Interview with a Sexual Abuse Survivor Turned Thriver – DrZhana

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Interview with a Sexual Abuse Survivor Turned Thriver

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.35.32 AMSexual assault is often a difficult topic for many. But that’s the reason it’s so important to talk about it. I’m eternally grateful to Saigon Jovi, one of my regular Periscope viewers, for agreeing to speak with me about her sexual assault as a teenager.

Interestingly, this interview with Saigon came as a result of an earlier interview I did in a previous scope with a non-offending hebephile (someone sexually attracted to early pubescent children). As she watched that interview, Saigon noted it had helped her make sense of her own experiences with her step-father.

There are trigger warnings that come with this difficult conversation. It’s not going to be easy for me or for our interviewee, so thank you in advance for keeping your respect and compassion. You can also watch the interview at the end of this blog.

Me: Hi Saigon, thank you so much for doing this interview. Can you tell us a little bit about you?

Saigon: Hi, I’m 51 years old. I have two children and one granddaughter. I work as an accountant at a fashion accessory store. I was born in New York but currently live  in Florida.

Me: Tell us then about what happened when you were a teen?

Saigon: My mom married my stepfather and he moved us to Florida because he’s Cuban, and that’s where they all go. A few years after we moved, he started taking me fishing with him. When we were fishing, he would masturbate in the corner by the side. I’m a little kid, about nine, curious and wondering, “What the hell, what’s going on?” So I keep fishing. As time went on he would do it more and more. I would look but I wouldn’t say anything. He would tell me, “Don’t say anything.”

Me: Did he ever explain what he was doing? Did he talk about it at all?

Saigon: No, not when it started. We would go fishing all the time. I really liked to go fishing but I didn’t want to go towards the end because I was scared. I was curious too, that’s what you do when you are nine.

Me: Were you already entering puberty? Was your body already changing and were the puberty hormones starting?

Saigon: Definitely. As time went on, he would tell me not to tell. I didn’t tell because at nine, you really don’t know what to say or not to say. So I didn’t tell for a long time. Like you said, my hormones were going so I was really confused. Time went on and on, and I got older. The thing is that I don’t remember a lot of it. My sister tells me, “You don’t remember this? You don’t remember that?” So I think your body automatically protects itself from remembering a lot of things. But the things that I do remember I can share. If my mom went on vacation, he would tell me to stay and promise to buy me jelly donuts, which were my favorite, or that he would buy me my favorite painter paints. They were these pants that they sold at an army/navy store, carpenter pants. I wanted them in every color so I stayed. He would put on the TV and make me lay down with him while he was naked. He would touch himself, never me really, back then. He would also masturbate for my neighbor across the street, and for my neighbor on the other side. Both were kids my age. I didn’t know this until way later. He was just a bad guy.

Me: Was he mistreating you in other ways?

Saigon: He was really strict. [Starting to tear up]

Me: That’s okay. Take a moment if you need to. This is so hard, everyone is saying you’re so courageous to talk about this, that they could never talk about it.

Saigon: I have no idea why I’m crying; I talk about it all the time. He was really strict and mean to my mom. For example, he would hide on top of the school roof and watch my sister and I to make sure we weren’t talking to boys. He didn’t like us interacting with boys. He would do things like this at nighttime with my neighbors and he would masturbate in the bathroom too. He would say to me, “I’m just trying to teach you these things so nobody can come and trick you.” And then he would also tell us, “If you tell your mom, I’ll kill your mom. I’ll give you little pills in your food so you will get fat like the church lady, Gloria. And you won’t know when I put it in your food and you’re going to get fat like her.” I was around eleven years old at this time.

Me: He was using all sorts of methods, things to bribe you with, things to threaten you with, things to control you with, and other behaviors. Wow.

