|Chris Ericksen as a primary school student. |
Roughly two years after this photo was taken
he became a victim of child sexual abuse.
It gave him panic attacks, made him feel suicidal and drove him to numb out with drugs and alcohol.
Yet for nearly 25 years, Chris Ericksen kept a debilitating secret, until holding it in became more painful than the shame he associated with sharing it.
“I got to a point where I couldn’t look myself in the mirror anymore. I brushed my teeth in the dark,” Ericksen said. “I blamed myself for everything.”
Between eight and 15 years old, Ericksen said he was sexually abused by more than one perpetrator. He’s sharing his experience with Global News in hopes it will encourage parents to speak about sexual abuse with their children. (Scroll down to read his advice).
Ericksen was first violated as a child by a family friend.
“I remember it being swept under the rug like, ‘Oh, it was nothing, he had done nothing,'” Ericksen said. “He forced himself on me and he was touching me and forcing me to do things that I didn’t want to do at the time.”
The 49-year-old said just a couple years later, he was victimized again by a teacher while attending an Edmonton private school.
“He did things such as, ‘Just so you know, your parents have given me permission to spank you so if you’re bad you don’t want your parents to know about that, so of course if I do it to you you’re not going to want to tell them because then I’m going to have this conversation.’ He started off with that.”
Ericksen said the teacher gradually “groomed” him for victimization. First, it was spanking inside the washroom. Then, the teacher offered to tutor the struggling student at his house after school.
“He would say, ‘Do you want a beer? Want a cigarette? Maybe we can look at some pornography?'”
Ericksen said the teacher put his arm around him, gently touched him and in time sexually abused him.
“At that time I didn’t think anything of it because he had already groomed me to think that I’m going to get into trouble for whatever I tell my parents.
“The sexual portion of it got worse and worse and worse and more violent,” Ericksen said. “I was choked. I was made to do things that most people in their right mind would never do in their relationships – normal, sexual relationships.”
During that same time period, Ericksen said he was being sexually abused by a babysitter.
At one point he tried to tell his father, but the conversation turned to his parent’s divorce, and Ericksen didn’t want to add to the family’s stress.
He eventually built up the independence to put an end to the abuse when he reached high school, but the trauma took its toll for many more years.
“It ate away at me. I used drugs and drinking and other things to forget it… I was able to keep the lid on for a lot of years.”
One day – in his late 30s – he hit rock bottom. He was staying with his sister and had just read a letter from his wife, who he was separating from.
“I got as drunk and stoned as I could and I kept walking in circles and I walked so much I wore my socks out until my feet were bloody and I was hugging myself and crying hysterically.”
At some point, he called his sister who had her friend – fellow child sexual abuse survivor Glori Meldrum, founder of Little Warriors, – visit him. Three weeks later he was in trauma treatment.
Advice to parents
As a child sexual abuse survivor and a father to a teenage boy, Ericksen offers parents this advice:
Don’t call it a cookie (use proper terms)
Ericksen said as soon as his son was old enough to understand, he started talking to him about body parts, in proper terms.
“It was never anything other than a penis. And Mom had a vagina and she had breasts. It’s funny in society that we can’t say those terms, that we get shy to say that. That you can’t even say it to your kids.”
Ericksen urges parents to avoid using cute or funny names for genitals. Since the majority of victims of child sexual abuse know their perpetrator, he believes improper terms give abusers intimate words to use when creating games to manipulate the child.
“That’s your penis. That is your penis and nobody should be touching your penis. A doctor might need to touch your penis but that is the only person who is going to need to touch your penis and I’m going to be there.”
Dive into awkward conversations (ask questions)
“There’s nothing wrong with coming out and saying, ‘Has someone ever touched you in a manner that makes you feel uncomfortable?’ It might seem like a weird thing to say for some people but why would it be? I’m just trying to find out and make sure my son or daughter is safe.”
Ericksen said the same thing goes for sex. Explain what it is at an appropriate age so your child understands the process.
You don’t have to hug grandma (boundaries)
He doesn’t have to hug anyone he doesn’t feel comfortable touching, even if it’s a family member.
Ericksen said had someone discussed sexual abuse and sexuality with him as a child, he would have felt comfortable disclosing the abuse sooner. That said, he is focused on moving forward in his life.
“That controlled the first 35 years of my life,” he said. “I don’t need that to control the rest of my life. I’ve got a lot more life – hopefully – ahead of me. I’m going to enjoy it.”