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Cover 05/22/2013

The Survivors Project

Excerpts from ebook that gives sexual-abuse survivors a chance to tell their stories

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Survivors need more opportunities to fight back against the culture of shame and secrecy that stole their voices. We can’t let it stop here. We have to seize this moment and make sure that no one has to suffer in silence anymore. – Nina Hoffmann

Nina Hoffman is senior editor of Philadelphia Weekly. She granted us permission to run excerpts from The Survivors Project. Please take care in reading these stories, as many of them contain graphic descriptions and other passages that may trigger strong emotional responses.

Ari Benjamin Bank
Gender: Male
Age: 38
Age abuse occurred: 6

I never wanted to be a good swimmer, but I always was. My parents had an in-ground pool in the backyard, big enough for laps, with a diving board and a deep end – a “real” deep end – and my dad (whose parents had a pool in the backyard, too, and who was also a good swimmer) taught me every stroke he knew: the crawl, the breaststroke, side and back stroke, elementary. He got me in that pool almost before I can remember, and the water felt good and cool.

I learned something new each summer: how to cup my hands and kick my legs, how to turn and breathe, turn and breathe, how to tuck my head in and dive without even making a splash. Of course, he gave me good head starts in races and let me win most times, I think. The summer after my sixth birthday, I could swim stronger and faster than any kid twice my age and twice my size. I didn’t want to, but I could, and I knew, even then, watching my dad, and my mom, too, sometimes, looking back at me swim, that I was pleasing them, and that part I liked.

Still, I never wanted to be a good swimmer, but I was anyway, and in the summer, my parents sent me to a day camp that seemed so far away (though I had started going when I was just 4). The camp had tennis courts and soccer fields, arts and crafts and cookouts in the woods and, of course, swimming pools. Early in the mornings, before recreational swim time, the kids from my beginners bunk would change into their bathing suits and then follow one of our counselors, marching off to the pool for their instructional swim, their tender feet getting wet from dew still on the grass. I would go to another pool with another counselor, the pool for the more advanced swimmers – most times anyway. Sometimes that didn’t happen. Sometimes we stayed back after the bunk was empty. Sometimes I started to change into my bathing suit but then he’d tell me to stop.

It’s OK. I took mine off too. Look, we both have one. You can touch it. Why don’t you touch it? There, that feels good. Now I’m going to touch yours, OK? Doesn’t that feel good?

We’d sit together in that quiet, dark plywood shack, the one window and door closed, and I’d think about those other kids in my bunk, learning how to dunk their heads and make bubbles, and I’d wonder why his got so long and hard when he told me to touch it that way, and I’d wonder why it hurt so much when he put it inside me, but I never cried or yelled because he said I was being good. I didn’t know why I didn’t have to go swim with the bigger and older kids those mornings, but I didn’t feel like I belonged with them, either, and he always told me I was different, and that it was really OK, and that no one else should know because we had a special shared secret. But even that part, I didn’t like.

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