Saigon: I was a little kid so I didn’t know. When we moved to Florida, it was just my mom, sister, and stepfather, so I had nobody. All my family was in New York. When I got older, about 12 years old, I started to understand and ran away from home. When they found me, I told my mom what was happening. We used to go to church, he was a church guy. At first, my mom didn’t believe me because it’s a big deal. At first they all thought I wasn’t telling the truth, that I was just saying that so my mom wouldn’t be with him anymore. She sent me to his sister’s house that lived about an hour away. I was living there for a while and started school. One day he came to the house and tried to commit suicide. That was a sign of guilt for them and so then they started believing me. I wasn’t going to stand down to him, I was just telling the truth. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t believe me. I don’t think they did it on purpose, I just think it was too much for them. In those days, that was very taboo. You didn’t talk about that.

Me: It is very common for family members not to believe children. People don’t want to believe because it shakes up their entire reality. It’s a defense mechanism to think, “Oh the kid’s just making shit up.” They don’t realize how serious of an issue it is.

Saigon: It’s a big issue, yeah. So the years went by, my mom left him. We moved to where his sister lived, totally changed our lives. And then the work started.

Me: People on Periscope are asking about your sister..?

Saigon: You know, I don’t want to say what happened to her because that’s her story to tell. But it happened to her as well. For a long time, I just didn’t know about her and I don’t think she knew about me. Eventually we’ve talked about it, and, you know, she dealt with her demons and I dealt with mine.

Me: Someone is asking if he ever touch you or the kids? Was it just masturbation?

Saigon: No, he touched me. He did more than just touch me. I just can’t remember if he penetrated me or not, but I remember he was there with his penis.

Me: Did he ever serve any time for it?

Saigon: No. At the church, we told them what was going on and in those days it was so taboo they didn’t believe us. We were so petrified he was going to come and kill us after we told the people at church. They just disfellowshipped him and that was it. By the time I went to therapy, it was too late, it was past the statute of limitations.

Me: I want to transition to when you say, “The work started.” Tell us about therapy, how you’ve dealt since then. What did you do to overcome this to get to where you are now?

Saigon: When I was young, I had a lot of boyfriends, one after another. I was looking for love since I lost my stepfather and I loved him. It’s a very fine line; I figured if I did those things with my stepfather he would love me more. I grew up thinking that if I were fantastic in bed, the guys would love me more. Sure enough, they flew back to me but just to get laid. They didn’t come because they wanted me. So I went to therapy one time with a friend. It was a seminar, survivors of child sexual abuse or something. It was a 2-day seminar. I cried when it was time to go. The entire time, I stayed there crying because it was like an explosion. I was afraid to leave. I was like, “Wow. What do I do now?” So I started going to therapy.

Me: How old were you when that happened?

Saigon: I already had a kid so I was probably 26? I had my daughter when I was 17 but started dealing with the trauma years later. So I was 27 when I went to see my therapis, Tom Norris, he’s awesome. The first session I cried the whole hour. I couldn’t even talk. He just said, “We’re here, do whatever you feel.” So he started giving me therapy. I hated it, it was like a torture chamber. And then he wanted me to go to group therapy, going two times a week. I almost gave up.

Me: What did you not like about it? Why was it torture?

Saigon: I don’t know if it was reliving the experiences or just checking myself. You had to look, you had to get in, get dirty, and do the work.

Me: Doing the work is hard.

Saigon: Doing the work is hard, which is why 90% of the people don’t. That’s why I’m all for therapy and putting in the work. Get in and get dirty because that’s what makes you happy in the end. So, I put in the work, reluctantly. I put it in and put it in and put it in, every day I use it. I stopped needing to be with anybody, stopped needing validation from anybody and I stopped needing to be fabulous in bed. I started loving myself so much that it’s sickening. That’s what makes me happy every day.

Me: How long did that process take?

Saigon: Almost three years.

Me: Do you feel like that’s something you’ve overcome now? That it’s something behind you?

Saigon: Most certainly. I know this is really weird to say but in a weird way, I think that if it didn’t happen to me, I wouldn’t have gone in and dirty. I just don’t think I would have put in the work to make me feel so great about me, to be more confident, to be more free and bright inside instead of dark inside. Even if this doesn’t happen to people, people are still dark inside; they don’t want to put in the work. I still use the tools every day.

