Vanessa Williams
YouTube screenshot

The unspeakable happened to Vanessa Williams at the age of 10 and changed her life forever. While on a vacation to California with a friend and her family, the soon-to-be fifth-grader was molested by a friend of the girl's family.

"We ended up staying with a family friend of theirs. They had an older daughter," Williams tells Oprah's Master Class.

The 18-year-old woman was someone Williams said she looked up to. "[She] was one of the cool girls," she recalls. "She made you want to feel like you were a grown-up."

During the vacation, Williams' molester came into the room where she was sleeping. 

"She told me to lie down on the floor. She took my bottoms off and she said, 'Be quiet,' " Williams says. "She went down on me."

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only tragedy Williams experienced during that vacation. Returning home to New York, as she pondered whether to tell her parents once she stepped off the plane, news of her uncle's death overshadowed what she wanted to say.


"I saw my dad's face, and his face was gray. And I just found out that his brother had died," Williams says. "That was a family drama. I never really talked to my dad about it. I kind of suppressed it."

Of the molestation, Williams stated that she didn't understand what had happened. She knew it felt wrong, but she said it felt good. It was this feeling that Williams said led her down a road of promiscuity as a teenager.

"It awakens your sexuality at an age where it shouldn't be awakened," she explains. "Had that not happened in my life and had I had an opportunity to have a normal courtship with a boyfriend at 16 or whatever … there wouldn't have been that shame that was always haunting me. It made me more sexually promiscuous and more sexually curious at a younger age than I should have been."


As with Williams, many victims of sexual abuse do not report the incidents when they happen, and this makes gathering statistics about the crimes difficult for many agencies. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Children's Bureau report "Child Maltreatment 2010," 9.2 percent of victimized children were sexually assaulted (pdf). Another report done in 2003 by the National Institute of Justice showed that 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted (pdf) were victimized by someone they knew well.

Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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