It is no exaggeration to say that Csilla’s whole life was changed by the fact that a male relative has laid his eyes on her when she was only a little girl. The shame, fear, the sneaking around as well as the family’s attitude to avoid the conflict has been deeply traumatic, and today, thirty years later she still bears its health and psychological consequences. Csilla (who cannot give her surname because the people in question are still alive) tells her story to make it clear – to those who are in the same situation or to their relatives – that it is very dangerous to bury our heads in the sand, even if sometimes it seems a more comfortable option. Written by Adrienn Kurucz.
For thirty years, Csilla has been trying to come to terms with what happened to her when she was just a young teenager. Apart from the memory of these specific events, it perhaps hurts her even more that those who should have stood up for her did not do so. This is why, for a long time, she couldn’t be sure of what she really felt and whether what she felt was right.
Or maybe those who try to convince her that she overreacts, that she is too sensitive, that she needs too much attention, that she is too, too, too…maybe they are right.
That means that she has a problem.
She is the one with a problem.
It took her three decades, a bunch of psychosomatic illnesses and therapy following a mental breakdown to believe that although she had not been raped (in the sense that there was no physical penetration), she had the right to feel what she felt, that it was not hysteria, that it was not a mental disorder or a character flaw.
Today she can talk about what happened, even if not with a light heart, but at least openly.
“One of my stepfather’s brothers was harassing me. We lived in the same village, he came to visit us often, sometimes when my parents were at work, and I was the only one at home because school was already over. When he came, I had to open the gate for him and escort him back to the shed, he would bring us petrol.
He was the loud man of the village. He liked to show off his strength. His pants were always pulled up to his chest, tightening over his genitals. He was very kind to me at first, asking how I was, complimenting me on how nice I was, how glad he was to I was home. I didn’t know at the time that it was only a ruse.
Then he hugged me more and more often “just like that”, stroking my arm. I remember the moment when I first felt that this was not okay. I must have been twelve or thirteen years old. He had his arms around me from behind, his whole body pressed against mine. I was young, yet I sensed something strange and frightening in the movement: the desire. I jumped out of his embrace with lightning speed. Afterwards I felt a deep remorse. Because I had assumed something bad about this man.”
For a long time, Csilla blamed herself, and she felt anxious when she remembered the incident. She felt ashamed.
She was the one who felt ashamed.
“I had convinced myself that it wasn’t fair to feel what I was feeling, until one day he whispered in my ear that he wanted to kiss my little pussy.
From then on, I could no longer lie to myself that I had misunderstood.
I started running away from him, avoiding him whenever possible. But it was not always possible.
If my parents weren’t home, I had to go back to the shed with him, that was my task. Sometimes I sabotaged it and lied that I fell asleep, that somehow I didn’t hear the bell ring — I was scolded for it.
I didn’t tell my parents what happened for years, even though it happened many times.
I thought, my God, it would kill my dad.
I felt I had to deal with it alone, that I could do it. I took responsibility for the whole situation, I kept quiet.
When I had to let him in, it was always terribly stressful. He came panting into my neck, whispering to me, trying to hug me. It was awful. Once he came into the house, I told him that my mum and dad weren’t home, tried to tell him to go away, but he pushed the door and came into the living room. He told me in detail where and how he wanted to kiss and stroke me, and I just stood there frozen, desperate. All I could say was thank you, but I didn’t want any part of it.
Yes, I politely thanked him for his interest, I don’t know how many times. Many times!
To get out of it somehow, that’s what mattered. I knew my mum and dad wouldn’t be home for a while, that I’d be there alone with him. He kept convincing me that only what I wanted would happen. Then, as I refused countless times, he offered to pay me, a thousand forints at a time, and give me another ten thousand by the time I went to college. That was a lot of money for a village schoolgirl thirty years ago…
Fortunately, he didn’t touch me then, and after a while he stopped nagging me and left.
But first, he made me promise not to tell anyone what he was trying get me to do, saying it would be our secret. And me, the good girl, I kept my word. Not only because I made a promise, but also because I wanted to be free of its memory. I wanted to forget the whole thing. I also started going to church to practice forgiveness.”
It begs the question: did the parents not suspect anything? In such a small, closed community, where, as it turned out later, he had tried to stalk and terrorize others?