Me: Yes, dark inside for reasons other than sexual abuse. Do you feel like you have any residual trauma? Many people have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from sexual abuse.

Saigon: No, I never felt that way and never, ever, became a victim. I always felt, if I became a victim of my circumstances, then he wins. Also, I never wanted to use alcohol or drugs. I think if you put in the work, you can overcome it and not be traumatized. I’m an example of someone who lived it and I’m not traumatized. You can become a victim of circumstances, “Oh my stepfather raped me when I was little, I need this weed, I need this coke, or whatever.” I just didn’t. I’m not ashamed to talk about it. Some people, it’s too much for them and I get it. But it’s healing for me. This shit really happens, people! Pay attention to your surroundings because it really happens. It’s a really fine line because I loved this man and I can’t tell you that I hated him. I don’t think I hated him at the end either. I mean, he’s dead now, but I didn’t hate him. I saw him many, many years later. I was already grown with two children, and got so nervous. But I wanted him to see me, “Ha, look, bitch!” I don’t know why, but I was scared, just like when you had the hebphile on your Periscope. I was scared, it was the weirdest feeling.

Me: I’m going to transition to that in a bit. Our Periscope viewers are making the point that some people are more fragile and they do end up struggling. I think you’re in many ways lucky because of your attitude and circumstances to only need 3 years of therapy given what happened to you. It’s not a long time.

Saigon: Well, I had a 65-year-old lady in my group therapy. She was dealing with these demons at 65. She was my cure because I saw her at 65 and I said, “That is not going to be me. I’m not going to be dealing with this shit at 65 so I better get to work.” If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have finished. It’s torture to talk about it, it was exhausting. I was breathless. That was a lot, it was emotional.

Me: Yeah, you don’t want to live like that. How do you feel about your mom now?

Saigon: I adore her. In her defense, people just didn’t talk about those things and I’m sure it happened in her days too, I just don’t think that it was often. TV and radio didn’t talk about it. How would she know what to look for? She wouldn’t have known. Plus, we were scared of him. So she feels bad and guilty, but I try to make her not feel guilty by who I’ve become and who my sister has become. Of course, she’s going to deal with her own thing but I try to reassure her that we’re fine. I’m a parent now so I know that. If this happened today, I expect you to see the warning signs, but back then, it was not her fault. She was scared like all of us.

Me: Yeah, we’re so afraid of stranger rape when that’s the minority of cases, only about 10-20% of sexual assaults happen with strangers. Most of the time, it is someone you know, in your family, school, or a friend. You should see there are a lot of people sharing their stories too. I’m really glad to see this. It really helps individuals telling their stories make sense of them and others to connect with that. They’re giving you support.

Saigon: I wanted them to get something from this, like your last scope. If it can help one person, make them feel good the way I feel now, that’s awesome.

Me: Let’s talk about that scope and how it made you feel, which is what really started this whole interview. So a couple of weeks ago I did an audio interview with a hebephile. A man from Europe who is attracted very strongly to early pubescent children, ages 9-12. He claimed to have never offended against a child, but that was his preference. So we talked about his attractions and his life. During that time, Saigon was watching the scope and she said that it really helped her with her own experience. So how did it help? What was your experience watching and listening to that scope?

Saigon: I thought he was very courageous to say all those things he did. They literally took my breath away and it was a real eye-opener. It helped me understand my stepfather: I thought he was just a pervert. I never thought that it was a problem that he had that he couldn’t control. This guy was in control. He’s trying not to offend against a little girl. I guess my stepfather couldn’t control what was happening to him. I already didn’t hate the guy. I don’t know why, it’s perhaps I didn’t have my father. I mean, I have him but he just wasn’t there. When you’re a little kid, you need to be able to relate to a man and a woman. So they yanked me to Florida, which I hated. I clanged on, since he was the present dad at the moment. Good, bad, or ugly, he was just a guy. So I loved him. I never really hated him, so it’s hard for me to say that and I was more sympathetic to what he was going through. I was listening to your interviewee, that guy is struggling to be a better person and to be good. I don’t know if my stepfather knew how. So the interview made me a little more sympathetic and to understand him more. Even if the things he was saying were pretty hard to hear.

