my mother whom she never accepted.  She had wanted my Dad to marry an Italian woman.  My mother was Puerto Rican.  My grandmother is more partial to Tony because he looks more Italian and a lot like my father.

I wonder what she would say if she knew what her favorite son was doing to me.  One evening, I found out.  My grandfather and Tony had gone to a Baseball game and my grandmother had gone to visit a friend.  It was after seven when she got home.  She was at the end of the corridor when she saw Uncle Matteo coming out of my bedroom.  He froze when he saw her.  Then, he recovered, smiled and said, “Hi, Mama.  Sophia was just showing me the school project she’s working on for school.  She needed my input.”

My grandmother believed him.  She smiled as he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  “Have you eaten?” she asked.  “I can fix you a nice bowl of Tuscan Soup.”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  I have to go.  I have Maybe next time?”

She looked disappointed.  “Where are you off to in such a hurry?” she demanded.

“I have a date.”

“Who is she?  Do I know her?”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  One of these days, I will bring her here and she can have you delicious Tuscan Soup.”

“All right.  Run along.  Whoever she is, she must be special for you to pass up my soup.”

He kissed her on the cheek again.  “Ciao, Mama.”  He turned and hurried down the hall.  “Ciao, Sophia.”

I didn’t answer.  I stood there, happy to see him go.  I wrapped my arms around me, feeling dirty.  I felt so ashamed.  I wanted to run away and go where he couldn’t hurt me anymore.  I thought of my mother’s sister, Aunt Teresa.  I’m sure she would let me live with her.  Taking a deep breath, I turned to face my grandmother.  “Nonna,  I want to go and live with my Aunt Teresa.”

She stared at me.  “Why?” she asked.  “Aren’t your grandfather and I taking good care of you?

“I’m not happy here.”

“What do you mean?” she demanded crossly.  “We feed you, put a roof over your head and we let you do what you like as long you follow the house rules.  Do you think your Aunt Teresa can do a better job raising you?”

“Nonna, I’m not leaving because Nonno and you.”

“Well, it’s up to you.  I wouldn’t stop you.”  She turned and walked away.  I could tell that she was upset and I was sorry but I had to leave.   And I did that weekend.  My grandfather dropped me off at Aunt Teresa’s house.  He was sorry that I left because he would miss having me around but I think he understood.  He knew that my relationship with my grandmother was strained.  He promised that he would visit me with Tony every other Sunday.

My Aunt Teresa was more than happy to have me.  Her daughter, my cousin Natalia had moved out and into her own place so I got her room which was much nicer than the one I had at my grandparents’ house.  I settled in very quickly.  I helped with chores as I did at my grandparents’ house and I did some of the cooking too.  I wasn’t as good as my grandmother but I was improving.

One night, I had a nightmare.   I dreamed that I was back in my grandparents’ house and Uncle Matteo was in my bed.  His mouth and hands were all over me.  I woke up, sweating and shaking like a leaf.  The next morning when my Aunt Teresa and I were alone, sorting the laundry, I told her about the abuse.  She was visibly upset.  She hugged me tightly and I began to cry.  It felt so good telling someone.  I felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted off me.  When she drew back to look at me, she said, “The Bible clearly says,  that no one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations.  What your uncle did to you is criminal and he should be reported.”  And she reported him.

My Aunt Teresa had a friend who was a social worker come and see me.  She told me that I wasn’t to blame for what happened to me and that I did the right thing telling someone.  That made me feel better.  I started to live again and I began to read the Bible my Aunt Teresa gave me.  I started to go to church with her and I loved it.  I met wonderful people and made new friends.

My grandmother was angry with me and doesn’t want me over at the house anymore.  It’s on account of me that her son is in jail.  My grandfather was broken up about it and he apologized to me for not being there to protect me.  He swore that if he had known, he would have reported the abuse himself.  He and my grandmother are no longer together.  Tony has moved in with Aunt Teresa and me and my grandfather is living with Uncle Alberto and his family.

It wasn’t my intention to cause any trouble for my grandparents but I had to tell someone my secret.  And now I’m a part of a Youth Program called Give Voice.  It encourages teenagers and youth to break the silence about their own abuse or to report to someone they trust when they suspect that someone they know is being abused.  It’s a support group where we feel safe talking about our experiences and there’s also a mixture of fun and other activities.

