Survivor Spotlight: Child Sexual Abuse

Portrait of Dani, survivor of sexual abuse, seated in a chair against a tan background with windows

After receiving word that a coach from another team in her childhood swim league was being investigated for child sexual abuse, Dani felt uneasy and disturbed, but couldn’t figure out exactly why. Her gut feeling became stronger though, and taking a deep look into her past triggered something that she couldn’t ignore. While working on an autobiographical assignment for graduate school, the details started coming back to her.

From age 7 to 12, she had been sexually abused by her own swim coach, who was also a close family friend. “As an 8-year-old, I remember worrying I could become pregnant by what my abuser was doing. At 9, I thought I would have to marry him,” Dani says now.

Dani worked with law enforcement to arrange a phone sting in which Dani’s former coach confessed to felony child sexual abuse. Dani had buried these traumatic memories for almost 30 years, keeping the secret from everyone, including herself. “Facing what happened was the hard part,” she says. “But speaking about it was cathartic.” Her coach was arrested and sentenced to prison. Dani spoke at his sentencing, and says, “It was as if I was speaking my abuse into existence and it became real. While my life no longer felt comfortable or normal, it felt authentic.”

After reporting the crime, Dani experienced flashbacks, nightmares and dissociative episodes, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Feeling embarrassed, ashamed and annoyed with myself about the PTSD became a fairly big problem as well,” she said. Finally, “I gave myself permission to be a mess for awhile,” Dani says, and learned to be kind to herself while she was working through the worst of it, which helped her through the recovery process.

Dani is now a psychotherapist and helps others who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse, among other specialties. Her advice for parents regarding childhood sexual abuse is, “Predators are charming and manipulative. They blend in and can appear to be the people you trust the most.” Dani wants other survivors to know that, “You are not alone. I am like you, and there are many others like us.”

Learn more about Dani and her work at her website, and read her essay in The Washington Post. Find more information about child sexual abuse here.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and, y en español: