A Survivor Becomes An Advocate – Sylvia’s Story

Categories: Misc, Survivor Stories, Survivor Stories Featured

I don’t talk about my story much. I guess it’s easier to suppress the feelings or forget about what happened years ago.

I remember being a child in Guatemala, my birth country. My parents were working on migrating the family to the U.S. My father left several months before us. We lived in a large home with multiple generations living together. I remember playing as a child with all of my cousins. No one knew it was the perfect environment for abuse to happen.

I don’t remember my exact age, but I was in 1st or 2nd grade when the abuse began. I currently have a daughter in 2nd grade, and when I look at her it brings tears to my eyes. How could someone take advantage of such a young child? To this day I have a hard time understanding and sympathizing.

I had an older cousin, he was about 16 or 17 at the time, who was very fond of me. He would often buy me candy, snacks and let me be the lead when we played games with the rest of the kids. Little did I know this was how the abuse would start. He was grooming me.

It started with a hug, and that lead into him trying to touch me inappropriately. I was uncomfortable and scared, but fearful of how angry he would get if I was to tell. I remember the small incidents, but the one that scares me the most was the first time he pinned me down on my mother’s bed and took advantage of me. I’ve never felt pain like that before. It’s hard to describe and I immediately felt numb. When he was done he threatened me. He threatened that if I told, my father would never come back for us. I was terrified. The abuse continued until we moved to the United States.

By the time I was a teen, I wasn’t the best daughter or role model for any of my siblings. I never listened to my parents and did what I wanted, with no regard for people’s feelings. I snuck out multiple times, hung out with the wrong crowd, lost my virginity at a young age, and never truly understood how I should treat my body. I felt numb most of the time. I started drinking, experimented with drugs, and did a lot of things I’m not very proud of.

At about 16 years old, my parents announced that a relative would be coming to live with us from Guatemala. When they announced his name I felt as if the world was crushing down on me and everything I knew. The cousin who took everything from me as a young child would be moving in with us. He moved in and it was as if nothing had happened. I avoided him as much as I could.

About a year after he moved in, my parents announced they were going out of the country for a few weeks and my cousin would be in charge. I really didn’t put too much thought into it since I really didn’t care much about anything. In the meantime, I had started dating a boy who truly loved me and understood me. We were making plans for a future together. The day before my parents came back into town I invited several friends over, including my boyfriend. My cousin caught us making out, kicked my boyfriend and friends out, and came back into my room to yell at me. I remember him telling me in Spanish how “good” he was going to make me feel like he used to back in Guatemala. But this time I was almost 17. I was grown and was able to fight my attacker off. I ran away from home and refused to come home until my parents returned.

When my parents came home I was ready to tell them everything. I told them what happened, only for my mother to call me a liar. She made me confront my attacker. He called me a spoiled teen who was making up stories so I wouldn’t get in trouble. My father looked at my tears and knew it was real. It took everything in him to keep from hurting my cousin. After all of this, it was never mentioned again.

Shortly after that incident, I found out I was four months pregnant with my first son. He was born premature just two and a half months later. He has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. My first love, the first man that I knew would never leave or betray me.

Fast forward to when I was 29 years old, married with one son and working on adopting our 2nd. Part of the adoption process was taking some parenting classes. The Latin American Association was hosting a Stewards of Children® training. As I sat through the class it took everything inside me not to break down and cry when I learned about other survivors. After the training I went up to the facilitator and thanked her. I told her I was also a survivor.

I didn’t deal with my abuse until I became an adult. It took me many years to come to terms with what had been done to me and to build strong and trusting relationships with the people who loved me.

I want everyone to know that child sexual abuse is not ok and that our job as adults is to make sure our children and communities are safe. I will continue to advocate for the children that do not have a voice of their own.

I ask you to join me in supporting prevention training. Your donation will train adults across the country, and those adults will be better equipped to protect the children in their lives.

I know that we can live in a world that allows children to grow up happy, healthy, and safe.

Please make a donation to Darkness to Light today.



Sylvia Goalen

Stewards of Children® Featured Survivor, Darkness to Light


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