I created a pamphlet for Give Voice which we hand out at schools, colleges, universities, libraries, shopping malls, on the streets, subways, bus stations, doctor’s and dentist’s offices, hairdressing salons, barber shops and other public places.  We want to get the word out that there is help out there.  Don’t suffer in silence.  Tell someone you trust.  Put your abuser where he or she belongs:  behind bars.

When it comes to any type of abuse, silence is not golden.  Tell, cry, yell, do whatever you have to but don’t keep silent.  Abuse should never be kept a secret.

Sources:  Government of Canada; Bible Info; Bible Gateway

It’s How You Respond

Transitions themselves are not the issue, but how well you respond to their challenges Jim George

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Image by Dreamstime

What transition are you going through today?  Getting old is a big one.  You’re not as agile and flexible as before.  You ache in parts of your body you didn’t even know existed.  It’s important to be active.  Exercise is key.  And you have to deal with those annoying things called eye floaters.  It’s bad enough that you have to wear two pairs of glasses—one for reading and one for distance or bifocals and then to have to deal with black things in your eye…It’s possible to grow old gracefully but it takes effort and patience.

For a lot of women, it’s hard to go from being married to being divorced.  My mother seemed to adjust fairly well but I remember that there were times when she expressed regret about the end of her marriage.  She never remarried.  My father remarried once.  It’s hard for the kids too because they lose one parent when the marriage is over.  They are raised by one and see the other at appointed times.  When your parents divorce, it’s like your entire world is falling apart.  For years I felt as if my father had abandoned me but when I was older and wiser, I was thankful that he didn’t stay with my mother for my sake.  I wouldn’t have wanted him to be unhappy on my account.

Transitioning from high-school to college or university can be a tough one.  For me, it was hard not being with my friends.  We all went to different colleges.  I was a bit of a loner on campus.  I didn’t join any clubs or socialize much.  I had one or two friends.  I was more immersed in my studies.  I worked hard and studied a lot.  I had great professors whose remarks on my papers were very encouraging.  I took my Major in Journalism and Minor in Art History.  And I graduated Cum Laude.  After leaving college, I had to find a job.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything in my field but I never let that discourage me.  Over the years, I have worked at different companies and have been fortunate to meet lots of wonderful people.

Going from being a single woman to being a family woman has been the biggest change of all.  Before I met the love of my life, my life comprised of home, work and church.  I loved going to church.  There I worshipped and fellow-shipped with terrific people who shared my faith.  They were like my second family.  I was involved in different ministries and was part of the choir.

I enjoyed doing community outreach such as visiting homeless shelters for women and youth and a senior’s home.  But in private, I prayed to God for a godly man.  And years later, I met him on a bus.  He spoke to me, I invited him to my church and the rest is history.  We have a son.  I regret not having two children but I’m thankful that God blessed with me one and my mother with her only grandchild.  Before she died, she enjoyed eleven years of his life.

Transition can be hard, challenging but it can also be rewarding.  It just depends on how we handle it.  In my case, it is God who has helped me through each life change.  This year when I lost both of my parents within months of each, it was God’s loving presence and Jesus’ promise, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” which held me together.  My two sisters and I aren’t alone.  We have the Lord and we have each other.

Like me, you don’t have to go through any transition alone.  Your families, friends or faith can be your anchor.

This was written for the Ragtag Daily Prompts for today’s word, Transition.  If you’re interested in participating, click HERE for more information.

Source:  Blue Letter Bible

Waiting for God

Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD! – Psalm 27:14

It takes a lot of courage to wait. When you are waiting for God to answer a prayer or to help you with a situation, you are tempted to jump ahead of Him and try to work things out yourself because you are getting anxious. You find it hard to wait and want to do something. It has been a year since you were laid off. You have been applying for countless job offers and only got a handful of interviews. Each interview seemed promising but in the end you didn’t get the job. You applied to the colleges of your choice and you are waiting to find out if you were accepted in at least one of them.

