Courtney Kiehl

This Is For All Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Courtney Kiehl
This Is For All Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The prerequisite background: I was molested by my gymnastics coach almost every day from the age of 12 to 13, and sporadically for about another year after that. A couple of weeks before my 14th birthday I learned there were other girls he had done it to and the next day I told my parents. I turned 25 this year; I’ve been working with victims since I was 14, I’ve seen therapists, if you ask anyone they’ll tell you I don’t have any problem talking about what happened to me, but the what isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is who and when.

If I were to really speak openly about the who, it would be more than I’d like to put my friends or family through. The few times I’ve tried to go there, I could sense how uncomfortable they were. I understand why, I mean what are they supposed to say? He was my coach and the role he played in my life was essentially a second father. What does that do to someone? To have that level of trust betrayed? Well, that’s a question even I would struggle to answer. I was 12 years old. I have no idea how I would have been without this experience. Sure, sometimes I’m hesitant to trust people, but who’s to say that wouldn’t be something I struggled with regardless? A friend of mine is a twin and once she said, “When people ask me what it’s like to be a twin I don’t know how to respond because I don’t know what it’s like not to be one.” I think that pretty much sums it up.

But what does it do to a young person, to be abused by a parental figure? For the most part, I really am okay. The test of that for me has always been to answer the question of whether or not something is interfering with my every day life, because if it is, then I can’t say I’m okay. In the past eleven years there have been times, especially in the beginning where yes, it did interfere, but now I’m 25, I finished high school, received my undergraduate degree from UCLA, and in just a couple of months I will graduate from law school. I feel like I’m okay, but at the same time, I know that every night I sleep, either my coach or his wife (my other coach) are in one of my dreams. It doesn’t bother me at all during the day; I don’t even give it a second thought. Is it affecting me in ways that I haven’t even acknowledged? Probably.

My least favorite thought about the entire situation is that I wouldn’t be who I am today without him. I hate that it’s true. I don’t want to give him credit for anything, but if I’m really honest with myself, I can’t say that it was all bad. I think that’s part of the reason why people have such a hard time believing that people like him are capable of doing things like sexually abusing children. They’d seen the good things he’d done, the gymnasts he’d helped shape in to strong women, and in their minds he couldn’t be both that person and one who molested some of those same girls. Just consider the effect of spending so much of your time with someone at that age and the influence they have on the type of person you become. To this day, when I shake someone’s hand I make sure it’s strong, because he taught me that especially as a female, it was important in making a first impression. I’m not sure how much of my personality, my persistence and diligence, can be attributed to being an elite gymnast, but I can’t say that none of it came from him. Of course, it’s those same traits that helped me to come forward all those years ago, it’s how I’ve gotten through the really hard times, how I continue to get through, and continue to work with survivors.

We are the sum of our experiences—good, bad, and in between. I don’t want to feel disgusted when I acknowledge that I wouldn’t be who I am without him. I don’t deserve to feel disgusted by that. He was a big part of my life at a very crucial age. At the same time, I’m not going to thank him or give him any credit for my accomplishments, because those belong to my friends and family, the people who have held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own. I want anyone wrestling with these same thoughts and feelings to know that whoever you are, wherever you are, you are marvelous, you are beautiful, and most importantly you are not alone.