Hey, Im Maria, and I’m 26 years old, and I'm from Brazil. When I was 8, to when I was about 17, I used to go a lot to my uncle and aunties house. I was raised by my father and my step-mother, which they thought they were giving everything they could, but they were a bit rough with my upbringing, so I never really felt safe, or at home when I was at home. They used to yell a lot, my dad wasn't home very much so my stepmother used to not be that nice, there was a lot of emotional abuse back then.
When I went to my aunt and my uncles house, it felt like I could just be a kid, iI could play and could do anything I wanted, it was happy. My aunt always supported me, she always taught me the positive and the bright side of everything. My uncle always said to me that Ii was very special, and that I would do wonderful things. They actually paid attention to me, and as a kid all I wanted was for my dad and my step-mum to pay attention to me. To say you’re actually really smart .
What happened when I was 8 until I was 17, every time I went to my uncle and aunties house, the same place that I would feel safe and secure, my uncle used to come into my room in the night and he used to touch me, and make me touch him. All I would do is close my eyes and pretend I was sleeping. I was really wanting everything to go away, I always felt really uncomfortable, but then at the same time I was really quite young, I didn't really understand what was going on.
It was very interesting because in the morning it was like nothing had happened. No-one spoke about it and I think because I didn't have a good relationship with my father and my step-mum I never felt safe to ask them about anything like that. Nothing happened with my dad at home or anything so I didn't really understand what that was, and even when I grew up and was a teenager, and I understood a little bit more about what sex was, I never understood that what happened with my uncle was wrong, or that was even sex, because I trusted my uncle and things like that didn't really happen to people like me, who come from where I come from, like from a privileged sort of background. So I never really related myself as someone who had been abused. He never raped me or anything like that, but he did a lot of other things.
It was the end of 2015 when I went to a retreat and I was looking up at the sky and the sky was really blue and trees were there, really green. It reminded me of my auntie who always made me look up and always made me look at the contrast and these colours, and talk about how small we are and how big the universe was, and how anything is possible really. I was looking up, and thinking of them and thinking how amazing to have them both, my auntie and my uncle, and how important they were for me, and that’s how it hit me.
I felt like an ice bucket over my head or a bullet in my stomach, I couldn't breathe for a long time. I finally understood what happened at night wasn't right and was sexual abuse. My uncle wasn't the hero that I once thought he was. I was in a retreat and we couldn't talk for 10 days. It was on the third day so on all the other days all I could do was think about that, and remember all of it, and try to move on from it. On that retreat they just tell you to observe anything that comes up and try not to get attached.
I worked really hard to just observe, I think I did really well, and I continued to observe myself for 6 more months. I was in a relationship, I kind of ended up breaking up with him. I always had the most amazing boyfriends, and I realised that I had a lot of boyfriends as well, because some of them I didn't really want them to be my boyfriend. They were amazing friends, amazing people but they wanted something more from me, and I just didn't realise I could say no.
Some of the people that I slept with were just friends. They were amazing but they wanted something else from me and when I was actually there and we were doing it, I realised I didn’t want to be there. I’d close my eyes and I’d really just want to go away. In your head its like this mental thing where you'd yell “stop it right now, stop it right now, you don't want it, you don't want it”
But I never stopped it. I've literally never been able to say, I don't want to have sex with you, straight up, I don't need it. From the day I lost my virginity up to the day in 2015 when I was at the retreat I just did not know I could say no. And even now I know I can, I totally can, but I struggle so much.
I have been quite honest and raw anytime someone has come into my life, letting them know how I feel. Most of the time I ask them, just please don't ask me to go further, I'm just scared of myself to continue doing it, but not wanting it. And I still do, like, not long ago, Ikissed a guy I didn't want to kiss, but he was my friend, and he wanted to. It was the same kind of vibe. It is one thing out of everything that I've noticed so much more about how I act, how I dress and I am quite pretty and fit, and things come across my head, like blaming ourselves, because of course it’s our fault.
A lot of friends would say, when you were 8 you must have known what it was, you must have liked it then. And I think, likewhat the fuck, really? Can you not understand that I've been conditioned, and I definitely did not like it, but how do you tell somebody that is your uncle and that you trust to fuck off? To close yourself up and closing your eyes and pretend you’re not there is not enough, it’s like he’s someone who’s meant to be looking after me, that my parents trust, so it must be alright?
There’s been lots of little things I've been learning about myself and how I show emotions or how I deal with the opposite sex, and how I deal with myself. I had this big relationship with this guy who I loved so much but I thought that for him demonstrating he loved me he had to want to have sex with me, and you know, like when he didn’t want to because we’d had sex three times in a day, I was just like, oh my gosh it’s the end of the world, and it would become some massive argument. But I didn’t even want to, it was just the fact that I was like, that’s what is love. My uncle, he always told me how much he loved me, I was his favourite, and I was special, so I don’t know, I guess it became my way to understand love.
There are heaps and heaps of little things I keep coming across, but nothing that I think, ok that’s it I’ve learnt enough. It’s like every day I learn a new layer, and then observe that, and you understand all of that, and then six months pass by, and you think ok, you know what I’ve got my shit together, I’ve got it, and then something else comes up, and you’re like, holy shit, here we go again! A journey where we don’t have a map, we don’t see the light, but we can understand a new layer of ourselves.
If someone had told me back then what sexual abuse was… Because the thing is, where I come from, sexual abuse or child abuse always happens to that really poor family that had like ten people in the house, and father’s a drug dealer, the uncle’s a drug dealer, they’re all in a gang. That’s how they rape or abuse their own children. It’s never someone that goes to a private school and has a nice life and has a maid making your bed, it’s never someone like me, it’s always someone else.
I now understand that the more I talk about him, the more I start speaking out about what happened to me, the more people come to me and say hey actually that happened to me too. They’re all normal people, you know, they don’t have something on their foreheads that says, “Hey, I've been sexually abused!” No, they’re normal people, running businesses, or having epic jobs, doing cool things, they didn’t turn in to this crackhead or prostitute, or are gang members. No, they’re really cool people doing awesome things, living their lives and they had awful backgrounds that they try to shift away, because it’s so hard to speak about it.
I wish at school when they do sexual education when they’re like, “Oh, this is a penis and this is a vagina," someone would just say, “this is your body and no-one can touch it," and actually explain to me what consent was. Nobody ever told me that I actually could choose what I wanted to do with my body. So, what I've been going to do, is create a project, opening a conversation so we can discuss with our children and youth what consent is, what it means to have your body and owning it, and respecting it.
If you don’t want to give someone a hug, even if’s an aunt, you are allowed to say, “No, I don’t want to give her hug," and respect that, because it’s the kids body and they need to understand from day one that they own it and no-one can do anything. It’s awful because you trust the people around you but at the same time you need to make sure your children are very safe, and if something happens they have a safe space to come to you as an elder and say, “Hey, this has happened, is this right?”
When we speak about it we don’t want to feel blamed, want it to disappear, want it to be ugly and want it to be anything thats not you, because you just feel awful. Because you just want to literally disappear, you don't feel like you own it. Why should I feel dirty when he’s the one that did something wrong, and he’s there living his life, sweet, and I’m here contemplating how I’m going to tell my family because are they going to turn their backs on me? Because that’s what happens, people just defend guys that do that, because they’re just in a bro space, right? You’re the one that’s shamed. Judges are still saying, “Why didn’t you just keep your knees closed?” Screw that, are you kidding me?
I feel like I can always speak about it, and show that I'm still a good person and I can do a lot of things like kick ass at business, and I'm pretty good at sales, and a good runner, and surfer, and yogi, amazing friend, all these other things. I’m very smiley, and that’s okay, I just feel like doing all those things, like it’s who I am, what happened to me doesn't define me. If I can show you all that each person thathad something, not just sexual abuse but any trauma, you're more than that experience. You can talk about it, it’s okay, you don’t have to have the shame or the blame behind it, trying to explain why you didn’t do something, or why you did what you did, you know, like what else would I do, apart from close my eyes and wish it to go away, right? That’s how I coped with what I had, I don’t want to be explaining to people why I did that and not something else.