Me: Yeah, there’s no way to know if your stepdad was a hebephile in the same way, having this strong sexual orientation towards early pubescent children, but since he did this enough with children, it seems like it was an orientation, and he didn’t know how to control it. Or he didn’t want to control it. In fact, he used every tool he had to get what he needed. Do you know if he was abused himself?

Saigon: That’s a great question. I have no way of knowing. He came from Cuba. I was too little, we didn’t discuss these things. I wouldn’t have known to ask.

Me: Do your kids know your story?

Saigon: Yes, like I said, my older son, he knows everything. I always forget but I think he’s 32 or 33. He’s in the scope, watching. My other son, he’s 27, he also knows, but he doesn’t have Periscope.

Me: He says, “I’m 33 Mom, what the fuck.”

Saigon: That’s hilarious. So that’s him, my baby boy.

Me: When did you tell them, how did that conversation go?

Saigon: There was no particular point. It’s just, we freely talk about everything. I guess he heard it and I talked about it. I didn’t sit them down and say, “Look, this happened to your mom.”

Me: Why did you decide to come on this show?

Saigon: I think a lot of people have been through this and they haven’t talked about it, out of shame. For many years, I didn’t talk about it because I was ashamed. My therapist said it was because I “enjoyed it.” And it was so hard to get those words out. How could I have enjoyed that? It’s such a sin. I enjoyed that because I was a little girl with hormones that didn’t know, and that’s what happens. It wasn’t that I enjoyed the abuse, he made me understand that I didn’t do anything wrong. How horrible that I enjoyed it!

Me: Yes, the thinking often is ‘If you enjoyed it, then it’s not abuse.’

Saigon: And it’s not like that at all. It leaves you broken in places that you don’t know you’re broken. All the therapy in the world will make you whole but you’re still going to be a little broken in there.

Me: Yeah, that’s what happens in children, and adults too. When their bodies respond, which is perfectly normal when something’s happening. Whether something’s right or wrong, our bodies often will respond in a way…

Saigon: That makes it seem like a consensual relationship.

Me: Exactly, yeah. Penises might get hard, vaginas might get lubricated, you might actually have an orgasm. People think, “Oh, if my body responded this way, then it can’t possible be abuse.” That’s obviously not true.

Saigon: And that’s why I wanted to come on. Many people don’t talk about it, and maybe, they’ll see how free I am. Maybe they’ll want to put in the work themselves and they’ll have someone to talk to. I didn’t have those things until I went to therapy. Some people are just ashamed, so maybe if they hear it, it can help them like it helped me.

Me: Thank you so much for your openness. Anything that you would like to say to your stepdad?

Saigon: Asshole! No, I thought about that, but I don’t think there’s anything that I could say. I loved him, and he betrayed me. That’s all.

Me: Oh god. That happens so frequently, right? It’s the people we love the most.

Saigon: And I’ve never really told a lot of people that I loved him, but I did.

Me: What would you say to your younger self?

Saigon: Be strong, and don’t let them win. I already told her. Everything that comes to me I have to handle. I feel like I handled it well because I handled the worst. I don’t even think that’s the worst. I think the worst was when my son had brain surgery. That’s the worst thing in the world. So in a way it helped me prepare to deal with whatever life throws at you. So I told my little girl back then, “Girl, you got to rise.” I’m not perfect, I’m not stronger than anyone else. But I check myself all the time. I always check myself.

Me: That’s beautiful, you’re so inspiring. The essence of reliance and personal strength. People are crying and you’re getting a lot of hearts. Thank you immensely for doing this and being so open and honest talking about all of it. If this inspired anyone to talk about their own experiences, please let us know, or share. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Saigon: Twitter @SaigonJovi

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