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Abuse, Silence, and Healing: Junot Diaz on Childhood Sexual Abuse

“Trauma is stronger than any mask; it can’t be buried and it can’t be killed. It’s the revenant that won’t stop, the ghost that’s always coming for you.”

Childhood sexual abuse disproportionately affects youth in foster care, with studies showing that children in foster care are 10 times more likely to experience childhood sexual trauma than children who live with both biological parents. In a raw and powerful new essay called “The Silence,” Pulitzer prize-winning author Junot Diaz details just how far-reaching the effects of this childhood sexual abuse can be.

Speaking publicly about his trauma for the first time, Diaz describes being raped by a trusted adult when he was just 8 years old. This experience forever marked his life, leading to bouts of depression as an adolescent and extreme difficulty maintaining intimate relationships as an adult. With few exceptions, Diaz kept his history of sexual abuse completely to himself, a “mask” he wore to hide the shame of his trauma:

“Not enough pages in the world to describe what [sexual abuse] did to me … [it] cracked the planet of me in half, threw me completely out of orbit, into the lightless regions of space where life is not possible.”

Diaz’s heartbreaking account illustrates how the pain of childhood sexual abuse reaches far into adulthood. At Children’s Rights, we have highlighted the issue of childhood sexual abuse by sharing survivor stories. Cherish and MelissaRohan described their experience being sexually abused in foster care. Georgette discussed being sexually abused by her stepfather. Like Junot Diaz, they point to the pain, shame, and PTSD they experienced well into their adult lives.

Yet also like Diaz, they talk about the healing that became possible for them.

“Just like a camera takes new pictures,” Cherish writes in her blog, “you can create new memories that develop a better portrait of the life you choose to live.”

Or as Diaz reflects: “After long struggle and many setbacks, my therapist slowly got me to put aside my mask. Not forever, but long enough for me to breathe, to live. And when I was finally ready to return to that place where I was unmade she stood by my side, she held my hand, and never let go.”

Read Diaz’s essay here. If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, find resources here. If you are a foster parent to a child who may have experienced sexual abuse, learn how you can provide support here.