Robin D. Stone has always been a hard worker. Swiftly climbing the ranks of journalistic excellence and reaching several career pinnacles such as being an editor at the New York Times, Boston Globe, Family Circle magazine and Essence, Stone easily set herself up to reach untold heights as a journalist. Always a quick-thinker, creative, and poised, Stone knew what it took to ensure the makings of an accomplished journalist – incessant working, humility to the point of self-deprecation and a strict unwillingness to acknowledge her own accomplishments no matter how great in the eyes of others. Though to Stone these principles were the ultimate formula for her success, she would later learn that they were a classic recipe for a breakdown.
In 1998 at an Essence magazine staff retreat, Stone, then the deputy editor, confronted for the first time — quite by accident — the reasons why she unwaveringly worked so hard and thought so little of herself. Spurred by a coaching exercise facilitated by a motivational speaker, Stone realized her life had been brimming with the pain and horrors of living and coping as a childhood sexual abuse survivor. The never-ending work and her own self-effacement — she would later realize –, were her ways of coping and attempting to lead a normal life; in essence purposely leaving little time to feel and to think.
A talented and intelligent child, Stone was always enthusiastic about learning and the arts. “I loved writing and dancing and singing in the school chorus,” Stone writes. Little did she know the joy she had for life would be suffocated by five minutes of incestuous groping and fondling by her uncle in the back room of a family home. She was nine-years-old then and her life, like so many others, would never be the same after that harrowing moment. It would take her a quarter of a century to reclaim the life she once enjoyed before being violated by a sexual predator.
Three years after her revelation at the Essence retreat and many sessions of therapy, Stone felt she had come to a comfortable healing place in her life. It was then that she wrote a piece for Essence about sexual abuse. “In August 2001, I wrote an article in Essence and shared my story,” says Stone. “The response to that article was so overwhelming. I was inundated with emails and letters from victims. I also received letters from parents and mothers who were struggling with the issue.”
According to recent surveys by adults, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report that they were sexually abused as a child. This is especially telling in the black community because although black children are sexually abused at the same rate as whites, it is often kept silent and tucked neatly within the family. The secrets of childhood sexual abuse, in turn, get recycled generation after generation resulting in a cadre of lies that makes for an easily manipulated environment for sexual predators. In fact, according to No Secrets, No Lies, family members and acquaintances account for 93 percent of the sexual assaults against people under age eighteen.
As children grow into adults, the overwhelming majority reveal telling signs of child sexual trauma especially if the abuse had been dismissed by family or not taken seriously. “Some haven’t acknowledged it with others. Some have been dismissed. Some have been ignored,” says Stone. “That could make a person crazy when this happens within the family.”
Some of the more prevalent signs of childhood sexual abuse as noted by Stone are rebellion or challenging authority, hyperactivity, regressive activity such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, sleep disorders such as nightmares or trouble falling asleep, passivity and early use of drugs among many others. Stone implores parents to be proactive with their children. “Parents need to listen with their ears and their eyes because children may not have the language to explain,” she says. “Parents are easy to dismiss behavior problems as defiance and promiscuity. Parents need to watch for these things and if you see a shift in behavior, listen to them.”
Parents have the unique responsibility, unlike any other, to protect their children from sexual abuse. That means parents who have been abused themselves must work diligently to prevent their own children from being sexually abused. “They have to acknowledge the history of sexual abuse and take action in some way,” Stone says. “Parents need to talk with their kids about this. Stay alert, have a plan and remain calm, supportive and believe them.”
Although girls account for most of childhood sexual abuse instances, one of the main misconceptions is that boys — when they are raped by women — do not suffer from sexual abuse trauma. “One thing that really struck me was that 1 in 6 men report child sexual abuse,” Stone recounts. “Women commit twenty percent of abuse of boys and five percent of abuse on girls. Often boys don’t see abuse as abuse. They see it as getting over on some woman.”
Stone has dedicated an entire chapter to the sexual abuse of boys and its residual effect on men. Tackling gender specific issues such as dispelling the idea that sex abuse means a boy is gay and the fact that boys should be better able to protect themselves from predators, Stone delves into the ways sexual abuse of boys coupled with society’s expectations of them can create a culture of black men who “fear intimacy with others and themselves.”
Robin D. Stone, though a survivor herself, is helping thousands of victims to cope with life’s many uncertainties through No Secrets, No Lies. As a much needed tool in black communities, Stone uses the latest research and statistics as well as moving testimonies from sexual abuse victims to drive her point of prevention home in the book. Though it took Stone twenty-five years to move past her own abuse readers will know instantly that she has indeed overcome the trauma of being abused as a child. “It’s important for survivors to reconcile their abusers by forgiveness or confronting them,” Stone says. ”Faith and forgiveness is something that people should explore.” Moving words spoken by a true survivor who is whole again.