“They knew I was disgusted by him. They didn’t know for a long time, why exactly. There were signs, but I also didn’t understand them until much later. I would wet my bed at night, I couldn’t sleep in the dark, I was scared, I couldn’t fit in at school, my grades were going down. At seventeen I had a suicide attempt. And on top of that, they scolded me for that instead of looking for the reasons. Of course, it was a different world, you didn’t know that much about these things, there were no articles, no books about domestic violence, people didn’t go to psychologists.
My health problems also started at that time. I coughed. I was diagnosed with psychic asthma. I developed all sorts of chronic illnesses, gynecological as well as bowel problems, which I still struggle with to this day.
When I was sixteen, I told my brother-in-law that this man thinks he can get anything for money. He told my mother that there was something wrong, that she should find out the truth.
Then my mother asked me how I could have said such a thing, that this was nonsense. Then I told her what had happened a few years earlier.
Dad immediately wanted to go over his house, but we convinced him not to make a big deal out of it. In a small village like this, they would insult us, they would mistreat the family…
I was just a kid, I wanted to put it all behind me. Why did she listen to me?
I now know that she should have insisted! That would have been the right thing to do! If he had been held accountable. If they had told him that they knew, if they had confronted him about what he had done.
However, he kept coming to our house in the same way, and we were even nice to him, even though everyone was angry inside. He probably sensed it, because after a while he came less often.”
In her twenties, when she was already a mother herself, Csilla told her parents that at the time she had experienced this situation as if her parents had abandoned her.
“My mother told me that if I had a problem with that man, I should talk to him myself, because I was already a grown-up. And that I shouldn’t keep picking at this scar, as she also has been molested and had suffered a series of traumas, yet she doesn’t keep talking about it. They defended themselves by saying that I didn’t tell them in time. It really hurt, because it was victim blaming, and it hits hard because the victim usually blames herself already.
Why couldn’t I stand up for myself?
Am I not worth protecting?
Is this what I deserve?
Could I have imagined it?
Maybe, as Mom says, I just want to be at the center of attention?
Are they right by saying that nothing happened after all…?
Finally, for my request we agreed not to let him in our house, at least. They kept their promise, but unfortunately, I still felt no satisfaction or relief. Because I still wanted him to be accounted for his sins, even if only in hindsight.”
Csilla says that she has been harassed on the street and at her workplace several times since she grew up and moved to Budapest. “It’s as if those people could sense the ones who can’t cope with a situation like that, who freezes, who becomes their twelve-year-old self again if she is molested.”
Shaking, sobbing, self-blame: all forms of abuse broke her, over and over again.
2018 was a turning point in her life. On the one hand, because it was the year of #metoo, a time of confrontations and big reckonings, and on the other hand, because Csilla’s mother moved away from the village where Csilla grew up and where the abuser still lives today. “I felt I had lost the chance to deal with the trauma. Inside I was still a little child hoping that one day justice would be done. Then someone pushed a door in my face, just like that relative did when I was a child, and my whole life was turned upside down. I was completely thrown off balance, I had constant panic attacks, I was experiencing horrible anxiety, and I felt nothing but irrational terror. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I started EMDR therapy with my psychologist, which helped a lot. [Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic technique developed to treat permanent problems caused by traumatic experiences — ed.]
It was then that I understood and reinterpreted everything that had happened to me. That was the beginning of my recovery, and its next very important step was when some of my friends and my current boyfriend got together, tracked down my abuser and confronted him.
I couldn’t go with them because I had just been hospitalized again with a severe case of enteritis. But I don’t regret not being there, because I didn’t want to be the one to confront him, I just wanted someone to stand up for me! When it finally happened, I was jumping with joy like a child on the hospital bed, shouting, now, he got beaten up! (Of course, they did not hurt him physically!)
He denied everything, of course, while listing the names of several former girls in the area, with whom he did nothing, just like he did nothing with me, even though they were supposedly much prettier than me…
None of us expected him to admit his guilt. But that was not the point. It was the confrontation! You may ask: but after thirty years? Yes, it took me that long to understand that trying to make it all go away would not solve anything. It took me thirty years, a lot of repression, pain and self-harm, and later cries for help to be able to say I couldn’t do anything about it! And I can say without exaggeration that even after thirty years it is a lifesaver to have people stand up for me.
I don’t think he regrets what he did. Maybe he doesn’t even feel the weight of it. Despite this, the order of the world has been restored in me. And for that, I’ll always be grateful to everyone who has done something to support me on this journey.
I am healing!”
Translation by Gyöngy Csernyus
Proofreading by Júlia Rácz