You prayed to God for a godly man but you are still waiting. It’s hard to be around your friends who are dating or married. Some of them didn’t have to wait long to meet their special someone. You have been waiting for two years now. You are celibate because you want to do what is right and pleasing in God’s sight but it’s hard…

What do you do when you are tempted to act? You pray and ask God to keep you on the path. You think about the friends and the people you know who rushed into relationships because they couldn’t wait and are living in regret. Remind yourself that God’s plans for you are for your good and they will take time. Remind yourself that God’s timing is always perfect. He will provide you with what you need when the time is right and not one moment before.

It takes courage and a lot of willpower to wait on God but in the end, it will be worth it. Hang in there!

woman sitting on suitcase

Sexual Harassment

It wasn’t until Ashley Judd heroically shared her story a few days ago that I felt ashamed.  If I had spoken up a decade ago, would I have saved countless women from the same experience I had or worse? While I still do feel guilty for not speaking up all those years ago, I’m glad for this moment of reckoning. To the countless other women who have experienced the gray areas: I believe you – Heather Graham

Sexual harassment has been around since biblical times.  Joseph, a handsome young Hebrew slave was sexually harassed and then accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife.   Yes, men as well as women are victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, George Takei, Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman and recently, comedian Louis C.K. have had charges of sexual misconduct leveled against them.  This comes on the heels of the allegations launched against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.  Stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and more have spoken out against the producer who has been described as “a predator”, “vindictive”.

Celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Matt Damon, Quentin Tarantino, George  Clooney and Ewan McGregor knew of Weinstein’s behavior but didn’t say anything.  Other celebrities are appalled such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Gosling.

Sexual harassment is not limited to Hollywood, it’s everywhere.  It’s in workplaces, the military, colleges and other public places.  It’s a form of sex discrimination.  Weinstein’s victims were intimidated because of he had to power to make or break them.  Actress Asia Argento said that she stayed silent for years out of fear and feelings of responsibility and later had consensual sex with him multiple times because she felt he would ruin her career if she didn’t.   Actress Cara Delevingne said that she was hesitant about speaking out because she didn’t want to hurt his family.  “I felt guilty as if I did something wrong. I was also terrified that this sort of thing had happened to so many women I know but no one had said anything because of fear.” 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (ECCOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

How should sexual harassment be handled?  For Gwyneth Paltrow, it was coming forward so that other women to feel less alone and to send a clear message that “this is over.  This way of treating women ends now.”  Angelina Jolie chose not to work with Weinstein again and warned other women who were going to work with him.

Here are tips on how to handle sexual harassment:

  • Be clear and firm. If the person harassing you is told when it happens the first time that you don’t approve and don’t find it funny, they might back off. Be polite, but firm, and don’t giggle. This might be interpreted as a tacit type of consent.
  • Tell others. Don’t keep quiet; this will only make you more vulnerable. Harassers like isolating their victims – physically and socially. If you tell others what’s going on you might also find out that you’re not the only one experiencing such situations. If more than one person lays a complaint, it significantly strengthens the case against the harasser.
  • Don’t doubt yourself. Harassers often try and pass something off as a joke, however if it’s continuously at your expense, or attacks your sense of dignity, you’re being harassed. Don’t allow harassers to make you doubt your observation, how their actions make you feel or that you’re overreacting.
  • Safety in numbers. Make sure that you’re not alone with this person behind closed doors. Take a colleague with you if you feel threatened, and insist that doors be left open if you have to be in a meeting. Make sure that somebody knows where you are at all times.
  • Report the matter. Follow procedures to lay a complaint – and keep records of all correspondence in this regard. If a complaint has been laid and your employers continue to ignore the situation and take no action, they could be liable for damage claims.
  • Keep records. If you want to lay charges, it’s much more convincing if you can give names, dates, places and the names of possible witnesses, than when your charges are unproven. Anyone who has witnessed any of these events can be called to testify if there’s a disciplinary hearing.

It’s a good thing that the victims of sexual harassment are coming forward as in the case of Bill Cosby.  It remains to be seen, though what will happen to the perpetrators.   It took courage for the victims to come forward.  Let’s hope that they will receive justice that they deserve.  It’s time for those who use their power and influence to intimidate and violate others to be penalized.

Victims should never feel responsible for the actions of the perpetrators.

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Sources:  National Post; People; ECCOC; Western Cape Government