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The Truth About Sexual Abuse
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- ebook (Revised) $12.99 $16.99 CAD
- Trade Paperback (Revised) $18.99 $23.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 4, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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One in four girls will experience sexual abuse by the time she is sixteen, and 48 percent of all rapes involve a young woman under the age of eighteen. It’s not surprising then, that in a society where sexual abuse of young women is rampant, many women never share their stories. They remain hidden and invisible.
In her pioneering work with young survivors through the last thirty years, Dr. Patti Feuereisen has helped teen girls and young women to find their voices, begin healing, and become visible.
In this revised second edition, Dr. Patti’s gentle guidance and the girls’ powerful stories continue to create an encouraging message: Remarkable healing is possible if girls learn to share their stories in their teens and early twenties. With a new introduction, new chapters, and updated resources, this new edition of Invisible Girls has even more to offer girls, young women, and those who care about them.
My Take on the Ancient Greek Myth
According to Greek myth, Pandora was the first woman, like Eve of Hebrew myth. She is said to have received many, many gifts from the gods—hence her name, which means “all gifted” or “all gifts.” Aphrodite gave her beauty; Apollo gave her musical talent and a gift for healing; Hermes gave her a box and told her not to open it. Then he gave her curiosity!
Here she was, holding this beautiful box she had been ordered not to open. A smart and energetic young woman, in defiance of the patriarchy, she opened the box. Out spilled all the great misfortunes of the world, including the pain of all girls and women who had ever been sexually abused.
Others might have feared letting such troubles out of the box, but Pandora knew that when you keep a box closed you also close off hope. She knew that hope lies in opening the box, in revealing the truth, in releasing the trauma. She was not afraid. She knew that girls are healed every time girl’s and women’s sexual trauma is let out of its box and released into the world. I invite all of you to join me in opening Pandora’s box.
INTRODUCTION TO THE THIRD EDITION
Healing After Your #MeToo Moment
In January 2018, more than 160 brave, resolute girls and young women made history by testifying against Larry Nassar, who had sexually abused them for years in his role as head doctor for USA Gymnastics. Gold medal–winning Olympic gymnast Ally Riesman concluded her powerful testimony by saying, “There is no map that shows you the pathway of healing realizing that you are a survivor of sexual abuse.”
My clients and I wrote this book to be that pathway. If you have experienced sexual abuse, we invite you to find your road map to healing here. The courageous voices who tell their stories in these pages will lead your way. Please join us and blossom, become visible and strong, righteous and vibrant. We know you can. You are important and vital, and you deserve to recover, thrive, flourish, and create a beautiful life filled with love, success, and happiness. Surviving sexual abuse never means you are damaged goods! Sexually abused teen girls and young women are the strongest, most sensitive, most vibrant and resilient people I know.
And I know many. For the past thirty years, I have worked as a psychotherapist with sexual-abuse survivors in individual and group sessions, where I have listened to teen girls and young women talk about their sexual-abuse experiences and helped them on their journeys to heal from their abuse. I am never surprised at the elegance, stamina, resilience, strength, and love that survivors manifest. Invisible Girls: Speaking the Truth About Sexual Abuse came from what I learned from my beautiful clients; within these pages, I offer you encouragement to speak your truth and a healing path to overcoming the trauma so that you can thrive.
As our book continues to reach teen girls and young women from all over the world, sharing their stories, telling their sexual-abuse experiences, we continue to be gratified and awestruck at the bravery of women everywhere. Sexual abuse takes place all over the world, and I knew the statistics were staggering: one in four girls is sexually abused before her sixteenth birthday in the United States alone.
In our 2009 edition we expanded the book and added even more information about getting past what was done to you. We also acknowledged the experience of our sisters in the world of prostitution. We explained that prostitution is sex abuse and included those girls’ voices with the other sexual-abuse survivors. Finally, we added more resources for everyone.
Now, with the stunning numbers of teen girls, young women, and women of all ages coming out with their #MeToo stories, almost ten years after that second edition of Invisible Girls was published, this third edition is here to help a whole new readership, a new group of survivors we haven’t reached yet and everyone who cares about them. In this third edition are updated and expanded resources including blogs, the latest statistics, more follow-up with the original girls in the book more voices speaking out in our chapters, as well as new e-mails from girls. Also intensely covered is a very important topic that’s not being talked about in today’s media coverage: incest. Incest is the most common form of sexual abuse—and the most unreported. We go deep into the topic to explore the wound of incest and how girls get through it and past it. We reach the full circle of healing with an amazing afterword: a letter from an incest survivor, called “How I Found Love.”
Following the Trump election, there has been a cultural shift, starting with the Women’s March, the pussy hats, and the #TimesUp movement, with women in the film industry funding the legal defense of sex-abuse survivors. The Take Back the Night movement is still going strong, confronting sexual violence on college campuses. With this change in politics, the culture is shifting more than ever. In an open and empowered fight against misogyny, girls and women are going up against politicians, coaches, doctors, and priests. Brave teen girls and women are fighting back by coming forward to reclaim their voices, sharing their sexual-abuse experiences, and, in some cases, confronting their abusers.
Tarana Burke, an activist focused on working with black and brown girls in marginalized communities for the past two decades realized that saying “me too” after a young girl shared her story of sexual abuse could have helped her not feel so alone. Tarana wanted to help survivors release some of the shame and isolation they felt and thus began the hashtag #MeToo more than a decade ago. Then when actress Alyssa Milano told her #MeToo story, the movement went viral, and teen girls and women of all ages are now coming forward by the thousands to speak about their sex-abuse experiences publicly. For many, this is the first time that they are telling anyone their stories. As one girl and one woman after another opens up about surviving sexual violation, sexual intimidation, and sexual abuse, more come forward with their stories, creating a culture in which there is greater safety in numbers. The dam has broken, and girls and women’s experiences of sexual abuse are flowing out.
This has been a long time coming. For three decades, teen girls and young women have been reaching out to me privately, one by one, quietly, sharing intimate details about how they had been sexually abused by their fathers, stepfathers, uncles, brothers, coaches, rabbis, teachers, cousins, and dates. I knew it would be many years before these survivors would speak out about sex abuse openly, freely, and publicly. It has taken all these years of teen girls and women telling their truths, of feminists working through the court system to change the laws, of feminist politicians and their allies working for women’s rights to make a cultural change that allows girls and women to come forward and reclaim their voices.
Yet, even before this public moment of disclosure, the feedback from readers and the experience of my young clients has been hopeful and righteous and filled with resilience. I receive countless e-mails and letters, the majority from teen girls and young women all over the world telling me how they are embracing their lives because they have a road map to healing: Invisible Girls: Speaking the Truth About Sexual Abuse. These girls and women had held their secrets, some for decades, and they are now releasing their pain and moving forward into strength. They tell me of their isolation, and how, through our book, they have a sense of belonging to a strong community of survivors and thrivers.
Take note: you will not hear the term victim in this book. The teen girls and young women in this book are not victims, they are survivors. They have surpassed what someone else did to them. They are no one’s victim! If you have survived sexual abuse, neither are you!
Now, with the shift that is allowing girls and women to let out the secrets of sexual abuse, we have inspiring examples: from the Olympic gymnasts testifying against their abuser Larry Nassar, resulting in a jail term of up to 175 years, to the outpouring of disclosure that followed actresses in Hollywood calling their abusers by name. Although we know some brave survivors have been telling their stories for years, these were public figures going up against public figures, and this brought the conversation to the forefront. We see that, with support and with more voices joining in to stand up to sexual violators, there may be justice and a change in the culture that enables, normalizes, and even encourages the sexual abuse of girls and women in record numbers. The serial abuser Harvey Weinstein’s career has ended; other directors, musicians, athletes, and actors have been outed as abusers. Meanwhile, girls and women in other industries have stepped up as well. Janitorial workers, hospitality staffs, students, models, photographers, and more have called for a change to workplace policies to build in protection against sexual aggression.
Although I have been processing abuse with survivors and helping them to rise above and beyond their abuse with vitality for decades, today these public conversations are changing with the power of disclosure, and we find ourselves at a new beginning, where talking about sexual abuse is more possible. Credit must be given to the survivors who are speaking out. But there are still survivors of sexual abuse who are struggling to tell someone what happened to them. What about the girls who are still living under the roof of their molesting fathers? What about the girl on a college campus whose boyfriend rapes her, and she is an incest survivor whose experience of incest taught her not to feel worthy of more? And what about the survivors who are still in danger every day and are being triggered over and over again by social media and news coverage? What about all the survivors who have not yet told their stories? Where are they now in their healing? Have they found a path to healing? We are here for you too.
If you are a survivor, remember this: It is never the survivor’s fault. You never asked to be abused, and you never asked for abuse to continue. Invisible Girls can help you to stop blaming yourself and to let go of shame, responsibility, and guilt. Our book has given thousands of teen girls, young women, and women of all ages comfort, guidance, strength, resolve, and healing. Your job as a survivor is to heal yourself and get past the abuse that happened to you, and to live a life filled with love. Your job is to know how precious you are, to know you deserve love and respect. And we can help.
This book is not only filled with heartfelt stories of girls’ abuse and healing. You’ll also find essential information, options, tools, and a totally updated Resource Center. But, most important, these pages are filled with support, hope, resilience, and love.
One reader, an eighteen-year-old rape survivor, wrote to me:
Dear Dr. Patti,
My name is Ariel and I want to tell you that Invisible Girls honored me for what I went through and taught me that I was not alone. Now I want other girls to know they are not alone. Invisible Girls is my healing, my friend, my road map. My destinations from here are endless.
We know your destinations are endless too. Invisible Girls brings girls out of the shadows into the light of healing and thriving. Invisible girls are becoming visible every day. We know you can too.
It’s Never the Survivor’s Fault
Invisible Girls taught me that my mother was wrong, that I did not ask for my stepfather to rape me. It is not my fault. Thank you, Dr. Patti, thank you, Invisible Girls. I am ready to heal now.
—a seventeen-year-old from Texas
I receive e-mails like this every day from teen girls all over the world, girls who found my book and are awakening to the fact that the sexual abuse they have experienced is not their fault—and that they can heal.
Before we published the first edition of Invisible Girls in 2005, girls who had survived sexual abuse found me and my psychotherapy work through an underground network, with one girl telling another and then another. What this book has done is expand that network, enabling me to provide a lifeline to girls in every corner of every state and continent. The book has made its way around the world, touching and empowering girls and women from Australia to Indiana, from Kansas City and Seattle and Louisville, to China, Mexico, Italy, and France—even Saudi Arabia. I know because I hear from them every day.
Every day, girls who have found our book reach out to me. They are building networks and making extraordinary connections. Girls and women—and their mothers, sisters, boyfriends, girlfriends—find Invisible Girls at their college or neighborhood bookstore or online; they are given copies to read at residential treatment centers and by therapists, teachers, friends, lovers, parents. They’ve found the book at the school library, from my website, a cousin, pediatrician, rape crisis center, aunt. Our intent was to reach girls in our urban centers, where books are easier to come by, and way beyond, where they are not, and we did it. Every day invisible girls, girls who were scared and alone and thought they were to blame or going crazy are becoming visible. They are finding the help and hope they so deserve, and they are healing—and thriving.
Sometimes their first contact is simply reaching out. A girl wants to know whether what she experienced is really abuse, or she wants to tell someone how guilty she feels for what happened to her. She thinks it must somehow have been her fault. Most of my e-mails are from girls and women who have never told anyone about their abuse. Some of these girls are as young as twelve years old. And some of the women are in their sixties. The e-mail to me is the first telling. She somehow got her hands on the book, and now she wants to tell me what happened. She feels she can trust me. And because I make myself available to my readers, I become a kind of springboard for these girls and their healing. They make that first contact, and their whole world begins to shift and change. Some of the girls who have written to me have kept in contact for years now.
One eighteen-year-old from Minnesota e-mailed me: “ ‘It is never a survivor’s fault.’ I have carried these words with me for the past six months until they finally sank in. This saying along with one that I tell myself every morning when I wake up and when someone ridicules me, ‘Being the abused one isn’t the crime, but not telling is’—I believe this to be very true. I have soaked up every word that is in this book, and I have become a strong survivor!”
Girls and women from all over the world write to say thank you, to say they’d never had the courage to speak about their abuse out loud until they read the book. They write to say I’m “healing.” I can’t imagine work more rewarding than this. These readers are creating a strong community of healing and strength, and resolution.
