Life after child sex abuse difficult, but survivable

Life for thousands of Nebraska children who are sexually abused almost certainly will include struggles, but counselors, psychologists and survivors say there is hope.

“You’re not doomed,” said Lincoln lawyer Susan Napolitano, who was raped by a relative in Michigan in the 1980s.

“It’s not what you see in the movies. I don’t shoot up. I don’t cower. I don’t feel like it has dominated my life path.”

It’s possible to process and heal, she said.

“It’s going to be another brick in your foundation,” she said.

Napolitano remembers summer nights in the Upper Peninsula when she popped the screen off her bedroom window and contemplated jumping.

“(I’d) think about leaving and try to work up the courage to just jump out the window and just go and tell somebody,” she said. “But I didn’t trust that that would work.”

Like an estimated 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims, Napolitano knew her perpetrator.

When she was 8 or 9, she said, he started to make her fondle him.

“Don’t tell,” he told her.

Every kid needs to learn about sex, he said. He’d be her teacher.

She felt something was wrong, but he convinced her not to tell anyone.

The abuse escalated — ultimately to sexual intercourse, she said.

“I remember telling him that it hurt, and he wouldn’t stop,” Napolitano said. “And that’s when I knew that this guy was not who I thought he was.”

Candy and gifts followed the assaults, coupled with apologies and promises it would stop.

But the promises were empty, she said.

Napolitano kept the abuse secret until she was 11, when she wrote a note and left it out for an adult to find, she said.

The abuse continued for about four years, until he left, she said.