Editor's note: This is the fourth in a four-part series on child sexual abuse.
Jill remembers walking around with a big smile on her face when she was a child.
“Everybody thought I was the happiest person around,” said the 58-year-old Aiken resident.
But her pleasant expression was a mask that hid a horrifying private life that involved sexual abuse.
Jill agreed to tell her story if the Aiken Standard didn't use her real name.
“I wish it hadn't happened, but it's part of my life; it's part of who I am,” she said. “There's nothing I can do to go back and change it now.”
Jill and her siblings frequently visited their maternal grandmother's home as youngsters.
“I was 5 or 6 when she got a brand new husband, and we spent many nights and weekends with them,” Jill remembered. “When I was there, and it was time to go to bed, I went to a bedroom with my step-grandfather, and he would close the door. It started with fondling, and it eventually led to penetration. It was strange, and it was odd. But when you're young, you trust the people who seem to love you and give you lots of attention.”
Jill's step-grandfather was a trucker, and he would take her on trips, making her put her head in his lap.
“This is our little secret,” he told her.
Jill remained silent, telling no one what was happening.
“I think my grandmother would have denied it even though I don't know how she didn't know,” Jill said. “I don't think my parents would have believed me.”
Jill became a chronic bed-wetter.
“I did it all the time,” she said. “I didn't intentionally do it, but I couldn't help myself. My mother took me to doctors, but they never did figure out what the problem was.”
Jill also started telling lies.
“Now that I look back on it, it must have been a way for me to try to get attention,” she said. “Maybe I was screaming out for my parents to figure this out. I don't know.”
Jill's step-grandfather stopped molesting her when she was around 11 or 12 years old because she found a way to protect herself.
“I would only go to my grandmother's house when I could bring a friend with me,” she said. “If I took a friend with me, he wouldn't bother me.”
When Jill was older and attending college at night while she worked full-time, a neighbor raped her. She rode with him to school, and, one night, he invited her to his house. Because he was a close family friend, she accepted the invitation.
“He was married, and he was at least 20 years older than me,” Jill said. “I told him, 'No, absolutely no,' but he was a real big guy. The minute I could get out of that house, I ran through the door and ran home. After that, I avoided him at all costs. If he was ever around, I made sure I wasn't.”
Jill suffered silently, never discussing the harrowing experience with her family or friends.
But years later she fell apart emotionally.
“I think, when you go through things like that, they eventually catch up with you,” Jill said. “When I was 37, my life just started crumbling. I had totally repressed all of it because I didn't want to deal with it, but it all started coming back into my mind.”
Jill found a therapist, and she also joined a support group for people who had a variety of problems. She underwent treatment for several years and, during that time, she took her counselor's advice and confronted her step-grandfather and her grandmother.
“It took a while for me to get up my nerve to go see them,” Jill said. “They lived far, far away from me by then. Two of the ladies in my support group went with me. We drove all night and all the next day, and, when we got there, they sat in the car while I went up and knocked on the door.”
Both Jill's grandmother and step-grandfather were surprised to see her.
“I told them, 'I need to talk to you,' so we went into their house and sat down,” Jill recalled. “I could tell my step-grandfather was nervous. I'm sure he knew what was coming. I said, 'I'm here to confront you about what you did to me for all those years when I was little.' He just sat there in his recliner and stared at me. He refused to admit he had done anything, and my grandmother wouldn't admit she knew either.”
Jill then went to her parents' house, where she told them her story.
“They were in shock, but there also was some disbelief,” she said. “In my family, you just didn't talk about these kinds of things. But if you did hear about them, you swept them under the rug. If you've got a problem, get over it. That was my parents' mentality.”
Even though Jill didn't get the apology she would have liked from her step-grandfather and was disappointed by the reaction of other family members, she said talking about her abuse helped her because “it was part of my healing process.”
Since then, “I've definitely gone on with my life,” Jill said. “Heck, there's too much living left to do.”
She is a volunteer at the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County.
“If I'm able to help one child just a little bit, it's worth it,” Jill said. “I don't want anybody else to go through the things that I went through.”