Every day invisible girls are finding their way to the book and to their own healing and wholeness. In this edition, we want you to hear their voices. In Chapter 17, “Five Years of E-mails and Letters from Around the World: Girls Become More and More Visible Every Day,” you will hear directly from girls and women who contacted me after reading the book. They want you to hear their responses and their stories of healing and how they were changed by reading Invisible Girls.
It also became clear to me through my recent work that we needed to add the voices of girls “in the life.” Sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography are forms of sexual abuse, and the voices of these girls and young women are so strong and clear. Chapter 12, “Stop Calling Us Whores: Prostitution Is Sexual Abuse,” addresses the issues involved in these forms of abuse, especially in light of the ways violence against girls and women has become so much more tolerated and normalized through popular culture. I have the honor of working with girls from GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), an organization committed to helping young women ages twelve through twenty-one get out of the commercial sex industry, and in the chapter, you will hear their amazing voices. Girls who have been prostituted feel the same as the invisible girls who have been molested by their fathers, uncles, or brothers. They shared their experiences on a retreat I sponsored through Girlthrive, my nonprofit where girls from upper-middle-class suburbs bonded with girls from marginal urban areas who were prostituted.
Through our index, you can more easily return to particular issues and stories, as well as a few organizations for boys and men to step up and join the fight to end violence against girls and women. When I ask myself what has changed in the world, in the law, in public policy and awareness since the first and second editions were published, the answer is, not enough. But we are fighting the fight and healing is happening with girls and women. The teen girls and young women who reach out to me through Invisible Girls and my organization Girlthrive, and all our readers, are living proof that this strength and healing is happening in spite of the misogynistic culture against girls and women.
When we first published Invisible Girls, my hope was not only to get girls on their paths to healing but also to participate in some meaningful way in the global movement to stop the abuse of young girls and women. I intended to do my part in changing the culture around sexual abuse and violence against women, by sharing the voices of my brilliant clients and giving guidance throughout. And we have certainly succeeded by giving girls back their hearts and souls. With every girl who finds her voice and stops her abuse or the risk of ever being abused again, we helped her to open up and to love and to trust, and most of all to know she is worthy. My mission was, and is, to reach sexually abused girls directly with the simple message that the abuse they suffered was not their fault and that the very best thing they can do for their healing is to begin to open up about it. And to keep opening up and talking.
Girls are getting the message. They are speaking out, finding their way out of abusive homes, and reclaiming their bodies and moving into healthy, adult relationships. This special book has done what I dreamed it could, and it has been an unbelievably rewarding journey so far.
With this new edition and this new time where conversations about sexual assault and abuse seem possible, we hope to spread our wings even further. As one teen girl from London told me in a recent e-mail:
I read your book and it made me see that I’m not alone, but surrounded by love and compassion. If it wasn’t for your book I probably would not be here today doing what I am now. I just wanted to say thank you for writing such a beautiful book. I will never forget the wonderful things it showed me, how to heal and recover from a traumatic event. God bless all the wonderful girls—God bless us all—we are now filled with love and hope. We will never be invisible again!
With love and thanks from the
other side of the pond,
Thank you for picking up this book. One out of four girls in the United States will be abused by the time she is sixteen. This book is for all of you. Please know that whoever you are, you are not alone!
If you are a survivor, I want to offer you a special welcome. Whether you are already hard at work healing from the trauma of abuse or are just admitting for the first time—perhaps even to yourself—that you were abused, I hope you will find this book an important step in your healing process.
This book is filled with survivors’ stories, and they may trigger some intense feelings and painful memories for you. Please know that the message woven throughout is that there is deep healing after sexual abuse. Please feel free to skip around and take the book in the doses you can handle. But I will let you know that I was very careful to go slowly and break it down into sections, similar to the ways that girls disclose their sexual abuse. I want you to always feel safe and supported as you are reading. You might want to keep a journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and memories. If you’re not currently in counseling, I hope you will find someone you can trust to share the feelings that come up for you as you read.
If you don’t have someone you can talk with, or cannot find your own community, please know that you can always call RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest Network), the national hotline for rape and incest survivors, at (800) 656-HOPE (800-656-4673), or you can write to me personally at our website, www
.invisiblegirlsthrive.com, which can serve as a companion to the book and an Internet community of girls and young women.
Invisible Girls opens up sexual abuse to the community and to the culture at large. It offers a porthole into the worlds of teenage girls and young women who are abuse survivors. You have never heard the voices of young survivors in quite this way before, where secret worlds and inner coping mechanisms are revealed. To clinicians and medical professionals, parents, high school and university guidance departments, students of psychology, personnel at rape crisis centers and at adolescent and young adult psychiatric units, high school and college psychology classes, partners of survivors, and relatives of abusers: Invisible Girls will lead you to new answers and a deeper understanding of sexual abuse, and it will help you to transform the culture of shame and secrecy that surrounds abuse.
In my thirty years of working with sexual-abuse survivors, I have never stopped being amazed by the ingenuity and brilliance of girls, by their ability to thrive even through horrible experiences. I learn so much from them. I learn how they’ve coped, how they’ve found comfort in the world, how they’ve moved on in their lives and found good, healthy love. These girls are my teachers, and now some of them have come forward to share their journeys with all of you.
The stories, quotes, questions, and poetry included in this book were contributed by some of the hundreds of girls I have worked with over the years. These are girls I know personally. I have worked with some of them for years and followed their success in life. I want you to know them, too, and to grow and learn from their strength, resilience, and experiences. They are all grateful for the opportunity to reach out to you. To ensure their privacy and safety, however, I asked them to choose pseudonyms. With perfect synchronicity, some girls asked whether they could be called by gem names, others flowers, and I realized how perfect that was—that they would be seen in all their brilliance and beauty and radiance: Zinnia, Lily, Coral, Garnet, Topaz, Sage, Ivy, Amber, Jasmine, Iris, Dahlia, Pearl, and Ruby Rose.
In my eyes, each and every one of these girls—and every other sexually abused girl who finds her voice, finds someone to whom she can tell her story—is a heroine. Whether or not you are a survivor, we invite you to join these extraordinary girls in their movement to end the silence, to release the shame and guilt and fear, and to begin the healing of the collective spirit of girls everywhere.
WHAT IS IN PANDORA’S BOX? SEXUAL ABUSE AND HOW IT AFFECTS US
WHO WE ARE AND HOW WE GOT HERE
The Birth of Our Book
When I was twelve years old my father explained that I was a beautiful young girl and that he had to have me because he was a hungry man. He said that one could not put a plate of spaghetti in front of a hungry man and expect him not to eat it.
—a twenty-two-year-old incest survivor
Incest and all sexual abuse knows no color, class, or nationality. Survivors are of European American, African American, Latin American descent. They are Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian. They identify as gay, bisexual, straight, queer, and transsexual. There is only diversity within the experience of sexual abuse, no division of wealth, color, religion, entitlement, or poverty. These teen girls are our neighbors, our classmates, our friends. They are from single-family homes, they are only children, they have six siblings, they struggle in school, they excel in school, they are artists, scholars, athletes, boxers, musicians. They come from upper-, middle-, and working-class backgrounds. These girls are any girl. When you meet these girls, you have no idea they are sexual-abuse survivors. Like you, they are typical girls—girls on the soccer team, the debate team, in the drama club; highly functioning and high-achieving; or academically challenged but striving to do well. These girls are at top prep schools, top public high schools, or struggling urban public high schools; these girls live in rural areas, in urban communities, in marginal communities. These girls are destined for top colleges, the military, or supporting their families, and they are young women already in college and those starting careers. Girls you’d “never think” had been, or were being, abused. I call them invisible girls because they defy any imagined stereotypes. And the fact is, no one can tell from the outside whether you have experienced sexual abuse. There is no stereotype.
Throughout this book, you will hear directly from teen girls and young women who have endured sexual abuse. They will tell their stories of father-daughter, brother-sister, cousin incest; date rape, acquaintance rape, and mentor abuse; and prostitution. All too often, as you’ll see, they wonder, “Why me?” or “Why didn’t I stop him?” Even today, with all the disclosure of sexual abuse, there is still so much cultural denial, so much personal guilt and shame surrounding the subject of abuse that girls still often feel it is their fault.
- On Sale
- Dec 4, 2018
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Seal Press